MJ WAYLAND takes a look at historic Dudley Castle – the Black Country’s most haunted!
Dudley Castle stands over the town on a great limestone hill, one of the highest points in the West Midlands. It is now a ruin, partly because some of its owners over the centuries rebelled against the Crown. In the Civil War, however, the castle was a Royalist stronghold which was besieged and badly damaged in 1646. During the Industrial Revolution coalmines and limestone quarries were cut deep beneath the castle, with many miners suffering injury and death. The workers were served by a 3,172 yard canal tunnel with basins and branches. The Castle and grounds are now a zoo, but with such a history it is not surprising that it is one of the most haunted places in the Midlands.
Zoo staff work long hours and are often there after dark. Joyce Norman the secretary is sceptical about the ghosts, but she has heard footsteps in the offices when the building is empty and things sometimes catch the corner of her eye. The offices are in a seventeenth century stone house, once estate offices for the Earl of Dudley, and on the site of the old Saint Edmund’s churchyard. In 1992, the Assistant Manager was leaving for home when he suddenly felt incredibly cold, the hairs on his neck rose and he was so terrified that in getting out he wrenched the handle off the door.
Zoo curator, Chris Round, says that for years, Keepers had to do a round from 8pm to 10pm. It was so nerve wracking that they took a Great Dane.
In the night the grounds are pitch black and the Keeper had to move by the light of a torch.
“First you had to lean over the tiger enclosure and shine your torch around the pit, which seemed bottomless. It was dug from old limestone caves, and you remembered that in 1961 the skeleton of a woman of 40 was found in a nearby cave. The Police discovered very little about her, not who she was, nor why she died here. Nearby a miner was buried alive under a rockfall and the sound of a pickaxe on rock can sometimes be heard. Perhaps it is the same miner who appears in the bear dens next door then disappears through a wall.
Past the leopard cages, the monkey pen and the bird house, up to the sealions, past the duck paddock and into the blackness of the Tripple Gateway. The dog never liked the misty courtyard. The hairs on his back stood on end and he whined. The Grey Lady is sometimes seen here. Then to the aquarium, which was once the crypt. There are unexplained footsteps, low muttering voices, and objects moved. Keepers used to dare each other to spend a night in the aquarium. Two did so in the 1960s, saw the Grey Lady and spent the rest of the night with chattering teeth in the barn.
The Keep towered above, and you shone the torch up though it would not pierce the darkness. An old woman once lived here. One story says that she hung herself from the battlements on All Hallows Eve and her black cat was found dead beneath her swinging body. Another says that a gang of youths climbed the walls and discovered the old woman and her cat about to fly off to the Sabbath. Tying a rope round her neck, they threw them both from the battlements. She was buried just outside the walls of St Edmund’s Churchyard, where the offices stand.
Your journey the brought you past the shed where my only paranormal experience occurred. I was inside with another Keeper when something large and heavy brushed past. I can only describe it as like a camel in a plastic mac. We dived outside but there was nothing in sight and the area had no hiding places. Another Keeper told me that he had heard the same noises a few months before. Your round then was almost finished, you had only to make a brief inspection of the Ballroom, the Club and the Offices. Once, the under manager of the Ballroom was locking up when he was confronted by a faintly luminous white figure. It stretched out its arm to him and he fled into the ballroom and set off the burglar alarm. The Police found him suffering from sever shock. The Fellows Club Restaurant, like the offices, is built over the old St Edmund’s Churchyard. Its phantom waiter plays the piano and changes place settings. This was another area that the dog disliked. He would pull back on his lead and show the whites of his eyes. After a quick inspection, you would both turn and run back to the Head Keeper’s cottage to return the trembling dog to its kennel and hand in your keys.”
Mr A Durkin arrived in 1987 to work on an archaeological project. He discovered that in addition to studying foundations and soil erosion, he had to investigate ghosts.
The Grey Lady
Two young entertainers were hired in the summer of 1987 and camped each night in the courtyard. Here, high walls cut out noise, in the evening white mist drifts through the doorways and eddies into pale twists. Late one evening they saw on top of the castle mound the dark hazy shape of a woman. This was the last sighting of the Grey Lady by staff, though many visitors report seeing her. Catering staff saw her in the window of the chapel in the 1970’s and during the 1960s she appeared to two keepers in the old aquarium.
The Grey Lady could be Mrs Dorothy Beaumont. She was the wife of the Royalist Second in Command when the castle was besieged by Parliamentary forces in May 1646 and died of natural causes, perhaps childbirth. The Parliamentary Commander allowed her funeral cortege to the Church at the top of the town, but not Dorothy’s husband.
The Black Monk
From time to time, a monk in a black habit appears. Staff have seen him three times in the past few years, once at the entrance to the keep and twice in the window of the Castle’s Chapel. Near the Castle are the ruins of St James Priory, founded in the late 1100s. It was given to Benedictine Monks from Much Wenlock Priory who wore black habits.
The Medieval Lady
There are many rumours of a medieval female spectre. She has only appeared once to staff when she won a fancy dress competition. In 1983, there was a medieval evening with side shows and a prize for the best costume. In the crowd the judges saw an elderly woman wearing a sackcloth shift and grey shawl with feet wrapped in sacking. She looked very different from the others and so authentic that they awarded her the prize, but she disappeared. The officials on the gates were certain that she had not slipped past.
When Mr Durkin arrived he was sceptical about ghosts but has rethought his beliefs: “I have concluded that Ghosts exist in the sense that the Huddersfield Choral Society exists when I put on their record of the Messiah. Where I have a choice of radio programmes I have to tune to the correct station, and so with ghosts. It is no the ghosts which exist, it is the receiver. Where ghosts are identified they are often people whose life was in some sort of crisis, and ghostseers are often people of delicate sensibilities children, adolescents or those with problems which mirror those of the ghost. It is my belief therefore that by some unknown physical means it is possible for objects to “make recordings”
of emotions and play them back to people on the right wavelength. So I guess I shall never meet a ghost, though I shall be concerned at the possibility.”
MJ WAYLAND is an author, researcher and tutor specialising in paranormal and alternative subjects. He has an excellent blog called Walker of the Borderlands of Belief.