Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Phantoms at Kenilworth Priory

 Kenilworth Priory was once one of the largest such houses in the kingdom. The priory was founded in 1122 by the same Geoffrey de Clinton who first built the castle. Presumably he wanted to ensure both his worldly safety and spiritual sanctity by these twin foundations so close to each other. By 1450 the Priory had become so large and wealthy that the Pope raised it to the status of an abbey and gave its prior the status of Abbot – then a privilege well worth having within the Catholic Church.

In 1538 the Abbey was closed down along with all the others in England by King Henry VIII as part of his establishment of the Protestant Church in his kingdom. The vast complex of buildings was mostly demolished and the materials sold off for profit within a year or two, a 10 hundredweight ingot made of lead melted from the roof was found buried in the field and is now in the church. The foundations, however, were left behind as too difficult to dig out. The great open space of Abbey Fields now covers these foundations, providing a welcome open park to the people of Kenilworth.

In the 1880s the site was fully excavated and the diggers were surprised by how much of the old Abbey church still remained. The ruins of this building have been left exposed and now form part of the churchyard to the town’s parish church of St Nicholas. The location of the buried ruins can have come as no surprise to the townsfolk, however. For centuries a procession of phantom monks has left the west door of the parish church and marched slowly down the avenue of trees that leads down to Abbey Field. At the end of the avenue, the procession turns left and continues for a few yards before vanishing. The spot where they disappear was revealed during the excavations to be the main entrance to the Abbey church. Clearly the ghostly monks knew where they were going.

Some people have claimed to hear the faint sounds of chanting and choral singing while resting in the old ruined church. These phantom echoes of long ago seem to come and go. They were especially active in the late 1970s, then faded for a while before returning in the 1990s. No visible ghosts accompany the eerie sounds of monkish chanting from so long ago. Nor do the sounds last for very long. By the time a person has realised what they are hearing, looked around for somebody with a radio and realised there is no such easy explanation, the singing has gone.

Unlike the ghosts, which remain.

from Haunted Places of Warwickshre by Rupert Matthews

Saturday, 25 February 2012

An Enigmatic ghost near Worksop, Nottinghamshire

Five miles south east of Worksop stands a National Trust property with a ghost: Clumber Park. The magnificent, sweeping park of almost 4,000 acres is open daily, showing off over 120 types of tree, a Victorian Gothic chapel and, of course, the ghost.

She is seen most often near the magnificent serpentine lake, lingering on the balustraded bridge or flitting around the delightful Doric Temple. She is said to be a lady dressed in a long coat or cloak of grey or pale brown. She does not stay in sight for long and fades rapidly from view if anyone gets too close. There does not seem to be any particular story attached to her.


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ghostly Monks at Bayham Abbey, Kent.

The beautiful ruins of Bayham Abbey stand almost on the border with Sussex, close to the village of Little Bayham. Lying, as they do, in the sheltered and heavily wooded valley of the River Teise, the ruins have a picturesque quality that makes them among the most charming in England.

The beauty of Bayham Abbey is no accident. In the late 18th century the ruins were made the centrepiece of a sprawling landscape garden by the famous designer Humphrey Repton, pupil of the great ‘Capability’ Brown. Repton did, however, have the sense not to alter the ruins themselves too much. The north transept, cloisters and a pair of chapels remain, but the rest of this once sprawling complex has been reduced to mere foundations.

Perhaps predictably the ghosts of Bayham are monks. There is nothing remotely threatening about these gentle ghosts. There are about a dozen phantom monks, who form up in procession to move around the cloisters and into what remains of the church. Moving in pairs, the monks walk up what was once the centre of the choir to the site of the high altar, where they vanish.

This impressive procession occurs only at dusk, or soon after darkness has settled on the ruins. The ghosts have no light of their own, so if they appear after dark they are seen only if the moon is out.

from HAUNTED PLACES OF KENT by Rupert Matthews.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Reasons to avoid Ashleigh Barton, Devon

A few miles north of Plymouth stands the tiny hamlet, it is little more than a farm and a couple of cottages, of Ashleigh Barton. This tiny settlement seems on the brink of being engulfed by the housing estates and factories of Plymouth that lie just over the hill to the south.

The lady ghost who lurks beside the road junction here is not a ghost that anyone would want to encounter. Nobody seems to know who she is nor what her connection is to this place, but everyone is agreed that she is to be shunned. It is said that the only reason this lady appears is to announce the approaching death of a member of the family of whoever sees her.

