Mermaid Inn and Michelham Priory: Great British Ghosts (S1,E1)


Great British Ghosts, hosted by Michaela Strachan, visited many haunted and ghostly places during its 21 episode run between 18 August 2011 and 31 October 2012. Rather than focus on live ‘ghost hunting’ action like its contemporaries, Great British Ghosts’s documentary-style included interviews with witnesses and tales fo the real-life ghost-sightings.

Great British Ghosts

CHRISTINE MILLER takes a look back at the spooky series, starting with episode one, The Mermaid Inn and Michelham Priory.

For the first episode in the series, Michaela Strachan visits the historical town of Rye in East Sussex which is laden with a rich and dark history, full of highwaymen and smugglers. She first visits The Mermaid Inn, which is home to not one, but five different ghosts. No wonder then, that the inn claims to be one of the oldest and most haunted in Britain. 

The Mermaid Inn

Mermaid Inn
Mermaid Inn

The owner begins by showing Michaela around the building. She tells her that those who don’t expect to see ghosts on the premises tend to be the ones that do experience them.

They go into one of the most haunted rooms – here she says her and five sceptical members of staff held a séance, conducted by a medium. The medium told the group that his face would change, and the owner confirms that her and the rest of the group did indeed witness this. Sometime later in the evening, the medium told the group that he was conversing with a spirit. He asked each of the staff members to approach the spirit’s exact location and put their arms through the air. As they did, each of their arms disappeared. 

In one of the haunted rooms (room 16), a lady awoke in the middle of the night, 02.15 to be precise, only to see two men duelling in front of her. Much of the other activity reported in room 16 happens at exactly 02.15, including noises, bangs and flying orbs which have been time stamped on camera equipment. 

In another room, a figure has been seen walking through the chamber, only to disappear through the wall. When the owner returned to work the next morning, she found the couple who were witness this sleeping in the lobby area of the hotel. So terrified were they, they refused to return to the room to collect their belongings. 

It seems that nearly every room in the Mermaid Inn has its own ghost story.

This may come as little surprise, given that the ancient building has had such a chequered history; at one time, it was home to a ruthless smugglers gang. One story tells of a tragic servant girl who was murdered by the gang because they believed she had betrayed them (her boyfriend was even a gang member himself).  As it turned out, she had not betrayed them, but by that time, it was too late for the young woman who had lost her life at the gang’s hands.

Those smugglers who were caught were carted off to Rye Gaol, which unsurprisingly is also claimed to be haunted – and this is Michaela’s next point of call. 

Next door to the town’s graveyard sits the gaol, built in 1249 and turned into a prison in the 1400s. It was used for this purpose for over 400 years. There have been hundreds of ghost sightings down through the centuries right up to present day. 

Michaela meets her guide for the prison, and he tells her that the most common paranormal phenomena reported are ghostly young children being both seen and heard.  He also states that “nasty things” are sensed by visitors in the cells, but does not elaborate any further. 

The guide tells of his own eerie experience – standing alone outside in the garden of the gaol one evening, he felt a very brooding, unpleasant, dark atmosphere in the grounds and when joined by a medium a short time later, the medium stated he could strongly sense  “something big and black coming up the side of the tower”. 

Michelham Priory

Michelham Priory
Michelham Priory

Michaela now leaves Rye, and moves to Michelham Priory, which is also in Sussex. Built in 1229, it boasts almost 800 years of history. It was founded as an Augustine Priory, and was largely rebuilt in the Victorian era after a series of fires. 

It has a reputation of being very, very haunted…

One guide takes Michaela around to introduce her to some of the ghosts. They start with the most haunted room in the entire priory. He tells her that he came into the room one day, only to find a little girl between six and ten years old. She spoke to him and asked him not to come any further towards her, which he respected. She told him “later on we will meet again”, and with that, she disappeared. The guide believes the young child had a very unhappy childhood and was desperate her someone to talk to, and that he was the fortunate one who got the opportunity to.

Moving to the kitchen, which is over 200 years old, the same guide explains that he had another experience around 2AM. He met a man dressed as a cook who was working on a spit. He was a solid figure and they had a bit of a chat. (What the guide was doing at 2AM in the kitchen, however, is anyone’s guess!) 

Michaela next speaks to a paranormal investigator who has had a few experiences. He explains that the gatehouse of the priory is supposed to be haunted by a grey lady who killed her dog, and then herself in the grounds. One night setting up for an investigation, the investigator realised he had forgotten a vital piece of equipment, and with it being dark and he being slightly spooked, he ran towards the direction of the priory to retrieve it, only to hear the barking of an invisible dog chasing him. While the rest of his team found this amusing, this quite unnerved him.

In the music room, the same paranormal investigation group had the lights off trying to pick up on anyone or anything that was present. It was a full moon, and two of the group saw a shadow on the fireplace coming from outside of a man in a tall hat moving past the window. On a separate occasion, when recording a vigil, a team member suddenly stopped filming, saying that the group needed to get out of the building, and quickly. Once outside, she told her team that she had seen a man with his face close to hers. She described him as wearing a brown military uniform, and it wasn’t until afterwards that the team discovered that the priory had been home to members of the Canadian Airforce during the Second World War. 

Michaela next speaks to the caretaker of the priory, who claims he was awoken one night by a terrifying noise – there was a loud banging next door to his room which continued for up to 15 minutes. Once feeling brave enough, he decided to venture to investigate and discovered that his new bureau had moved, and a figure-of-eight was scratched into the floor where the bureau had been moved about violently. 

As Michaela says, “make of that what you will”.

Discover more Great British Ghosts episode reviews here.


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