CHRIS NEWTON visits the most haunted Lancaster pubs to check out the spirits for us…
Lancashire’s county town has a macabre history, and is steeped in the supernatural.
Recorded in the Domesday Book in as ‘Loncastre’, (meaning Fort on the Lune), Lancaster earned the nickname ‘The Hanging Town’ owing to the sheer number of people sentenced to death in The Lancaster Assizes (the court based in its castle).
Is it any wonder its bloodstained cobbles are haunted by restless spirits? With that in mind, here are five pubs to visit as you delve into Lancaster’s dark past.
The Pendle Witch,
90-92 Penny Street,
Lancaster LA1 1XN
What better name for a pub to start our haunted jaunt than this? One of the first things you will notice upon entering this establishment is a striking tribute to Jennet Device on the far wall accompanied by words which are hauntingly relevant today: “In times of crisis, fear of evil can easily lead us to behave in ways which may corrode the very values that we most wish to protect.”
Alongside its selection of Witchy beers, and ‘The Wiccan Rede’ inscribed on the bar, the Pendle Witch is located on Penny Street, which is home to a ghost of its’ own. According to Cross Fleury’s historic notes, ‘Time Honoured Lancaster’ (1891), a headless phantasm used to materialise in the bedroom of a young girl with such regularity that the girl and her siblings came to regard the ghost as roommate. ‘All it seemed to have deemed it necessary to do for its own satisfaction was to show itself,” she wrote of the haunting.
29 Castle Hill,
Lancaster LA1 1YN
As the name would suggest, this pub, formerly a wine merchants’ cellar, has been here since the 17th Century, and sits in the shadow of the city’s most haunted building – Lancaster Castle, where the Pendle Witches were infamously imprisoned during the assizes of 1612. It was within these walls that the nine-year-old Jennet Device gave evidence against her family and condemned them to the scaffold.
The castle’s ghosts, including a floating monk are documented elsewhere on Spooky Isles, so I’ll instead share a personal story. For the last few years, Merchants has been the starting point for the wonderful Lancaster Terror Tours. I attended their Halloween 2018 event, armed with an EVP recorder and heard something very strange when listening back the next day. One of the guides, Tabitha, began the tour by the castle gates, reciting the description of Lancaster Castle from William Wordsworth’s ‘Sonnets Upon The Punishment of Death’.
“This spot, at once unfolding sight so fair
Of sea and land, with yon grey towers that still Rise up as if to lord it over air –
Might soothe in human breasts the sense of ill,
Or charm it out of memory; yea, might fill
The heart with joy and gratitude to God…”
Listening back, a terrifying, deep mocking voice repeats the word ‘god.’ I was stood beside her when this recording was made, and I can promise you that nobody else was speaking at the time.
Merchants also sits opposite The Kings Arms Hotel, if you wanted to include its’ bar as the sixth pub on your crawl. One of its rooms was reputedly haunted by a young bride who poisoned herself after her lover was hanged.
Any guest brave enough to spend the night was traditionally given a piece of wedding cake – including none other than Charles Dickens – who had hoped to catch a glimpse of the ghost.
The Three Mariners,
Lancaster LA1 1EE
Lancaster’s oldest pub, a 15th Century Grade II listed building, has a whole host of undead regulars. A misty figure has been seen haunting the cellar, and a Jacobite man has often been seen from outside, his ghostly hand cleaning the windows, only for patrons to enter and find nobody there.
A little further up the road from The Three Mariners are The Judge’s Lodgings, where a young apprentice boy who bled to death after accidentally cutting off his thumb can be seen tearing down the cobbled streets, screaming and clutching his bleeding hand.
The Golden Lion,
33 Moor Len,
Lancaster LA1 1QD
Since the 15th Century, a pub has sat on this spot on Moor Lane, so named for its proximity to Gallows Hill. For many years it was used as a final drinking place for the condemned, allegedly among them the Pendle Witches themselves.
The current building, which itself dates back to the 17th Century, bears a plaque listing the names of the men and women hanged for witchcraft. As well as the witches’ spirits, a spectral nun supposedly haunts the cellar. (My story in the latest The Spooky Isles anthology, Shadow of Pendle, is set in this very pub!)
3 Dalton Square,
Lancaster LA1 1PP
Our final pub sits in Dalton Square, instantly recognisable for its’ Queen Victoria statue. But this picturesque square, with its annual ice rink and Christmas market, was once home to Bukhtyar Chompa Rustomji Ratanji Hakim, more commonly known as Buck Ruxton.
Ruxton, ‘The Savage Surgeon’, was executed in 1936 for the murder of his wife, Isabella, and their maid, Mary Jane Rogerson. It is thought that Ruxton murdered his wife in a fit of jealous rage, only do be discovered in the process of dismembering her body by Rogerson, events which became immortalised in a playground song:
“Red stains on the carpet
Red satins on the knife
When Doctor Buck Ruxton cut up his wife
Maid Mary she saw him, and said she would tell
So Doctor Buck Ruxton cut her up as well!”
After mutilating the bodies to prevent identification, Ruxton drove his victims to Scotland, to the Dumfriesshire town of Moffat, and buried them.
However, Ruxton had unwittingly wrapped the body parts in a newspaper only available in Lancaster and Morecambe, which lead to his eventual arrest.
The house in which the murders took place remained empty for some years, and is now used as office space, but the spectre of these gruesome killings still haunts the square.