The twists and turns of Britain’s colourful history have (reportedly!) left their mark in the form of ghostly apparitions, spectres and phantoms in a number of historic houses across the nation.
From figures such as Sir Francis Drake – who is said to haunt Buckland Abbey with a coach of headless horseman, chattering goblins and baying hounds – to a marching parade of Roman legionaries at Treasurer’s House, there are endless tales of spooky figures from beyond the grave making their presence known.
Here’s our selection of 10 of the most haunted houses in the UK.
1. Buckland Abbey
Founded as a Cistercian monastery and abbey-church in the 13th century, Buckland Abbey was dissolved during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII between 1536-41. It was then bought by Sir Richard Grenville, before selling it to his cousin, the famed Sir Francis Drake, who made it his home after his three-year circumnavigation of the globe.
However, while Drake was regarded as a national hero, locals feared him as they said that he had only defeated the Spanish Armada because he made a pact with the Devil. Today, it is said that his ghost rides across Dartmoor in a black coach driven by headless horses, led by 12 chattering goblins and pursued by a pack of baying hounds, the latter which cause any living dog to die instantly upon seeing it. It’s very possible that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle derived his idea for The Hound of the Baskervilles from the legend.
2. Treasurer's House
Treasurer’s House in York was the residence of the treasurers of the York Minster from 1100 until the office was abolished by King Henry VIII. It was rebuilt by the third post-Reformation Archbishop of York, Thomas Young, then further remodelled in the early 17h century. It fell into decline in the 19th century then was turned into at least five separate properties. However, it was restored by wealthy industrialist Frank Green after being acquired by him in 1897.
However, the house is also known for a ghostly sighting. An 18-year-old engineer was working on a central heating boiler in the cellars of the house when he reportedly heard the sound of a trumpet and saw the top of a soldier’s helmet emerging from the wall next to him. He then saw a horse and twenty or so soldiers walking behind him, carrying lances, round shields and short swords. Terrified, he shot upstairs, and before he could utter a word, the curator shouted ‘By the look of you, you’ve see the Romans!’ Incredibly, archaeological research later revealed that there is evidence of a Roman road 18 inches below the cellar floor.
3. Borley Rectory
Located in the pretty village of Borley, Essex, Borley Rectory was a Victorian mansion that was destroyed by fire in 1939. However, in its ruined state, it quickly established a reputation as one of the most haunted buildings in the UK. Indeed, it had already been reported in the 1860s that there were spectral goings-on there.
However, it wasn’t until 1929 that the house became known across the nation when famed paranormal investigator Harry Price investigated the site. Frequent reported apparitions include the ghost of a nun, two headless horsemen, a phantom carriage and the phantom ringing of the servant’s bells.
4. Chillingham Castle
The 13th century, Grade I-listed stronghold of Chillingham Castle in Northumberland has witnessed its fair share of history. In 1298, Edward I was the first of many monarchs to visit the castle over the centuries. The castle has remained in the same ownership bloodline since the 13th century, and today features fine rooms, gardens, lakes, fountains and tea rooms. Chillingham is considered one of the most haunted castles in England, and brave visitors to the former fortress can embark on evening ghost tours through its many rooms and dungeons, even venturing into its medieval ‘Torture Chamber’.
Frequent sightings include the ghost of a blue boy, a tortured child, the ghost of Lady Mary and a chilling royal procession. The castle has also been the site of countless deaths and no less than eight public executions.
Blickling Hall is a stately home of historic importance in Norfolk, England. Blickling’s most famous resident was Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and Queen of England between 1533 and 1536. The grand entrance hall and staircase are in the original Jacobean style, while the 1930s style Brown Drawing Room recalls its late ownership by the Kerr family. The Chinese Bedroom also has some of the best surviving examples of original Chinese wallpaper in the UK today.
The grand hall is particularly well known for being the home to one of the most famous ghosts in history: Anne Boleyn. The hall stands on the site of an older medieval manor which is thought to have been her birthplace. It is said that her headless ghost reappears every year on 19 May on the anniversary of her execution in a coach driven by a headless horseman. It is also said that Anne Boleyn’s father, Sir Thomas, haunts the area since he was cursed for taking no action to prevent two of his children being executed by King Henry VIII. A ghost called Sir John Falstofe, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff, is also said to haunt the premises.
