The Old and New Towns of Stevenage in Hertfordshire are a rich source of ghostly stories and spooky activity. Here paranormal historian PAUL ADAMS looks at some of the most colourful haunted locations.
Former NatWest Bank, Old Town High Street
The macabre story of eccentric grocer Henry Trigg and his unburied coffin is Stevenage’s most notorious haunting.
Terrified that his body would fall victim to the Resurrection Men and grave robbers that were a common problem of the times, Trigg left a proviso in his will that his coffin was to remain unburied and for a minimum period of 30 years would be kept in the roof of a rented barn at the rear of his shop in what was up until very recently a branch of the NatWest bank.
Following his death in 1724, his brother Thomas complied with the request and amid much local excitement Henry’s lead-lined casket was lifted up and placed among the rafters where it has remained ever since.
Unfortunately for Trigg, souvenir hunters were to succeed where the grave robbers failed as over the years pieces of the skeleton were removed as mementos and trophies by a succession of local townsfolk to the point that when the East Herts Archaeological Society examined the coffin in the early 1900s they discovered that a third of Henry’s remains were missing.
The residue was finally buried in 1999 but the coffin remains.
Not surprisingly accounts of a phantom figure – a shabbily-dressed man wearing old fashioned gaiters – seen in and around the building in the late 1960s and early 1970s has been attributed to the unquiet spirit of the extraordinary Henry Trigg.
The Six Hills Burial Mounds
The Six Hills, grass-covered Roman burial mounds dating from around AD 100, are Stevenage’s most familiar landmark.
The hills themselves have changed little down through the years, although the surrounding area has undergone much alteration and development.
In good horror story tradition, a modern legend has grown up of unexpected happenings and misfortune taking place to those who have rashly tried to dig into the mounds in search of buried treasure and similar artefacts.
However, tales of ghostly dogs and phantom hounds of death are most associated with the Six Hills.
In 1910, the Hertfordshire historian W.B. Gerish received a letter from a female correspondent that described two incidents of the appearance of a black dog apparition.
One involved the lady herself who claimed to have seen a large black hound as big as a donkey which rose up out of the ground in front of her and a party of friends as they walked along a footpath close to the burial mounds.
The second involved a local gamekeeper who described seeing a large black dog which rushed past him in the darkness one night and disappeared in the direction of the Six Hills barrows.
Relatively recently the sighting of a bloodstained male figure has been reported in the roadway running parallel to the burial mounds.
The White Lion Public House
Renamed The Mulberry Tree in 2015, the White Lion is one of Stevenage Old Town’s most notable historic buildings.
The current building dates from the eighteenth century but a coaching inn existed on the site before this time. During the Napoleonic Wars, French POWs being marched north through Stevenage to a prison camp at Norman Cross near Peterborough were often held under guard overnight in the White Lion’s stables and possibly in the tunnel (now blocked) which runs from the cellar of the pub under the road to the Cromwell Hotel on the east side of the High Street.
Managers and bar staff at the White Lion have experienced numerous ghostly phenomena in the building over the years.
The tread of footsteps, scratching, a strange rustling noise together with banging and crashing sounds have been heard. Doors have been seen to open and close by themselves while in July 2014 a glowing white shape was caught on CCTV during a night time thunderstorm.
Adjacent to the A1(M) dual-carriageway junction on the outskirts of Stevenage, Knebworth House has been the family seat of the Lytton family since the last years of the fifteenth century.
A Tudor manor house built by Sir Robert Lytton in 1490 was variously adapted and altered over the years and the building that visitors to Knebworth see today, complete with crenulated battlements and leering gargoyles, dates from between 1843-45 when the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton carried out extensive remodelling in the then fashionable Gothic Revival style.
Knebworth’s most famous ghost is a glowing apparition known as the ‘Yellow Boy’ which is said to have appeared as an omen of death to Lord Castlereagh (Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry) who committed suicide at his home at Loring Hall in Kent in 1822.
However, there is no real truth in the story and much of the background of another of Knebworth’s notorious ghosts, the sound of a phantom spinning wheel known as ‘Spinning Jenny’, derives from a fictional pamphlet published in London in 1800.
Ghost hunters and affionados of the paranormal can take heart that not all of Knebworth’s ghosts can be dismissed so easily. An apparition thought to be that of the seventeenth century Parliamentarian John Hampden was seen by students billeted at Knebworth during World War II.
More recently a white shadow is said to have appeared on a number of occasions in the house’s Picture Gallery and the ghost of a former worker who committed suicide in the grounds was seen in the garden in the 1980s.
There are also reports of phantom footsteps and strange knocking noises.
To the south of Stevenage town centre lies Monks Wood, an atmospheric location formerly part of the Manor of Shephall and compulsorily purchased in the early 1950s by Stevenage Development Corporation as a recreation space for the ongoing New Town project.
Up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VII in the 1530s, the Manor of Shephall was administered by the Benedictine monks of St Albans.
For over 300 years Monks Wood was owned by the Nodes family and later bequeathed in the 1930s to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
Local tradition suggests a monastery once stood on the site but this is not supported by historical records. A black draped apparition, said to be the cyclical apparition of a headless monk, has been rumoured to haunt the two ponds which lie at the centre of the wood, returning every six or seven years where it floats silently over the water.
The most prominent sighting was that reported by two schoolboys in 1974 who claimed to have seen a faceless figure in a monk’s habit floating amongst the trees.
Paul Adams is hosting a ghost walk in Stevenage on Saturday, 21 November 2015. Find out how to book at Spooky London website.