Salisbury is one of the most attractive and ancient cities in England. Its history can be traced back to 2,500 BC and as a result has a diverse and complex history. The centre preserves its medieval street plan and has many ancient buildings within it. Today, the population of Salisbury is 40,000. Yet behind the busy hustle bustle activities of modern day life, lie tales of a more sinister kind; a history that includes demonic apparition, disease, witchcraft, death, ghosts, poltergeists and murder. SOPHIE ROSE CLARKE reports.
Debenhams Department Store, Salisbury
The Debenhams department store in Salisbury is said to be haunted by the ghost of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. He was beheaded in Market Square in 1483 after being found guilty of treason against King Richard III. His execution took place outside the store, which was formerly the site of the Blue Boar Inn. It is said he spent his last few hours alive locked in the attic of this building.
However, the duke is not believed to have been laid to rest peacefully as he is regularly spotted in the changing rooms and sportswear departments; where customers often claim to hear hissing and popping sounds. Poltergeist activity is known to occur in the attic with furniture and stock moving round. An electrician who was working alone in the attic claimed to have felt a freezing hand grasp his shoulder. He ran out of the building and never returned. The hauntings have become so frequent that the duke is now known as the duke of Debenhams.
The Haunch of Venison Inn
The “Haunch of Venison” is an inn that was built in Salisbury in 1320. It is home to several ghosts but the most active is known as “The Whist player”. The man who is unnamed was travelling through Salisbury in the 1820s and stayed at the Haunch where he won a great sum of money playing cards with locals. However he won so much he managed to pay for his stay at the inn and the locals became suspicious. A butcher chopped off his hand which revealed the trick and cast his hand into the fireplace.
Years later when renovation work was taking place the hand and the cards were rediscovered with a hauntingly fresh appearance. A replica hand is now on display in the fireplace. However the whist player has not left the building. Knocking, banging, footsteps and the feeling of being watched is regularly reported.
The current landlady says she has had many strange encounters whilst working and living there but the strangest was one night when she was in bed. She awoke to a man standing in the room watching her. He had his arms crossed in front of him. She had a box on a shelf at that end of the room which contained an angel. When she awoke the next day the box was on the floor and the angels head had been snapped off. More worryingly is that he has been seen on repeatedly by others too, always crossing his arms in front of him. It is thought he does this to hide his hands.
Another more innocent ghost is of a woman looking for her lost son. She sent him to the Haunch to buy a couple of bottled beers but he never returned. She is seen in the pub and outside walking Minster Street as well as in the nearby graveyard forever trying to find him.
The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum
Originally a storehouse for the cathedral; the Rifles museum is now one of the most spiritually active museums in Britain. Staff have seen the figure of a Cavalier and also a ‘grey lady’ within the building and there have been reports of bright lights and significant temperature drops in sealed rooms by paranormal groups carrying out investigations here.
Loud footsteps have been heard in rooms that are empty, but the most spine chilling reports have come from those who have witnessed books being thrown off the bookshelves when there is nobody else in the room.
Staff have also reported noises of someone or something running up and down the stairs at all times of day. One of the more spine chilling events occurred to a member of staff that heard a window being slammed shut below the room they were in. When they went to investigate, only the frame of the window remained, the actual window had been bricked up years ago.
The most dramatic phantoms of the cathedral are a pair of giant white birds, larger than swans, that fly around the spire to announce the death of the bishop or other senior cleric associated with the building. The most notorious sighting occurred in 1885. A certain Miss Moberly was walking across the Cathedral Close when she saw the huge birds wheeling above her. Not knowing of the legend she pointed the strange birds out to a workman who told her of the old story. The event was given its disturbing quality by the fact that Miss Moberly was the daughter of the then bishop, who was grievously ill. The poor girl hurried home, but her father died later that day.
The tomb of Lord Stourton who was involved with a group murder and executed was given a tomb in the cathedral despite his crimes. His noose was placed on the tomb; but taken away years later because it was considered bad taste. However the noose mysteriously appears and has been sighted several times.
The Catherine Wheel now known as The Lodge
Located in Milford Street and now known as “The Lodge” is of intriguing paranormal interest. It is believed that a group of cavaliers were once sat in the Catherine Wheel drinking when one of them became particularly ungodly. He was warned by another that “the devil would take him one day” to which this cavalier replied “Damn me if the devil appeared I would pull his ears”.
At which a clap of thunder occurred; and a large black figure appeared, grabbed the cavalier and flew out of the window with him to never be seen again. The building now appears to be haunted by the vulgar cavalier ghost. It is recorded that foul stenches occur; blood stains appear on the window where he was supposed to have vanished and objects move on their own.
SOPHIE ROSE CLARKE completed her Master’s Degree at Durham University focusing on witchcraft and taboo in Cornwall. She says she has always had a huge interest in the paranormal, demonology and witchcraft throughout the ages.