Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Poltergeist in Nile Street, Sunderland

Another poltergeist struck Sunderland in Chester Terrace, off Trimdon Street, in 1966. As well as the usual banging and scratching, this poltergeist delighted in throwing objects about. A few windows were broken, and it was this that got the police involved. Determined to catch whoever was casuing this criminal damage - a prankster was thought by the police to be to blame - the police staked out the area. A couple of days into the operation the police arrested a man who was apprehended with a metal bolt in his hand which he seemed to be about to throw. The man was charged with all damages caused in Chester Terrace in recent weeks and hauled off to court.

At his trial the man admitted that he had been intending to throw the bolt over a backyard wall as a prank, but denied that he had ever previously had a hand in the spooky goings on. He was able to produce his local vicar who gave evidence that the man had been in church at the time when at least some of the windows had been broken. The man was acquited, and although the strange events continued they gradually tailled off and ceased.

This is an extract from Haunted Sunderland by Rupert Matthews

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Mysterious Heights of Eggardon Hill

The wind-blasted heights of Eggardon Hill are not a place to linger. The wind howls in off the English Channel and this towering hill is the first high point it reaches. Even when the air is still and calm in the valleys below, the treeless slopes above are whipped by the wind. In winter this is a bleak and lonely spot, in summer exposed and sombre.

Eggardon Hill is one of the most impressive in Dorset. It rears up over 800 feet above sea level. The crest of the hill is dominated by powerful earthwork fortifications that in pre-Roman times protected a prosperous Celtic settlement. Around the slopes of the hill are dotted burial mounds and field works from even earlier eras. This is a place steeped in history. 

It may be steeped in much else besides for this is a strange place. There is said to be a phantom white deer that lives on the hill and which brings bad luck to all who see her, while disembodied screams have the power to shock all who hear them. In the days when horses provided the motive power for carts and carriages, the hill was notorious for the fact that horses would unaccountably refuse to pass over it. Although the driver could see nothing, the horse most certainly could and would refuse to budge. Dogs were also liable to turn tail and flee when asked to trot up Eggardon Hill.

These days most people prefer the internal combustion engine to horses, but the hill has not lost its power to cause problems. Several motorists have reported that their engines will cut out quite suddenly, only to start again without difficulty a few minutes later. One person who suffered this in 2005 reported that “I was driving along happy as larry, when the car just cut out. That is a narrow road up there and there was no passing space close enough, so I just coasted to a stop. Of course, I knew the stories about the Devil and such and did not believe a word of it. But I tell you this. Being stuck up on Eggardon Hill all alone with the dusk closing down and not a living soul in sight is a spooky experience. Suddenly the stories did not seem so silly. Fortunately the car started up again when I fired the ignition. I drove off pretty smartly, I can tell you.”

All this bother may be related to the very solid apparitions that are sometimes seen wandering around the slopes of this hill. These phantom creatures come in the form of gigantic black dogs with glowing eyes and long shaggy hair. These monstrous dogs are, as elsewhere, said to be the hounds of the Devil. But at Eggaron Hill the Evil One himself comes out to put his pack on the trail of their quarry. On stormy nights, it is said, the Devil will sit on top of Eggardon Hill scanning the Dorset countryside for those who had been evil enough to deserve a place in Hell. When he spies one, the Devil lets loose his pack of demonic dogs to race over the countryside and hunt down the souls of the damned.

This might be dismissed as merely an old story were it not for the strange events that are reported to swirl around the hilltop. And for the fact that in the 1950s a man out walking his own dog met a tall, dark haired man apparently exercising two large black dogs. For some reason suddenly nervous, the dog walker hurried back to his car. As he glanced over his shoulder he saw the stranger and his dogs set off at a run, and thought he saw sparks flying from the man’s boots as they struck the ground.

And it may be entirely coincidental that Eggardon Hill is the place in Dorset where UFOs and flying saucers are seen more often than anywhere else.

It is a strange place indeed.

