Haunted Britain: where to go for a frightful time

A severed arm floats through the air in a centuries-old house in Edinburgh. At a pub on a remote Welsh hillside, visitors swear they can feel a noose being slipped round their necks. And there's a castle in Cornwall where a spectral monk roams the grounds. Just a load of old Halloween hokum? Or the creepy manifestations of the supernatural? You might not be sleeping so easily after Richard Jones has taken you on a guided tour of Britain's scariest places. Boo!
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In 1791, the body of William Winter was hung here in chains within sight of the place where he had murdered old Margaret Crozier. The present gibbet stands on the exact spot where stood the old; the stone at its foot is the base of a Saxon cross that marked the highest point of this ancient drove road, down which cattle were driven from Scotland to the English markets.

Eerily positioned on the bleak and lonely Elsdon Moor, surrounded by the purples and greens of the turf and heather, a creaking chain swings back and forth high over your head, swayed by even the faintest murmur of a breeze.

The wild countryside that surrounds this sinister place is the haunt of "The Brown Man of the Moors". An 18th-century tale tells of two young men who were hunting on this inhospitable and fearsome moorland. Having lunched, one of the two went to drink from a nearby stream, but on raising his head from the cool babbling waters, he was surprised to see a dwarf staring at him, "... his head covered with frizzled red hair, his countenance ferocious and his eyes glowing like those of a bull..."

The stoutly built little man began to scold the youth for hunting the creatures that he claimed were his subjects, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was trespassing on his land. The hunter apologised profusely, whereupon the apparition told him that he was the protector of all the creatures who dwelt upon the fell and it was his solemn duty to punish anyone who hurt them.

The dwarf invited the youth to come home and dine with him, informing him that he was a vegetarian. The youth accepted the invitation but suddenly his companion shouted to him, causing him to turn away for a brief second. When he looked back, the little man had disappeared.

The two friends continued hunting, returning home laden with much game. The youth who had seen the apparition would, however, have done well to heed its warning for that very night he took ill, and within a few days he was dead.

To this day, many who find themselves wandering the bleak moors report glimpses of a redheaded spectre gazing upon them with a ferocious eye and malicious intent.

Castle Rising Castle: NORFOLK

The imposing Norman castle was built c1150 on to ramparts that had probably been constructed by the Romans. In 1330 Edward III sent his mother, Queen Isabella to live here in unofficial imprisonment for her part in the savage murder of her husband Edward II. She lived in relative comfort to begin with. But then "the She-Wolf 's" mind gave way and she degenerated into insanity and became a gibbering, screaming, cackling wreck. Although she drew her last tortured breath here more than 600 years ago, her raucous cackle and maniacal ghostly laughter are still heard echoing from a room on the upper levels of the Castle, loud enough to send a chill racing down the spine of those who happen to hear them.

50 Berkeley Square: LONDON W1

The plain Georgian exterior of 50 Berkeley Square belies an interior that still retains much of its 18th-century grandeur. Sweeping staircases, high plaster ceilings, overmantel mirrors, and marble floors and fireplaces, lend the building a Dickensian air. For more than 50 years it has been the premises of Maggs Bros, antiquarian booksellers. Yet there is nothing in the yellowed pages of the books on display that comes close to matching the sinister happenings that were once an everyday occurrence within these walls. Happenings so terrifying that, for much of the 19th century, 50 Berkeley Square was known as "the most haunted house in London." Charles Harper in Haunted Houses, published in 1907, stated that "... It seems that a Something or Other, very terrible indeed, haunts or did haunt a particular room. This unnamed Raw Head and Bloody Bones, or whatever it is, has been sufficiently awful to have caused the death, in convulsions, of at least two foolhardy persons who have dared to sleep in that chamber.... "

One of them was a nobleman, who scoffing at tales that a hideous entity was residing within the haunted room, vowed to spend the night there. It was agreed, however, that should he require assistance he would ring the servants' bell to summon his friends. So saying, he retired for the night. A little after midnight there was a faint ring, which was followed by a ferocious pealing of the bell. Rushing upstairs, the friends threw open the door, and found their companion, rigid with terror, his eyes bulging from their sockets. He was unable to tell them what he had seen, and such was the shock to his system that he died shortly afterwards.

