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In 2004, Lawson Clout, a photographer who specialised in taking pictures of castles and historic monuments in the English countryside, reported having experienced something strange. Clout had been exploring Lilleshall Abbey, an Augustinian abbey founded in the county of Shropshire in the 12th century, when he caught sight of a figure in a processional doorway. The figure was “a man dressed in a black robe with no hood”. According to Clout’s testimony, recorded by BBC News, the man approached him and smiled. He was about 30-years-old, and held what looked like a Bible in his left hand. 1
A monk being seen at an abbey should be no strange thing. Yet, Lilleshall Abbey was dissolved in 1538, and since then has gradually declined into the beautiful ruin it is today.
The monk Clout encountered that day was thought to be an apparition. According to the photographer, he had a “calming” aura and voice, having soothed him when he initially backed away out of fear.
“I tried to take a photo but has [sic.] I did his image started dissolving and he headed towards the wall directly to the right of the sacristy doorway, then he was gone.” 2
Clout is not alone in having reported a ghostly sighting at Lilleshall Abbey. This imposing ruin, standing alone at the end of a farm track, has a distinctive atmosphere that undoubtedly lends itself to otherworldly encounters. Over the years, many have claimed that the abbey is haunted.
Writing in 2012, the author of the website Freaky Folk Tales describes having encountered a dark figure at the abbey. Whilst touring the ruins, their attention was supposedly caught by a “presence”. When they examined the spot where they felt the energy, they saw “unmistakeably [sic.] the outline of a cloaked figure.” Against the dim light of the ruin, they witnessed a “figure clad in brown cloth, hooded, crossing the grass and littered stone”. To their horror, the apparition supposedly disappeared “through a darkened archway”. Trembling, they continued their exploration of the ruin. It was when they entered one of the remaining internal chambers that they claim they “saw the figure once more”. According to their testimony, whilst standing in that chamber they had a vision of another time, during which they witnessed the robed figure brutally take the life of another. They described how, without thinking, they launched themselves at the murderer. Under the hood, they claimed, was a terrible face – “a tight grey needle-thin skin stretched over bruised bone.” After that, both the hooded figure and the victim “vanished without a trace”. 3
“I left the scene and stumbled through the many arches and passageways, back to the car, knowing that what I had seen was something of the past; a ripple of evil reaching forth through time.”
According to the author, later research revealed that a set of old bones had been discovered during an excavation at the abbey. The remains were supposedly found buried in a shallow hole in the very chamber where they had witnessed the spectral murder. In their article, they relate how the unmarked grave was close to where the Abbot’s private altar would have stood. How the remains got there was a mystery. The author, however, was certain that they knew the circumstance of their burial, having witnessed the victim’s brutal murder during their vision of the past. 4
In keeping with this alleged dark encounter, others who have visited the abbey have reported hearing “tortured cries […] sometimes drowned out by the singing of hymns”. 5
Visiting Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, UK
My visit to Lilleshall Abbey took place on a gloomy winter’s morning. Despite being advertised as open, the gate was chained shut when I visited. Leaving the car parked at the road, I walked through the kissing gate and braved the muddy farm track on foot in order to reach the abbey. As I rounded the bend, the stunning red-stoned ruin seemed to grow out from the earth. Despite being abandoned for centuries, the building seemed to retain an imprint of the life it once had. Passing through the gate and onto the grass, I could not help but feel small standing before this proud monument.
During my visit, I was fortunate to have the site to myself (no doubt helped by the uninviting entrance!). Even though I could hear the road off in the distance, the abbey itself was incredibly still and quiet. It had an atmosphere all of its own. In its presence, it was easy for me to imagine stepping back in time there – if a monk had rounded the corner, I would not have been surprised!
Overall, Lilleshall Abbey had a calm and relaxing ambiance. The lawned area with its ancient tree seemed like the perfect place for a picnic on a warm summer’s day. One of the intact internal chambers, however, had a completely different feel to it. I could not help but look over my shoulder as I passed through the dimly lit room which had once served as the abbey’s sacristy. Perhaps reading ghost stories before my visit had impacted me in some way!
Lilleshall Abbey is maintained by English Heritage and can be visited free of charge. The site is open daily to visitors and can be accessed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from April to October, and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from November to March. Limited parking is available. Visitors should be aware that access is by a rough farm track. Sensible shoes are advised. As with all historic sites, please be respectful of the building and its surroundings.
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