Saturday, 29 May 2010

Spooky Events at the Dean Court Hotel, York

Dean Court Hotel stands facing the West Front of York Minster and has two ghost tales attached to it. The first is something of a puzzle. Those that have seen the less active phantom often describe the phantom as being that of a Roman soldier, and this is how it is described in books and other literature. However, this is odd as Roman soldiers have not marched in York for some 1,600 years and the Dean Court is considerably younger than that, having been constructed in around 1850 as lodgings for visiting clergy.

It seems to be the helmet that the ghost wears that has led to it being identified as a Roman, and yet it is not always seen very clearly and some descriptions of the spectre could be interpreted as being that of almost any man wearing a metal helmet. If it were seen only on the ground floor, one might argue that this Roman ghost was walking on the ground level as it existed in Roman times and was ignoring the construction of a building that was not there in his day. After all, this site does lie within the area covered by the old legionary fortress that was the start of the city of York. The army headquarters building stood just east of here, so it would be an area where soldiers came and went with frequency. Perhaps he is some long-forgotten legionary on business that was then urgent, but is now equally obscure.

However, the ghost is seen upstairs as well as downstairs, so that explanation cannot be the true one. He must, presumably, be the phantom of somebody who passed this way since the hotel was built. But who he was and why he returns in a stout military helmet, nobody knows.

The other, and in recent years considerably more active phantom, is to be found in the cellar. This is the ghost of a cleaner woman who dates back to the Victorian era. The cleaner worked here when the cellar was shared with a next door property that was named Vollans. It is assumed that the cleaner stored her tools in the cellar, or perhaps she had rooms there, which might account for her fondness for the place.

One night in 2008 the Dean Court Hotel played host to a “ghost watch” by a local group of paranormal investigators. Although the management took great care not to let slip any details of the supposed hauntings, two different investigators reported seeing a cleaning woman of Victorian date. One said that she sensed the word “vollans” or something similar - which was spot on.

The third paranormal visitor to the Dean Court is invisible. There have been some odd “feelings” in Room 36. These take the form of a pressure being felt pushing down on the bed and a frequently reported cold spot, even on warm days.

This is not enough to put off visitors, and with reason. The Dean Court has a great restaurant that has won 2 AA Rosettes, and in 2008 won the Yorkshire Tourist Board's prestigious White Rose Award as Hotel of the Year.

This is an extract from Haunted York by Rupert Matthews.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Ghost Coach of Weston Rhyn

The lanes to the west of the village are the haunt of a phantom coach and a white lady. It is generally said that the lady sometimes rides in the coach, and at other times walks on foot, so it would seem that these two apparently distinct phantoms are in fact the same haunting.

The barbaric events that led to the haunting took place in the 1640s when Civil War between the supporters of king and parliament stalked across England and Wales. The good folk of Weston Rhyn were supporters of the king, so they refused to pay their taxes to the authorities in Shrewsbury, who backed Parliament. Such action was bound to bring retribution, which duly arrived in the shape of a troop of Roundhead cavalry which came trotting into Weston Rhyn early one morning as the Civil Wars drew to a close.

The troopers arrested Miss Phillips, the owner of nearby Tyn-y-Rhos Hall, and rounded up the villagers. Even at swordpoint the villagers refused to hand over their cash. The troopers built up a huge fire, placing on it a large cauldron of water. As this water grew scalding hot, they lowered into it Miss Phillips, then pulled her out and threw her into the chilly waters of the nearby stream. It was too much. The villagers not only paid their taxes, but also handed over a Catholic priest who had been hiding nearby.

The jubilant troopers bound the priest and Miss Phillips, hauling them off to Chirk for prompt execution. It was soon after this that the quiet phantom of Miss Phillips began to be seen walking the lanes around her old home. The ghostly coach is seen less frequently, but is a rather more spectacular apparition as it trots by pulled by four grey horses.