It is, perhaps, best that this road junction should remain quiet and largely ignored. If too many people were to pass this way there is no telling what the White Lady of Ashleigh Barton might get up to.

from HAUNTED PLACES OF DEVON by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 17 February 2012

Bishop Bergherst at Fingest

The ghost that lurks in the churchyard at Fingest, and wanders the road leading to the manor, is a harmless soul. Dressed as a forester or gamekeeper from centuries gone by, he is reported to walk quietly if he does not realise he is seen, but once he catches sight of somebody he bustles up to them as if to ask a favour, only to vanish abruptly.

The ghost might be almost anyone, but local legend has it that this is no humble gamekeeper. This is the ghost of Bishop Henry Berghersh of Lincoln who did much wrong hereabouts in his lifetime.

Back in 1321 the manor of Fingest belonged to the Bishopric of Lincoln, providing a comfortable stopping place when the bishops were travelling the country. Bishop Berghersh wished to enclose the open valley lands between Hanger Wood, and possibly also Mill Hanging Wood and take it into his estates. This would have linked the divided lands and made a useful area for hunting deer when the good bishop was entertaining nobility or royalty.

The problem was that the valley floor was common land on which the villagers of Fingest grazed their cattle and sheep. They did not much like having 300 acres taken away from them, leaving just 100 acres on which to graze their livestock. Dislike turned to great discontent when a series of poor harvests led to hunger. While neighbouring villages had livestock, milk and cheese, the folk of Fingest had nothing. There were fights, riots and the boundaries of the bishop’s new lands were broken down.

In 1343 Bishop Berghersh finally decided that the villagers had a case, and decided to allow them once again to graze their livestock on the old common lands. But he then promptly died before his orders could be put into effect. In the confusion of electing a new bishop, the instructions concerning Fingest were forgotten and the enclosing bank and ditch left intact.

It seems that Bishop Berghersh died with a troubled conscience for only days later his ghost was met by his squire. The ghost, the squire reported, was clad in green and carried the tools of the forester. The phantom bishop announced that he had been condemned to act as the ghostly forester of Fingest until his orders were been carried out and the villagers again allowed to use their common land. The squire hurried off to the church authorities at Lincoln, who promptly ignored his story as being too far fetched to consider.

Back in Fingest, events moved on. The Black Death struck England, killing a third of the population and causing disruption across the land. While the disputed lands remained enclosed, the villagers quietly dug breaches in the bank to allow their livestock through. The clergy of Lincoln were too busy with their own affairs to pay much attention to what happened in distant Buckinghamshire. The good folk of Fingest regained access to their lands, but poor Bishop Berghersh was not freed from his penance.

The ghost of a man dressed in sturdy green clothes has been reported walking from the manor to the church, and in the churchyard itself. If this is Bishop Berghersh, he might be expected to spend more time patrolling the disputed lands. But perhaps his penance has been lifted enough so that he can visit the church to pray for forgiveness. It has, after all, been a long time and his sins were not really that bad.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Limping Ghost of Winchester

I came to Winchester Cathedral on a bright spring day when there was still a hint of winter in the chill breeze. Office workers and shop staff were munching on sandwiches in the Cathedral Close and on the Green in front of the great West Front. There were some tourists too, but they were intent on getting into the Cathedral, or out again and on to the next tourist site.

Most of the sandwich scoffers knew little or nothing of the ghostly monk. Though one young woman ventured “Oh, yeah. Some chap took a photo of the ghost in the Cathedral. I’ve seen it in a book.” This, in fact, was a quite different ghost entirely - of a medieval workman, but that is another story.

Finally, I found someone who knew of the spectral cathedral monk. “My brother saw it  once,” declared a middle aged gent in a well-cut tweed jacket. “Nothing very frightening about it though. Just a monk walking to the cathedral. He limps, I think. He didn’t even have his head under his arm.” But then very few ghosts do appear as the popular stories would have us imagine. When was this? “Oh some years ago now. The 1970s? Could be, could be.”

Quite how old the phantom might be is rather unclear. Winchester Cathedral is one of the oldest religious foundations in England. As the centre of the old Kingdom of Wessex, Winchester was the home of the kingdom’s most prestigious religious building since the conversion of Wessex in the 7th century. The foundations of the early English cathedral can be seen traced out on the green beside the present building.

