EDDIE BRAZIL dons his cassock, and with bell, book and candle, plus a couple of wooden stakes, goes in search of haunted English churches
St Magnus the Martyr, City of London
A church has stood on this site since the 12th century. It was destroyed in the great fire of 1666, and rebuilt in the classical styled by Wren between 1671 and 1687. The church takes its name from a Norse lord who was executed in 1165 for his Christian beliefs. The cowled apparition of a monk-like figure has been seen at the church on numerous occasions. During the 1950s, seances were held at the church to try contact the lost souls haunting the building, but with no success. St Magnus has seen many changes in its time. If you pass under the arch by the tower you will be on the site of the old entrance to the original London bridge.
St Giles, Camberwell
St Giles is a Victorian, gothic style church built in 1844 on the site of an 11th century building. It is the passage way which runs through the graveyard – a creepy and atmospheric lamplit thoroughfare – where paranormal phenomena has been experienced. Disembodied footsteps and the apparition of a figure in black have been reported especially during the 1970s and 80s. The figure gained the nickname of “Dracula’s Ghost” by locals as the apparition is reported as wearing a long black cloak.
Holy Trinity, Penn, Buckinghamshire
The church is located on a side road between High Wycombe and Beaconsfield, and is full of history. The grandsons of William Penn, he of Pennsylvania fame, lie in the churches vaults. Within the churchyard are the graves of David Blakeley and Donald Maclean. Blakeley was murdered by Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Maclean gained infamy as a Soviet spy.
The church is believed to be haunted by a phantom horseman who rides through the village on moonlit nights and disappears on reaching the graveyard. A more substantial ghost is that of the apparition of a woman in white who passes through the churchyard, through the east gate and vanishes down a nearby lane.
Paganism and Christianity sit cheek by jowl in rural Dorset. The church stands within the ring of a neolithic henge as if to symbolise the triumph of Christianity of Heathenism. Knowlton is one of Dorset’s most haunted locations. A young mother pushing her baby’s pram through the site reported seeing a figure appear in front of her. The apparition passed across her path and vanished in to the henge. Other phenomena include kneeling figure outside the church, ghostly faces which appear at the windows in the tower, and disembodied voices which sound within the church ruins.
St Nicholas, Emmington, Oxfordshire
A solitary church situated at the end of a narrow lane in deepest Oxfordshire. The church is said to be haunted by a woman in grey who wanders the graveyard. Curiously most of the sightings of her ghost are said to occur on misty or foggy days.
In 1987, a young photographer arrived at the church to shoot the interior, but the building was locked. Throughout his brief stay he reported seeing the figure of a woman dressed in Victorian clothes. She seemed to appear and then fade within the grey murk. He thought about asking her where he could obtain the key to the church, but refrained. Something about her appearance coupled with the cold foggy day made him want to quickly leave. He was to later learn of the ghostly woman. When told, he said a cold shiver travelled up his spine.
Holy Trinity, Ettington, Warwickshire
The ruins of Holy Trinity is a haunted church in a most renowned ghostly location. For the remains of this 14th century building stand in the grounds of Ettington Park, a Victorian gothic mansion which gained movie fame as the haunted Hill house in the 1963 film The Haunting. The church is said to be haunted by a woman in white who looks down on to the empty nave from a window in the tower. Two other ghosts which wander the ruins are are believed to be a young boy and a girl who tragically drowned in a nearby lake in the 19th century.
Borley Church, Essex
Borley is probably the most famous haunted site in England. Borley Rectory was destroyed by fire in 1939 and demolished in 1944. To many, the haunting should have ceased with the rectory’s destruction, but it seems the ghosts upped sticks and moved across the road to the 12th century. In fact, the church has possibly always been a site of paranormal phenomena. Today, people still experience strange incidents within its graveyard.
Disembodied footsteps, voices, apparitions and the malfunction of electric equipment have all been recorded. As recently as 2008, contractors working at the church witnessed poltergeist phenomena when power leads were removed from their sockets by unseen hands. In 1972, the author visited Borley and took this photo of the churchyard. I didn’t see anything in the viewfinder at the time, but the resulting print showed the strange anomaly.
St Mary’s, Langenhoe, Essex
A contender for most haunted church in England, St Mary’s, Langenhoe no longer exists. It was built in the 14th century, damaged by a freak earthquake in 1888, and finally demolished in 1963. But between 1937 until its destruction, it was the scene of one of the most extraordinary cases of haunting ever recorded.
The Rector at the time, Rev Earnest Merryweather, kept a diary of the strange experiences, many of which occurred to him solely (The author now owns this diary.) The experiences included voices, footsteps, medieval singing, poltergeist activity and apparitions. On one occasion, the rector and two workman heard Gregorian chant coming from the locked and empty church. Merryweather also witnessed the ghosts of different people within the building: A woman in Tudor dress, a man in a thirties tweed suit and a young woman in a cream dress.
All that is left of the site today is the overgrown graveyard. Yet, this is still a very atmospheric place. The author visited Langenhoe some years ago, but soon had to leave for there is a palpable sense of foreboding which continues to linger among the fallen headstones.