Waterside haunted pubs in England

Uncanny UK editor Richard Holland highlights a few of the many haunted pubs in England, concentrating on those found between two mediums, land and water.

Britain’s old inns are famously haunted. I’ve noticed that waterside pubs seem especially prone to being ‘ghosted’. Perhaps the best-known and most haunted of seaside pubs is the unusual Marsden Grotto in Tyneside, but I have written about this elsewhere (http://www.uncannyuk.com/823/top-50-most-haunted-places-in-britain-13/).

Further down the North-East England coast, at Scarborough, there is an ancient inn, now a private home, with an interesting ghostly legend attached to it. The Three Mariners on the seafront was built in the 14th century and was for centuries a hostelry before, temporarily, being a museum devoted to the Yorkshire town’s smuggling past. The inn was said to be haunted to a headless woman who would appear as a warning to fishermen of bad weather out to sea. Her origin is a mystery. For some years her legend was transposed to that of an old figurehead rescued from the sea after a shipwreck and set up over the doorway. ‘Elvira’, as she was known, became the warning spirit on stormy nights, clambering down off her perch and knocking on fishermen’s cottage doors.

Way down at the opposite end of England, the 16th century Dolphin Inn on the waterfront at Penzance in Cornwall was a smugglers’ hide-out. Its greatest claim to fame – if local tradition is to be believed – is that it was the first place in England where tobacco was smoked and potatoes eaten (it was to Penzance that Elizabethan explorers returned from the Americas). The ghost of the Dolphin is described by Peter Underwood as ‘an old sea captain dressed in laced ruffles and a three-cornered hat, who died there’. Although he is seldom seen, his measured tread has often been heard pacing the upper rooms of the inn.

Another nautical man, one of more recent date, haunts the Shipwrights Arms, an atmospheric old inn in an isolated position among the marshes near Faversham, in Kent. In a reefer jacket and peaked cap, he is an unusual ghost in that he has a smell about him – that of tobacco and rum! According to Richard Jones, his story is that he fought his way through the marshes after his ship ran aground and hammered repeatedly on the Shipwrights’ door to gain shelter. The inmates ignored him and his body was found slumped against the door the next morning. Since then he has haunted the inn, startling occupants with his glaring eyes.

Many of London’s riverside pubs have ghosts. The Anchor, down by the Thames in Southwark, is also claimed to have been the haunt of smugglers and press gangs. A phantom dog, scruffy and rather forlorn, has been seen snuffling around the bar. If you see him, you may notice he has no tail – it was accidentally snapped off in a door centuries ago. With nothing to wag in the afterlife, he returns to the Anchor in search of it.

The Gun Tavern in the Docklands has vague spook, the shadowy figure of a man in one of the bedrooms. Because Lord Nelson is said to have met Lady Hamilton here on a number of occasions, previous landlords have voiced the hope that it might be him.

Nelson’s greatest victory is recalled in the name of the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich. ‘Tavern’ is a modest word for this magnificent public house, which was built in a spectacular riverside location during the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign. The great and good of the Victorian age made a habit of dining at the Trafalgar so the identity of the ghost which has been seen walking around the first floor rooms is anybody’s guess. The fact that he sometimes likes to sit at a piano may perhaps be a clue but there are no theories so far.

In the western suburb of Harefield can be found tucked away a charming pub called the Coy Carp, which overlooks the Pynesfield Lakes. It has two ghosts: a cavalier in doublet and hose who has been seen and heard stomping up a staircase, and the figure of a hooded monk in a bedroom.

Finally, I must mention one of the best-known haunted hostelries in England, the Ferry Boat Inn at Holywell in old Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire). Here the ghost of love-lorn ‘Juliet’ appears on the anniversary of her death, March 17. Juliet hanged herself from a tree after suffering the pangs of unrequited love; as a suicide, her body was prevented from being buried in consecrated ground, and now rests under a slab, formerly on open ground beside the River Ouse but now incorporated into floor of the inn’s bar.

That at least is one version of the story. Joan Forman, in her Haunted East Anglia (1974), learnt from a local man that treasure was buried beneath the flagstone and the girl’s ghost used to point it out to people. I suspect that if treasure ever was hidden there, it has now long gone!

Text © Richard Holland 2012  The painting of the Old Ferry Boat Inn, Holywell, is by W F Garden and was painted in 1902.

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