31 July 2015
When I finished work on Friday it wasn’t exactly the end of my day. Commando’s friend Pete, the one who organises the spring New Forest Walks, had some tickets for a Southampton Ghost Walk but found himself accidentally overbooked. Knowing about my slight obsession with ghosts, Commando said he’d take them off his hands. There was just about time to freshen up before I had to dash back out again with CJ in tow. Neither of us knew quite what to expect as we made our way through a mostly empty city towards the Bargate.
There was time for a quick bite to eat and a look over the battlements by Catchcold Tower at the building work going on for WestQuay II. The sun was beginning to go down in a swirl of golden cloud and it looked as if some kind of building was beginning to take shape. In the middle of it all a tall tower topped with a yellow collar had me puzzled but CJ told me it was the lift shaft.
“They build the lifts and then build the rest around it,” he said. He could just be right.
The massive cranes fascinated me. They were so huge I couldn’t get them all in a photo and the pod like crane driver’s cabins with their rounded blue glass windows seemed impossibly small.
We were still a little early so we meandered slowly towards the meeting point at Tudor House, expecting to be the first to arrive. As we strolled down Upper Bugle Street though we could see a small crowd gathered. In the middle there appeared to be a very pale man dressed in Eliazabethan costume. Surely this wasn’t out first ghost? As it happened, this apparition, was our host for the evening and, once everyone had arrived, we started with one of the city’s more haunted houses. Obviously I’m not going to give the game away completely because that would be unfair to the ghost walk organisers but I will tell you a few ghost stories from the places we visited, some from the evening and some I found out by myself.
A house built in 1492 is almost honour bound to have a ghost or two and the ghosts of Tudor House are well documented. Being a bit of a ghost geek, I didn’t learn anything new. On the other hand CJ’s eyes got wider and wider as our ghoulish host told his tales. The most haunted room in the house is the green room. There’s an air of menace and a dark, shadowy figure has been seen there. Whoever he is he certainly doesn’t like people in his room and staff and visitors don’t like being in there alone. In fact dogs have flatly refused to enter. People have reported being touched by ghostly hands, seeing figures disappearing through bricked up doors, hearing whispering voices, unexplained footsteps and crashes.
When the house belonged to Sir Richard Lister, Lord Chief Justice of England, Henry VIII stayed there with Anne Boleyn and it’s said her face has appeared at one of the upstairs windows and she’s been seen wandering the corridors. On many occasions the police have been called by neighbours who saw lights in the building and shadowy figures moving about at night. Each time the police came they found the house locked up but the lights inexplicably on. The medium who was eventually called thought the spirit was up to mischief because she was bored. A ball was left in the room to occupy her. It mysteriously disappeared and the lights now stay off at night. My own visits to the house have been interesting but, sadly, ghost free. Maybe I need to go at night.
Our tudor host was not the only spirt to join us for the evening. a young woman in a tattered silk dress followed us around and, when we came to West Gate we were challenged by a rather argumentative cloaked guard. He seemed convinced we all had the plague and wasn’t keen to let us back inside the city walls. Eventually we managed to persuade him we were healthy and he let us through. He was quite scary but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t really a ghost.
Our next encounter was a burly, stick wielding press ganger outside the thirteenth century Duke of Wellington Pub. He told the tale of a young man of around eighteen who was caught by the press gang outside the pub in the early ninteenth century and despatched to a merchant ship in Portsmouth. It’s said his spirt came back to haunt the place and there are certainly enough reports of ghostly goings on there, flickering lights, dark shadowy figures in the cellars and an inexplicable cold spot in an upstairs room. Some of the ghosts are quite welcome to the customers though. In fact one is said to go around refilling empty glasses. I doubt if anyone has ever complained about that.
We got some funny looks from the people outside the pub enjoying an early evening pint. We must have been a strange sight as we followed our oddly dressed companions through the narrow street to the Medieval Merchant’s House, one of the oldest surviving houses in England. The house was built by John Fortin, a wine merchant and has been lodging houses, a pub and even a house of ill repute. There have been supernatural goings on aplenty over the years.
Here we were joined by a lady claiming to be Mrs Collins, the owner of the actor’s guest house back in 1780. She certainly looked and sounded the part and she told us some tales about ‘her’ house. One resident, Sarah Jane Allen was often woken by a woman in a grubby dress standing at the end of her bed. Every time she woke her disbelieving husband the appirition would vanish, which must have been annoying.
