(Update July 31st 2015 – having just attended and had a great evening on the Black Shuck ghost tour I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting a physical tour – http://cambridgeghosttours.com/ )
Firstly – I love ghost stories, especially old folklore style stories of eeriness, secondly, despite my love of reading books of this nature I’m not 100% convinced of the existence of ghosts! Lights, background noise, doziness I think can all be contributing factors, I’m not saying I’m a non believer, just that I still need to be convinced. And after almost 25 years of interest – I’m not yet, but I still really enjoy reading and listening to stories.
As I enjoy the spooky stories so much I decided to take some colleagues on a Halloween tour of Cambridge city centre for some spooky fun. Cambridge has a fair few ghost tours so I was keen to include some locations not normally mentioned on tours – and to add a touch of spooky spice to have a set of dowsing rods and a maximum and minimum thermometer to hand. The greatest stories of the night were by far those recounted by individuals, although those won’t be in this blog post as they are better passed by word of mouth!
Jesus College & The Everlasting Club
Lets start with what I think is the most spooky Cambridge ghost story – whether or not it’s a work of fiction. In Jesus College a room that was locked up for many years, on the right hand landing of a staircase, a staircase attached to Cow Lane. Why it was locked up and why the windows was bricked up can possibly be found in the story of the Everlasting Club.
This story takes us back to the years from 1738 to 1766 seven students met up each October in Jesus College- the rules of the club were that every member had to attend the annual meeting on the 2nd of November (the feast of souls) and anyone who didn’t would be penalized (or in the words of the book mulcted at the discretion of the president).
Between 1738 and 1743 there were many meetings of the group, although in 1743 the group had it’s absentee. Henry Davenport (Trinity) was absent from this years meeting, he was on service in Germany at the time. An entry on the next page read Henry Davenport – Cannon shot would November 3 rd 1743, Incorporeal Member” – shot the day after he was absent from the meeting.
The other six members however were in attendance that October, and this is where it gets even more spooky, despite being in attendance the groups president (Alan Dermot) had been killed prior to the meeting. The president was involved in a duel in Paris and news of his death was yet to reach Cambridge so the entry was later in the book. Very creepy.
That year the club disbanded leaving Cambridge in fear of their now dead president,and the regular meetings stopped – however by a feeling of fear of their now dead president the 5 remaining members returned to the club that October for their engagement.
For 18 years the group attended the meeting in the room of Charles Bellassis – who was now a tutor at the University. In 1766 Bellassis was the only member of the original 7 left alive, there was no official October meeting that year but on the night of the 2nd of November there were furious outbursts from Belle’s room. At midnight the noise stopped. The next morning Bellassis was found dead in his room, slumped next to the table where the red book of the everlasting club lay – chairs upturned but for the first time since 1742 all seven members having signed their attendance.
The room where this took (known as the “ghost room” place had it’s window bricked up, and the door padlocked until 1924 and has since been used as a store.
This story was published as fiction by Sir Arthur Gray in 1919 in the book Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye – although there is belief that the Everlasting Club is based on the history of the ghost club – the rules for the societies being the same, the meeting on the 2nd of November having compulsory attendance, and anyone not attending the meeting would be penalised. And why else would a room of been padlocked for over 100 years?
Does that send a shiver down your spine, I hope so.
Jesus college also may have the ghost of a nun – and this may be linked to the rumoured tunnel from Jesus college over to Abbey House reportively the most haunted house in Cambridge.
The River Cam and the ducking chair
Ok, so no ghosts here but still could this have been the location of the fairly horrible tests they performed on suspected witches. According to Daniel Codd’s Mysterious Cambridge Cambridge had a ducking chair until the mid 1700s should it be needed to prove a witches guilt, the last recorded use being in 1766 to punish a lady for being a woman of public nuisance or “common scold”!
The Pickerel Inn
With a history that dates back to the 1500s I read there is a grisly past here with two landlords hanging themselves from hooks in the cellar, another ran down Fisher Lane (next) and killed herself in the river, her presence has been seen running down this very path. This type of ghost (I learned from a Envision Paranormal radio show) is known as a residual ghost and acts in a way like a tape recording. Don’t let you put this off entering, they have some of the finest beer in Cambridge!
Fisher Lane – along the side of the Pickerel Inn
This is possibly the oldest street in Cambridge and despite it’s short length walking down it is like walking back in time. Now here we have a strange form of haunt – the smell of Opium – or strong perfume being burned, in the nineteenth century sailors would stay here and one in a drug induced episode burned to death in his lodgings here.
