Haunted Pubs of England
by Dr. Gareth Evans
The Public House is probably one of the most archetypal of English images and its role as an important centre of both urban and rural social life remains little diminished in the 21st Century. Many of the country's Inns and Ale Houses can trace their origins back over the centuries and have stood as silent witnesses through changing times and historic events.
Perhaps it is their unique position as common ground where anyone with the price of a pint is welcome that has led to so many of them gaining a reputation for being haunted. Could it simply be that having so many people through their doors over the years, makes a ghostly guest who would really rather linger longer, more likely?
Whatever the reason, from Cornwall to Northumberland, the "Haunted Pub" is almost so commonplace as to be a tautology and wherever the visitor may travel, there is almost certain to be a local tavern with its own ghostly tale to tell.
The Royal Castle Hotel, Dartmouth
In general, British ghosts seem to fall into one of two categories. There are those which might be called traditional or legendary Ð famous heroes or unhappy Queens -- well known but seldom encountered and the more commonly reported spectres of ordinary folk, though often the story behind their haunting is less well explained. Built in 1639 on the Quayside beside the River Dart, the Royal Castle Hotel is said to play host to both sorts. Unknown ghostly men have been seen fighting outside the entrance and the hotel is said to be haunted by Princess Mary, wife of William III, who appears either inside the hotel or in the spectral carriage sent by her husband to collect her. Sometimes only the sound of the coach and horses is heard -- which according to legend always arrives at 2am -- and latterly its appearance has been taken as the portent of impending death.
The George and Dragon Hotel, West Wycombe
Shakespeare had Mark Anthony warn that "the evil that men do lives after them" and sometimes hauntings can serve as a poignant reminder of this particular insight. The picturesque village of West Wycombe, set against a backdrop of rolling pastures and ancient woodland, seems as incongruous a setting as it is possible to imagine for some of the most sinister and debauched goings-on in 18th Century England -- the notorious Hellfire Club. Founded by Sir Francis Dashwood, the wealthy members of this group would gather at the George and Dragon before moving their activities later in the night to the nearby West Wycombe caves. One night after closing time, Susan the Inn's young, pretty and evidently naive barmaid agreed to follow along. Whether she fell in the darkness and hit her head, as was the official report, or was beaten and raped, as seems more likely given the company she was in, will probably never be know, but she is said to have managed to drag herself back to the Hotel, and then died. Her ghost -- affectionally known as "Sukie" -- walks the corridors and if followed will disappear into her old room, weeping. At other times, phantom footsteps have been heard -- perhaps those of Hellfire Club members atoning for their sins.
Once the officers' mess for the Duke of Wellington -- whose portrait hangs above the fireplace -- this Belgravia pub is haunted by a phantom Guards officer. The story is a widely known one and well documented by the news-clippings in a number of languages displayed in the pub itself. Caught cheating at cards, the officer suffered a sound thrashing at the hands of his fellow players before falling -- or possibly being pushed -- to his death down the stairs. Since then ghostly shadows like wisps of smoke have been seen and various odd happenings have been reported at the Grenadier, all of which have been ascribed to the spectral Guardsman.
The Mermaid Inn, Rye
This inn is reputedly one of the most haunted in the whole of England. With parts of the building dating back to the mid-12th Century and once frequented by smugglers, the Mermaid has a long and rich history; perhaps ghostly associations are only to be expected. Modern guests have reported seeing people walk through the walls, having their clothes rearranged by a ghostly figure of a woman or being awoken by a man dressed in old-fashioned clothes sitting on their bed in the middle of the night.
The inn was once famously the location for a ghost watch, arranged by a local psychic in the early years of the last Century. The then landlord and assembled watchers are said to have witnessed a vicious ghostly duel culminating in the victor running his opponent through with his rapier, before hiding the body and fleeing into the dawn. As well as the periodic re-enactments of this fight, there are other phantom duellists, a Grey Lady and the ghost of a servant girl supposedly killed by a smuggler for speaking too freely about his illicit activities.
Other Notable Haunts
The Langholm Hilton, is said to be haunted by the ghost of an early 20th Century German Prince who committed suicide from the hotel balcony, while the Georgian House Hotel, plays host to several phantoms, most notably a number of ghostly children.
The ghost of a young man murdered fighting off a Royal Navy press gang haunts the White Hart at Hemel Hempstead, while another murdered man -- Mr Chicket -- robbed and killed at the Brushmakers Arms, Upham is said to be still looking for the money cruelly stolen from him all those centuries ago. The Angel Hotel at Lymington has two apparitions -- one a tall sea captain, seen wearing his naval coat and the other a coachman, while in Winchester's oldest pub, The Hyde, the ghost of a woman who died there from cold is said to pull bedclothes off unwary guests.
North of England
The Commodore in Cumbria has a resident ghost which delights in moving furniture around, while the spectre of a woman who was murdered and thrown down a well haunts the Old Original in Oldham. Manchester's Ring o' Bells pub is said to stand on what was originally an old Druidic site and parts of its foundations date back to pre-Norman times. Poltergeist activity has been reported, along with "Edward" -- the ghost of a Cavalier slain during the English Civil War. The cellars of Chester's George and Dragon pub are said to be haunted by the ghosts of Roman legionnaires. Though the building itself is a Victorian construction, it sits above the old Roman road, along which once stood the memorial stones of dead soldiers, some of which can be seen in the City's Grosvenor Museum.
