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Christmas is a surprisingly haunted time of year, especially in England, where a traditional part of the holiday has always been to share ghost stories by the fire. Spirits accompany the festive season as much as presents are carefully placed under the tree. Indeed, a testament to the spectral nature of this time of year are the ghostly elements of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. So, why not settle down in front of the fire, hot chocolate in hand, and listen to these ten tales of hauntings which are said to happen in England around Christmastime.
10 – Sandringham House, Norfolk
The festive season is a time for family and private celebration. In this respect, the British Royal family is no different. As such, it is usual for them to seek retreat from the public eye and celebrate Christmas at the Queen’s grand country home, Sandringham House in Norfolk. However, there is a mystery as to why they would wish to spend their Christmases at such a place. For it is said that the estate is incredibly haunted, its past servants and workers being particularly active around Christmas time.
It is said that the spirits of Sandringham have a particular dislike of Christmas cards, with staff and royals alike reporting witnessing cards being scattered and moved by invisible forces. The old library is known to be especially haunted. One servant reported having taken a nap in the library only to be awaken by the sight of books flying from the shelves. Discarnate voices are heard echoing through the halls, and cold breaths send chills down the spines of the living. In 1996, a foot servant reported to the Queen that he saw the ghost of her favourite servant, Tony Jarred, walking around the cellar of the house. The Queen is said to have believed every word.
Such ghostly manifestations start on Christmas and last for six tor seven weeks afterwards. The Queen, it is said, firmly believes in ghosts and spirits, and as such does not appreciate jests at their expense during the Christmas period. 1
9 – The Battle of Edgehill, Warwickshire
On the 23rd of October, 1642, Royalists and Parliamentarians fought against each other in the first pitched battle of the English Civil War. The conflict took place near Edgehill, in the county of Warwickshire. Hundreds of men died in the battle, their deaths marking the start of a bloody conflict that would rage for years to come.
Precisely two months later, on the 23rd of December, 1642, shepherds tending to their flocks near the battlefield heard drums beating in the air. Next, the sound of soldiers groaning and instruments of war at work could be heard. When the shepherds looked up, hundreds of ghostly soldiers were re-enacting their battle in the sky above them.
For centuries afterwards, this spectral re-enactment has been witnessed by people living and working in the area. Sometimes the Battle of Edgehill resumes around the 23rd of December, at other times around the 23rd of October. On all occasions, the sound of slaughter rings out through the air. 2
8 – Buckingham Palace, London
Buckingham Palace stands in the middle of London like a grand jewel amidst the urban scene. Yet, this was not always the case. From the eleventh to the sixteenth century, the site did not contain a palace, but rather a marshy landscape belonging to the monks of Westminster Abbey.
Near what is now the rear entrance of the palace, there is said to have lived an imprisoned monk. His crimes and actions in life are unknown, but in his afterlife he has become infamous to those who work on the palace grounds. It is reported that his spirit appears on Christmas day, near the rear entrance, wearing a brown cloak, rattling the chains of his incarceration, to celebrate Christmas in his own, terrifying way.3
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7 – The Church of St. John, Northhamptonshire
The ruins of what was once a picturesque church is considered by many to be the most haunted place in the county of Northamptonshire – especially around Christmas.
Local legend tells that during the 16th century locals stopped going to hear Mass the Church of St. John in the village of Boughton. The building was, already , a heavily decayed site. This was due to the rabbits which had invaded the site, and dug up countless bones from the ground. Not wishing to traverse an overgrown field strewn with old bones, many steered clear of the site.
However, bones and degradation were not the only reason for avoidance. It is said that spirits would manifest amongst the ruins. In particular, people would see child spectres wandering the rubble. There is evidence that the bones of children were found on the site.
Yet, such child spirits cause no harm to passing visitors. Instead, it is the spectre of a red-headed woman who local legend warns travellers to avoid. It is said that her spirit beckons onlookers to come near. One kiss from her spirit, however, will ensure that all who approach her will join her in the afterlife exactly one month later. This spirit is said to be that of a woman who had ended her life beside the grave of her recently deceased and newly wed husband.
On Christmas Eve, in particular, a moaning spirit is known to wander the ruined church, crying out in anguish to let all those nearby know it is Christmas, and that he has returned once again. 4
6 – The Highwayman’s Ghost, Kent
In 1901, the Kentish writer Sir Charles Igglesden wrote about a hair-raising haunting which occurs every Christmas eve in his county, on Hawkhurst Road.
The tale relates the life of a notorious highwayman by the name of Gilbert, who patrolled the area for potential victims. On Christmas Eve, he pulled over a coach containing a young woman and her father. The highwayman demanded they step out of their coach. As soon as the young lady did, the horses bolted.
