Published January 2022
That’s right – “ghosts”, plural.
Chillingham Castle, near Wooler on the English side of the Scottish Border, can lay claim to being not just one of the most haunted stately homes in the country but possibly the most haunted. It has five actual ghosts (or perhaps more – there are some monks, and some strange presences, and…) as well as numerous unseen but felt “presences” and disembodied voices.
It was originally a monastery (hence the monks mentioned above) and by 1298 was an important part of the English strategy in the wars between Edward I and William Wallace. It was strengthened and crenelated in 1344 and besieged by another great Northumbrian family, the Percys, in 1537 during the Pilgrimage of Grace.
It certainly has the pedigree, so let’s take a look at the ghosts!
There’s a Grey Lady – of course there’s a Grey Lady, no self-respecting haunted house or castle would be without one! – but this one’s name and story are known. She is Lady Mary Berkeley who died in 1719. She was the wife of the owner of the castle Ford Grey, 1st Earl of Tankerville, 1st Viscount Glendale and 3rd Baron Grey of Werke who later became one of the leaders of the Monmouth Rebellion.
He is variously described as cowardly and treacherous but what we do actually know about him is that he had an affair with Mary’s young sister Henrietta, a virgin and a minor (for which he was imprisoned, but later freed). He never returned to Chillingham Castle and she pined for him, wandering throughout the castle until her death, some 18 years after his.
His story is fascinating. He was a real rogue but that’s beyond the scope of this article…
Now visitors report hearing the rustle of Lady Mary’s silk dress and feeling a sudden drop in temperature as she passes.
And there was a boy whose piteous cries could be heard at midnight, a “radiant boy”, a boy in blue clothing who was seen in the Pink Bedroom. I use the past tense, for renovation work in the early twentieth century discovered the bones of a child along with fragments of blue fabric walled up in the castle. The bones were given a proper burial and the Blue Boy was no longer seen or heard – except that now floating blue orbs have reportedly been in that same room.
There was the servant, a footman, who was in the (locked) white pantry guarding the family silver overnight who reported being approached by a “wispy” white lady who asked him for a drink of water. When he poured the water for her and turned back to give it to her, she had vanished.
The torture chamber – of course a military outpost would have a torture chamber! – has two ghosts, one a poltergeist, all that remains of an injured soldier who presumably had been tortured there and cannot leave, and one of John Sage aka John Dragfoot, a solder turned sadistic torturer from the time of Edward I.
And then there are the disembodied voices heard in the chapel, the phantom monks who are occasionally seen and unseen malevolent presences in dark chambers throughout the castle.
The present owner, Sir Humphry Wakefield, baronet, an expert on antiques and architecture, and Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law, has opened up the castle, from Easter until October, not just to day visitors who can enjoy one of the popular ghost tours but to those who wish to stay overnight or longer, possibly in Mary Berkley’s room or the Pink Bedroom.
Read about ghosts in North East stately homes