Mary King's Close: EDINBURGH

Plague was a frequent visitor to Edinburgh's rat-infested tenements. One of the worst outbreaks came in 1645 and the residents of Mary King's Close were decimated by it. The city fathers, to contain the contagion walled the district and left the residents to die. Once the pestilence had abated, the stench from the corpses became unbearable, and two butchers were sent to clear away the detritus of the deceased.

The men hacked the rotting cadavers to pieces and wheeled them away. soon new residents came to live in Mary King's Close and, by 1685, it had become common knowledge that spirits from the plague year were still there. Thomas Colt-heart, a lawyer, and his wife were beset in their new home by numerous apparitions. The disembodied head of an old man, with a grey wispy beard and terrible eyes was seen, sometimes accompanied by a severed arm, which seemed intent on shaking Coltheart's hand. A ghostly child appeared in mid air and a menagerie of strange, deformed phantom animals paraded before the astonished couple.

Today it is a secret place that can be visited only on pre-booked tours, but it also reputed to be the most haunted part of Edinburgh. A tall lady, dressed in a long black gown, is one of the many ghosts that frequent this underground world of lengthening shadows. Perhaps the most poignant of its earthbound spirits is that of a little girl, whose lank hair hangs over a pale face that is covered in weeping sores.

Jay's Grave: DARTMOOR

Beside the road from Heatree Cross to Hound Tor, you come across one of Dartmoor's most poignant monuments, the wayside grave of Kitty Jay. She is said to have been a workhouse orphan who, having been deserted by her lover, hanged herself.

In those days, a suicide could not rest in consecrated ground but had to be buried at a crossroads with a stake driven through the heart. Kitty's bones were discovered in 1860 by a road mender, James Bryant, and reburied in their present location. From that day, fresh flowers would mysteriously appear on the grave. No one could discovered who was responsible. Even when snow lay thick on the ground the flowers would appear each morning, yet there were no footprints. More startling are the reports of a footless, ghostly figure seen floating over the grave.


Remote and almost majestic in its sturdy elegance, the massive castellated gatehouse of Thornton Abbey stands as a proud and impressive testimonial to the skills of the ecclesiastical craftsmen who constructed it 600 years ago. It is possessed of a compelling aura that casts a powerful spell as it towers over you, a threatening edifice of crumbling brown stone and hand-hewn brick, aloof, desolate and thoroughly evil. Leering, sunken-eyed, stone faces, blackened by age, gaze down upon you as you pass beneath its exterior, their tongues poking out in devilish derision, while a bearded, demonic figure, its arms splayed in fiendish welcome, watches your progress like some silent guardian of a terrible secret.

The gatehouse, and the scattered remnants of the abbey that lie beyond its rotting gates, are reputed to be haunted by Thomas de Gretham, the 14th Abbot of Thornton. He was said to have been a practitioner of the black arts, a dabbler in witchcraft and a seeker after the pleasures of the flesh. His crimes were such that he was subjected to a particularly harsh punishment. Taken to a dark room in the depths of the monastery, he was bricked up alive and left to die in the subterranean, airless dungeon. Little wonder that his sinister figure has been seen around the grounds of Thornton Abbey or standing in the shadowy corners of the towering gatehouse, where it is not difficult to imagine that dark forces are hard at work.

The Tower: LONDON

The Wakefield Tower is haunted by that most tragic of English monarchs, Henry VI. He was murdered here "in the hour before midnight" on 21 May 1471, as he knelt at prayer. Tradition asserts that the knife was wielded by the Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). On the anniversary of his murder, Henry's mournful wraith is said to appear as the clock ticks towards midnight.

In the gallery where Henry VIII's suit of armour is exhibited, guards have spoken of a terrible crushing sensation that descends as they enter, but which lifts, the moment they stagger, shaking from the room.

A memorial on Tower Green remembers all those who have been executed here. Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey are both said to return to the vicinity, while the ghost of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury returns here in a dramatic fashion. At the age of 72 she became a target for Henry VIII's petty vengeance. Her son, Cardinal Pole, had disputed the king's claim as head of the Church in England. But he was in France and so Henry had his mother brought to the block on 27 May 1541. When told by the executioner to kneel, the old lady refused. "So should traitors do and I am none," she sneered. The executioner chased the countess around the scaffold where he hacked her to death. The shameful and ghostly spectacle has been repeated several times on the anniversary of her death.

