The Ghosts of Chillingham Castle -
written and submitted by Nicole Boucher; edited by Chris Ullman
Chillingham Castle is believed to be one of the most haunted places in the entire world...and if you look into its history, it's easy to see why. The history of this castle, which dates back over 800 years, reads like a movie script...there's love, deception, war, pain, torture, death, ghosts, and even medieval "celebrities"!
When this foreboding structure was first erected back in the 1100's, it was merely a single watchtower located near a monastery. It was acquired by the Earls Grey family in 1246, and within a few years accommodated its first "celebrity", King Henry III. Many years later, in 1298, Henry's son, Edward I, stayed at the stronghold on his way north to battle the Scottish Army, led by none other than William Wallace.
Edward stayed in a room at the top of the original tower, shortly thereafter named the Edward I Room, and he requested a window be installed for his stay...needless to say, his request was granted. In 1344, a Sir Thomas de Heton was finally granted permission to fortify it, making it a true castle. Work was completed in just four short years, creating the grand structure that is seen today. Located in an important position at the time period, the castle needed to be fortified...it was on the border between feuding nations (England and Scotland). It served as a "staging area" for the English armies heading north into Scotland, plus it was repeatedly attacked by various armies heading south. As part of the renovation process, a moat was installed...lucky for Chillingham - not so lucky, however, for those attacking Scots.
Located deep in the English countryside in Northumberland county directly bordering Scotland, Chillingham castle is only a five-hour drive from Cambridge, nestled between Newcastle and Edinburgh. The tour of Chillingham begins, however, well before you arrive at the castle's front door. It starts with the long stretch of road that leads up to the castle known as "Devil's Walk", flanked by a stone gateway. For one mile before reaching the castle, you begin to see the haunting past of Chillingham. The road is lined with trees...most of which are still embedded with nails said to have held "witches" and other assorted evil-doers until their inevitable deaths. If you look closely, the gravel is assorted with not only rocks, but bone fragments of those who died there...and every now and then an entire bone surfaces through the gravel. Being out in the middle of the beautiful English countryside, you'd expect to smell things like trees and grass and farmland, but that's not the case here. There's an indescribable odor that lingers all around...one that makes you feel uneasy before you even get near the place. Heading towards the castle, you pass a lake. It's a beautiful lake with wildlife and assorted creatures, just as you'd expect. One would never guess that thousands of bodies of dead Scotsmen lay beneath the shimmering water. Legend has it that one who puts their hand in the lake will be pulled under by the souls of the dead. It might be a good idea to keep walking towards the castle and skip that swim, eh?
When you finally arrive near the castle you begin to see something akin to beauty - if you're not already too spooked, that is. Amidst the local farmland, Chillingham offers lavish formal gardens and woodsy pathways. Surprisingly, these gardens made it through the wars...both the Elizabethan Topiary Garden and the Italian Garden, constructed in 1828 by Royal Garden Designer Sir Jeffrey de Wyatville, are still wowing visitors even today. Numerous guests have encountered ghosts at this point in the tour, even before they set foot inside the castle. A phantom funeral procession has been seen by many as they walk through the Topiary Garden...the first of many ghosts one may encounter upon their stay.
As you explore the depths of Chillingham Castle, every room inside has a story to tell...and almost every story involves a ghost. The most famous of all the Chillingham ghosts is known as "Blue Boy" (or "Radiant Boy"), who resides in the Pink Room. This ethereal young boy often makes his presence known, just as the clock in the tower strikes midnight. His moans, cries, and screams used to fill the room and frighten those who would sleep there. (The room is now closed to the public.) The sounds often came from a section of wall near the fireplace that had once been altered...a passage was made some time ago, through this 10 foot thick wall, that leads into the adjoining tower. Many claim that after the screams of the boy had died down, a "bright halo of light" would form near the foot of the four poster bed.
As the guests watched the light, they would suddenly see it transform into the figure of a young boy, outlined in the ghoulish light and dressed in blue. The figure would then drift around the foot of the bed and float toward them, before suddenly disappearing.
It is believed that the passageway was created for the specific purpose of sealing this young child inside the wall, while he was still alive, as punishment...he apparently stumbled upon some documents that were to be given to the Spanish by the owner of the castle at the time, in order to help them defeat the English during the time of the Spanish Armada. The young boy was allegedly enclosed inside of this wall while still very much alive, along with the documents. It wasn't until the 1920's that the wall was reopened and inside it were found the bones of a boy, along with some fragments of tattered, blue clothing and the secret documents. His finger bones appeared to be partially worn away, as if he'd tried desperately to scratch his way out of the wall in which he was entombed.
