It seems that, according to recent surveys, most Britons deny the existence of ghosts and suchlike, yet at the same time we are afraid of them. Most old houses, stately homes and small villages claim to have ghosts roaming around and their tourist trade is boosted by such phenomena. Ghosts take many forms, from shackled skeletons clanking through graveyards and passageways to spectral balls of light smelling of sulphur. There are legless ghosts, armless ghosts, cruel ghosts, kind ghosts, headless ghosts, traditional and legendary ones, all well documented but rarely seen.
Royal ghosts are very popular. On May 19th, the anniversary of her execution in 1536, Anne Boleyn’s ghost draws up to the door of Blickling Hall in Norfolk in a coach, carrying her head in her lap. She also appears at the Tower of London and at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where she is buried. Henry VIII’s Queens are also very restless. Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward, his only son, is seen carrying a lighted taper through the Silver Stick Gallery in Hampton Court, while Catherine Howard has been seen screaming for mercy in the same venue.
On Midsummer Eve, King Arthur can be seen leading a troop of mounted knights on the slopes of Cadbury Hill in Somerset, south-west England, which is also believed to be the legendary site of Camelot.
Particular ghosts seem to prefer to stick with their mortal remains. In Bettiscombe House and Burton Agnes Hall in Yorkshire there are skulls of former occupants which, if removed, result in hideous screams ringing through the house and terrible misfortune falls on the occupants.
Not all ghosts are sinister and scary. At the Drury Lane Theatre in London, an unknown man appears and is a sure sign that the play will be a huge success.
Arguably, the most haunted house in England was Borley Rectory in Essex. It had everything from phantom coaches and poltergeists to headless men, spooky nuns and even writing on the walls. Objects would appear and disappear, bells rang and footsteps were heard. The building was burned to the ground in 1939 but the phenomena still continued. In 1943 the site was excavated and a woman’s skull was dug up.
Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland can claim to have the most ghosts, nine in all. One is said to be Macbeth. A Grey lady haunts the Chapel, Earl Beardie plays dice with the Devil while a madman can be seen scrolling along ‘The Mad Earl’s Walk’ on cold winter nights. We could go on for sometime at Glamis.
What can be the explanation for these ghosts? Of course some are hoaxes, ploys to bring in the tourists and get the cash tills ringing and probably most phenomena can be accounted for in this way. I suppose they can be compared to the UFO saga where most have been explained away, but we are still left with a bewildering 1% which have no explanation for our limited, rational brains. Maybe one day we will discover the answer though since, as Keenu Reeves said in the apocalyptic movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, ‘we are not ready yet’.