Cambridge Folk Museum
Up the hill from the Pickerel is the Cambridge Folk Museum, which if you haven’t been to I strongly recommend visiting. Previously the White Horse Inn – A solider in Civil War uniform has been seen on the stairs where once there was a secret room. It’s been many years since the solder has been seen but his footsteps can still be heard on the stairs. Worth visiting as for a small museum they have a lot on display.
For anyone living in the village of Histon another civil war ghost in the form of a sad cavalier – reported in the Pitkin guide to haunted Cambridge he sits slumped in the doorway of a medieval house just opposite the village pond.
Legend here is of a large black cat, maybe a panther than has been seen in the grounds. In Robert Halliday & Alan Murdie’s rather excellent Cambridge Ghost Book they reports that a college stable block here had burned down on the 3rd of August and on the yearly anniversary of that fire the crackling of burning can be heard. In Enid Porter’s Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore there are reports of Dr James Wood – an undergraduate who at the time was too poor to afford a fire so would study by the candlelight on staircase O.
All Saints Passage
This passage feels as if it should have a ghost but I can’t find any reports of one. So we stopped for a ghost story from one of the group – and a light attached to the wall started flashing!
Sidney Street and The Black Lady
According to Enid Porter’s book back in the 1820s Professor George Pryme (Political Economy) recorded in his autobiography of a house (no 15) that the servants would not stay due to the presence of a black lady. A skeleton had been dig up in the grounds of the house although this could be related to it once being inhabited by a professor of anatomy.
Sidney Sussex College and the floating head
The story here is 1967 – an undergraduate John Emslie visiting a friend, his friends room was empty so he waited. Whilst waiting he felt a presence, a pale head started to form in the air, his neck became stiff and it was hard to breathe. Many others smelt the smell of rotting flesh on the day.
The next day another apparition was seen on the floor above. Three students who had experienced the phenomena decided to perform a Ouija Board in the room where John had had his first experience – it was uneventful until the door of the room was sprung open although unfortunately this was due to 20 members of the local ghost group joining them.
Previously college documents reported similar apparitions in 1841 – distorted parts of human body appearing to students.
Oliver Cromwell’s head is buried here. After his death Charles II returned and Cromwell’s body was exhumed from it’s grave and publicly hanged and mistreated. The head was removed, taking 8 blows of the axe and then displayed at Parliament – I’m glad we don’t still do such things! His head was then passed around several people over the years before changing hands for £230 in 1775 (over a years income in the day), it is finally buried in Sidney Sussex College in 1960. The exact burial location only being known by two college workers – I’ve heard this is to stop Scottish ladies dancing on his grave.
It is unlikely however to be Cromwell’s ghost here – prior to his burial he had only spent a year at the college so this wouldn’t tally with events in 1841. The other thing with Cromwell is that his ghost already seems quite busy up and down the country – particularly just up the road in Ely.
Haunted Tree – Christ’s College Masters Lodge
Walking down and opposite the old bingo hall is a tree. The sounds of laughter and apparition of a small school boy climbing in the tree have been reported here – once again I’ve not seen this documented anywhere.
Water Lane – Chesterton
Not everything I wanted to cover is in walking distance! So – this is my ghost story – and you’ll only read this here. It was a misty autumn evening and I returned to my car from the Green Dragon pub to drive home, my car at the time was an old Volvo 340. I got in and thought I saw a shadow in the rear view mirror so I looked again as I reached for my seatbelt. For a split second on the back seat of my car I saw an old policeman with a pasty face just sitting there staring into the mirror. Naturally I immediately jumped out of my car and said several loud words. Nervously I walked round the car peering in, there was nothing there. I opened every door of the car – nothing there, the car was empty save for the pile of Magnum, Whitesnake and Belinda Carlisle tapes in the passengers foot well. After 5 minutes or so I got back in, checking the rear view mirror again, nothing, my rational mind kicked back in and I questioned whether or not I’d really seen anything (I would add that I’d had no alcohol, hot chillies or overdone the fizzy pop!) and I drove home, checking in the mirror maybe more than I would normally. Nothing. The next morning I again checked thoroughly, even looking in the boot, nothing. I’ve thought about that instant many times since and talked myself into it being the mist, the street lights and shadows. But was it? Even though I have changed car since I still have a good look in the back when getting in at night.
So – now lets go about 4 miles south’ish of Cambridge to Wandlebury – now a nature reserve but once a iron age hillfort (approx 500 BC) – and recently they’ve added a cycle path so if you haven’t visited it I would recommend it – the fort is long gone but the ditch remains.
