Uncanny UK editor Richard Holland seeks out the ghosts of one of most splendidly historic and characterful little towns in England.
Last week I took a trip down from my home in North Wales to South-East England. I visited a friend of mine who had moved to Essex a couple of years ago to take up a teaching post. One place I particularly hoped to visit during my stay was Coggeshall, an extraordinarily ‘olde worlde’ market town chock-full of more than its fair share of medieval buildings. Alas, it was a drizzly day when we arrived but this did nothing to spoil Coggeshall’s charm, and I confess I was in raptures over the ancient and magnificently eccentric houses and inns that line its streets. The photos reproduced here give only a hint of its rich architecture.
With so much history on show, so many centuries-old buildings, it would be remarkable indeed if there were no ghost stories attached to the place. I hadn’t even thought to look into the ghosts of Essex before I made my trip but have since found that only one author (on my shelves) has come across any. The great Essex ghost story collector J Wentworth Day has nothing to say about Coggeshall and neither does Joan Forman, author of Haunted East Anglia, nor does the town warrant a place in the latest spook book on the county, Paranormal Essex by David Scanlan and Paul Robins (Amberley, 2012). :
Fortunately, however, Peter Underwood made some personal investigations here and outlines them in his Gazetteer of British Ghosts. I should point out that, so far as I know, none of the properties photographed here represent any of the haunted buildings Underwood names.
First up we have the Guild House, Market End. Here a mysterious light has been seen, shining from an attic room. In the same small room occupants often reported the sensation that they were not alone and indeed on occasions the ghost of a ‘little man’ has appeared at the foot of a bed.
There was an important abbey at Coggeshall, so ghostly monks should be no surprise. They turn up at Cradle House, near Marshall Old Rectory, clad in white habits. They make their way into the garden and then – very odd behaviour this – do a little dance! They must rank as among the most unusual ghosts of Essex, and certainly among the strangest of the otherwise rather dull breed of phantom monks.
In the 1960s one house in Coggeshall gained a particular reputation for ghosts, becoming haunted after building work was carried out – as has been reported from so many other properties. The then owners, the Grants, told of many ‘curious happenings’ at 47 Church Street after they discovered a hidden room during remodelling of the old cottage. A door set up between this space and a morning room began to open and close under its own, or some invisible, agency, as soon as it was fixed. A door into the kitchen behaved in a similar manner.
Underwood further explained: ‘Curious smells, the unexplained appearance of objects, a sudden sensation of coldness, footsteps and the feeling that a “presence” is in the house have all been reported by the Grants.’ In addition and ‘eerie mist’ was seen in the vicinity of the staircase. None of this activity seems to have unduly unnerved the Grants and it may be supposed that the ghost or ghosts have settled down by now, as they so often do – until that is further building work may one day be undertaken at 47 Church Street.