The Bloody Tower is home to the most poignant shades of this fortress. When Edward IV died in 1483, his 12-year-old son was destined to succeed him. However, both he and his younger brother, Richard, had been declared illegitimate by parliament and their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, who ascended the throne as Richard III. The boys, meanwhile, had been sent to the Tower of London. Around June 1483, they mysteriously vanished, and were never seen alive again. When two skeletons were uncovered in the White Tower in 1674, they were presumed to be the remains of the princes and buried in Westminster Abbey. The wraiths of the two children are often seen in the Tower.

The Skirrid Mountain Inn: MONMOUTHSHIRE

The oldest reference to this delightful hostelry, nestling within the shadow of the Skirrid Mountain, is from 1110 when John Crowther was sentenced to death for sheep-stealing and was hanged from a beam of the inn. Over the next 800 years, 182 felons would meet a similar fate over the stairwell. As well as serving up frothing tankards to thirsty travellers, the premises also doubled as a courthouse. Until, in the mid-19th century, it pulled out of the execution business and has since dedicated itself to the sustenance of the living.

make their presences known in a rather direct and disturbing manner. Several people have felt the sensation of an invisible noose being slipped around their necks and have been alarmed to feel it tightening. Although they always break free from the malign grip, they bear the distinct impression of the marks of the rope for several days afterwards.

Another ghost to haunt the old and, in parts, spooky property is that of woman who, although never seen, is both felt and heard by staff as she rustles invisibly past them, her progress marked by a distinct chill in the air.


At 11.11am on Monday 27 November 1944, seismographs in Geneva and Rome registered a massive eruption somewhere in northern Europe. The source of the blast turned out to be the Fauld gypsum mines, where 3,500 tons of stored bombs and ammunition had ignited in what was the largest single explosion of the war before the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A million tonnes of soil had been thrown 11 miles into the air, where it rained back down, showering an immense area of one square mile with thick, black sludge.

A huge bomb crater, a quarter of a mile in diameter and 300 feet deep, had been gouged out of the earth, and the reservoir on the hill above the village had burst, sending a wall of mud 15ft high surging into the Fauld plaster works. Two farms had disappeared, pieces of dead cattle littered the landscape, and 70 people lay dead.

The crater still exists, and a feeling of total desolation exudes from it. Many visitors to the site have been overcome with a feeling of utter grief, while others have heard sobs echoing from deep beneath the ground, or have been startled by a disembodied, tuneless voice that sounds eerily in the air around them.

Pengersick Castle: CORNWALL

A forlorn aura hangs over the picturesque bulk of Pengersick Castle. It is a magical place, yet you sense an indefinable hopelessness, as though some ancient tragedy is about to be re-enacted. It is no surprise to discover that Pengersick is one of Corn-wall's most haunted places.

Its original owner, Henry Pengersick, appears to have been something of a psychopath who made several contributions to the ghostly population of his family home. He was excommunicated for killing a monk from Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire, who had the audacity to drop by to collect tithes. Is this the spectral monk whose hooded figure wanders the castle and grounds? He has been seen many times.

Pengersick had dynastic ambitions, and he chose as his bride the beautiful Engrina Godolphin, a daughter of the family that owned the adjoining estate. The escapades of her violent husband may well have taken their toll on the gentle Engrina; her spirit roams the castle, particularly the main bedroom, which also seems to be home to other restless souls.

In the early hours, guests have been startled by the appearance of a ghostly woman by the window. After gazing pensively into the night, she turns and walks to the Jacobean four-poster bed. Lying down, she clutches her stomach and writhes in agony. Is she the earthbound revenant of some resident who was poisoned in the room?

Richard Jones, a national authority on all things supernatural, has been researching and writing about the ghosts of Britain and Ireland for almost 25 years, and has been devising and conducting haunted tours since 1982. His books include 'Haunted Britain and Ireland' (New Holland Publishers, £12.99); 'Haunted Houses of Britain and Ireland' (New Holland, £19.99); 'Haunted London' (New Holland, £12.99); and 'Haunted Inns of Britain and Ireland' (New Holland, £12.99). For information on his books and tours, and for details of Britain's haunted houses, castles and villages, visit the websites: www. haunted-britain.com; www.london-walks.co.uk; and www.rippertour.com