The second ghostly apparition at Weston Rhyn is unconnected with that of Miss Phillips. This is the ghost of a young man who served in France during the Great War. The unfortunate soldier suffered badly in one of the first gas attacks, before the British had learned how to cope with this new German weapon. His lungs were terribly burned and he was no longer fit for active service. He was sent home to the clear air of Shropshire, but never fully recovered and died a few months later. His sad phantom is not seen often, but exudes an air of melancholy when it is encountered.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Shropshire by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Phantom Flying Monk of Malmesbury

The charming town of Malmesbury stands on a steep, rocky hill which is hugged by the River Avon on two sides and by a tributary on a third. In his wars against the Vikings King Alfred the Great (see Castle Combe) made this a fortified town which served as a refuge to surrounding farmers and their goods in time of trouble. It was also home to an abbey, built within the walls of the fortress town for safety from marauding Vikings.

As with all English monasteries, Malmesbury was broken up by Henry VIII and its lands and assets sold off. In part the Abbey is still roofed and is used for religious worship to this day, but it is the ruined portion that is the centre of the hauntings. As might be expected, the ghost is that of a monk. Dressed in the usual long, grey cloak this figure moves quietly among the broken arches and shattered stone walls of his old home. He is never seen for long. As soon as a witness gets a glimpse, he moves behind a wall or a tree and is gone.

The vast majority of monkly ghosts are anonymous. They may be any of hundreds of holy men who have occupied a particular site. But at Malmesbury there is talk that the phantom monk might be the ghost of one holy man who has earned himself both a place in history and a stained glass window to himself in the church.

This was Eilmer who quite literally leapt into history one summers day in 1010. Born around 980, Eilmer used his spare time between holy offices in studying God’s creatures. He was particularly fascinated by birds and their power of flight. By the summer of 1010, Eilmer believed that he had fathomed the secrets of God’s gift of flight. He decided to put his ideas to the test. Working alone he constructed a contraption made of wood and fabric which he carried up to the top of the Abbey tower and strapped to his arms and legs. Putting his faith in God and his own ideas, Eilmer jumped.

Whether it was faith or skill, Eilmer did not plummet  to his death. Instead he glided quite gently away from the tower, watched by his amazed brethren. After covering around 200 yards, Eilmer approached the ground and realised that, while he had thought long and hard about flight, he had paid no attention to landing. He hit the ground with a solid thump that not only smashed his wings, but also broke his leg.

As the wounded Eilmer lay in the Abbey hospital he thought about his flight at some length. He decided that what had gone wrong was that he had not put a tail on his glider. With this, he thought, he would be able to make a soft landing. Sadly Eilmer was never able to put this very sensible idea into practice as his Abbot sternly forbade any future attempts to defy God’s order and take to the air. Otherwise, Eilmer may have developed a viable glider nine centuries before the Wright Brothers achieved powered flight.

The stained glass window of Eilmer in Malmesbury Abbey shows him in flight, but also depicts his other claim to fame. He saw a comet as a boy in 989 and saw another in 1066, which he declared was identical to the one he had seen as a boy. We now know Eilmer was right once again. This was the comet now known as Halley’s Comet which visited Earth in those years.

Eilmer was clearly a remarkable man. If the ghostly monk of Malmesbury is not him, then by rights it should be.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Wiltshire by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Drunken Phantom in Oldbury, Warwickshire

The village of Oldbury is really little more than a hamlet. There is a scattering of houses along the twisting lane from Bentley to Hartshill, but not much more. There is simply not a large enough population to maintain the shops and services of other, larger villages. The old Blue Bell Inn, for instance, is now a private house.

This has not put off the slightly sozzled old ghost who began his hauntings of the lane when the pub was till a pub. The man in question was a servant named William Parker who worked at Brades Hall. The village pub at Oldbury was close enough for Parker to reach with ease, but far enough away that he would be out of sight of his employers. There he could relax and indulge his taste for fine beer before wending his way home.