Perhaps this was Ruth Dill who worked in the house in the 1890’s when it was a lodging house. As a sideline, she would sleep with the sailors staying there for a little extra money. She also had a fondness for jewellery and was known to rob her unsuspecting clients when they were asleep. One night she was caught in the act and, in the ensuing struggle, she hit the man with a fire iron. He died and she fled, throwing her ill gotten gains into the well to hide her crime. She was never caught but her ghost has been seen walking the corridors and staring into the well or disappearing through bricked up doorways. Staff and visitors say they’ve been pushed from behind, heavy doors open and close themselves, unexplained footsteps are heard on the stairs and candles in the celar are mysteriously blown out. One of these days I really must pay the place a visit.
With Mrs Collins now adding to our numbers we made our way to the High Street and the Red Lion Pub. By this time the light was really beginning to fade. Of course this just added to the atmosphere of the most haunted pub in the city, although it didn’t help with the photos. Built in 1148, it is said to have twenty one ghosts. One is an ex employee who, apparently, fell down the stairs and died. These days she can regualarly be seen floating behind the bar. Bruce, another ghost, marches about the cellar in heavy boots making a terrible racket.
Of course the most famous ghosts date back to the Southampton Plot of 1415. Richard, Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton plotted to murder King Henry V and install Edmund Mortimer, fifth Earl of March on the throne in his place. In truth Mortimer had a better claim to the throne, being the great-grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, second surviving son of King Edward III. Mortimer denounced the trio and they were tried in the rooms above the pub. A procession of three ghostly figures have often been seen leaving the pub heading towards Bargate where the conspirators were all executed.
Although we didn’t see them, we followed in their footsteps, past the eerily lit ruins of Holyrood Church. Originally sited in the centre of the High Street the Saxon church was demolished and rebuilt on the eastern side of the road in 1320. Crusaders en route to the Holy Land, soldiers heading for Agincourt and Philip II of Spain all worshiped there. It remained a popular place of worship, especially with sailors, until the night of 30 November 1940 when it was all but destroyed by enemy bombers. In 1957 the ruins were dedicated as a memorial to Merchant Navy seamen and it was scheduled as an ancient monument. With its long history and the rather spooky look of the empty shell lit from within at night, you’d think there’d be lots of ghost stories. So far I haven’t been able to find a single one.
Right across the road though there used to be a pub called The George, owned and run by Mary Quilter. Mary was a formidable character and, to keep her rowdier customers in order, she would bang on the floor and walls with a large cane. Underneath the pub was a vault, known as Quilters vault and long after Mary was in her grave the sound of tapping and banging could be heard coming from it. These days the pub is a rather racy nightclub called For Your Eyes Only but some people say they can still hear Mary banging her stick to keep the gentlemen under control.
Further along the High Street we stopped outside the Dolphin Hotel. By this time it was quite dark and, as the building was ensconced in scaffolding, I took no photos. There has been an Inn on the site since the Middle Ages and there are reputed to be at least six ghosts haunting the place today. Two ghosts hang out in the medieval vaults, Tom, a cellar man and a young lad who has no name, possibly his apprentice. A portly Georgian gentleman called Beau can often be seen looking wistfully from one of the first floor bay windows, perhaps waiting for a lover who never arrived. In a corridor on the first floor a Victorian lady in flowing dresses and ribbons has often been seen and a mischievous poltergeist can be heard slamming doors, or opening them all over the hotel. The most famous Dolphin Hotel ghost is Molly, a chambermaid who was spurned by her lover and took her own life in the stable block. The newest part of the hotel was built on the site of the stables but with higher floor levels and Molly has been seen crossing the rooms with her legs hidden beneath the floor boards, obviously still walking on the old floors.
Soon we were back at the Bargate. Of course the old gate to the city has its own ghosts. It was once used as a police station and many people have reported seein a policeman in Victorian dress in the area at night. The most tragic ghost though is that of Lizzie Loader, a seventeenth century smallholder. She regularly took the Itchen Ferry to sell dairy products in the town market and one night a group of footpads attacked her as she was on her way home. They robbed her of her takings and killed her. Back then touching the body of a murder victim was believed to be a cure for illness and poor Lizzie’s rotting corpse was exhumed and sat in the High Street. To this day her ghost can be seen around the Bargate dressed in tattered rags.
The ghosts of the Bargate brought our ghost walk to a close. CJ and I both agreed our ghostly guides had been very entertaining and CJ at least had learned a few things. It was interesting to walk around the city at night but I have to say I was just a tiny bit disappointed not to have seen any real ghosts. All that was left was to walk down the deserted High Street towards The Woolhouse where Commando was waiting to pick us up and take us home to our beds. Whether CJ got any sleep remains to be seen.
If you want to learn more about the ghosts of Southampton and get the full experience of the city at night you will have to book up a tour yourself.