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 unsalable.
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 assassin—a
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
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Haunted Houses
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
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 Strathmore.
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 in—forever. 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
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
Haunted Houses Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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.
Alexander, Marc. Haunted Houses You May Visit. London
Sphere Books, 1982.
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. New York Bantam; London
Pan Books, 1978.
Bennett, E. T. Apparitions and Haunted Houses A Survey of Evidence.
London Faber & Faber, 1939. Ann Arbor, Mich.
Gryphon Books, 1971.
Dunne, John J. Haunted Ireland Her Romantic & Mysterious
Ghosts. Belfast Appletree Press, 1977.
Dyer, T. F. Thiselton. The Ghost World. London Ward &
Downey, 1893.
Flammarion, Camille. Haunted Houses. London T. Fisher
Unwin, 1924. Reprint, Detroit Tower Books, 1971.
Hallam, Jack. The Ghost Tour A Guidebook to Haunted Houses
Within Easy Reach of London. London Wolfe Publishing, 1967.
Harper, Charles G. Haunted Houses Tales of the Supernatural,
With Some Account of Hereditary Curses and Family Legends. London
Palmer, 1924. Reprint, Detroit Tower Books, 1974.
Hippisley-Coxe, A. D. Haunted Britain A Guide to Supernatural
Sites Frequented by Ghosts, Witches, Poltergeists & Other Mysterious
Beings. London Hutchinson; New York McGraw Hill,
1973. Reprint, London Pan, 1975.
Holzer, Hans. Hans Holzer’s Haunted Houses A Pictorial Register
of the World’s Most Interesting Ghost Houses. New York
Crown, 1971.
Lang, Andrew. The Book of Dreams and Ghosts. London
Longmans Green, 1897. Reprint, New York Causeway, 1974.
Moss, Peter. Ghost Over Britain. U.K. Elm Tree Books, 1977.
Price, Harry. The End of Borley Rectory. London George G.
Harrap, 1946.
———. ‘‘The Most Haunted House in England’’ Ten Years’ Investigation
of Borley Rectory. London Longmans, 1940.
Smith, Susy. Ghosts Around the House. New York World Publishing,
1970. Reprint, Pocket Books, 1971.
Tabori, Paul, and Peter Underwood. The Ghosts of Borley Annals
of the Haunted Rectory. Newton Abbot, U.K. David and
Charles, 1973.
Underwood, Peter. Gazetteer of British Ghosts. London Souvenir
Press; New York Walker, 1975.
———. Gazetteer of Scottish and Irish Ghosts. London Souvenir
Press, 1973. Reprint, New York Walker, 1975.