One unfortunate evening a storm blew up while Parker was cosily ensconced in the pub. By the time he got up to leave a howling gale driving heavy rain was sleeting over the Warwickshire hills. Parker huddled against the wall for shelter as a particularly fierce blast of wind hit the building. Sadly for Parker, the chimney high above him toppled over and crashed down killing him instantly.

Ever since the ghost of unfortunate William Parker has been seen late in the evening staggering along the lane as if fighting to make headway against a ferocious wind. Even if the weather is quite calm, the coat of the ghost flaps as if buffeted by a howling gale.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Warwickshire by Rupert Matthews.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Ghosts in Workshop, Notts

The town of Worksop is an ancient one – the town museum has finds dating back to the distant Bronze Age. The site has been home to a thriving town ever since – even the dark days of the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Viking onslaught could not ruin Worksop.

It is appropriate, therefore, that Worksop should lay claim to one of the oldest ghosts of Nottinghamshire. In 1103 the Black Canons came to Worksop to establish a priory on the southern fringes of the town. They dedicated their house to St Cuthbert and built a solid church in the Norman style with two great towers flanking the West Facade. The church has been altered many times since, most recently in 1973, but the twin towers still rear up to dominate the surrounding land.

It is on top of one of these towers that the ghost is seen. He appears only late at night, usually after midnight, and is clearly in a state of high excitement - or possibly fear. He is seen to run around the top of the tower, peering over the wall as if watching something quite disturbing. Some say he jumps up and down as well as running back and forth. That this is a ghostly monk, none who have seen it doubt for a moment. But why he behaves as he does is quite unknown.

Equally unknown is the reality behind the stories of an underground tunnel that is said to run from the Priory Gatehouse to the site of the castle, some 2 miles away. Tales from the 19th century talk about a schoolboy who went down the tunnel and never returned except in spectral form, but there is no sign of a tunnel to be seen today. Since nobody has ever excavated the area, the story remains just a legend.

As if that were not enough mystery and supernatural activity, there is yet another ghost that is seen with some frequency in the grounds of the priory. This is of a lady in a blue dress. She is seen most often walking from the gatehouse to the church. Though not seen often, she is said to walk with a sprightly spring in her step as she passes along the avenue of mature trees.

This Blue Lady was glimpsed most recently in the autumn of 2004 by a chef walking home late one night from his work at one of the restaurants in the town. When she first appeared, he took little notice as he thought her to be some fellow late-night worker trotting home. But then she vanished into thin air right in front of his eyes. At the time of writing, the man has still not summoned up the courage any more to take the short cut through the priory grounds after dark.

The style of this ghost’s dress might date her to the later medieval period, though why a woman should trot lightly through the grounds of a monastery is obscure.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Nottinghamshire by Rupert Matthews

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Ghostly Goings On at Fawkham Green in Kent

Fawkham Green is one of those charmingly quaint villages that manage to survive just outside the M25 where the sprawl of London housing estates has not yet reached. Of course, there are commuters here and, on occasion, the roar of engines from nearby Brands Hatch motor racing circuit can disturb the calm, but on the whole it is a quiet place.

It was a quiet place five centuries ago, but that did not stop this little village from being the scene of a quite horrific crime. A crime which has left a ghost who wanders to this day. A gang of footpads were making their way through the village towards a main road where they hoped to find a rich prize. In Pennis Lane they came across a lone nun, peacefully walking towards Canterbury.

The toughs waylaid the nun, perhaps in the hope of finding a rich golden crucifix or other treasure of the church on her. The poor woman had none, being one of the clergy of that century who kept her vows of poverty. Disappointed in their search for plunder, the robbers turned to violence and then to rape. The nun’s screams and yells reached the ears of a pair of local gentlemen who came galloping to her rescue. They drove off the robbers, and carried the battered woman to nearby Pennis House but to little avail. The nun was too badly injured and died a few days later.