The place feels as if it should be haunted and the main story happens on a summer evening, on shouting “Knight Knight come forth O Knight” a knight will come to do battle with you – this was taken so seriously that apparently university students where once banned from visiting and trying it.
In 1987 the Cambridge evening news reported a young girl who got lost on the Gogs here – when her parents found her again she spoke of the man that she had been speaking to and described a roman soldier – when quizzed she knew nothing of that period in history.
The place has a great history – Earthworks here date to 3500BC – at the same time as those in Averbury (pre-dating Stonehenge) but here similar earthworks where built here using mud (as we’re a bit lacking in stone).
There was long rumoured to be chalk hill figures that were searched for in the 1950’s by Tom Lethbridge (writing a book on them too) – using a method of pounding poles into the ground he looked for soft earth and apparently discovered not just a hill figure but one with horse and chariot.
With a landscape that has seen Celts, Romans, Saxons and Vikings settle (there is even a book – Where Troy Once Stood based on evidence that Troy was here and not in Turkey when he fought wars in the Bronze age) and with archaeologists suggesting it a Neolithic ritual landscape sitting on the grass in Wandlebury you can feel history, and you could well be sitting on an ancient chalk carving. And I didn’t mention the bones of the giants found on a nearby hill in Cherry Hinton 100 years ago.
Back to the centre.
The large hall is said to be very active – music has been heard – an orchestra playing In the mood – the Glen Miller Classic, hair pulled and hands touched by what feels like a young girl hanging on. No explanations have been given but the music might date back to WW2 when there would have been a lot of airmen in the area. This area had many active bases for both RAF and US forces. – Duxford, Fowlmere, Oakinghton, Waterbeach, Bassingbourne, Bottisham and there are more stories of the supernatural there too – so many from Cambridge air port itself that a book was published just covering that one site. And I’ve heard anecdotes of strange behaviour in the Duxford control tower too!
The guildhall was also the location for anyone apprehended under the witchcraft acts of 1563 and 1604 as here the Cambridge gaol was situated.
Lets now go about 7 miles south of Cambridge in the village of Sawston, and this is a location in private hands so it can’t easily be visited.
When I was young and growing up in this village – people (before the internet) spoke of the ghosts of Sawston Hall, a night watchman who could be heard walking up and down the corridors and had been seen in the grounds. And a black dog – one that could have been the black shuck. This was the days when if you couldn’t find it in a book the information was hard to get hold of – it relied on stories being passed from person to person, so there was obvious room for the story to change. It was covered in my favourite book of the time The Worlds Greatest Ghosts. Personally I didn’t see any ghosts – although we did like to sneak into the grounds through the woods to try and find them.
The local press at the time (the paper was called Sawston Scene) reported the sounds of a spinet being played and female laughter. Other reported ghosts included hands being held, the noise of walking on stairs and items of clothing being lifted into the air. Even the security guards who were on site when Marlon Brando was in the village filming “The Nightcomers” reported that they heard music. And this could be linked by potentially the most famous event that ever happened in the village (reported in Haunted East Anglia by Joan Foreman).
Now lets jump back in time by 450 years. Mary Tudor (Queen of Scots and Henry VIII’s eldest) spent the night in Sawston Hall 1553 – she had received word of her dying brother (Edward the 6th), but it was all a trap from the Duke of Northumberland who wanted to kill her to ensure his own daughter-in-law (Jane Grey) would be put on the throne. Mary stayed just one night hiding as a guest of the Huddlestones at Sawston Hall and left the hall the next morning disguised as a milkmaid, but the Dukes men torched the hall to the ground.
Once Mary was Queen – both the Duke and his daughter-in-law (lady Jane Grey) were beheaded, Sawston Hall was rebuilt by John Huddlestone (financed by Mary) who was knighted. Three priest holes are built into the hall although it is said only the location of one is still known.
So could it be the ghost of Queen Mary that still haunted Sawston Hall alongside others?
Haunted Bookshop & Indigo Coffee Shop next door
When I have been there the Indigo has always been busy – a small atmospheric place to enjoy a drink or cookie whilst in the centre – but reported in Robert Halliday & Alan Murdie’s book there have been instances of marshmallows lining up on the stairs and furniture being stacked up here.
Next door is probably another obvious location for a ghost – a haunted bookshop – here since 1986 the apparition of a young girl or lady wearing white has been seen on the stairs, some members of staff following her up the stairs thinking it’s a real girl. Her smell is of violets and there is thought that she could be a drunken revelers wife or daughter back from the days when the location was an alehouse. As a shop it’s worth a visit – it’s where I found Enid Porter’s book from which some of these stories come from.
