Haunted Nation


Steve Johnson

Britain has often been called ‘The Most Haunted Country In The World’. Why this should be so is unclear. Perhaps it is in recognition of these islands’ colourful history, replete with myths and legends stretching back thousands of years. Ghost stories have always been popular and the British Isles seem to have more than their fair share.

The World’s Oldest Ghosts?

The Treasurer’s House in the historic city of York, in northern England, lies a short distance from the city’s beautiful Minster. The Minster is a major tourist attraction and a discovery made there would seem to verify what is possibly one of the world’s most famous true ghost stories.

Treasurer's House, York

In 1953, Harry Martindale was installing a new central heating system at the Treasurer’s House. This entailed him going down into the basement and knocking a hole through one of the cellar walls. He set his ladder against the wall and began climbing up to where he intended to work.

Suddenly he heard the faint sound of a horn.

He assumed that it was a radio somewhere else in the building and continued his work. Then he heard the horn again. And again. Each time, the sound of the horn seemed to get closer.

He looked to where the noise seemed to be coming from and was staggered to see a Roman soldier appear from the cellar wall and begin marching across the basement. Immediately following this legionary was a horse drawing a cart, with a Roman soldier steering.

Harry fell from his ladder, shocked and terrified.

In all, about twenty Roman legionaries marched across the cellar of the Treasurer’s House, each one of them looking weary and dishevelled. Harry said that he could hear a low murmuring as though the soldiers were muttering to one another. Each carried a short sword, spear and a large, round shield (it has been suggested that the soldiers may have actually been Roman auxiliary troops, as opposed to genuine legionaries – hence the rounded shields instead of the more familiar rectangular ones). Their footsteps could easily be heard, as could the sound of the horse’s hooves. These did not appear as wispy phantasms, according to Mr Martindale, but looked as solid as you or I.

Amazingly, each of the soldiers was only visible from the knees up!

drawing of the ghosts seen by Harry saw

Once the column had passed through the opposite wall of the cellar, Harry scrambled to his feet and rushed from the basement. The House’s curator met him and noticed his petrified state.

“You’ve seen the Roman soldiers, haven’t you?” he asked and explained how visitors to the cellar had seen them several times before.

Harry’s amazing ghost story was lent a great deal of credence later when excavations beneath York Minster uncovered the remains of a Roman fort. The road from this fort ran directly beneath the Treasurer’s House.

Exactly where Harry had seen the column of legionaries pass by!

Ghosts seem to have a finite existence (according to some researchers) and tend to disappear after about 400 years at the outside. Given that Mr Martindale saw Roman soldiers almost 1500 years after the Legions left our shores could suggest that the spirits he saw beneath the Treasurer’s House are the world’s oldest ghosts.

The Most Haunted House In Britain?

Chingle Hall in Lancashire, northern England, has been declared ‘The Most Haunted House In Britain’. Over the years, there have been reports of inexplicable noises and actual sightings of ghosts at the old house.

Chingle Hall

Chingle Hall, built in 1260, is the oldest brick house in Britain. It is said to be the birthplace of John Wall, a catholic martyr who was executed in 1679 and his head buried somewhere in or around the Hall.

Sightings of an eerie monk-like figure have been reported at the house, sometimes looking through windows or praying in the downstairs rooms. He has also been seen passing through the walls of the aptly named Priest’s Room.

It was in the Priest’s Room that a guest at the house heard the sound of bricks being moved. He went to investigate and peered through the ‘Priest’s Hole’ (where priests hid during the time in England’s history when Catholicism was outlawed). In front of him was part of a human hand, moving the bricks and causing the sound he had heard.

On Christmas Day, 1980, Gerald Main and ghosthunter, Terence Whitaker held a vigil near the ‘Priest’s Hole’ and successfully recorded rapping sounds. They also noted a rapid drop in temperature within the house. Mr Whitaker also claimed he saw ‘an indefinable shape’ moving across the floor.

To this day, efforts to capture the ghosts of Chingle Hall on film or tape continue in the hope of unravelling this eerie and fascinating mystery.

A Haunted Castle

The appropriately named Chillingham Castle lies in the English county of Northumberland. For over 700 years, the castle has been the ancestral home of the influential Grey family and has been the subject of many battles, particularly in the 16th century.

Chillingham Castle

Having such a colourful history, you might expect the castle to be haunted by the ghosts of soldiers or those who were involved with the many armed struggles that took place there, but the castle’s most famous ghosts are those of the ‘Grey Lady’ and the ‘Radiant Boy’.

The ‘Grey Lady’ is believed to be the earthbound spirit of Lady Mary Berkeley the wife of Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham and Earl of Tankerville. The story goes that she is eternally searching Chillingham for her husband, who ran away with her sister. Lady Mary was left alone with her baby and it is said that the rustle of her dress can be heard in the corridors of the castle.

The ‘Radiant Boy’ is another type of spirit altogether. He was supposed to have haunted an area of the castle known as ‘The Pink Room’.As the clock struck midnight, the terrible wails and moans of a child in pain could be heard coming from a wall where a passage led to the adjoining tower. Guests sleeping in the large, four-poster bed in ‘The Pink Room’ would report that as the wailing faded away, they would see figure of a boy dressed in blue and surrounded by an eerie, blue light.

It is said that the bones of a young boy and tattered, blue clothing were found in the wall. Once this discovery had been made, the haunting ceased.

The Haunted Rectory

Borley Rectory in Suffolk, southern England was built on the site of a Benedictine monastery. It seems that Borley and Chingle Hall are racing neck and neck for the title, ‘The Most Haunted House In Britain’.

