CHRIS NEWTON reveals the ghost stories and disturbing activities behind the creepiest graveyards in Lancashire, England
St. Leonard the Less, Samlesbury
Samlesbury is a place already steeped in the supernatural, with the famous White Lady of Samlesbury Hall and the boggart of Sykes Lumb Farm, but the churchyard off St. Leonard the Less also boasts its own witch’s grave.
Among the ordinary headstones lies a cracked slab, clamped by iron bars.
As with Meg Shelton, the Fylde Witch in Woodplumpton, it was customary in the 17th century to place boulders or bars over witches’ graves to prevent them from clawing their way back to the land of the living.
However, there is an alternative explanation relating to the restless spirit of Nan Alker who, before her death, had promised her husband Tom that if he were to take a second wife she would come back to haunt him.
After a few lonely months as a widower, Tom eventually began courting Ellen Hayes, a farmer’s widow, but shortly after became plagued by nightmares in which his dead wife screamed incessantly at him.
The nightmares grew worse and worse until, one day Tom visited Nan’s burial place to discover that the huge stone slab had been broken and removed from her grave, requiring several strong men to haul it back into place.
After that the nightmares continued, growing more and more vivid each night, and every morning Tom would wake to find the slab moved once more.
Eventually, he resorted to drilling holes through the slab then driving iron spikes through them – iron having long been believed to ward off evil spirits. The nightmares ceased, and Nan Alker never stirred again.
St. Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham
Overlooking Morecambe Bay, above St. Peter’s Church in Heysham are the ruins of an 8th Century chapel, famous for its six stone coffins; body shaped hollows hewn into the solid rock of the clifftop.
Excavations of the land below the coffins revealed no human remains, but many skeletons were found in the Barrows nearby, along with what is known as ‘The Druid’s Stone’, a large boulder with a rectangular hole which likely once housed a preaching cross.
Despite the eerie location of eroded headland and lichen encrusted tombstones, there are no known ghosts of St. Patrick’s.
However, under the Freedom of Information Act (2005), the Ministry of Defence recently made public their numerous logs of sightings of ‘bright green lights’ and silver discs seen in the area.
On the 1 March 2001, many witnesses reported seeing ‘five flying orange lights’ over the bay.
Not that Heysham itself is without paranormal activity.
The old library, which was demolished in 2008, was haunted by the ghost of a crying child, and the nearby Old Hall Hotel is known to have its own Grey Lady.
Carleton Crematorium Cemetery
On a chill December night in 1936, a taxi driver by the name of Harry Hodges picked up a woman who asked to be taken to the Crematorium gates at Robin’s lane in Carleton.
Upon arrival, however, when Harry turned around to collect his fare he saw, leering through his window, the greenish spectre of a hideous old man “with sunken eyes, long dark hair, a Punch-like nose and prominent chin.”
His passenger immediately began screaming before she leapt from the taxi and fled in terror down the lane adjacent to the cemetery.
Harry watched on in horror as the peculiar phantasm made its way around the front of his car before disappearing into darkness of the night.
Harry made several attempts to track his mystery passenger down – including contacting the local newspaper regarding his experience – but with nobody in the area seemed to know who she was.
St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch-in-Pendle
Under the shadow of Pendle Hill, in the heart of witch county, there is nowhere more synonymous with the occult than Newchurch-in-Pendle.
On the west face of the tower of St. Mary’s is a carving known locally as ‘The Eye of God’, a symbol believed to protect the villagers from witchcraft.
Most notable is the Nutter tomb outside the church, which many believe to be the final resting place of Alice Nutter, who was hanged as a witch in Lancaster in 1612.
Witches aside, Newchurch-in-Pendle is not without its ghosts.
Just a little further down the hill from St. Mary’s is Jinny Well. Folklore has it that an evil spirit in the form of a boulder would roll down the hill to drink from the well.
Realising that the stone contained the spirit of Jinny Greenteeth – a river hag who lured young children into ponds and drowned them – a priest took an axe to the boulder and smashed it to pieces.
It is said that her ghost still stalks Jinny Lane, now human in form but for her missing head – severed by the priest’s axe!
St. Leonard’s, Walton-le-Dale
This churchyard, just outside of Preston by the south bank of the River Ribble is infamous for its association with Edward Kelly, a 16th Century occultist and associate of John Dee.
In 1560, upon hearing that a wealthy inhabitant of Walton-le-Dale had died, Kelly, along with Paul Wareing and – in some accounts – Dr. Dee himself) went to St. Leonard’s churchyard at midnight to exhume and reanimate the corpse so that it might reveal the site of its hidden treasure.
Armed with a magic wand and a consecrated torch, they performed the necessary ritualistic incantations until the deceased rose up and some spirit seemed to speak through it.
It told them the location of the money and also gave several mysterious predictions which later came to pass.
An account of this event from 1631 by John Weever claims that this rite was carried out at the request of ‘a Noble young Gentleman’ and that the reanimated corpse ‘delivered strange predictions concerning the said Gentleman’. (Incidentally, ‘Elly Kedward’, The Blair Witch, was named after Kelly.)
This tale of necromancy is not the only ghost story associated with St. Leonards.
According to folk legend, a former vicar of the parish was a keen occultist and, on one occasion had succeeded in summoning the very devil himself, who appeared in a cloud of green smoke, filled the vestry with brimstone and then disappeared, but not before leaving an imprint of his claws upon the vicar’s table.
This vicar was aware of a local superstition which told that if one were to stand in the church porch at midnight on Christmas Eve, they would see the souls of the parishioners destined to die in the next 12 months drifting into the church.
With the aid of a local wiseman known as Owd Abraham – a herb doctor renowned for ‘finding things aat abaat fowk’ – the vicar held a snowy vigil that December 24th, uttering various Latin prayers and using certain protective herbs until they saw a ghostly procession winding its way through the headstones.
Upon seeing that one of the apparitions, glowing white and wrapped in a burial shroud, was himself, the vicar collapsed in terror. Unable to move him, Owd Abraham had to summon the bell ringers to help him carry the vicar from the porch.
He eventually fled the parish to a seaside hovel but, sure enough, was dead within the year.