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

Friday, 27 August 2010

Fun and Frolics in the White Swan, York

Also in Goodramgate is the Old White Swan Inn. This is a rambling old pub that actually occupies what were originally four houses grouped around a courtyard, which accounts for the odd changes in floor and ceiling level from one room to the next. One of the downstairs rooms has an old fireplace, and this is the focus of the haunting. The ghosts manifest themselves only in the winter when a fire blazes in the fireplace. Then a group of four gentlemen in colourful waistcoats and riding breeches will materialise grouped around the flames as if warming themselves after a long ride through the chilly winter air. Everyone who has seen them reports that these are jovial ghosts indeed. Laughing and joking, the phantoms seem to be having a thoroughly good time.

This is an extract from Haunted York by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Ghostly Vicar of West Felton, Salop

The village of West Felton is divided by the modern A5, which carries its load of thundering traffic through a cutting that bisects the village. The old main road, now a quiet side road, runs beside the village pub and forms its high street - though the church stands on the other side of the modern road.

The ghost here is that of a former vicar, the Rev Pritchard. He so loved the village that he built a magnificent new home on the outskirts. The beautiful house is known today as Pradoe and stands in extensive wooded grounds half a mile to the southeast of the village centre. Dressed in a black coat, as befits his calling in life, the Rev Pritchard has been seen several times walking between the ancient church and his new home. Perhaps he is keen to return to the two buildings he loved so much when alive. 

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

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Moon Stallion of Westbury

The little market town of Westbury is a quiet and charming spot. The Georgian houses which dominate its centre speak of a past prosperity, but though this was real enough it had little to do with the market or the surrounding rich acres. Westbury was the centre of the glove-making business in southern England for several generations in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The glove trade has passed away with mechanisation, but one reminder of those days dominates not just the town but the whole valley. Carved on a hillside about a mile away is a white horse. It is in a highly visible position and when the sun dips down to the western horizon the horse can glow with an eerie red light as if bathed in blood.

This horse is, if local legend is to be believed, not merely a chalk figure but a phantom horse of terrifying appearance which goes by the name of the Moon Stallion. This powerful horse, locals believe, leaves its hillside on moonlit evenings to take on solid form as a gigantic spectral stallion. It then gallops off over the downs, past the enigmatic stone circle at Avebury and along the ancient Ridgeway Road, that was old when the Romans came here. Eventually the Moon Stallion reaches the white horse of Uffington. The two horses stay together for the night, before the Moon Stallion retraces its path to Westbury and takes up its place above the town.

There is nothing to be seen in the white horse to indicate either that it is a stallion or that it has anything to do with the moon. It is a graceful and elegant horse, almost certainly a thoroughbred. But the white horse of Westbury was not always as it appears today. The current horse was cut in 1778 by servants of Lord Abingdon and was paid for by local worthies from their glove money. The old horse was a very different creature. It had a long neck and perky, upright ears. The body was long and low-slung, rather like that of a dachshund, and carried unmistakable signs that this was a male horse. The tail was lifted in an arch as if swishing flies aside and ended in a crescent, not unlike a moon.

How old the old horse truly was is unknown, but it is likely it was many generations old when it was destroyed in the recutting. The sweeping curves of its design are reminiscent of the design of Uffington white horse. The two horses are also alike in that the hills on the slopes of which they are carved are crowned by Celtic hillforts dating to pre-Roman days. Although it is now impossible to study the old Westbury horse, the Uffington figure can be investigated. Modern dating techniques indicate that it is around 2,500 years old. The similarities with Westbury would indicate that this horse, too, is ancient.

It may be that the old stories suggest a religious link between the two Celtic hill horses. The truth is impossible to know, unless one evening you are up on the Wiltshire Downs and encounter the dramatic Moon Stallion galloping towards Uffington.

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

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Unlucky Lady in Black at Hartshill Castle

The ghost of Hartshill is unidentified, but nobody is in any doubt that she is best avoided. Bad luck dogs those who are unlucky enough to attract her attention, though those who are passed by seem to escape without mishap.