The mighty cathedral we see today was largely the work of the Normans, who tore down the old church and erected their own to mark in majestic stone the start of the new regime. The church was extended in the 13th century and in the 14th was remodelled in the then fashionable Perpendicular Gothic. Throughout all this time, the Cathedral was served by monks. Only after Henry VIII’s Dissolution in the 16th century did the monks leave the cathedral to the clergy. In theory the phantom monk might date back to any century from the 7th to the 16th.

But there is one clue. During one of the periods of alterations that take place around the cathedral from time to time a number of burials were unearthed in what is now a private garden, but was evidently then part of the cathedral precincts. The bodies were all male and date to about the 14th century. They were probably monks.

What does this have to do with our phantom? Well, one of the bodies had a grossly deformed arthritic right knee. It would have given him a very bad limp.

from HAUNTED HAMPSHIRE by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 13 February 2012

A dangerous ghost in Bolney, Sussex

This medium distance walk embraces one of the loveliest churches in Sussex and some of the more gentle scenery. It also passes the internationally famous Hickstead Horse Show ground and the marks left by some energetic 1990s road building. The phantoms to be met along the route are inoffensive, though that did not stop one of them hitting the local headlines.

The Walk

1) From the corner of Bolney Street and Ryecroft Road walk east along Ryecroft Road. This lane ends in a T-junction with what was once the main A23 London-Brighton Road. The modern road lies a hundred yards further east and is constantly busy with the roar of high speed traffic. The old road is now a quiet road running north to link up with lanes that run off to other villages nearby.

This stretch of road is haunted by a ghost that was briefly notorious back in the 1980s when it caused a road accident here. The phantom in question is that of a young lady wearing a long coat or dress of some dull colour, such as beige or grey. She is usually seen walking along the side of the road, but on one occasion took a very different route. She stepped out in front of an oncoming car.

The driver and passengers all felt the sickening thump as the car hit the woman, whom they took to be a real person. The car swerved out of control and ran off the road. Fortunately neither the driver nor any of the passengers were badly injured, though the car was a wreck. Of the woman who had been apparently run down, there was no sign. The badly shaken driver spent some time searching for the body he was certain must be there, but found nothing. He reported the accident to the police but they, too, were unable to find the missing body.

Only then did a local intervene to tell the well known local tale of the haunting. With no better explanation to hand, the missing woman was assumed to have been the ghostly woman of Bolney.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Gentle Ghosts at Leeds Abbey, Kent

This is a gentle walk that takes in what must be the most scenically beautiful castle in England. The walk passes beneath the walls of the castle, as well as taking in the adjacent villages and exploring part of the valley of the River Len. The ghosts to be found here speak of the castle’s past, and of a now vanished structure that once dominated the upper Len Valley.

The Walk

1) Park in the high street of the village of Leeds, close to The George public house. The lane running beside the pub is George Lane.

Although there is nothing to show above ground today, this lane and the fields south of it was for some centuries the site of the Augustinian Priory from which the Abbey Farm takes its name. Excavations in the 1970s have shown that the buildings were extensive and reached beyond the field into the woods beyond. The Priory was founded in 1119 and dedicated to St Mary and St Nicholas. As with many other medieval religious houses, Leeds Priory was closed down by King Henry VIII during the Reformation, in 1539, and converted into a comfortable mansion for the local gentry. This house was demolished in the 1780s after it fell into disrepair, though one wall remained standing until the early 20th century.

Perhaps inevitably there has been talk about ghostly monks flitting around this field and the nearby woods. Although the stories are common, actual witnesses are rare so it is not entirely certain if this is a true haunting or just a dim memory of the days when monks really did walk the streets of Leeds.

from Ghosthunter Walks in Kent by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Terrible Ghosts of Tarrant Gunville, Dorset

The area around Tarrant Gunville is peaceful and gentle, but it was not always so. The ghosts here are reminders of violent and bloody days in years gone by. The walk takes the visitor through two truly delightful villages and past one of the most picturesque churches in Dorset. There are no steep hills and the route travels mostly over surfaced lanes, though one stretch of bridleway can be sticky after rain.

1) Park in the High Street at Tarrant Gunville. The road is narrow in places, so be careful to ensure that your parked vehicle does not obstruct other road users.

2) Walk north out of Tarrant Gunville to where a lane turns off to the right signposted to Bussey Stool. Follow this narrow lane between tall hedges as it climbs along a valley to pass over two crossroads. Beyond the second crossroads the surface becomes gravel and in wet weather has frequent and deep puddles filling the potholes. The track comes to an end as it passes through a gate and runs out in a field.