Indeed, Borley’s history is as tragic as Chingle. Whilst still a monastery, it is said that a young monk and a nun fell in love and attempted to elope. Unfortunately they were caught and the monk was hanged. The nun was walled up alive in the building’s masonry.

From the 1920s, people have reported seeing the ghost of a nun in the area. Objects have also been seen to move by themselves and there is a remarkable photograph of a brick that appears to be hanging in mid-air.

'Floating brick' at Borley

In 1930, the Reverend Lionel Foyster and his family moved into the house. After reporting over two thousand separate paranormal incidents, the family fled five years later. They claimed that writing appeared on walls on several occasions and ghostly figures were often seen moving through the grounds at night.

Before the rectory burned down in 1939, the last family to live there was the family of Captain William Gregson. The fire was caused by nothing more paranormal than an oil lamp. It is purported that the ghosts of Borley Rectory have moved across the road to the Borley Church. In 1945, the bones of a woman were found in the rubble of the rectory. It has been suggested that these bones were those of the nun, killed because of her love for the young monk.

One thing is for certain, over the years thousands of sightings of apparitions, moving objects, even photographs of dark figures in the grounds of the rectory support Borley Rectory’s claim of being The Most Haunted House In Britain.

© S Johnson 2001



I think I have seen and felt a few ghosts/spirits myself over the years. One particular episode can be found here.

When I was a child, I saw a hooded, monk-like figure in my bedroom one night. It was standing behind my bedroom door and apparently looking at me. I tried to cry out, but my voice wouldn't work. I hid beneath the bedclothes and when I peeked out a few minutes later, the figure had vanished.

A few years later, in a different house, I saw a man standing in my bedroom, facing the opposite wall. Although it was dark, I could make out that he had short, dark hair and was wearing what appeared to be a tank top (sleeveless jersey). Again, I hid beneath the covers and when I plucked up courage to look again, the figure was no longer there.

A few nights after the events that took place in the 'Our Night of Terror' episode, more strange things happened. Lights turned on and off by themselves. I had been cooking some sausages under the grill and when they were done, I turned off the grill and took out the grill pan. I was called away from the kitchen for a few seconds and when I returned, the sausages were back under the grill and the grill was once again lit. A bottle of vinegar also moved from one place to another when we weren't looking.

More recently, I have seen a bizarre, spider-like form floating around the bedroom. It appeared to be moving with purpose, checking out my bookshelves, and when I sat up, it moved through the wall and disappeared. I have no idea what it was, but it inspired a scene in my book, Mercury Rapids: The Thoth Imperative.

I set up a night vision camera in the bedroom and caught what appeared to be an orb moving upwards. Six hours of recording and one stinking orb to show for it! Grrrr...

My latest sighting occurred around Halloween 2003. My son and I share a bedroom and he had a rubber skeleton dangling from the ceiling. I awoke at night to see what looked like the figure of a miner checking out my son's rubber skeleton. He was wearing heavy-looking clothes and a miner's helmet, complete with modern-looking lamp. He was outlined by a strange, bluish glow. He reached out a hand towards the toy hanging from the ceiling. I sat up, amazed by what I was seeing. I think I even spoke aloud, saying something like: "What the...?" The figure didn't appear to notice me, but merely drifted backwards a few feet and vanished.

My friend and his family recently visited the National Railway Museum in York.

When he showed me the photo, I noticed the profusion of 'orbs' in the shot....

I have decided that orbs are nothing more than dust, moisture, insects, reflections etc. caught by a digital camera's CCD. If anybody knows of any orbs that defy this explanation, drop me a line!

A James Bond Ghost Story!

(although this isn't set in Britain, I found it fascinating nevertheless!)

I have just acquired the DVD of the James Bond film, License To Kill. The documentary on the making of the film contains a very interesting story about how one area where they filmed was supposedly haunted.

For the film's climactic truck-chase scene, where Bond has to destroy a convoy of large trucks that are loaded with drugs, the producers were given permission to use a stretch of road in Mexico that had been closed due to the alarming number of fatal accidents there. The stretch of mountainous road consisted of many twists and turns as well as wide,level sections.

During filming, many accidents occurred, some minor and some quite serious. This is to be expected, you might say, in a movie with many dangerous stunts. However, some of these accidents were quite bizarre. A man fixing telegraph poles TWO MILES from where they were filming was hit and injured by a missile that went astray from the set! Timothy Dalton was close to death when a truck he was driving narrowly missed going over the edge of a cliff when another truck that shouldn't have been there veered into him.

It was the stories of ghosts and apparitions that really interested me. Strange, ghostly figures were seen in the area where the trucks were parked overnight. When challenged by the security guards, they simply vanished. A truck moved by itself and parked itself somewhere else!

But the best story came from Albert Wooster, the Second Unit Director. While filming the explosion in which the baddie (Robert Davi) is killed, he explains that behind him, one of the stuntmen was taking snapshots of the explosion for himself. Wooster (and the rest of the crew for that matter) was astounded when he was shown one particular photograph. It clearly show a giant, flaming, clawed hand reaching out of the explosion! He was so amazed that he tried going through the film of the explosion a frame at a time to see if the other cameras had caught the bizarre phenomenon. None had.

Although the image is put down to a weird atmospheric effect or wind vortex (yeah, right!), I still think it's a terrific


© 2005 Steven Johnson


Back to Articles Index 

Updated 16th August, 2012