After managing to tame the frightened beasts, the men of the coach hurried back to rescue the girl. Yet, when they arrived they found the highwayman lying on his side in a pool of his own blood. As he was expiring, he told the men that the woman had stabbed him with a hidden dagger, when she recognized that he was the one who had killed her brother in a similar ambush before. As Gilbert breathed his last, the men found the young woman, hiding nearby, having gone stark-raving mad.
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Every year thereafter, it is said that this ghastly scene, with its spectral participants, is re-enacted for all those passing by.5
5 – Roos Hall, Suffolk
Dating from the year 1583, Roos Hall is a beautifully preserved red brick manor home in Suffolk. However, on Christmas Eve, the usually peaceful manor is said to receive an unexpected, and undesired visitor.
Clattering down the driveway comes a phantom coach, pulled by four headless horses. From it leaps an entity which is variously described as a horseman, headless also, or simply a being of indescribable malevolence.
Roos Hall is notoriously haunted, and it is even said to have been visited by the devil himself. For, there are whispers that, in a bedroom cupboard, the devil’s hoofprint is solidly set into the bricks. 6
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4 – The Betsy Jane, Solway
To the north of the British Isles is the Solway Firth, an inlet of water which forms part of the border between England and Scotland. According to the folklorist, Gerard Findler, the southern, English side of the firth, became the final resting place of the Betsy Jane, a slave ship which sank on Christmas Eve as it made its way to habour. In consequence, local people often report seeing the spectre of the Betsy Jane at Christmas time, as it once again sails its final, fateful, voyage.
It is said that the captain of the ship was a cruel, godless man, who after having made an immense profit on some recently trafficked slaves, sailed recklessly across the inlet. The church bells rang so loudly on Christmas Eve that no one heard the panicked shrieks of the dying men as they crashed onto the rocks. As the captain had sailed to his and his crew’s end, legend reports him sneering that the bells could ring until they cracked for all he cared, as it would be the merry clinking of his gold that would ring out on Christmas morning. And, perhaps the slaver’s gold did indeed ring in his pockets when his corpse was thrown ashore by the waves on Christmas morning.7
3 – The Hanging Flat Mine, Derbyshire
Not all Christmas hauntings inspire dread. In fact, some have come to be regarded as beneficial.
In the Hanging Flat Mine of Derbyshire, the miners were known to have left half a candle burning for the old man of the mine on Christmas Eve. The old man of the mine was believed to be the spirit of an old miner, who, in his afterlife, appeared in the mine holding a candle. His spectre would then lead miners to a hidden vein of good ore, which could be mined the following year. As such, the old man of the Hanging Flat Mine became known as a symbol of Christmas charity and prosperity. 8
2 – Lady Jane Grey’s Coach, Leicestershire
Lady Jane Grey, also known as the nine day queen, for her notoriously short reign in 16th Century England, is said to haunt the Tower of London, the final place she knew before her beheading. However, the infamous Tower is not the only place the spirit of this unfortunate lady is said to haunt. On Christmas Eve, she is believed to travel.
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Spectral folklore recalls some who have witnessed a ghostly horse-drawn coach journey to Newtown Linford Church, a church which was heavily patronised by the Grey family during their lifetime. The coach, it is told, carries unfortunate Jane, her decapitated head in her lap.
After visiting the church, it is said that the spectral coach continues on to the park near to the church, where her family once had a home. This familial journey a moment of nostalgia for the ill-fated nine day queen. For, in the morning, her spirit dissipates, returning to the place of her tragic end. 9
1 – The Dunkenhalgh, Lancashire
The Dunkenhalgh, a manor in Lancashire, first appears in recorded history in 1285. However, the hall’s pedigree is said to extend further back in time. Not only that, but the multitude of people who inhabited its ancient walls are said to have left an impression apparent to many who visit the site today. One recurring ghost sighting centres on the tragic love story of a French governess named Lucette. She served the Petre family, who owned the manor for much of its history. Around Christmas time, she met a charismatic young officer who charmed her heart. However, the unfortunate governess would soon learn that her lover was false and had no intention of marrying her. The officer rode away, and left her alone at the hall.
Tormented by the abuse she had suffered at the hands of the careless young man, Lucette sank into a depression. She transformed into a gloomy figure, who stalked the building’s corridors like a living ghost. One stormy night, unable to bear the pain of her heartbreak any longer, Lucette ended her life. Her body was discovered drowned in the rushing waters of the nearby river, the only witness to her lonely suicide having been the bridge from which she jumped.
From then onwards, the tragic governess would return to Dunkenhalgh each Christmas Eve. Local people dare not visit the place at this time of year, for it is said that at midnight her ghost passes over the places where she spent time with the love of her life.10
- Haunted England: The Penguin Book of Ghosts, by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson (2010)
- Lore Of The Land: A Guide To England’s Myths And Legends, by Jacqueline Simpson (2005)
- Collected Ghost Stories, by M. R. James (2013 edition)
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