But, before she died the nun blessed those who had rescued her. She promised that if her skull was kept in Pennis House then good fortune and prosperity would come to the owners. But if her skull was ever removed then bad luck and adversity would surely follow. In consequence of these somewhat bizarre final words, the owners of Pennis House duly had the nun buried without her head and kept the severed skull in their house.

Only once, in the mid-19th century, has the skull not rested there. The then owner did not hold with medieval superstition. He was a rational Victorian scientist and believed only in solid facts. He had the skull taken away and buried in the churchyard. 

A few days later it became clear that there was an intruder in the house. Or so the scientist thought. Doors were slammed shut. Doors were thrown open. Objects were moved. Then the muttering began. It was like a human voice, but faint as if heard through a shut door. No matter where the scientist and his staff looked, they could find nobody who could be causing the disturbances. The house was searched from cellar to attic and back again. There was nobody there, but still the doors opened and closed, objects moved and a faint muttering was heard. In the end the poor owner gave in. The skull was unearthed and brought back to Pennis House. Peace returned.

Not so the tranquillity of Pennis Lane. Several times a year, as dusk begins to fall, the nun walks again. She floats along with no sign of her feet moving beneath her robes. Suddenly she stops, turns and begins to run. Clearly frightened, the nun seems to be screaming, but no sounds are heard. Then she vanishes, suddenly and abruptly. Finally comes the sound of pounding hooves which thunder down the lane to the spot where the nun vanishes, where they stop just as abruptly as the phantom nun vanished. Presumably the ghosts are replaying the fatal events of that summer’s evening five centuries ago.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Kent by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Haunted Exeter

The cathedral city of Devon is Exeter, which has been inhabited for at least 2,200 years and possibly longer. Its name is Roman, meaning “the fortified city beside the Exe”, but none of the numerous phantoms to be encountered in this delightful city is quite as old as the Roman name.

Possibly the most ancient ghost of Exeter is the phantom nun who is seen to wander the old cloisters beside the cathedral on summer evenings. There is some sense of sadness about this phantom. She walks from the north of the cloisters to the south with her head bowed.

The Cathedral Close is also haunted, this time by a monk. He is seen only rarely and fleetingly, standing outside house No.5 and slipping from view almost as quickly as he appears. Some people think that the two ghosts are linked. It is rumoured that they date from the time of the great rebuilding of the cathedral in the 14th century, when Exeter heaved with workmen, tradesmen and religious figures of all kinds. John, the monk, and Martha, the nun, had come to Exeter from their respective houses to supervise the more spiritual aspects of the rebuilding. The pair, it is said, fell deeply in love. When the time came for them to return to their secluded houses they could not bear to be parted. They committed suicide so that they could be together forever.

Sadly, the phantoms are never seen together. The suicide pact does not seem to have worked. Whether the story has any basis in fact is unclear, it was not recorded until centuries after the events are supposed to have taken place.

Rather better documented is the phantom verger who has been seen inside the cathedral. This man died in the later 19th century and was seen soon after his death fussing around a side chapel as if going about his duties. He has been seen several times since, and more than one person has mistaken him for a real verger and tried to ask a question about the superb cathedral. Unlike most cathedrals there is no central tower at Exeter, so the 70 foot high ribbed vaulting of the ceiling runs uninterrupted from end to end of the building to form the longest such stone vault in the world. The twin towers that flank the crossing are the oldest part of th the cathedral, dating from Norman times. The rest of the building dates from the 13th century when a new nave, choir and chapels were erected as an harmonious whole.

Just down the hill from the Cathedral stands the White Hart Hotel, which stands on the site of the old South Gate in the now largely vanished city walls. The courtyard of this welcoming old inn is haunted by a young lady dressed in black. Those who have seen her say that she wears a flowing black cape or coat that effectively wraps her from neck to toe. She usually appears in the courtyard, walks out into South Street and vanishes.

