Bath Spa reveals South West's most haunted locationsWednesday, 1 November, 2017
One of the country’s leading experts on all things haunted has revealed a list of his top 10 most haunted locations across the South West. William Hughes, Professor of Gothic Fictions at Bath Spa University has curated the list below with the help of his Master’s degree students who’ve chosen tragic tales of adultery and death, spooky sightings in department stores and bloody body parts which will make even the strongest of stomachs turn!
Sally in the Woods
Many people in Somerset refuse to drive through Brown’s Folly Woods at night – a stretch of road near Bath that is known to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered gypsy girl, Sally. Legend has it that the birds in the woods do not sing and that a child’s scream has been heard from the depth of the darkness, whilst some report sightings of a young girl suddenly running out into the road. The woods are notoriously sinister at night, and have been the scene of many unexplained fatal car crashes over the years.
Bristol Old Vic
Sarah Macready was an actress at the Theatre Royal, home of Bristol Old Vic, in the Victorian era and was the mistress, then wife of William Charles Macready who managed the theatre at the time. After his passing, she went into mourning and dressed in black while she assumed the role of manageress. More than 150 years after her own death, there are still sightings of her in a long black dress roaming the old parts of the theatre. Her ghost reportedly carries a whiff of lavender, which actors and actresses can still smell backstage today.
The Box Tunnel
The Box Tunnel, situated in between Bath and Chippenham, is considered to be one of the spookiest parts of the railway network, with several different ghost sightings reported over the years. In 2011, four men working on the track heard the cries of a women at the east exit, and reportedly spotted a women in a nightdress looking down on them, who then vanished before their eyes. The sounds of a phantom train is also said to echo along the tracks in this tunnel.
Nestled in the Wiltshire village of Lacock, Lacock Abbey is said to house a hunched-back dwarf that runs around the upstairs rooms of the Tudor manor. It is not known where or what era he comes from, but a skeleton of a dwarf was found buried at the Abbey many years ago. Witnesses claim the ghost is dressed in dark clothes and is ‘hideously deformed,’ though he has only ever been seen fleetingly before he disappears. There is also said to be the ghost of a lady, famed to be Rosamund Clifford, who haunts the lake near the Abbey.
Red Lion Pub, Avebury
The Red Lion Pub has its own female phantom, Florrie. During the 17th-century English Civil War, Florrie’s husband is said to have returned unannounced from the conflict and caught his wife in the arms of another man. He shot her lover dead and slit Florrie’s throat. He then said to have dragged her body to the well (still to be seen in one of the pub's front rooms) and, having thrown her down it, sealed it with a huge boulder. Florrie's ghost has remained behind ever since, searching, it is said, for a man with a beard. Florrie has been seen emerging from and disappearing into the old well, which is now glassed over to serve both as a curiosity and as a drinks table at The Red Lion.
Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire
Avebury Stone Circle is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles. During the 14th century, it was said villagers began to topple the megaliths and bury them in deep pits. This zealous act of vandalism angered whatever spirits lurked within the stones and they have taken vengeance ever since. Today, people talk of seeing strange, ghostly figures moving about the stones at night, or of hearing singing where no human forms are to be seen.
Theatre Royal, Bath
The top left hand box facing the stage at the Theatre Royal is said to be the favourite haunt of the Grey Lady ghost. Legend has it that she fell madly in love with an actor in the 18th century and hanged herself when her love was unrequited.
The Debenhams store is said to be haunted by the ghost of Henry Stafford, the 2nd duke of Buckingham who was beheaded in 1483 after being found guilty of treason against King Richard III. It is said his last few hours alive were spent locked in the attic of the building, which was the Blue Boar Inn at the time, before his execution took place outside. An electrician who was working alone was forced to run out of the store never to return again after feeling a freezing hand grasp his shoulder. The hauntings here have become so regular that he is now known as The Duke of Debenhams.
The Haunch of Venison
The Haunch of Venison Inn, built in 1320, is home to several ghosts. However, the most active ghost is ‘The Whist Player’ who, during a game of cards, had his hand chopped off and then cast into the fireplace by locals after they became suspicious of his significant winnings from the game. Years later, when renovation work was taking place, the hand and the cards were rediscovered with a hauntingly fresh appearance. The current landlady has reported many strange encounters while at the pub, including knocking, banging, footsteps and the feeling of being watched.
Farleigh Hungerford Castle
The castle has a long and dramatic history which really packs a gruesome punch. As well as the execution of two family members in the 15th century, the notorious Lady Agnes Hungerford is believed to have murdered her husband before burning his body in the castle bread oven so that she could marry the Lord of the castle, Sir Edward Hungerford. As well as this macabre past, there are also eight human-shaped lead coffins in a crypt under the chapel.
Bill Hughes, who has lived in the West Country since 1993, has a long-standing interest in ‘true’ regional ghost stories and has spent many years getting under the skin of many of these local legends. In 2009, he was interviewed on Most Haunted Live at St George’s Hall in Liverpool during a ghost-hunting investigation.
He says: “I’ve been interested in hauntings since I was young and have been studying some of the UK’s most spooky sightings ever since. There are so many South West ghost stories I could have mentioned, including a very eerie phantom drummer on the Salisbury Plain, but these ten still give me the best chills every time! My love for all things haunted led me into a career studying ghosts and the Gothic, which I’m pleased to be able to share with the next generation of ghost hunters at Bath Spa.”
MA Crime and Gothic Fictions at Bath Spa University
Bath Spa University’s Master’s degree in Crime and Gothic Fictions is the only UK programme to integrate the study of both genres, and is the only course of its kind in the South West. It introduces students to the advanced study of two popular genres that have entertained and informed culture from the nineteenth century to the present day. The Master’s degree also includes a module on regional ghost stories.