Ghostly British Olympians: Strange tales from Sport


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With London 2012 pumping along, MJ WAYLAND ponders some stories relating to Olympic Ghosts!

Olympics Ghost

Almost tongue in cheek I decided to tweet a day of ghost stories related to the Olympics, I’ve often tweeted stories about Scottish ghosts, Strange USA etc so why not #olympicghosts ?

So what started as a half-jape I actually uncovered two very strange ghost stories that do relate to Olympians!

The first story I uncovered took place on 8th September 1908 and describes an Olympic wrestler who ‘lays’ O’Grady’s ghost. According to the Manchester Courier a house on Sykes Street Hull had built up a reputation of ‘uncanny manifestations’.

The house on Sykes Street seemingly belonged to a man called “O’Grady” or maybe it was his ghost? And a range of phenomena had been reported including tapping on the wall, ornaments, pots and pans being thrown and also “a blacklead tin that was thrown at PC Hinds”.

The Olympic wrestler in question was also a police constable called O’Kelly. He had competed in the Olympic games as a heavy weight wrestler, however there is no record how O’Kelly laid the spirits to rest except after entering the house all further activity stopped. There are records of the great O’Kelly – a Hull wrestling hero.

Born in 1886, George Cornelius “Con” O’Kelly was an Irish born sport wrestler who competed for Great Britain in the 1908 Summer Olympics. In 1902 he lived in Hull working as both police constable and for the local fire brigade. He was introduced to wrestling by his colleagues and became the winner of th British Amateur Wrestling Heavyweight Championship.

In London Olympics of 1908 he reached the final beating Jacob Gundersen, winning the Gold Medal. When he returned to Hull a crowd of over 12,000 people greeted him and he was paraded around the city on a horse drawn fire engine. He went on to fight in America and sadly there are no records of his exorcism skills!

The newspaper continued to report, ”The only persons interested in O’Grady’s ghost are a number of old women, who have been discussing the manifestations at the street corners”.

Sadly, further research has failed to uncover anymore details about the haunting. I can’t help feel that this haunting must have been well known in Hull and the newspaper decided that it warranted reporting.

I have also discovered several times that often these reports were made by sarcastic journalists, this story could be one such example. Could claiming that a 6ft 3 wrestling policeman visited an alleged haunted house actually be a deterant to any would-be hoaxers? Certainly could be an option but definitely makes for an interesting story.

The second story I uncovered is an account of a Clandon Park, an 18th century Palladian mansion outside of Guildford, Surrey. The estate had been purchased in 1641 by Sir Richard Onslow and his great grandson commissioned the building of the mansion around 1730.

In Yorkshire Evening Post dated 21st April 1896 the sub-headline reads “A Warning to the Ghosts” and continues; “There is said to be a phantom attached to a house at Clandon belonging to the Earl of Onslow. An introduction to this ghost has been much coveted by a certain psychical society.”

However, Lord Onslow seems bemused by the reports of a ghost and told the journalist that he wished to keep his ghost for the amusement of his own domestic circle.

“Adult members of the my family,” he replied in a letter of refusal to the physical society, “sleep with loaded revolvers by their bedsides. More than this, they will not hesitate to shoot.”

The Earl of Onslow quoted in the newspaper is likely to be Olympian and sportsman William Hillier Onslow, who in 1870 aged just 17 became the 4th Earl and owner of Clandon Park. He was responsible for the revival of the house, selling land and then paying for repairs, redecoration and improvements.

Simple research uncovers at least three ghosts who could be the phantom described in the newspaper article. Clandon’s most famous ghost is that of Thomas Onslow’s wife, Thomas was the great-great Grandson I mentioned earlier and was the builder of the first house.

According to legend, Thomas’s wife did not see the completion of her dream house at Clandon and is destined to walk the house in eternal despair.

I researched the Onslow family and there could be a small grain of truth to this story, Elizabeth Knight married Thomas Onslow with a dowry of over £70,000 and this allowed his to buy lands around Guildford. He then commissioned the building of Clandon Park which was completed around 1730 and records show that Elizabeth died a year after. Maybe she only witnessed its partial rebuilding – either way most ghost books now continue to promote this legend and in some circumstances she’s alleged to carry a hunting knife!

Other ghosts include a ghostly man with overgrown facial hair and a female spirit dressed in black.

Although Clandon Park is now managed by the National Trust, sadly not many recent sightings have been reported, but based on its previous haunted history it certainly seems worth checking out their ghost tours.

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.


  1. The House in Hull was rented by the O'Grady family who, it was reported in the Hull press, had recently lost a brother, hence it was O'Grady's ghost. I researched the case for my book on Hull ghosts and incovered the family in both the Census and Trade Directories. The case was reported in all the Hull Newspapers, and actually made it as far afield as the Austrlian press! There was no satisfactory outcome to the case and the stone throwing was never reported again after the initial 1908 flap. Constable O'Kelly did not lay the ghost to rest, as the articles claim, but merely turned up after the family reported having objects thrown at them. He was looking for a culprit but admitted to the press that he was at a loss to explain the activity.


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