Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Ghosts of Muncaster Castle

 The Haunted Lake District

Have you ever visited the ghosts at haunted Muncaster Castle? Britain has a very long and often bloody history, with a landscape that is scattered with many historic buildings and monuments. So it is not surprising that many of these historic stately homes, castles and old churches are reputed to be haunted; reputedly being regularly visited by phantoms from the ghostly realms.

The region known as the Lake District, in the North West corner of England, has had an especially turbulent past. Close to the Scottish border, armies have marched through this wild, mountainous area scattered with lakes since Roman times, to try and subdue the warlike and turbulent Scots north of the border. It is even said that the Ninth Roman Legion that disappeared in the second century AD, was lost in the Lake District; their remains still lying out there somewhere waiting to be found.

Muncaster Castle
Muncaster Castle

Introducing Haunted Muncaster Castle

Of the old stately homes and castles in the area, Muncaster Castle is possibly the most haunted old building in the whole of the Lakes. Castra is the old Roman word for fort or military encampment and current archaeological work in the area of Muncaster Castle is beginning to suggest that there was indeed once a very large Roman Fort in the vicinity of where the castle now stands. There are also the fairly extensive ruins of an old Roman Baths just a few miles away in nearby Ravenglass, so the Romans were definitely living and working in the area.

Muncaster Castle has been occupied by the same family, the Penningtons, since around 1208, a tenancy that has currently lasted for over eight hundred years. Muncaster is a very beautiful castle, which is still in very good condition. It is open to the public, offering what is called ‘The Muncaster Experience’. In the castle itself, you can explore the unique Octagonal Library, the vast dining room and Great Hall. All of the rooms are full of antiques, paintings, tapestries and interesting historical objects. Outside there are seventy acres of glorious gardens to wander through, including the Muncaster Himalayan Gardens, containing many rare species and a large collection of rhododendrons. The castle grounds are also home to the World Owl Centre, which houses one of the largest collections of owls and birds of prey in the world.

The Haunted Tapestry Room

But however attractive and interesting the interior of the castle and grounds are, it is Muncaster Castle’s ghostly visitors that fascinate us the most. Paranormal investigators and scientists have been investigating the ghostly goings-on in and around the castle since 1992 without being able to come up with any rational explanation for the hauntings. These include Jason Braithwaite of Birmingham University who is a neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist who believes that there are ‘strange and anomalous magnetic fields’ in the areas of the castle where the hauntings are reputed to take place. One of his theories is that these strange magnetic fields might affect the brain functions of certain people, such as those who suffer from epilepsy and migraines, which causes them to experience these apparently paranormal phenomena when they are within range of the magnetic field.

Muncaster Castle
Muncaster Castle

One of the most famous haunted rooms at Muncaster Castle is the infamous Tapestry room. It was discovered that the Tapestry Room had previously been used as a children’s nursery and visitors staying overnight report that they have heard children crying. One theory is that the crying child is the ghost of Margaret Susan Pennington who died at a young age of screaming fits in the nineteenth century. The walls of the Tapestry Room are adorned with sombre paintings and there is an iron fire dog in the shape of the devil in the fireplace. Moreover, the mattress of the bed in the Tapestry Room lies on a sheet of chain mail. Guests staying the night in the room have also heard a woman singing, disembodied ghostly footsteps, doors swinging open of their own volition and the feeling of hands touching them in the night or even throwing them from the bed.

Tom Fool

Probably the most famous ghost of Muncaster Castle is that of Tom Fool, who was a sixteenth century jester. His real name was Tom Skelton and he was reputedly the last court jester in Britain and a friend of William Shakespeare. His ghost has a reputation for playing jokes on people he takes a dislike to or that he believes are threatening the Pennington family. Tom Fool also had a very dark side, as it is said that he murdered an apprentice carpenter by hacking off his head while he was asleep. He had been bribed into committing this dastardly act by Lord Ferdinand Hoddleston of Millom Castle. Apparently the hapless apprentice had committed the crime of falling in love with Sir Alan Pennington's daughter Helwise, who was Sir Ferdinand's promised bride and the lovers had enjoyed a secret tryst at the May Day Fair. The grief stricken woman retired to a convent and the ghost of her poor apprentice lover is now said to walk the halls of the castle at night with his severed head tucked neatly under his arm. This is not the only murder that Tom Skelton has said to have been involved in. It is believed that when travellers asked him the best way to get to London, he would point them in the direction of the treacherous quick sands of the area where they perished, rather than to the relevant ford over the river. Tom Skelton died in or around 1600 and Muncaster Castle has a special day every year called ‘Tom Fool’s Day’ in his memory. You can still see his portrait hanging on the castle’s walls.

The White Lady

Another of Muncaster Castle’s famous ghosts is The Muncaster Boggle or White Lady. This apparition is thought to be the ghost of a young woman called Mary Bragg who was murdered in 1805. There seem to be several versions of the story of her murder in existence. One was that she had been a young local girl who was prone to swearing, who was hanged from the castle’s main gate by a group of drunken men after they had kidnapped her for a joke. In another version of the story, she was a housekeeper at the castle and unfortunately fell in love with a footman who was also greatly fancied by one of the housemaids. It is claimed that one night two men called at the castle saying that Mary’s lover was ill and that they would take her to see him. Instead of taking her to her lover, they took her to a lonely road and killed her. Her body wasn’t found for some weeks, eventually being found floating in a badly decomposed state in the Esk River. It is said that her head had been partially eaten by eels. It is also claimed that a tree near to where Mary met her fate started to bleed when it was cut down. Her lonely wraith haunts the grounds and roads around Muncaster, so be careful of who you may meet if you dare to walk those roads after dark.

Muncaster Castle also boasts a royal ghost. King Henry VI was said to have hidden here at the time of the War of the Roses after the Lancastrian defeat at the battle of Hexham in 1464, and that his ghost still walks through the shadowy passages and rooms at night. To show his gratitude to Sir John Pennington for giving him refuge, Henry VI gave him an elaborate enamelled drinking bowl in white and gold known as the 'Luck of Muncaster'. The defeated Lancastrian monarch blessed the bowl and promised that the Pennington family would prosper as long as it remained unbroken. There is also a ghostly lion that is said to roam the castle and grounds, and is heard growling gently at dusk. This lion was supposedly shot by the last Lord Muncaster in Kenya and the lion’s skull is still kept in the castle.

So if you want to experience the creepy atmosphere and haunting of Muncaster Castle for yourself, you can book a ‘ghost sit’ for up to six people to stay overnight in the truly spooky Tapestry Room. Other events and conferences are often held so hopefully you will get the chance to investigate and, experience its paranormal activity for yourself.

Muncaster castle image Bert 23 Baum Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike  2.0 generic
2nd Muncaster Castle Image Neil Hanson Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike  2.0 generic