After the bones were excavated and given a proper burial, however, "Blue Boy" no longer made appearances with the same degree of frequency...and yet, once in awhile, the current owner will allow guests to stay in the Pink Room... and when this occurs, many guests have professed to having been awakened by strange "blue flashes of light" on the wall where the "Blue Boy" was buried alive. (Note: These phantom flashes have often been explained away as being the result of faulty electrical wiring...however, there is no electrical wiring on this particular wall inside the Pink Room.)
"Blue Boy" is gone, but he makes sure he is not forgotten...
Another very famous ghost that refuses to leave Chillingham is that of Lady Mary Berkeley. She had been the wife of Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham, and Earl of Tankerville, who purchased the castle back in 1246. During their marriage, Lord Grey fell in love with Lady Berkeley's sister, Lady Henrietta. The two of them ran off leaving Mary and her young daughter alone in the castle. A short time later, in despair, Lady Berkeley killed herself. Many have found, though, while walking around the castle in the dead of night, that the rustle of her dress can still be heard in the hallways and stairwells as she searches for her long lost husband. Scores of passersby claim to have felt a chill run through them...a chill that goes straight through them to their very core. Years after her suicide, a portrait of Lady Berkeley was hung in the nursery above the fireplace. Several generations thereafter, some of the Grey children maintained that one night while they and their nurse were getting ready for bed, all of them witnessed the ghost of Lady Berkeley literally STEP OUT of the frame of the portrait and follow them around, continuing her search for her wayward Lord Grey.
Various other places in the castle have a history of hauntings as well. One of the most famous chambers, for example, isn't even used as a bedroom any longer due to the effect it's had on those who have slept there. A lady maid employed by the castle was given this particular chamber as her own...she wasn't in it long, however. Shortly after retiring to sleep, she was so frightened by the ghosts of the chamber, she panicked and ran screaming from her room. She was subsequently found the next morning, sleeping on a sofa in the dining room. A short time later, the castle's chef was given the chamber instead. Soon, he'd committed suicide in the room for no apparent reason.
The library, located just below the chamber, also has its own ghosts. The voices of two disembodied men can often be heard there, engaging in conversation. However, if anyone stops their reading or writing to try to hear more of the men's dialogue, it suddenly halts and silence prevails. There has even been a ghost spotted in the pantry of all places! There's a place in the castle called the Inner Pantry where all the valuable silver was once stored. A guard was placed inside the pantry every night to watch over it. One particular evening, a guard was on duty when he turned and behind him appeared a pale, delicate woman dressed all in white. She whispered to him that she needed a glass of water. Thinking that she was a guest of the castle, he turned to get her the water she'd requested when he suddenly remembered that he was locked inside and no one could have possibly gotten in. When he turned back to talk to her, she'd already vanished. Recently, a guest of the castle, having no prior knowledge of the hauntings, claimed to have psychic experiences, indicating the presence of a female ghost who "longed for water" and who "must have been slowly poisoned in olden times".
Yet another eerie place within the castle is the Chapel. Soldiers of the English army would pray there before leaving to kill or torture Scots. It was even decorated with battle flags and swords amongst the more traditional crucifixes, paintings of Mary, Mother of God, and candles. The Chapel's floor was recently renovated...upon digging up the floorboards, many human bones were found buried underneath. There is no doubt that hauntings occur here. (Note: An interesting fact - more often than not, cameras refuse to work in this particular room.)
As for an area known as the Minstrels Gallery, it still effects people who visit Chillingham Castle to this day. It is a balcony overlooking what is now known as the Tea Room. There have been several victims that have been pushed down the stairs leading up to the balcony...sometimes even by unknown forces. And some recent visitors have reported intense sickness while on the balcony...from sudden headaches to nausea...a few have even suggested an overwhelming urge to hurl themselves over the balcony and onto the concrete floor below! During one of the overhauls to the Tea Room, several workers claimed to see a "giant toad-like creature" that hopped through a wall, changed into a human being form, then disappeared. (It has been suggested by many that this "frog man" still continues to haunt Chillingham Castle to this very day...)