The King's Head in Cirencester has several ghosts including a cavalier and a monk while the Ship at Oundle is haunted by one of its own old landlords, who killed himself one night by throwing himself from one of the upstairs windows. In a similar vein, the ghost of Harry Franklin wanders the passages of Shipman's Public House in Northampton. Harry had been manager at the pub, until his gruesome suicide. In Gloucestershire, there has been an inn on the site of the Ram since the 13th Century, making it one of the county's oldest and as befits its antiquity, a range of ghostly activity has been recorded over the years.
The vanishing figure of an old-time seaman has been seen sitting on the wall outside Cornwall's famous Jamaica Inn. In Dorset, legend tells of deformed twins locked in a room at the Crown Hotel; with no other playmates in their lifetime, their childish laughter can still sometimes be heard. The ghost of a grey lady and a number of phantom monks haunt the Grosvenor at Shaftsbury while over in Wiltshire, the ghost is said to be that of a long-dead murder victim, hurled down the Red Lion's well.
East Anglia & the Fens
Walberswick is possibly the most haunted village in the country, its most famous ghost being that of a large black dog, usually seen on the shore at low tide, the first recorded mention of it coming from a Church pamphlet dating from 1577. This phantom -- described as being as big as a calf -- haunts the road between the local vicarage and the 600 year-old Bell pub, which also boasts a number of other apparitions of its own. If the black dog is the area's most famous ghost, then George Orwell would have to be its most famous ghost spotter -- he wrote of seeing the spectre of a small stooping man in the summer of 1931.
St Anne's Castle in Essex is said to be haunted by the ghost of a local witch, who began to visit the pub when the stone under which she had been buried -- now in the car park -- was disturbed during the Second World War. The witch theme continues at the Thorn Hotel, Mistley, with the spectre of Mathew Hopkins, the Witch Finder General, haunting the site of his interrogations in an upstairs room.
Known to have been selling ale since 1068, the thatched-roofed Olde Ferry Boat Inn on the banks of the Ouse in Cambridgeshire has a strong claim to being England's oldest hostelry. A stone in the bar marks the grave of Juliette Tewsley, who hanged herself back in the 12th Century -- unable to take the pain of the local woodcutter's rejection. According to the local legend on the anniversary of her death she is to be seen weeping and pointing forlornly at her final resting place.
Britain's supernatural legacy is as varied as it is rich and from weeping wronged lovers, through innumerable Grey Ladies, spectral monks and headless horsemen to Queens of the realm, it would be a jaded ghost-hunter indeed who failed to find something of interest.
- The Royal Castle Hotel
- 11, The Quay, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 9PS
- Tel: +44 (0) 1803 833033
- The George and Dragon Hotel
- High Street, West Wycombe, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP14 3AB
- Tel: +44 (0) 1494 464414
- 18, Wilton Row, London, SW1X 7NR
- Tel: +44 (0) 20 7235 3074
- Mermaid Inn
- Mermaid St, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7EY
- Tel: +44 (0) 1797 223065
- The Langholm Hilton, Portland Place, London
- Georgian House Hotel, St Georges Drive, London
- South East
- The White Hart, High Street, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
- The Brushmakers Arms, Upham, Hampshire
- The Angel Hotel, Lymington, Hampshire
- The Hyde, Winchester, Hampshire
- The Dolphin, Littlehampton, West Sussex
- North of England
- The Commodore, Millom, Cumbria
- The Old Original, Scouthead, Oldham
- The Ring o' Bells, New Lane, Middleton, Greater Manchester
- The George and Dragon, Northgate, Chester, Cheshire
- English Midlands
- The King's Head Hotel, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
- The Ship, Oundle, Northamptonshire
- Shipman's Public House, Northampton, Northamptonshire
- The Ram Inn, Wooton Under Edge, Gloucestershire
- South West
- The Jamaica Inn, Bolventor, Cornwall
- The Crown Hotel, Poole, Dorset
- The Grosvenor Hotel, Shaftsbury, Dorset
- The Red Lion Avebury, Wiltshire
- East Anglia & the Fens
- The Bell, Walberswick, Suffolk
- St Anne's Castle, Great Leighs, Essex
- Thorn Hotel, Mistley, Manningtree Essex
- Olde Ferry Boat Inn, Holywell, near St Ives, Cambridgeshire
- The Historic Pubs of London, by Pearl Harris
- A Beginner's Guide to British Pubs, by Graham Hughes
- A History of Britain in Its Pub Signs, by Elaine Saunders
- Manningtree, Mistley and the Ghost of the Witchfinder General, by Dr. Gareth Evans
- ParanormalX Presents: Haunted Pubs and Hotels
- UK's Haunted Public Houses
- Haunted Britain and Ireland
- http://www.afallon.com/ (subscription site)
- The Haunted Pub and Hotel Guide
- London Halloween Haunted Pub Crawl
- Reports of Haunted Public Houses from the Paranormal Database
- This site focuses more on types of paranormal activities and contains little actual information about the pubs themselves.
- Harbottle's Pub Guide
Gareth Evans is a freelance writer and photographer, having previously worked in the private sector before lecturing at the University of Durham. Having travelled extensively, he now concentrates on writing about subjects much closer to home -- both geographically and metaphorically. He is particularly interested in myths, legends and folklore, together with the often forgotten history of the Celtic lands, especially that of his own native Wales and Scotland, his adopted home. Gareth is currently planning his next book, looking at the role of the pagan Horned God in myth and history.
Article and photos © 2005 Gareth Evans