The ghosts of Old Chester
Visitors delight in things that go bump in the night

Around one million visitors a year flock to Chester to sample the delights of the ancient city and many of them stay to enjoy the spirits of the night, in the form of Ghost Walks, organised by the Information Bureau.

'Ghosts?' Are they really in the mind of the beholder? Sceptics would say so, but people are not in a sceptical mood; they want entertaining and that's precisely what it's all about.

Most of the old pubs in the City have their own pet ghost - in fact it has been said that if a new landlord takes over a pub and finds he hasn't got one, he'll have one by the next week-end.

It’s good business and, thankfully, one doesn’t need to be very inventive.

For instance, there’s the Old King's Head, in Lower Bridge Street, which has a room with an icy chill and where one guestreport seeing a shadowy figure against the window.

Was it a man or a woman? Why was it there? Meanwhile, the Old Blue Bell Inn has a live-in ghost of a sad, lonely lady who sits by the window gazing down the street waiting for her lover. He will never come - he was supposedly killed on his way to meet her.

The Earl of Shrewsbury's old town house, the present Bear and Billet, has a rather pleasant, quiet old lady to haunt the place. She seems to have a soft spot for the men and when one climbs the stairs she offers appears to meet him.

The spirit of a boy lingers around the inglenook fireplace in the Old Deva in Watergate Row and sometimes can be seen running away covered in flames, perhaps a terrible accident from the past re-enacted by the Spirit?

The Boot Inn, Eastgate Row, was notorious once for its Madam. In fact, any visiting gentleman could acquire the service of a lady for the right price. At night, when everything is quiet, one can still hear clinking glasses and the sound of feminine laughter.

At the Marlborough, St. John's Street, horrible gurgling sounds can be heard in the cellar. The customers maintain its their stomachs rebelling against the ales. Not so, says the landlord...a previous owner cut his throat amongst the barrels!

What about the Romans? There's simply got to be room for the odd ghost...and there is. On the fork of the Liverpool and Parkgate Roads stands the George and Dragon Inn where footsteps are said to tirelessly pace back and fro through the outer wall. Why? Who is it? Maybe he’s a Roman sentry from about AD420 who they forgot to dismiss from his duties?

If you think that's odd, what about the report that people have seen a patrol of Roman soldiers marching through the cellars of the Golden Eagle in Castle Street?

And to bring a rather sad and romantic touch there is the tale of a Roman section leader who would leave his men on duty on the South East Angle Tower and have an amorous dalliance with a local British girl on the banks of the River.

Returning one night he found all his men dead, slain by local tribesmen. Faced with the choice of death or dishonour he chose the former and flung himself off the Tower. People see his forlorn ghost walking between the river and the remains of the Tower, via Souters Lane. On reflection, he deserves to be a ghost, because it must have been the girl who betrayed him in the first place.

St. John's Church had its ghost. The cowled, silent figure of a monk which, it is said, emerges from an underground passage by the Dee, under the Anchorite Cell known as The Hermitage, through the ruins of St. Johns and finishes his walk in the ruined West Tower, where he sits brooding. He is tall, his hood is pulled up hiding his face. According to some eccesiastical gentleman he speaks in a foreign tongue. Could it be Saxon?

It is said that King Harold wasn't killed at Hastings with an arrow in the eye, but was brought to St. John's by his Queen and lived out his days as an Anchorite Monk in a cell in the rock - hence its name, The Hermitage. Fact or legend? Harold's Queen was buried in the grounds of St John's.

Henry I visited the Hermit of Chester and found a one-eyed old man there. Does the hood hide the disfigured features of the doomed Saxon King? We will never know - all we have today is the dark, silent figure of a monk, restlessly prowling the old Collegiste Church of St. John the Baptist, the original Cathedral Church of Chester.

Then there’s the slapping noise on the Northgate in high winds. Could it be the body of Aaron Gee, the last man to be hung there. in 1801. for sheep stealing? The warders of the Northgate ofter complained that every time they hung somebody the body would slap against the window!

The groans that issue from beneath the Northgate might be coming from Richard Sale, a mid-17th century Quaker. A portly man, three times he suffered torture in 'Little East', a small cell carved out of the rock, with slots where thick planks of wood were inserted lower and lower, gently squeezing the unfortunate man. He died as a result of these tortures.

The last public hanging in Chester took place in 1803 on the infamous Gallows of Hangman's Hill, Boughton. Three men in a cart pulled through the streets after being incarcerted in the grim Castle dungeons. They mounted the scaffold, one man named Price, suffenly leapt off the platform, rolled down the river bank and tried to swim to freedom across the river, but his chains dragged him down and he was drowned. It took 20 minutes to get him back to the scaffold to be hung, even though he was dead.

His two companions witnessed all this in mute silence and then in a ghoulish reward for their patience they were duly hanged. It has been said that on a cold, moonlight night a manacled hand reaches above the water, clutches despairingly at the cold night sky and then slowly subsides to vanish beneath the waters of the Dee until only a ripple remains...

Other Inns and Hotels with ghost problems? Of course, Ye Old Vaults in Bridge Street has two. A gentleman in a top hat and a previous tenant, Mr Barlow, who sits in the cellar criticising the present landlord when he is attending his barrels.

A walk away along the canal bank by Griffiths Mill one could be confronted by a swirling wraith from the water to chase one down the towpath. People who have experienced this found it quite frightening.

In the 17th century three ladies, Thornton, Beech and Osbertson, were found guilty of being witches by the Witchfinder General and burned in the Castle Ditch. They haunt St Mary's Churchyard during Halloween, at least a black cat does…the latter plays a game of hide and seek - now you see it, now you don't.

A sailor gazes down Watergate Street from the top floor of Lache House. Is he waiting for his ship? A long wait I'm afraid. Once Chester was the second greatest port in the country but lost out due to the silting up of the Dee.

Tudor House has a headless Cavalier gazing out of the top floor window. Gazing? Well try and work it out. He lost his head during the Siege of Chester when a Roundhead cannon ball took roof, head and everything else away.

George Marsh was convicted of heresy by Bishop Coates in the Cathedral in 1555. Burned at the stake on Hangman's Hill, an obelisk marks the stop where this foul deed was perpetrated. He was duly proclaimed a Martyr. Did you know that just up the road is a pub 'The Gardener's Arms' and they have a ghost in the cellar who has been dubbed 'The Martyr’?

And to those who still remain sceptical, take a walk along the North Wall, pause by King Charles’ Tower, look up and don't be surprised by what you see - what was that shadow with the lace cuffs, breeches and wide hat?