The Haunted Painting
This is possibly one of my favourite stories as it’s that sort of classic ghost stories. This takes place in 1890 and features a house in Trumpington Street that was up for sale. A lady visiting the house was shown by a servant to the sitting room, as she sat there her attention was caught by a portrait of a lady in a vivid green dress with a very cold face.
The lady was given her tour of the house and liked it – and who wouldn’t fancy a house in this area of town. However the current owner felt she should inform the prospective buyer of a daft story that the house was haunted – although she personally had never seen anything but the story spoke of a lady in a green dress. “Oh” said the visitor – “you mean the woman whose portrait is hanging over the mantelpiece?” – “Portrait?” replied the confused owner, and when they returned there was no portrait, just a country landscape in water colour.
Now this place looks eerie after dark! Sarah Yates from Anglia TV (many years ago) did a broadcast from there and moments before the cameras rolled both Sarah and the camera men reported banging on the walls before a presence was seen. Typically, not caught on camera.
This is Cambridge’s oldest college founded in 1284 – since the 1700’s there have been tales of a dark gloomy presence resembling a man kneeling down on top of the archway looking into the graveyard. A college Dean attempted an exorcism to remove the presence – even today in daylight I think walking past at night it looks eerie.
There is also the “combination” room where a ghostly apparition has been seen walking – according to the independent in 1997 senior bursar Andrew Murison reported seeing the ghost, possibly it could be Francis Dawes a previous bursar who hanged himself in the college.
In 2007 it was reported in the Cambridge evening news that a group of students – most of who were scientists went out for some Halloween fun and had their picture taken outside the college gates. When the pictures were developed there was a strange mist surrounding them that they were left unable to account for – the mist was likened to spectre of the former bursar!
And on Little St Mary’s Lane – there is supposedly a very haunted house along this lane that the Universities authorities keep it a secret as to which house it is, but one contains a haunted room where a young girl or an elderly lady presence can be felt.
Fonz – a local radio presenter, historian and journalist had was investigating on this lane and new batteries in his recorder were instantly drained – although no ones batteries were drained on our visit.
And finally – the church of St Mary – On April the 24th the ghosts of those who are to die in the next year are said to be seen walking into the church.
So – another one of Cambridge’s finest pubs and notable not just for it’s history with the discovery of DNA. There is a window that you can see from the courtyard that always remains open and story here is around a young child who was there when there was a fire. It’s said that if the window is ever closed the ghost will re-open it. Personally – what I love about this pub is the airman’s room in the back with squadron numbers burned into the ceiling.
Let us conclude tonight’s tour with a story that I don’t think will give you nightmares. The Lions between the hours of midnight and 6am have been seen leaving their perches and ducking down to drink from the gutter – or at times walking down all the way to Hobson’s conduit. To me this is just too much like something from Ghostbusters to be believed – but will you glance up at them next time you walk down here in the early hours I wonder? If you’re not looking at them who knows what they are up to!
And here the tour ends for some, although for one final drink might be required.
So that is it, my tour of haunted Cambridge and Cambridgeshire – it was fun to do the tour but if you want to go on a real tour I’d recommend hunting down a tour by Alan Murdie for the full spooky experience. I’ll end with a list of essential reading! These stories all came from somewhere and it’s a combination of chats, radio shows, tours and books with some good reading listed below!
Reading List –
Cambridge Customs and Folklore – Enid Porter (1969) (if you can hunt down a copy of this book it’s well worth it – try the Haunted Bookshop!)
Cambridge Ghosts – Alan Murdie and Robert Halliday. Probably the greatest book on haunted Cambridge you can find! Available in most local shops or amazon and Alan did probably the best ghost tour I’ve ever been on – so if you see his name on a tour it’s worth doing.
The Men That Never Clocked Off: Ghost Stories from Cambridge Airport
– David Curry (but you will be hard pushed to find a copy of this book)
Paranormal Cambridgeshire – Damien O’Dell
Mysterious Cambridgeshire – Daniel Codd
Cambridge College Ghosts – Geoff Yates
Haunted Cambridge – a Pitkin Guide – Rupert Matthews
Ghosts and Legends of Cambridgeshire – Polly Howatt
Haunted East Anglia Joan Foreman
Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye – Sir Author Gray
And maybe one day this book will be available – Haunted Cambridge by Fonz Chamberlain