Haunted Houses

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Haunted Houses

About 1919, a number of British newspapers contained an advertisement offering for sale "an ancient Gothic Mansion, known as Beckington Castle, ten miles from Bath and two from Frome." After describing the noble scenery around Beckington and the rare architectural beauty of the house itself, the writer of this advertisement proceeded to say that the place was all the more desirable because it was reported to be haunted.

No doubt there are people who long for a house containing a genuine ghost, and it was sometimes said that the rich tradesman, anxious to turn himself into a squire, used to look for a haunted manor, while humorists declared that ghosts were on sale at department stores and that the demand for them among American millionaires was stupendous.

But if the purchaser of Beckington Castle had to pay an additionally high price because the place had a veritable ghost, in reality anything of the sort used to make a house almost un-salable. At Lossiemouth, on the east coast of Scotland, a fine old mansion stood untenanted for years and was eventually sold for a merely nominal sum. The reason was, simply, that according to popular tradition, the building was visited nightly by a female figure draped in white, her throat bearing an ugly scar, and her hands tied behind her back with chains. Nor was it merely concerning old country mansions that stories of this nature were current. Even in many densely-populated towns there were houses, reputed to be haunted, that could not be sold. Following World War II, the acute housing shortage in Britain made homebuyers less finicky and agents less forthcoming about ghosts.

Royal palaces, closely watched and guarded as they invariably have been, are popular residences of such inhabitants. Legend contends, for example, that Windsor Castle is frequently visited by the ghost of Sir George Villiers, and it is said that in the reign of Charles I, this ghost appeared to one of the king's gentlemen-in-waiting and informed him that the Duke of Buckingham would shortly fall by the hand of an assassina prophecy that was duly fulfilled soon after, as all readers of The Three Musketeers will doubtless remember.

At Hackwood House, near Basingstoke Hampshire, there is a room in which no one dares to sleep, all dreading "the grey woman" supposed to appear there nightly, while Wyecoller Hall, near Colne, boasts a specter horseman who visits the place once a year, and rides at full speed through the garden.

Very different is the legend attached to Dilston, in Tyneside, where a bygone Lady Windermere is said to appear from time to time and indulge in loud lamentations for her unfortunate husband, who was executed for his share in the Jacobite rising of 1715. Dilston Hall is now an educational establishment, but permission can be obtained to visit the castle ruins.

At Salmesbury Hall, Blackburn, there is a ghost of yet another kind, neighborhood tradition affirming that a weird ghostly lady and her knight promenade the grounds of the hall, indulging all the while in silken dalliance. At the present time, the hall houses an exhibition center and may be visited by tourists.

There are also more gruesome apparitions and among these is the ghost of Amy Robsart, which haunts the manor of Cumnor, in Oxfordshire. Amy was a real woman, not a mere creation of novelist Sir Walter Scott. She was married in 1550 to the Earl of Leicester and her tragic death is commonly attributed to him, but a tradition exists to the effect that Queen Elizabeth was really the responsible person, and recalling an authentic portrait of Amy, which depicts her as a woman of charm and of no ordinary beauty, it is easy to believe that the ill-favored queen hated her and took strong measures to get her out of the way.

Numerous rectories rejoice in the ghost of a clergyman murdered by his parishioners, while at Holy Trinity Church at York a phantom nun was said to appear occasionally on winter evenings and walk about muttering paternosters. The story concerning her is that, on one occasion during the Civil War, a band of soldiers intended to loot the church. On approaching it with this intention they were confronted by an abbess, who warned them of the divine wrath they would surely incur if they committed such an act of sacrilege. They laughed at her piety, never thinking that she would offer any resistance as they tried to march en masse into the building, but hardly had they commenced the assault when their opponent snatched a sword from one of them and stood bravely on the defensive. A fierce battle ensued, the abbess proving herself a fierce warrior by killing a number of the soldiers. Ultimately she lost her life, and her ghost was supposed to frequent the church she sought to defend.

There are few parts of England so rich in romance as Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, once the scene of Robin Hood's exploits. One place in this region that claims a number of ghosts is Newstead Abbey, the seat of Lord Byron's ancestors. A part of the garden there is popularly known as "the devil's wood," a name which points to the place having been infested once by minions of the foul fiend, while one of the rooms in the house was haunted by a certain "Sir John Byron, the little, of the grey beard," who presumably ended his days in some uncanny fashion. His portrait hung over the hall in the dining room, and a young lady staying at Newstead about the middle of the nineteenth century insisted that once she had entered this room to find the portrait gone, and its subject seated by the fireside reading a black-letter folio volume.

