Around about this time last year, I had the pleasure of visiting Shrewsbury, a historic town in the county of Shropshire, in the West Midlands area of England. Close to the Welsh border, Shrewsbury contains many fine old buildings, and Shropshire itself is said to be the most haunted county in the UK.
My journey was delayed on the way to Shrewsbury, as my train broke down at a station in mid-Wales. After transferring to another train, I arrived at my destination some 45 minutes late. After four and a half hours on the train, I should have been feeling relieved. Oddly, I felt quite spooked when I disembarked at Shrewsbury station. Despite it being a scorching summer's day, the platform felt chilly and dank. I had the distinct sensation of weight pressing down on me from above, and couldn't get out of there fast enough. The chill lasted all the way through the station. It only began to lift after I had cleared the station and its exterior concourse, and made my way on to Castle Street. I later discovered that Shrewsbury station is believed to be haunted.
In 1887, a local coal merchant and town councillor, Mr. William Heath, was killed at the station, when a roof laden with snow collapsed on to him. Locals believe he can still be seen making his way to platform 3, as he did on that fateful day in 1887. Incidentally, because it was late, my train halted at platform 3, rather than its usual stop at platform 4, because the latter was occupied by another train. Could it have been Mr. Heath's spirit that spooked me? Many witnesses have seen a shadowy figure, believed to be him, sitting or standing close to the Castle Street entrance.
As I headed along Castle Street, I came across Shrewsbury Castle itself. The present day castle is not the original, twelfth century construction, but occupies the same site. Part of the original castle remains on the site, as does part of the original castle wall, which encircled the old town. It seems that the castle also has a ghost, a bloodthirsty character named Bloudie Jack.
Bloudie Jack was said to be the castle's keeper during the twelfth century. Sounding like a cross between Bluebeard and Ted Bundy, Jack, it seems, murdered several young women, and stored their corpses at the castle. According to legend, a young maiden named Mary-Anne, saw Jack dragging her own sister's bloodied corpse across the drawbridge, through the courtyard, and into the castle. The girl fled, and informed the local authorities, who arrested Jack. The villain, believed to have murdered at least eight other women, finally met his comeuppance. He was sentenced to death. Hanged, drawn and quartered, his head was displayed upon a pole, for all to see, in an area of Shrewsbury known as Wyle Cop.
Many witnesses claim to have seen his ghost in the castle grounds over the years. It is believed that there is a great deal of substance to the Bloudie Jack legend. A much embellished version of the legend can be found in the Rev. Richard H. Barham's Ingoldsby Legends.
Shrewsbury has a strong medieval look and feel to it. This atmosphere is enhanced by the many narrow, medieval passages - or shuts - connecting various parts of the town. As I walked up this one, called Grope Lane, I once again sensed an eerie atmosphere. I initially thought I was just a little bit spooked at finding myself alone in such a dark, narrow, olde worlde atmosphere. But as I hastened up the lane, towards the light, the ominous feeling got worse, not better.
I emerged from the claustrophobic Grope Lane into Fish Street, which also seemed to be a medieval shut. As I looked to my right, I spotted St. Alkmund's church, at the end opposite end of Fish Street. Normally attracted to old churches, this one gave me the creeps.
As I glanced at the church steeple, I felt dizzy and nauseous. I often feel this way at haunted locations, and got away from there as quickly as I could. What I didn't know at the time, is that St. Alkmund's is said to be haunted by a steeplejack who helped construct the church spire, back in the fifteenth century. It is believed that the man accepted a bet to climb the church tower, and fell to his death as a result. Numerous witnesses claim to have seen his ghostly form climbing the spire at night.
Shrewsbury also boasts a number of haunted hotels. The Prince Rupert Hotel is believed to house a number of ghostly guests. Room 6 is said to be haunted by the spirit of a jilted bride, who hanged herself there. Room 7 is apparently occupied by the ghost of a jilted groom, who also killed himself. Although I walked right past the hotel, I sensed nothing unusual at the location. I might have a different story to tell had I stepped inside.
Later in the day, I was really looking forward to visiting Shrewsbury Abbey, made famous by the Brother Cadfael novels, by Ellis Peters. However, when I got to the Abbey, I realised there was no time to go inside, thanks to the earlier train delay. Again, I had that uncomfortable feeling I often get at haunted locations. Believing the Abbey to be the source of my unease, I didn't feel too disappointed at not having the time to step inside.
Although I can't say for certain, I now suspect the source of my creeped-out feeling to be the Dun Cow, an eleventh century inn located just opposite Shrewsbury Abbey. Numerous ghosts have been reported at the inn. They include a murderous cavalier, believed to have been executed at the inn's stables. The cellar is reputedly haunted by the spirit of a monk, who has also been elsewhere in the building.
In 1980, the inn's landlady at the time, Mrs. Hayes, woke in the middle of the night, and saw a hooded figure in her room. The figure wore a monk's habit, which was curiously decorated with patches of bright colours. To Mrs. Hayes' horror, the phantom monk was leaning over her daughter's cot, apparently studying the sleeping baby. The phantom seemed to realize he was being observed, and disappeared. However, he paid the little girl a later visit, when she was two. The screaming child related how she had woken up to find a strange man in her room. The landlord, Mr Hayes, also witnessed the ghost, and numerous guests have reported seeing shadowy figures lurking at night, often walking straight through walls.
I hope to return to Shrewsbury soon, specifically to visit its many haunted locations. I may even book a room at a haunted hotel. I'll be sure to let you know if I encounter any mysterious monks or killer cavaliers.