ELLIOT DAVIES picks his five favourite spooky places to visit in the East Midlands City of Derby
Derby is one of many cities that’s often described as being the “most haunted in Britain”. The “Ghost Capital of England”, no less. I can’t see how that’s possible. There’s no denying that the place is something of a hot-spot of paranormal sightings, but most haunted? Surely London, by virtue of its size alone, should take that crown? With such a large surface area, you’re bound to find more ghosts per square inch in London than you are most anywhere else in the country.
So whilst I’m sceptical that Derby should be considered the most haunted city in Britain, that’s not to say that there’s not plenty of scope for supernatural kicks. You just have to know where to look.
Having been featured on TV’s Most Haunted – and boasting a very strong connection with Most Haunted’s own Richard Felix (he owns the place!) – Derby Gaol is the obvious place to start your Derby ghost hunt. Hauntings appear to be seasonal, taking place from around October through to December. They then take a break, picking up again around June and July – just in time for the summer holidays!
Owner Richard Felix talks about a walking “grey haze” spotted in the kitchen; whilst cell doors have been known to close by themselves. Contractors and visitors also report experiencing feelings of nausea in the notorious condemned cell. Yvette Fielding herself, with her eyes like pickled eggs on the night vision camera, reported such a feeling.
Indeed, the atmosphere’s so oppressive that some visitors absolutely refuse to even enter the condemned cell. Those that do enter often leave in a hurry, claiming to have experienced a suffocating sensation. The strongest vision reported was that of two men hanging from a fixed beam inside the cell.
With a list of 58 recorded executions taking place between 1756 and 1825 outside of Derby Gaol on Friargate – not to mention extensive death by the dreaded Gaol Fever – is it any wonder that a gloomy atmosphere of death and despair should hang over Derby Gaol?
If a pervading feeling of doom sounds like your idea of fun, there’s plenty of opportunity for enjoying the bleakness of Derby Gaol. You can embark on a Derby Ghostwalk, which incorporates the Derby Gaol and includes a hot supper (baked potatoes, I’m told). You can even book yourself an overnight vigil – perfect for stag or hen parties!
The Old Bell Hotel
The Old Bell Hotel on Sadlergate is a gorgeous Tudor building which, with its extensive dark woodwork and shady corners, has an undeniably Gothic atmosphere throughout. Built around 1680, it’s a Grade II listed building and one of the oldest coaching inns in Derby.
Reports abound of a lady dressed in blue Victorian garb who stands in one of the downstairs bars. The pub also houses a coathanger flinging poltergeist and the ghost of a murdered serving girl who apparently only presents herself to children.
At the time of writing, though, unless you resort to breaking and entering, you have little chance of witnessing any of this paranormal activity, as The Old Bell Hotel was closed in March 2012. Owners cited “a difference of opinion in regards to future plans”, so expect it to re-open as a horrible hot-spot for David Guetta style music any day now.
That’s a fate that’s afflicted many a reportedly haunted Derby pub, actually. The Firary, built on the site of a Dominican Friary, keeps the ghost of a monk in a black cowl in its cellar. Alas, the pub is a Scream Bar of the yellow, discounted drinks variety; so the only scary sights to be seen within now are those of wall-to-wall self-destruction. Not a bad jukebox, though.
Similarly, Jorrocks appears to be known amongst locals as a haunted pub, but step in today and you’ll strain to be heard over the blaring of televised sports and, yes, David Guetta style music. The ghosts have presumably long-since vacated the premises – if nothing else they’re always put off by an unimaginative range of drinks.
Still. Whilst The Old Bell Hotel remains closed, you can at least stand outside it and take in its imposing aged form – rendered all the more creepy now for being vacant. You never know, you might even see a face appear at a window.
Ye Olde Dolphin Inne
With such a dedication to real ale and olde English spelling – and being located in Derby’s lovely Cathedral Quarter – and boasting a “Ghosts” tab on their website – you know where you are with Ye Olde Dolphin Inne. This is a haunted pub in Derby that’s still open for enjoyment.
Many ghost stories surround the pub. Ask the regulars about The Flying Scotsman or The Blue Lady – the ghost of a woman who had an affair with Dick Turpin. There have also been sightings of a small girl sat on the stairs leading up to the restaurant. That’s enough to put you off your dinner, but not nearly as much as the grim and gruesome tale of The Vault of Terror.
It seems that, in the 18th century, a young doctor secretly had the dead body of a young woman delivered to The Dolphin in the dead of night. Taking her body into the cellar (located beneath what is now the lounge), he proceeded to practice his dissection skills – cutting open her stomach and removing her entrails.
But no sooner had he begun than the woman’s eyes snapped open. She had been mistakenly buried alive – she wasn’t dead, she was comatose! She leapt from the table and ran screaming round the room, presumably attempting to cram her distended entails back into her body as she went. She soon collapsed to the ground having died of blood loss and shock. The coroner’s report read “Death by rude awakening”.
This drove the young doctor mad with shock. His hair turned white, and he spent the rest of his days incarcerated in an asylum. Why not drink to his memory in Ye Olde Dolphin Inne? Sit in the lounge, above The Vault of Terror, and hope that you’re lucky enough to enjoy a lock-in. They say the agonised, horrified screams of the girl can still be heard in the dead of night.
The Silk Mill is something of an iconic landmark for industrial progress. Built in 1717, it served as England’s first factory. By extension, it might also be the first factory in the world – at least it’s the oldest still standing.
What is certain, though, is that The Silk Mill is the setting for the world’s first bout of industrial espionage. A spy called Lombe infiltrated the Italian silk industry to steal plans for silk-throwing machines. He’d work on the machines by day and would secretly study their designs by night. He hid detailed plans within bales of silk bound for England, where they were later picked up and transported to Derby.
Lombe soon returned home, but was soon poisoned by a vindictive Italian assassin. Does his ghost still walk the airy corridors where the fruit of his fatal espionage would spin day and night? Who can say?
Because the past is a brutal and uncaring place, children as young as seven would once have worked 14 hour shifts within The Silk Mill. An overseer once decided that one such child – a very young boy – wasn’t working hard enough. As a punishment, he was kicked down the stairs of the bell tower, later expiring in a shattered heap at the foot of the stairs. Some say that his anguished cries can still be heard resounding throughout the bell tower.
Regrettably, much of The Silk Mill was mothballed a few years ago, but plans are afoot to re-open the place. Until then, you can gain entry through attending one of the many art exhibitions or live music performances that frequently take place. Of course, you’ll have to strain to hear the spectral cries of the unfortunate young boy over the plaintive notes of modern indie rock, but still.
This is a very, very old pub known by some as “Seven Seats”. Standing room only, you see. Their drinks range might leave a lot to be desired, but this isn’t a good pub guide. It’s a good ghost guide! The Seven Stars has a resident ghost, and he’s such a beloved institution that he even has a name. They call him George.
George used to manifest himself as an indistinct figure in the attic or as a whispered cacophony of disembodied voices, but recently his mischief has taken on more of a poltergeist angle. He’s been known to switch off lights and, more irritatingly, beer taps. You can imagine the chuckles and shakes of the head that must take place when the taps unexpectedly cut-off. “Oh, George.”
In the 1960s, an ancient well was discovered beneath the Seven Stars which is visible through a glass panel in the bar today. Did George tumble down that well? Does he now haunt the site of his untimely tumble? Who knows. But he’d be quite a fun phantom with whom to share a pint.
If you don’t mind standing.
Elliot Davies has a blog called NinetyEightyTwo, where he “reviews each and any film I see that I haven’t seen before”. He also occasionally writes for Found Objects. His previous articles for The Spooky Isles are here.