The poet Byron himself cherished very fondly all the ghostly traditions that clung to his home and it is recorded that, on his learning that there were stone coffins underneath the house, he immediately had one of them dug up and then opened. He used some of its gruesome contents to"decorate" his own library, while he had the coffin itself placed in the great hall through which thereafter the servants were afraid to pass by night. He also utilized the supernatural lore of Newstead in one of his poems, and from this we learn that a specter friar used to parade about the mansion whenever some important event was about to occur to one of its owners:

   When an heir is born he is heard to mourn,
   And when aught is to befall
   That ancient line, in the pale moonshine
   He walks from hall to hall.
   His form you may trace, but not his face,
   'Tis shadowed by his cowl;
   But his eyes may be seen from the folds between,
   And they seem of a parted soul.
   Say nought to him as he walks the hall,
   And he'll say nought to you:
   He sweeps along in his dusky pall,
   As o'er the grass the dew.
   Then, gramercy! for the black friar;
   Heaven sain him, fair or foul,
   And whatsoe'er may be his prayer,
   Let ours be for his soul.

There are many stories of hauntings at that grim ancient fortress, the Tower of London, but visitors must remember that those were usually reported at night, when the gates were closed to tourists.

Passing from England to Ireland, we find many traditions of haunted houses. For instance, at Dunseverick in Antrim dwells the soul of a bygone chief so wicked in his lifetime that even hell's gates were closed to him. Other haunted houses in Ireland, now open to visitors, include castle Matrix in Limerick, castle Malahide in county Dublin and Springhill Manor in county Londonderry.


In Scotland there are also numerous haunted buildings, notably Holyrood Palace and the castles of Hermitage and Glamis. The ghost of Hermitage is considerably addicted to exercise and in truth his story marks him as having been a man of rare activity and ambition. Lord Soulis was his name, and, possibly hearing of the exploits of Faust, he vowed that he too would invoke the devil, who generously made his appearance. "Vast power will be yours on earth," said the devil to Soulis, "if you will but barter your soul therefor," so his lordship signed the requisite compact with his life's blood and from then on his days were given over to the enjoyment of every conceivable pleasure.

Soon, however, he felt that his end was near, and calling some of his vassals around him he told them of the awful fate awaiting him after death. They were thunderstruck, but soon after Soulis was gone it occurred to them that, if they could destroy his mortal remains completely, they might save his soul from the clutches of Beelzebub. So having sheathed the corpse in lead they flung it into a furnace, and (so the story goes) manifestly this cremation saved his lordship from the nether regions, for had he gone there his soul could not have been active still at Hermitage.

The ghost story associated with Glamis Castle, the family seat of the Earl of Strathmore, is quite different from the rank and file of supernatural tales and bears a more naked semblance of veracity than pertains to any of these. It is a matter of tradition that there is a secret chamber at Glamis, a chamber that enshrines a mystery known only to a few members of the Strathmore family, and three or four generations ago a lady, staying as a visitor at Glamis, vowed she would solve the riddle.

Her first difficulty was to locate the actual room, but one afternoon, when all the rest of the household were going out, she feigned a headache and thus contrived to be left completely alone. Her next move was to go from room to room, putting a handkerchief in the window of each, and having done this she went outside and walked around the castle to see whether any room had evaded her search.

Very soon she observed a window that had no handkerchief in it, so she hastened indoors again, thinking that her quest was about to be rewarded. But try as she might she could not find the missing room, and while she was searching the other guests returned to the house, along with them the then Lord Strath-more.

He was fiercely incensed on learning what was going on and that night shrieks were heard in a long corridor in the castle. The guests ran out of their rooms to find out what was wrong, and in the dim light they perceived a curious creature with an inhuman head, wrestling with an aged manservant who eventually managed to carry the monster away. There the story ends, but as remarked before, it bears a semblance of truth, the probability being that some scion of the Glamis castle family was mad or hideously deformed, and was accordingly incarcerated in a room to which access was difficult and secret.

Another explanation was offered by the nineteenth-century writer F. G. Lee, who claimed that strange, weird, and unearthly sounds were regularly heard in the castle. The then head of the family unlocked the haunted room, then swooned away in the arms of his companions. What had he seen? The story goes that there had been a feud between the Ogilvie and Lindsay clans, and that one day a party of fleeing Ogilvies demanded sanctuary in the castle. The lord of the day could not refuse, but feared to offend the Lindsays. He thereupon led the Ogilvies to a remote room and locked them inforever. What the later head of the family saw was the skeletons of the starved Ogilvies, who still had the bones of their arms clenched in their teeth, having been driven in desperation to eat their own flesh.