Beyond the White Hart, the lane known as Quay Hill drops down steeply to the River Exe. It opens out into a broad, cobbled street flanked on one side by the river and on the other by an impressive collection of old buildings. This is Exeter’s historic Quayside area. Throughout most of the city’s history ships have been able to get up the Exe and Exeter has had a busy time as a port. Only in the later 19th century did ships become too large to get upriver. The Quayside went through a period of neglect, but has now been handsomely refurbished to house a market, antique stalls, craftworks, pubs and restaurants.

The most impressive building of all is the Custom House, which continued to house Her Majesty’s Custom and Excise staff until 1989. When this building was erected it was the largest brick building not just in Exeter but in all Devon. The wide ground floor arches which now house windows were originally an open arcade which allowed the custom officials to inspect the wagon loads of goods under cover before they were taken off the dockside. This fact was unknown to the lady who, in the 1980s, saw the Quayside’s phantom wagon drive straight through one of the walls and into the Custom House.

The wagon, pulled by two horses and loaded with goods, is not the most active ghostly apparition on the old Quayside. That honour belongs to the Victorian girl who haunts The Prospect, the oldest pub on the ancient docks. This little child grasps a rag doll firmly in her arms as she skips playfully around the pub. She seems perfectly happy and no story attaches to her. Who she is and why she haunts The Prospect is unknown.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Devon by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Ghosts in Buckingham

In 1725 a great fire swept through the town of Buckingham. Nearly every house in the town was gutted, and the whole area reduced to a charred ruin. Few people were killed, however, and the good citizens of Buckingham moved back to rebuild their town on a new and much grander scale. Gone were the old wooden houses, to be replaced with fine brick structures in the very latest Georgian style. It is this new town that largely survives to greet visitors.

Perhaps the most important building to be destroyed in the fire of 1725 was Buckingham Castle. The fortification dated back to 888 when King Alfred the Great built an earth and timber fortress here to block a crossing point over the River Great Ouse to the armies of marauding Vikings that then plagued England. Most of the castle that burned down was of medieval date. The stones were later reused to build the castle-like prison, now the tourist information centre and council offices, that stands on the site today.

`Not far from the castle was one house that did survive the conflagration. It was the comfortable house in West Street that went by the name of Castle House. This was begun in the 15th century, though it has been much altered since, to provide more fashionable lodgings and accommodation for the gentry and notables who visited Buckingham and who would have found the old castle with its fortifications too cold and draughty.

The most famous of the guests to stay in Castle House was Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII. It is this sad queen whose stay led, indirectly, to the haunting of the house. The unhappy Queen Katherine came to Buckingham in the later 1520s when her husband was trying to find grounds to divorce her. Henry was, by this time, infatuated with Anne Boleyn who was much younger and prettier than Katherine and who seemed to offer a better prospect of providing Henry with a son and heir. Buckingham was deemed far enough away from London for Katherine to be kept out of Henry’s way, but close enough to allow her and her lawyers to play a role in the divorce proceedings.

Among Katherine’s household was a priest by the name of Thomas. This Father Thomas not only administered mass and confession to Katherine, but also played a key role in smuggling messages between the estranged queen and her relatives in Europe. He would slip away, sometimes for weeks, then return just as mysteriously. One day this priest vanished, but never again reappeared. What had happened to him remained unclear until the house was undergoing renovations in 1908.

A small chamber was found hidden beneath the floors of the upper stories, above the Great Parlour. Inside this tiny room was found the skeleton of a man accompanied by the crucifix, rosary and other belongings of a Tudor priest. Had the man proved too efficient a servant of the queen and been killed by the king? Or had he betrayed the queen and been disposed of on her orders. Or was his death a tragic accident. There is no way of knowing.

What is clear, however, is that the priest does not seem to approve of having been discovered. Ever since the body was found the dark robed figure of a priest has been seen hurrying up the stairs and along the corridor towards the hidden chamber. He is seen most often in late afternoon or early evening. A clue, perhaps, to the time of the priest’s death.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire by Rupert Matthews.