Born in Yorkshire, raised in Shropshire, travelled the world. Live in Adelaide and currently in UK. Love travel, ancient history, horses, cello playing, the unusual and obscure, and pottering in my own back yard. Visit my website www.wadders.co.uk
Published February 8th 2013
Scrobbesbyrig ('the settlement in scrubland') to the Anglo-Saxons and Shrewsbury to us is the county town of Shropshire, UK. It is first mentioned in a charter of 901 A.D., but the area dates back further as both Roman and Iron-age settlements have been found on the outskirts. With a history of battles, murders and plagues, and having over 660 listed buildings it is easy to see why Shrewsbury boasts of being one of the most haunted towns in Britain.
It was a dark and misty night in November, the perfect atmosphere for spooky goings on when I took ghost tour of this historic town. The tour began in the delightful Victorian Market Square; appropriate as it had been used in the filming of the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol starring George C Scott. Our guide, Martin Wood quickly had our attention. Standing at 7ft 2in (over 2m) tall and with a commanding voice (he is also the town crier for the town's ceremonial occasions), he began by explaining ghosts and paranormal activity in general.
Chris Kennedy and Adam Evans, both of whom are mediums and paranormal investigators, also join us. Chris's EMF (electrical magnetic field) reader, which gives an indication of paranormal presences, was invaluable in 'proving' ghost activity throughout the tour.
We picked up readings from seven or eight ghosts last night,' said Martin. This comment was met with a mixture of fearful wide eyes and raised eyebrow skepticism. "So we will probably be lucky and see some more tonight," he concludes. And with that, we started ghost-chasing.
Contrary to every Hollywood horror film, you don't split up when ghost chasing in Shrewsbury. Leaving the Market Square we turned up our first the narrow 'shut' (or passageway) lined with overhanging black and white buildings. The town's medieval street plan still exists, with the 'shuts' creating a maze of alleys criss-crossing the town centre, giving you the feeling of being watched and not sure of what is round the next corner.
They were called 'shuts' because the alleys could be shut at night to prevent undesirables entering the passageway," explained Martin.
We seem to bump into ghosts at every corner, with Chris's EMF reader hissing and crackling and Martin explained the apparitions that have been seen at the various locations. The ghost of Jack Archer, a steeplejack in the late 1700's still climbs St Alkmund's church spire. This individual met his demise after a drunken bet to remove the weather-vane at the top of the steeple. He'd allegedly drunk 16 pints of mead so it's hardly surprising he met his maker; mead was 8.5% alcohol in those days. "But it was only the last three inches which killed him," said Martin dryly.
The next stop is a street called 'Butcher's Row', which is unsurprisingly where butchers sold their wares. Telling us to look up to the building's wooden beams above the windows, Martin pointed out large rusted metal hooks which were used for hanging carcasses - slightly disconcerting, given they are now above a lingerie shop. Apparently the grey mist that can often be seen hovering over the nearby churchyard isn't always the weather; the graveyard was a former cattle market and the mist is attributed to the animals, some 200 a day, which passed through to be slaughtered.
The nearby Prince Rupert Hotel, built in the 1600s, really does have everything expected of a haunted house: panelled rooms, creaking floorboards, uneven corridors and hidden cellars. Past occupants returning to this building include a jilted bride and a man in a nightshirt holding a candle. A film crew member for A Christmas Carol who was staying in the hotel apparently saw this apparition pass through the wall of his room. We head to the hidden cellar, and hear about an unknown force which teases some ghost hunters by loosening jewellery and banging out his frustration.
As if on cue, there is a strange banging noise and even the sceptics can't find hidden plumbing. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck starting to rise. We're encouraged take photos and apparently the strange white spheres which can be seen on some pictures are energy orbs. We're all eager to learn more.
Historical facts give credence to some of the paranormal presences around the town. A red brick building with an ornate fašade at the top of Pride Hill has an apparition of a woman whose skin chafes and disintegrates. Further investigation of the area has revealed it is part of the old town walls and it is the spot where witches used to be burnt in the 1300s.
A woman accused of being a witch would be thrown into the swirling River Severn near the Welsh bridge. If she didn't drown, she was a witch and her fate was to be burned at the stake, where this building is. It is thought the ghost is one of those unfortunate women in her final moments," said Martin. I shiver involuntarily.
Now a shopping arcade and flats, The Parade used to be the Royal Salop Infirmary. Dating from the 1830's, this imposing stone building seems to be riddled with ghosts, from old janitors and beggars to the Gray Lady. When she appeared at the foot of a patient's bed, the patient would die shortly after.
"Some saw her as a grim reaper type figure, but nurses who worked in the infirmary thought her clothing resembled an old nurse's uniform and saw her as a guardian figure escorting the dying into the next world," said Martin. "Inhabitants in the flats have reported strange grating noises and even furniture moving."
The castle is haunted by, amongst others, the ghost of Bloody Jack, who was hanged there. He was so named because after he'd killed his wife, he chopped off her fingers. "He did this to his five wives!" said Martin.
The old house in a street called Dogpole sits on an original Anglo-Saxon plot leading down to the river Severn. The house was rebuilt as a timber framed Tudor mansion around two massive brick chimneys in the late 1490's and retains much of this original character.
Martin ponders if the face of a woman sometimes seen at this house's window is of Mary Tudor, King Henry VIII's daughter, who apparently stayed there on her way to visit her mother. Aromas of chopped wood and bacon can often be smelled in another nearby building and a ghostly dog has been reported.
Even the charming Poppy's Tea Rooms in an attractive Grade II listed building in Milk Street can't escape its past, with sightings of a family group dating from the 1700s being reported. Meanwhile, across the road, the Wheatsheaf Pub apparently has a ghost of a small child who moves glasses and a coachman who returns intermittently.
After the tour with I head to the Nags Head pub on Wyle Cop for a well deserved British pint. Dating from the 1400s, the pub has a snug atmosphere and has an allegedly haunted painting hidden in a cupboard upstairs. Apparently there have been three people who looked at it and then committed suicide. The landlord also tells of inexplicable occurrences in the pub, including the juke box being turned on at strange hours. The ghostly presences don't bother the locals though; they are far more interested in the spirits inside the bottles than the ones upstairs.