Be that as it may, there are traditions of other ghosts at Glamis, including a White Lady, a tall thin man known as "Jack the Runner," and a small black servant. Glamis is Scotland's oldest inhabited castle and has many dark and gloomy legends. As a stately home, it is accessible to visitors at the present time.

Borley Rectory

The reputation of "The Most Haunted House in England" was bestowed upon Borley Rectory in Suffolk by psychical researcher Harry Price in his book "The Most Haunted House in England": Ten Years' Investigation of Borley Rectory (1940). Price rented the rectory for a year and advertised for observers. Over a period of 14 months, 2,000 paranormal phenomena were reported: voices, footsteps, ringing of bells, locking and unlocking of doors, messages on walls, transportation of objects, crashes, breaking of windows, starting of fires, lights in a window, the apparitions of a nun, and a ghost coach with a headless coachman.

Price died in 1948, two years after publication of another book The End of Borley Rectory, following the demolition of the rectory. Seven years later, psychical investigators Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney, and Trevor H. Hall published another book, The Haunting of Borley (1956), alleging that Price deliberately faked phenomena and distorted the Borley story. Hall later followed this work by The Search for Harry Price (1978) in which he attempted methodically to demolish Price's reputation not only as a psychical researcher but also as an individual, but in the end simply overstated his case against Price. So far as Borley Rectory is concerned, the claimed hauntings stretch back in time to the period of its construction, long before the appearance of Price on the scene.

The study of the phenomenon of haunting was a popular exercise of psychical research, but has dropped out of popularity with the rise of laboratory-based parapsychology.

Visiting Haunted Houses

British ghosts have been well documented in a series of books. Haunted Britain by Antony Hippisley-Coxe (1973) lists the haunts of varied ghosts of the British countryside, including grey ladies, headless horsemen, phantom hounds, healing wells, and witches. The pretty village of Pluckley in Kent has no fewer than 12 phantoms, including a White Lady, a Red Lady, a poltergeist, a monk, the Mistress of Rose Court, a schoolmaster who hanged himself, a miller, a watercress woman who burned to death, a highwayman impaled to a tree by a sword, a screaming man who died in a clay pit, and a coach and horses in the main street. Hippisley-Coxe also conducted a weekend ghost safari in conjunction with Grand Metropolitian Hotels and Boswell and Johnson Travel of New York. A coach trip took tourists to supernatural sites in the West Country frequented by ghosts, witches, and poltergeists. (In the United States, similar ghost tours were organized by Richard T. Crowe in Chicago, Illinois.)

Jack Hallam, former picture editor of the British Sunday Times newspaper, published The Ghost Tour: A Guidebook to Haunted Houses Within Easy Reach of London (1967), and The Ghost Who's Who (1977) which lists some 500 frequently reported apparitions in England and Wales, ranging from a Bronze Age ghost through kings and queens to a man in a bowler hat haunting a runway at London Airport. Hallam claims that Britain is the most haunted country in the world, with 25,000 phantoms in England and Wales as well as thousands more in Scotland and Ireland. He states that the most haunted English village is Bramshott in Hampshire, with 300 living residents and 17 ghosts.

Other useful guides to ghost-ridden Britain include Ghost Over Britain by Peter Moss (1977) and Peter Underwood 's Hauntings (1977), Gazetteer of British Ghosts (1975), and Gazetteer of Scottish & Irish Ghosts (1973). Irish ghosts are documented in Haunted Ireland: Her Romantic & Mysterious Ghosts by John J. Dunne (1977), which lists 52 traditional Irish phantoms.

Of course, hauntings are not confined to the stately homes of the British Isles. In the United States there have also been celebrated haunted houses, including the Audubon House of Key West, Florida, San Antonio's Brooks House, Fort Sam Houston's Service Club, the Dakota Apartments in New York City (which inspired the setting of Rosemary's Baby ), and the Governor's Mansion in Delaware, right up to modern times with the claimed phenomena of the Amityville Horror. Some of the most famous earlier hauntings, such as the Great Amherst Mystery, are more accurately classified as cases of poltergeist, though most people have trouble distinguishing poltergeists from ghosts.


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. Gazetteer of Scottish and Irish Ghosts. London: Souvenir Press, 1973. Reprint, New York: Walker, 1975.