The phantom lady is seen moving slowly about the ruins of Hartshill Castle, which dominate the northern end of the village. The castle was first built in the immediate wake of the Norman Conquest in the 1060s, when the Normans threw up fortified posts to overawe the English. The earthworks date from this period, with their 18 foot deep  trenches and towering mounds. Hartshill Castle was never large, but it was secure enough to act as the headquarters of Henry Tudor, soon to be King Henry VII, before the Battle of Bosworth at which he won the crown.

The stone walls that once topped these fortifications were torn down in the 1560s and replaced by a comfortable Tudor mansion. It is this building that is gently falling into ruin, and to which the ghost seems to belong. Her long silk dress and angular headdress point to an Elizabethan date.

One witness who encountered the ghost as he walked along the footpath that cuts alongside the old walls said that she came so close to him that he heard her silk dress rustle. Fortunately for him, she passed him by without a second look. For it is her glance that brings bad luck.

For centuries the enigmatic lady in black has been walking Hartshill. Then, in 1947, came a startling discovery. As the old ruins were being passed from private hands to those of the Ministry of Works, now English Heritage, some archaeological digs were undertaken. Most of what was found proved to be mundane domestic pottery and rubbish, but one excavation revealed a long forgotten cellar. And in the small, shallow brick-lined cavity lay a badly decomposed skeleton.

Is this the last remains of some poor soul done to death long ago in the dank dungeons of the castle? If so it may explain the unquiet wanderings of the lady in black and why she exhibits such animosity to the present-day inhabitants of Hartshill.

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

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Black Monk of Rufford Abbey, Nottinghamshire

The tumbling ruins of Rufford have been roofless for less than a century. It was founded as a Cistercian monastery in the 12th century, becoming a private home after the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 1540s.

Over the centuries the Abbey was changed, altered and rebuilt numerous times so that very little of the original structure remains. Then, in the 1930s, it fell into disrepair and neglect. Today only part of the once luxurious home remains intact, housing a craft centre, restaurant and various exhibits. The rest is empty and roofless, though the surrounding 500 acre park is much used by local families, dog walkers and joggers. And with reason, for this is one of the finest parks in Nottinghamshire.

The Abbey is now run by Nottinghamshire County Council and makes quite a feature of its hauntings. Ghost Hunter Dinners are held which provide a hearty meal followed by a hunt for the site’s spectres with spiritual equipment.

Perhaps the most active ghost is the Black Friar. This phantom is truly terrifying. He will walk up to witnesses, his cowl pulled down to hide his  face, but on getting close will lift his head to flick back the cowl to reveal a grinning skull. On 3 December 1901 an Edwinstowe man visiting Rufford saw the ghostly monk and collapsed in fright, he died soon after. 

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

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Jilted Lover of Dymchurch, Kent

The charming little town of Dymchurch stands on the edge of Romney Marsh. Its history is peopled by smugglers, fishermen and farmers as is that of every other around this area. And at the heart of all the activity is the Ship Inn which stands on the High Street.

The pub dates back to the 16th century and the old part of the building is riddled with hidden cupboards and at least one secret passage. This was discovered in 1988 when the wallpaper in the lounge was stripped to reveal a hatch. Behind the hatch was a tiny room from which ran a passage that snaked around inside the thick walls. At one time this probably gave hidden access to the different rooms. No doubt it was of great use to the smugglers attempting to evade the revenue men. Many visitors are puzzled by the layout of the pub. It has its back facing the High Street and its front facing the sea wall. This is because the original main road ran along the old sea wall. In 1886 the sea wall was improved and a new road built along the backs of the various buildings.

The ghost of the Ship is not, so far as we know, connected to smuggling. Andy Sharp, “the Guvner of the Ship” as he calls himself, knows all about the phantom.