6. Ballygally Castle
Ballygally Castle in Larne, Northern Ireland, was built in 1625 by James Shaw and his wife Isabella Brisbane and was originally used as a Protestant place of refuge during various conflicts. The couple have left their mark on the castle in more ways than one, as Lady Isabella Shaw’s ghost is alleged to have been at the castle for almost 400 years. The story goes that after giving birth to their son – the heir that James Shaw was desperate for – James snatched the baby and locked Isabella in a turret at the top of the castle. She later died by falling from the high room while trying to escape, and her ghost is now thought to restlessly wander the hotel, searching for her child.
Today, the castle operates as a hotel. Guests have reported feeling Isabella’s presence in their rooms, as well as sudden temperature changes, hearing knocking on doors when no one can be seen and seeing a green mist above the castle. Brave guests can still visit Isabella’s room or embark on a ghost tour.
An opulent 17th century mansion, Ham House in London was once a bustling political playground for the courtiers of the Stuart dynasty, from the reigns of James I to Charles II. Built by Sir Thomas Vavasour in 1610, Ham House epitomised the great competition between courtiers rampant during the 17th century, in which the richest of Stuart society fought for the approval and favour of the monarch. The notable grandeur of the house is probably a reflection of its most formidable resident, Elizabeth Maitland, Duchess of Lauderdale – a woman “restless in her ambition, profuse in her expense and of a most ravenous covetousness.”
In addition, Ham House is said to be one of the most haunted houses in the UK, with an extraordinary 15 ghosts said to wander its corridors. The winter mists in the cherry garden in winter is said to reveal ghoulish figures such as Dukes and Duchesses, soldiers and servants, while a strange scent in the house is said to mean that a spectre is nearby. Adorably, it is said that a paranormal puppy runs around the corridors, searching for it owner, the Duchess of Lauderdale.
8. Lyme Park
The Lyme Park estate served as the seat of the Legh family for 600 years, with their striking family home its focal point. The Legh family first came into possession of Lyme Park in the 14th century when it was given to Margaret Legh by her father Sir Thomas Danyers. Danyers was rewarded for his exploits during the Battle of Crecy, in which he served alongside the Black Prince. However, it was not until the 16th century that significant development of the house took place under Sir Piers Legh VII, with the original seat of the Legh family a rather more modest affair. In the early 18th century the famed Venetian architect, Giacomo Leoni, transformed the mansion into something akin to what we see it today, with its Palladian design still a marvel to those who visit.
Lyme is also said to be be home to a ghostly funeral procession that crosses the grass to the house. It is said to be in honour of Lyme Park’s former owner, Piers Legh, who was killed in action in 1922. His ‘wailing’ mistress Blanche is said to walk behind the procession.
9. Skaill House
Skaill House in Orkney was originally a simple mansion house built by Bishop George Graham in the 1620s. Added to by successive lairds over the centuries, it is located close to the famous Neolithic Village Skara Brae, and likely has origins which date far earlier – indeed, the word ‘Skaill’ is the Old Norse word for hall. Even more extraordinarily, there is evidence that the southern wing of the house is built upon a pre-Norse burial ground. During the preparation of Skaill House for its first public viewing, fifteen skeletons dating from the Norse era were found near the south wing and under the gravel of the east porch.
Skaill House is said to be haunted. Visitors have reported doors opening and closing by themselves, as well as strange smells. A tall man with dark hair has been sighted, and the current laird has heard loud footsteps in the corridor when it was empty. Overnight guests have even reported feeling the weight of a person sitting on the edge of their bed.
10. Maesmawr Hall
Maesmawr Hall in Powys, Wales, is an historic timber-framed house. The area around the hall was occupied in Roman times, and a Welsh Long House was once located in the grounds. It is unclear exactly when the hall was built, but based upon its style it is thought to date to the late 17th or early 18th century. In the Victorian era, a new wing was added.
Today, it operates as a hotel with 20 bedrooms. Many visitors have reported paranormal sightings such as Roman legionaries marching through the grounds as well as an Elizabethan housekeeper who has bene seen going through the wall in the panelled hallway. It has also been reported that a man, his dog and a servant haunt the cellar. The hall was the subject of an episode of ‘Most Haunted’.