Leading to the Chapel and the Minstrels Gallery is a hall known as the Great Hall. It is a long room containing many items involving the castle's history such as a life-sized statue of a horseman on his horse, a stuffed elephant's head including chain mail armor, and a tapestry with a skull just below. The skull has been found many places all over the room, even though no one has ever moved it. The tapestry, though, seems to have the most activity around it. Individuals, when standing near it, have reported things ranging from inexplicable noises to rushes of cold air. From down below in the courtyard, both patrons and residents have reported seeing silhouettes moving past the windows...however, it was known that the room was positively empty.
The most haunted rooms of the entire castle include the Dungeon, the Torture Chamber, and the Edward I Room. They are by far the scariest places...probably because unimaginable pain, torture, and death ran rampant in these areas. The Dungeon is a tiny area lit only by a narrow slit in the thick wall with large sections of scratched mortar, thought to be the work of prisoners counting down to the day of their death. Captives at Chillingham faced excruciatingly bad conditions. Many had their arms and legs broken or cut off before being thrown into the oubliette, a 20 foot pit in the center of the dungeon. There were no doors or windows in the oubliette...the only opening to the pit was a small grate in the center of the dungeon's floor. The prisoners were left there to die...bleeding, maimed, and starving. The lucky ones did die - however, there were some that were not so lucky. Some survived their torment. Left for dead, but attempting to survive, they would eat chunks of flesh from the dead around them and sometimes, even chunks of their own flesh. Eventually, all of the prisoners did die, of course, and their bodies would be cleared out and piled high once again. If you look down the grates of the oubliette, you can see the remains of the last person to die there, a young girl. Her skeleton remains there to this day, still looking upward towards the grate.
In the room just above the oubliette, many have heard scraping and banging noises late at night. A group of researchers visited Chillingham once to study these paranormal happenings, taking photographs, and using an EMF (Electromagnetic Fields) detector. Although the photos neglected to show any abnormalities, the camera's battery had dropped to half power from a full charge in just a few minutes and the EMF detector located several hot spots where the readings would be significantly higher than the background readings.
Next on the tour is by far the creepiest room of all...the Torture Chamber. Even today, nearly all of its torture instruments are still in perfect working order. The gruesome implements of punishment include a stretching rack, a bed of nails, a spiked chair, an Iron Maiden, thumb screws, chains, leg irons, cages, man traps, and branding irons - all of which gave rise to the countless horrors that transpired below the main floor of Chillingham Castle. (Note: The floor of the Torture Chamber slopes downward, so that human blood could drain away to the other side of the room...)
For many thousands of Scots, these devices, as well as the man who used them, was the last of their memories. And who could have carried out such disgusting torture, you ask? The answer...a man named John Sage. Before his famous torturing days, Sage was King Edward's best man in the battlefield, quickly rising to Lieutenant. However, he was wounded in battle, losing his leg, leaving him unable to fight. After pleading with King Edward to keep him on anyway he could, he was given the job of Chillingham's torture master. He was a brutal man who hated Scots, taking great pleasure in using all these devices on them, including some he had invented himself. His personal favorites included a boiling pot, gadgets for gouging eyes out, a cage inside which he would enclose a victim and place them over a fire, and barrels full of spikes, inside which he would tie a prisoner and let them roll around until the flesh was ripped from their body - until they died in agony. His most prized idea was that of the rat cages...he would tie cages to a prisoner's stomach and a starved rat would be put inside the cages...and the only way out for the rat would be to eat his way through the victim!
Sage spent three years torturing upwards of 50 victims per week. His personal demise, however, would also come about because of one the torture devices he so dearly loved...the torture rack.
One night Sage and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Charlton, decided to engage in some rough sex in the Torture Chamber. While on the rack, he started to strangle Elizabeth to heighten her sexual pleasure, but he took it too far and killed her. Unfortunately for him, Elizabeth's father was a member of the Border Reivers, a group of border thugs who raided both the English and Scottish sides impartially...unless of course you would be willing to pay them tribute, then you would be spared from their attack. (It is thought that this is where the term "blackmail" entered the English language.)