This is the notorious, and very haunted, Bloody Shard Gate. Back in the late 18th century a notorious and vicious gang of poachers operated around this area of Dorset, known as Cranborne Chase. These were not local farmhands who bagged the odd rabbit or pheasant for their family pot. They were organised, violent men who killed and stole large numbers of deer to sell for cash at the London meat markets. They did not care who got hurt or what injuries they inflicted, just so long as they got away with prime meat. The gang intimidated locals into silence and beat gamekeepers close to death. It was a bad time to be honest in the village of Tarrant Gunville. Although just about everyone in the area knew that the gang was led by a retired sergeant of dragoons named Blandford from the village of Pimperne, nobody could be found to testify against him and his gang.

So the local landowners and gamekeepers came up with a plan. They arranged for a tip off to be given to the gang that a particularly fine herd of deer were lurking around Farnham Woods. Knowing that the best access was through the gate now known as Bloody Shard, the gamekeepers lay in wait, armed and equipped with leg irons and handcuffs. Right on cue Sergeant Blandford and his poachers came into sight, dragging a pair of fine deer carcasses behind them.

The gamekeepers pounced, determined to rid the area of the gang of poachers once and for all. It was, by all accounts, a vicious fight. One keeper had three ribs broken and a second, famous as the finest boxer in the county, had his leg broken. In the course of the fighting Sergeant Blandford had his right hand sliced clean off by a gamekeeper’s sword. The gang were eventually overpowered and sent to Dorchester for trial.

Which left the gamekeepers with the problem of what to do with the severed hand. After some discussion they took it to the vicar at Pimperne and had it buried in the churchyard. The poachers were transported for up to seven years apiece to the new colony in what is now Australia. Some years later Blandford returned to England, set up a shop in London and by all accounts lived a respectable life until his death.

And it was then that the ghosts began to walk – or in one case to crawl. Both the dead man and his severed hand returned to the scene of the fight where they were separated. The man wanders around the area, head bent to scan the ground. The severed hand drags itself around the ground as if trying to be noticed. To date the two have not been seen together. Perhaps if the hand finds the man, or the man finds the hand, the ghosts will vanish forever.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Phantom Boy of Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire

One room at Tutbury Castle is particularly haunted. The King's Bedchamber was where King Charles slept during his stay here. Many visitors report that they have seen orbs of light or strange spark effects and a few claim that an invisible man has reached out and held their hands in this room.

Recently during a tour one gentleman told the guide that he had really enjoyed a ghost walk and what made it special was the little boy in costume sitting at the top of the stairs. This came as a surprise to the guide as there are no little boys in costume on the tour!

Another ghost at Tutbury Castle is that of a little old woman. Many visitors have seen her outside the great hall and floating outside the Hall's window. She has also been seen in other the areas of the castle including the cellar where she has removed keys and moved furniture around.


Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Cursed Treasure of Penyard Castle, Herefordshire

No mystery surrounds the reason why the wicked old ghost of Penyard Castle lurks around the old ruined walls. Buried deep beneath the ground in two wooden barrels is a vast store of gold. The barrels lie in a cave, the entrance to which is closed by a pair of iron gates which lie in turn at the end of a long tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel is hard to find, and the route itself is partially fallen in. This might be as well.

Back in the early 19th century a local farmer decided to try his luck at getting the treasure. He knew that the gold was guarded by a spirit set there by the last owner of Penyard Castle, but thought he knew how to defeat it. Yew wood had the reputation for being proof against witches, while rowan (known locally as quicken) was said to deter the little people. The farmer therefore made a harness out of yew for his pair of plough oxen and a goad of rowan for himself.

He then clambered down into the tunnel and tied a rope from the harness to the iron gates. Using the goad he got his oxen to start pulling. With much effort the team jerked the gates open. In excitement the farmer saw the rumoured barrels beyond the doors, overflowing with gold coins.

“Ha”, called the farmer in excitement. “I believe I shall have it.”

Suddenly the rope broke and the gates slammed shut. A phantom jackdaw then appeared and regarded the farmer with a malevolent eye.

“Had it not been
for your quicken tree goad
And your yew tree pin
You and your cattle
Had all been drawn in”
Crowed the bird before disappearing in a flutter of wings.

from HAUNTED HEREFORDSHIRE by Rupert Matthews