“One evening when I had gone to bed and I was just falling asleep when I heard a creaking of floorboards right outside my bedroom door. My bedroom is situated in the attic of the building facing the Channel. I assumed it was my eldest daughter getting up to go to the toilet, but I listened and realised that the noise was not going away. It sounded like someone was out there walking around in a circle as each floorboard creaked a bit differently. I stayed in bed until I worked up the courage to see what it was. As I opened the door the noise stopped. Nothing was there. To this day I have not heard the same noise again. My room is above one of the bed and breakfast rooms we use for letting out and some have said that, this being an old building, people moving downstairs were causing the floorboards on our level to creak. A good theory, but we did not have any guests that particular evening.

“A few weeks back I had a couple of mediums stop here for a drink. They told me that they had spoken to our lady. They said she was very happy here. ”

So who is this walking ghost? The story that accompanies the haunting is that many generations ago a maid at the Ship was jilted by her lover shortly before their wedding day. The distraught girl ran home and committed suicide in her room in the attic. Since then she has been heard walking around upstairs and, sometimes, has been seen on the upper floors. She is dressed in a long grey dress which reaches to the floor.

“Don’t worry about her,” was the Guvner’s advice. “She appears friendly.”

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

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Dark Lady of Cornwood, Devon

The village of Cornwood lies on the southern edge of Dartmoor and the roads that lead here go nowhere in particular, merely petering out as they reach the edge of the high moor.

This rather remote village was once home to the Raleigh family. Unlike many of the Devon families who made their fortunes on the high seas during the Tudor and Stuart years, the Raleighs were an established part of the local gentry owning land and manors. The most famous member of the family to have lived at Cornwood was Sir Walter Raleigh. He began his colourful career as a soldier, joining the Protestant Huguenots in the religious wars of France in the 1560s and then joining the English army fighting the Earl of Desmond in Ireland in 1580.

In 1581 Raleigh was chosen to carry the dispatches proclaiming victory in Ireland to Queen Elizabeth I. The dashing young man at once won the approval and favour of the queen. According to a popular story, he had bought an expensive outfit for his first appearance at court. When walking with her courtiers, the queen was faced by a muddy puddle, she hesitated as she did not want to ruin her silk shoes. The other courtiers likewise held back, but Raleigh whisked off his costly cloak and laid it across the mud so that the queen could keep her shoes clean. Whether there is any truth in the story is unclear, but Raleigh was certainly popular with the great and glorious Elizabeth.

Over the following 20 years, Raleigh used his contacts at court to secure lucrative business contracts and to acquire spreading acres. Raleigh sailed on voyages of exploration to North and South America, served in Parliament, fought the Spanish and wrote impressive historical works. He was the first man to introduce potatoes from the Americas to Britain, planting them extensively on his estates. In 1603 Elizabeth died, and Raleigh’s favour died with her. He was arrested on the orders of the new king, James I, and thrown into the Tower of London on trumped up charges of treason. In 1618, King James needed to win the favour of Spain, so he ordered the execution of Raleigh whose exploits on the Spanish Main had not been forgotten.

Raleigh’s widow, Elizabeth Throgmorton, abandoned London and the court, instead retiring to Raleigh’s estates. According to local legend, she came to Cornwood together with Raleigh’s fortune. She jealously guarded the revenues from the family estates and kept a careful watch over the Raleigh wealth. After she died, the Raleigh heirs found that the estates were well-run and the accounts in perfect order. But of Lady Elizabeth’s accumulated gold there was no sign. A small chest with a few coins was found, but no trace of the vast store of wealth that the accounts indicated must exist could be turned up.

Soon after her death the phantom of the dead Lady Elizabeth began to walk the lanes and fields around Cornwood. She is now known as the Dark Lady, for she wears a long dress of dark, heavy silk which rustles clearly as she walks. Whether the ghost is seeking to lead people to her lost treasure, or is guarding it from intruders, is unclear. Nobody who has seen her has stayed around long enough to find out.

The Dark Lady of Cornwood seems fated to wander forever around this beautiful stone village beneath the looming mass of Dartmoor.

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