The Border Reivers subsequently contacted King Edward and ordered that Sage be killed, otherwise they would team up with the Scots and attack the castle. First, though, they demanded the king release the Scots held captive under Sage. Edward immediately ordered John to release the prisoners that Thursday, but he refused to do so until the following Saturday. With four extra days, Sage went on a Scot-killing rampage. He rounded up the men, women and older children, took them to the enclosed courtyard in the center of the castle, and put them all into a huge bonfire. The younger children were kept in the Edward I Room (the room named after the king John served, which also came to be known as the Killing Room) and could most likely see their parents and older siblings being burned alive, hear their screams, and smell their burning flesh. Sage knew that if he released the younger children, some as young as one year old, they would return one day when they were older to seek revenge...so he consequently took a small axe, went to the Edward I Room, and hacked the children up. (The axe can be seen today in the stair well outside the Edward I Room, which is now also home to many Chillingham artifacts, including the documents that had once been buried with "Radiant Boy". This room is also an extremely active room for assorted entities. People often say they see the chandelier hanging from the ceiling swing at random. The room, just like Devil's Walk upon entering Chillingham, has a foul odor and a strange, foreboding atmosphere.) Between Thursday and the Saturday, Sage also reportedly went to many of the villages situated around the castle and personally killed Scots before they were able to make it down Devil's Walk and out of Chillingham forever. Out of the hundred or so men, women, and children that were supposed to be released, not one survived the walk (run) to the gate...they were all killed. The bodies were never even moved and those entering Chillingham were forced to walk and drive their carts over them. To this day, bones still creep up through the tarmac road, sometimes crushed and blending into the gravel, not wanting to be forgotten...recently an entire finger bone was found lying embedded in the road.
While Sage was busy making a name for himself with the Border Reivers and disobeying his king, the war was ending. King Edward I, left broke after the many battles with Scotland, could do nothing to combat the Border Reivers...he had no choice but to order Sage's hanging, preventing an attack on Chillingham. A huge crowd gathered for the event...all communing around a huge tree along Devil's Walk. As soon as Sage began swinging from the tree, the crowd cheered and assembled under him to begin taking their souvenirs...they cut off Sage's toes, fingers, testicles and nose, literally hacking him to pieces as he swung from the tree before he was even officially dead. (Hard to feel sorry for the fella, though, eh?) John Sage was said to have been buried at the crossroads in front of Chillingham so "his ghost wouldn't know the way to heaven and would therefore choose the road to hell." It seems, however, that John has chosen to stay around Chillingham rather than enter the realms of hell. Several claimed to have seen his ghost wandering the grounds. Others have heard the sounds of heavy footsteps followed by the sounds of something dragging behind...undoubtedly John Sage walking around Chillingham dragging his missing leg behind him.
On top of the many ghosts that have been seen by various residents and visitors throughout the years, several workers helping to renovate Chillingham Castle have actually discovered the bones of the dead. It was these workers, in the 1920's, who discovered the bones of the young boy who was thought to be "Blue Boy". In the earlier part of the 19th century, workers also uncovered two apparently grinning skeletons, the bones of a man and a child, close to a trap door that opens to the stone arches of the underground vaults...some speculate they may have been hiding from attacking Border Reivers. In the lower dungeons of the castle, workmen found the perfectly preserved figure of a man, sitting in a chair...unfortunately, as soon as the air rushed in, the body crumbled, leaving no trace of him.
In 1925, a descendant of the Grey family - and former resident of Chillingham - recorded her personal account of what she witnessed and experienced at the castle regarding its hauntings. Lady Leonora Tankerville, bride of Lord Bennett, lived at Chillingham Castle in the 1920's, during which time she documented the following incidents:
"The first time I ever saw Chillingham was in the company of a so-called ghost.
"I had left Europe at the time, nevertheless, on waking one morning abroad at sunrise, I seemed to find myself there, walking through the West Lodge entrance and along the avenue at Chillingham. I had made the acquaintance of my future husband some months before and had no expectation of ever seeing him again.
"I knew nothing of his home, no one had described it to me, nor had I seen any photographs but, finding myself there I was full of interest and curiosity and, noticing a good many details, was especially wondering why the Castle was not visible from the avenue, asking myself if it meant I should, in the flesh, never see the Castle, when a young man came forward and, introducing himself as Lord Bennett's brother (my future husband's name at that time), said, 'I have come to walk with you until George is ready.' We turned back and went towards the park, where my husband joined us and his brother disappeared.
"This brother had died two years before, and after years had elapsed I had no difficulty in recognizing his photograph. He seemed not satisfied to leave the old home without knowing of the fulfillment of his longing to see the surviving brother married and settled down. I never saw him again - his mind was now at rest."
The Dying Officer
"Those who have just left their bodies have so often been seen by their friends that the recital of such an occurrence becomes a mere commonplace in our day.
