CHRIS NEWTON heads to some haunted pubs along the The Fylde coast in northern England…
The Wheatsheaf, Woodplumpton
The small village of Woodplumpton, just north of Preston on the eastern edge of The Fylde, is most famous in supernatural circles for being the home of Meg Shelton, The Fylde Witch, who lies face down beneath a boulder in St. Anne’s Churchyard. But the nearby pub also boasts its own resident ghost.
At The Wheatsheaf you can be guaranteed a friendly atmosphere and great beer, but an attempt to warm yourself by its cosy fire may prove to be a chilling experience. A photograph taken of the fireplace seems normal enough upon first glance, but closer inspection reveals what appears to be a young girl knelt by the grate polishing the brass (although some speculate she may be praying, or even nursing a baby). Could it be that Meg is not the only restless sprit in Woodplumpton? The village itself goes back to Saxon times, and is recorded as ‘Plunton’ in the Domesday Book (becoming ‘Wode’ Plumpton by 1336) so it’s safe to assume that it could be home to several spectres. The ghostly photograph itself in question in on display in the bar.
The Eagle and Child, Weeton
Weeton is another destination with ghostly connotations. Most local children will have no doubt grown up with tales of ‘The Hairy Boggart of Weeton’. Also known as ‘The Demon of the Fylde’, the boggart was allegedly disturbed when a barrow in a local field was raided for paving stones, leading to the serendipitous discovery of several decorated urns containing bones and ashes. The boggart has been known to appear in the form of a calf, and sometimes to transform into a hairy-legged Pan-like being.
Not far from the home of the boggart is The Eagle and Child. Dating back to 1585, it is one of the Fylde’s oldest pubs, and its heritage is plain to see from the 18th Century mounting steps in front of its entrance to the ancient sword displayed inside which was found during renovation work and thought to have been used between the Nile and India.
In addition to several legends surrounding the inn, involving Oliver Cromwell and secret passages from its cellar, The Eagle and Child is also said to be haunted by a spectre known by the locals as ‘Bleeding Ears Murph’.
I recently spoke to a member of staff who told me of that one of the regulars was once asked politely to drink up, as it was closing time and he was the only customer left in the pub. Finishing his pint, the customer remarked that, actually, he wasn’t the only customer, as he had just seen a man walk into the gent’s toilet. The bar staff waited patiently for the second man to emerge. He never did, and when they eventually went in to check, the toilet was empty.
There is some speculation that Murph is the ghost of a highwayman who fled the authorities in London and came to Weeton to hide, perhaps seeking refuge in the secret tunnels in the pubs cellar. This would make sense as, whilst Murph is rarely seen, it is said he can often be heard muttering at night when the bar is empty.
The Grapevine, Poulton-le-Fylde
Compared to some of this historic market town’s other, more traditional, pubs the Grapevine might be a surprising candidate for the most haunted. But don’t be fooled by the modern seating and the glitzy cocktail bar, the building itself dates back to the 18th century.
Market Place, the street on which it stands, was ravaged by a fire in 1732, a result of sparks from the tapers of a passing funeral procession, although the surrounding area remains remarkably unchanged to this day with the nearby market cross, stocks and whipping post. The entire row was rebuilt, and what is now the The Grapevine was an ironmonger’s business from 1895 until 1979.
At least the last three owners of The Grapevine have all claimed it is haunted by a mischievous (though not necessarily malevolent) spirit who regularly flings glasses from shelves in full view of both staff and customers. Several members of staff have even reported to have been pelted with chestnuts, despite the fact this was an ingredient not kept in the kitchen. Many employees have described experiencing the sensation of cobwebs brushing against their cheeks, only to reach up to find nothing there. Many of the locals are familiar with The Grapevine’s resident ghost, with one customer claiming to have looked in the mirror in the gents’ toilet and seen the spectral face of a woman gazing back at him.
This paranormal activity is not surprising given the pubs location. Behind The Grapevine is The Teanlowe Centre, an indoor shopping mall, which may not sound particularly spooky, but has supernatural connections. The name ‘Teanlowe’ was chosen by a pupil of Hodgson School in 1973, and named after ‘Teanlay Night’, which was a traditional Fylde term form Hallowe’en. It was an ancient tradition to light huge bonfires (or ‘Teanlay Fires’) on the 31st October, so that lost souls might find their way to the light. What is now The Teanlowe Shopping Centre carpark was once open farmland, and was known locally as ‘Purgatory’ due to this ritual. Could it be that some of these wandering spirits have made their home in The Grapevine?
The Hand and Dagger, Salwick
Situated between Kirkham and Preston, The Hand and Dagger is a picturesque 17th Century country pub which sits beside Lancaster Canal, but it’s unusual name is not the only macabre aspect of this establishment.
Previous owners have reported that a mans voice can often be heard from upstairs, even when the building is otherwise empty, but the spooky activity doesn’t stop there. Bar mats and menus are known to mysteriously move, and former landlord and lady Dave and Pam Eyre, who took on The Hand and Dagger back in 2006, would often open up in the morning only to discover tables and barstools had been re-arranged during the night despite the pub being locked.
The locals were less surprised by these ghoulish activities, however, as pub regulars have known that a ghost, whom they nickname Fred, has haunted The Hand and Dagger for years.
The Shard Riverside Inn, Hambleton
Our final pub is haunted by a somewhat different spirit. Whilst sat in the outdoor area to the front, overlooking the banks of the River Wyre, you might notice two curious things. The first is that the road parallel to the car park ends abruptly in what looks like the entrance to a bridge. This is all that remains of the original toll bridge which was built to connect Hambleton to Poulton in 1864. The second is a small gravestone which bears the name ‘Jack’.
The inn was once Shard House, home to the affluent Renshaw family in the early 1900s, (The word ‘shard’ is a Roman term for ‘low crossing point on a river.’) where the Renshaw’s son, Norman, would often take Jack, his beloved little black and white dog, for walks along the estuary.
On the 14th August 1908, when Norman was twenty-five-years old, he took his boat out on the river. Caught by the tide, he collided with the original toll bridge and began to sink. Rescuers arrived with ropes to pull him to safety, but Normal noticed that Jack had fallen from the boat and was unable to swim against the current and so, rather then grabbing hold of the ropes, he jumped into the river to save his canine friend. Norman succeeded in rescuing his pet, but tragically drowned in the process.
When Jack eventually died of old age in 1915, Norman’s mother, Mary Renshaw, buried him in the grounds of Shard House. His headstone remains to this day in what is now the beer garden and, though weathered, Mary’s inscription is still legible: ‘In affectionate memory of my dear son’s dog Jack. Died January 15th 1915. His master lost his life in saving this dumb faithful friend in the year 1908 M.A.C.R.’
Whilst Mary herself died in 1943, it seems that little Jack is still here today. It is not an uncommon occurrence for patrons of the inn to see a small black and white dog go scurrying into the pub, only to find that he has vanished when they follow him inside. On numerous occasions, customers have asked the bar staff for a bowl of water for the cute little stray they have seen outside, who also find that, when they return, the dog is nowhere to be seen. These days The Shard is also a hotel, and over the years some of the guests have complained about the dog that whimpers and scratches at their doors at night, only to be told that there is no dog on the premises.