by Ben Johnson
In modern day Britain we deny the existence of ghosts, yet at the same time we are afraid of them. Ghosts take many forms, from shackled skeletons clanking through graveyards to spectral balls of light smelling of sulphur, which have been reported on sites of ancient battlefields. There are legless ghosts, kind ghosts, cruel ghosts, headless ghosts, traditional and legendary ones, some well documented and some seen only by a privileged few.
Royal ghosts are very popular – who for example wouldn’t be proud to tell their friends that they had just met Queen Anne Boleyn face to face! On May 19th, the anniversary of her execution in 1536, Anne Boleyn’s ghost draws up to the door of Blickling Hall in Norfolk in a coach, carrying her severed head in her lap. Blickling Hall is believed to be her birthplace although there is no evidence to support this. She also appears at the Tower of London (which is where one would expect her to be) at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula where she was buried.
Henry VIII’s Queens seem to be the restless type of ghost. Jane Seymour, the mother of his only son Edward, carries a lighted taper through the Silver Stick Gallery in Hampton Court…. Catherine Howard, who was beheaded for adultery in 1542, has been seen and heard, screaming for mercy from Henry, in the Haunted Gallery of Hampton Court.
Some ghosts stubbornly cling to their mortal remains on earth. Bettiscombe House in Dorset and Burton Agnes Hall in Yorkshire have skulls of former occupants amongst their furnishings. If the skulls are removed, or an attempt is made to bury them, their hideous screams ring through the house and dire misfortune falls on the occupants.
A very welcome ghost is that of an unknown man who appears at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. His appearance at a play is a sure sign that the play will be a huge success.
Ghosts are not always human. Drake’s Drum which was with Sir Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the world, is supposed to beat when England is in danger.
Borley Rectory in Essex was reputedly the ‘Most Haunted House in England’. For the better part of a century mysterious happenings occurred there.
Borley had everything; phantom coaches, poltergeists (see picture to the right, taken at Borley Rectory!), a headless man and a spooky nun. Writing appeared on the walls of the rooms, much to the amazement of people watching! Objects never seen before, appeared and disappeared, bells rang and mysterious footsteps were heard. The Rectory burnt down in 1939, again in mysterious circumstances, but still the phenomena continued! In 1943 the site was excavated and at a depth of 3 feet remains of a woman’s skull were found.
Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland, the birthplace of Princess Margaret and the ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore, has at least nine ghosts. One is said to be Macbeth, and a Grey Lady haunts the chapel. Earl Beardie plays dice with the Devil and a ghostly madman can be seen walking on the roof along ‘The Mad Earl’s Walk’ on wild winter nights. These are just a few of the ghosts of Glamis.
What can be the explanation of these ghosts? It is impossible to dismiss them as hoaxes as some have been haunting for centuries! It may be that these strange, often terrifying manifestations are evidence of another world that we the living, have never explored.
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