General view showing moat and old Scotney Castle ruins in the foreground and house in the distance.
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7 Spooky Tales from England’s Haunted Castles

Spooky tales are knitted into English folklore and make their mark on our historical places.

Tales of witches, ghosts, vampires and ghouls are knitted into English folklore, making their mark on our culture and historical places in narratives passed through generations.

Many of England’s historic buildings and monuments provide an inspiring backdrop for mysterious tales of paranormal activity.

Here are 7 spooky stories linked to some of England’s oldest castles.

The Vampire of Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland. © Historic England Archive. BB78/06705.

Writing in the 12th century, historian William of Newburgh chronicled how a former master of medieval Alnwick Castle would rise from his underground tomb and prowl the streets of the town at night, causing terror and disease. In panic, the local people dug up his shallow grave, revealing a bloated corpse which, when pierced with a spade, disgorged fresh blood, proving to them that it was indeed a vampire. The body was taken outside the town and burned.

The Mystery of Scotney Castle, Kent

Scotney Castle, Kent. © Historic England Archive. CC001463.

Built as a fortified manor house in the 14th century, Scotney Castle in Kent later passed into the hands of the Darrell family. Arthur Darrell was thought to have died in Europe in 1720. His funeral was held at Scotney on 12 December and as earth was thrown on to the lid of the coffin a stranger in a black cloak standing among the mourners spoke out ‘that is me they think they are burying’, before vanishing. In the 1900s Arthur Darrell’s coffin was excavated. It was full of stones.

Visitors to Scotney have reported seeing ghostly figure climb out of the moat, covered in weeds, only to vanish. It is thought that this apparition is that of a revenue collector, murdered and thrown in the moat by Arthur Darrell before he faked his own death.

The Headless Carpenter of Muncaster Castle, Cumbria

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Muncaster Castle, Cumbria. © Historic England Archive. DP020849.

In the 16th century, Heloise Pennington, the daughter of Sir Ferdinand Pennington, master of Muncaster Castle, fell in love with a young carpenter. Heloise was already betrothed to a knight, and in anger at his daughter for daring to love someone deemed unworthy, Sir Ferdinand paid his jester to murder the carpenter, presenting his severed head as evidence of the deed. The headless body of the young carpenter is said to roam the castle ever since, searching for his lost love.

The White Lady of Ludlow Castle, Shropshire

Ludlow Castle, Shropshire. © Historic England Archive. AA081594. 

A tale of desire, betrayal and suicide haunts the medieval ruins of Ludlow Castle. In the 12th century, Marion de la Bruyere had a secret suitor who she let into the castle by a rope lowered out of her window. One night, when the garrison of the castle had ridden out, Marion’s suitor deceived her, leaving the rope out so that more men could climb in and take the castle. In grief at this betrayal, Marion stabbed her treacherous lover with his own sword and flung herself from the castle walls onto the rocks below. There have been numerous reported sightings of Marion’s tormented form re-enacting the dreadful event.

The Drowned Lovers of Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire

Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire. © Historic England Archive. AA091845.

This tale of woe took place at the besieged Goodrich Castle during the English Civil War. Lovers Alice and Clifford, a young officer, took refuge with the defenders of the castle. As the castle came under siege by Cromwellian soldiers, Alice and Clifford fled on horseback to the River Wye below. Heavy rain had flooded the river, and as they attempted to cross, the couple were swept to their death. It is said that whenever a heavy storm hits, the cries of the drowned young lovers ring out through the castle.

The Phantom Drummer of Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex

Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex. © Historic England Archive. CC000352.

Herstmonceux Castle was built in the 14th century by Sir Roger de Fiennes, Henry VI’s Treasurer and veteran of the battle of Agincourt. The walls of the turreted gatehouse are said to be haunted by a 9 foot tall phantom drummer, a follower of Sir Roger, slain in the battle. After the deceased’s body was returned to Herstmonceux, its ghost continued to beat its spectral drum over the battlements of the castle.

The Ghost Bear of the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London. © Historic England Archive. MF001517/36.

In its long and bloody history, the Tower of London has witnessed the execution of many notable figures, the ghosts of its victims appearing at will to shock unsuspecting witnesses.

In 1816 a peculiar type of apparition caused a tragic death itself. A sentry on guard at the Jewel House saw the figure of a huge bear, and in fear lunged at the animal, only to pass straight through and into a door. The terrified man fainted, and despite waking to recall his experience, died of shock a few days later. The bear is thought to have been part of the Tower’s menagerie, first established in the castle by Henry III.

The castles featured in this blog were selected from the publication ‘Haunted Castles’ by Marc Alexander. All images are from the Historic England Archive.

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Every snapshot and story you can add to the National Heritage List for England is an important piece of the picture. The more pieces we have, the better we can work together to protect what makes these places special. Make a contribution to the Missing Pieces Project.

Further reading

17 comments on “7 Spooky Tales from England’s Haunted Castles

  1. Reblogged this on Karl Quinney and commented:
    With Halloween only a week away, here’s an interesting article on some of England’s haunted castles.

  2. Reblogged this on KC Books & Music and commented:
    Had to share this most appropriate and way cool post… Happy Halloween folks!

  3. Reblogged this on The Owl Lady.

  4. Absolutely outstanding. Fabulous reading for Halloween. o_O

  5. That was a fabulous post. Thanks for the Halloween shivers and goosebumps!

  6. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    England’s haunted castles…..spooky!!!! I grew up with ghost stories and there were many nights as a child I could not sleep for fear of what was lurking outside…or worse still, inside!!! My second novel deals with what in the East is known as a Hungry Ghost – the spirit of a murdered woman who seeks revenge…thanks for a great post, Heritage Calling, and to Chris Graham for pointing me here.

  7. Some fascinating and atmospheric stories, and of course wonderful photographs of heritage buildings to accompany them. These photographs really demonstrate the importance of maintaining and conserving England’s historic buildings, in order to maintain their histories. Particularly like the conical roof renovation on Scotney Castle, it’s amazing the difference a good roof specialist can make. A wonderful Halloween post, thank you.

  8. I grew up in a haunted house in Wales. It had a long history, about 800 years and the ghost seemed to be a monk, it had once been a monastery. My father named the ghost Bartholomew, Barty for short. the kitchen door would often open mysteriously by itself and my Dad would say, come in Barty, and shut the door behind you. He never seemed to be able to shut it, only open it!

  9. What a wonderful read for Halloween Day.

  10. OK, I’m scared…..

  11. Tom Gould

    There’s a castle in Scotland where the ghost of an executed Jacobite rebel’s head whispers “where’s my body?’ I don’t recall which one it is though

  12. Reblogged this on L'arte Di Vivere and commented:
    Really greeat castle tour. Heritage Calling is a really cool blog.

  13. Frances Gasparotto

    Very scary post and very well written!

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