"Only last spring such a ghost visited me - that of a young officer who we knew to be seriously ill, but were not thinking of as being at death's door. It was after midnight and I stood at the dressing-table brushing my hair, with most of my clothes lying on the sofa near at hand. Suddenly, I became so acutely conscious of his presence at my side, of being curiously scrutinized, and as if he were about to speak, that instead of listening, or even looking, the first overwhelming impulse was to seize my dressing-gown and throw it over me. Then, turning
back, ready to hear if there were a message, he was gone, the room was once more empty and I stood alone.
"I told my husband, however, that our young friend was dead and we heard the next day that he had died at that very hour."
Ghosts of War
"The third type wherein the actors moved, as on the films, appeared to me on 'flay just before the Great War when there was so much occult disturbance of every kind.
"One morning, after an exceptionally busy time, I sat down for a few moments rest in a room facing the Cheviot Hills. Very soon I could not help noticing that the gale sounded in the wide old chimney like the distant boom of cannon and as I looked out on the usually restful formal garden there too, waving branches and heavy drifting clouds assumed a menacing and warlike aspect.
"As I looked, the form of a woman seemed to take shape before me, walking on the parapet of a tower apparently as solid as that wherein I sat. She was in the garb of a Dominican Abbess, and after looking eagerly towards the hills of Scotland she knelt beside the battlements as if in prayer. A man stood beside her proudly upright, handsome and-richly dressed - he too was scanning the horizon toward the enemy country.
"A few paces behind were two men in velvet court dress of the time of King Henry VIII. They were chatting in subdued tones. In the background on the further parapet a halberdier paced up and down on sentry duty. I got up to watch the scene from the window, thinking I was about to witness some tragedy of former times.
"Presently I called to my son in the next room, but he was out, then a housemaid came in to close the shutters and asked a couple of questions. I thought surely it will have disappeared - but no! I saw another woman bring the Abbess a ermine cape, and the man's rich dress was covered now by a surcoat. The atmosphere was tense with a feeling of impending danger, of fighting about to begin!
"I spoke to them twice, and asked if I could be of any service, when the man (who was now pacing back and forth) stopped and looked at me. It was the face of my husband, but the garb of France of four centuries ago! Then who was the Abbess? Was that myself? And, why the anxiety? What was about to happen? If it was I, what was I praying God to avert? It was not long before we knew, not long before the din of battle sounded in our twentieth century ears, and official directions were sent to us in case of an invasion!
"I had, inadvertently, 'tuned in' as it were to a similar moment in the long ago."
"If you ask me why we do not all see the invisible, I should say there is no inherent reason why we should not - since we all possess the same instrument. We need some knowledge of that instrument, and some discipline to make it useful, but, from what the ghosts of Chillingham and our radio set have helped to show me, there seems to have been put largely in our hands the choice as to whether we tune in to deep depression - to the vague horror against which we are powerless to fight, or rise up to the fairest heights of which man is capable."
Lady Leonora Tankerville
By 1933, the last of the Grey family (by then the Tankervilles) had abandoned Chillingham Castle, and the once noble home to royalty was allowed to fall to ruin. During World War II (1937-1945) the castle was used as a barracks, but after the war, the castle began to fall further into disrepair. It wasn't until 1983 that Sir Humphrey Wakefield, whose wife, Lady Mary Tankerville, is a descendent of the Grey family, was allowed to take over the decaying ruin...and so began a restoration project that is still ongoing today.
It is fairly obvious that Chillingham Castle served one purpose, and one purpose only, in the past - to mete out torture and death.
After all, it's been said that Chillingham is the one place on earth that "God chose to look the other way". No matter how many renovations occur, no matter how many beautiful things get displayed at the castle, such as fine paintings, including 'The Prisoner of Chillon,' by Hurlson - and china said to have belonged to Marie Antoinette - it doesn't mask the horrors that surround the castle's history.
It has even been estimated that 90% of the people who entered Chillingham never made it out alive. (Maybe another vacation spot next summer would be more suitable, ya think?!)
However, if you are brave enough to visit Chillingham Castle, just keep it in mind, as you take in the picturesque scenery, or stop in the road to watch the wild cattle saunter slowly across it, that you are in the epicenter of death...most brutal death...the kind that requires ghostly avenging...
And don't be surprised if you get caught up in the action.
Chillingham's story does indeed read like a movie script...love, deception, war, pain, torture, death, ghosts, and medieval "celebrities" - all are present here...and this "movie script from the past" has already been written...but future scripts for this morose English castle, with its hideously checkered past, and for those of the ghostly apparitions yet to be encountered here, have just begun...
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