A haunting in St Albans
- Credit: Archant
The city of St Albans and its surrounding villages and hamlets famously date back to the Roman era, leaving the region seeping with history. And with history comes local legend, folklore and other bewitching tales. On Saturday, households across Hertfordshire will be placing hollowed out squashes on their front porches to frighten evil from the door. But precisely what spectres are we dealing with in our ancient city?
It’s well documented that ghostly carriages clatter their way up Holywell Hill, Roman soldiers march through Verulamium Park and deceased highwaymen gallop along the road into Harpenden. Perhaps lesser known is the fact that in 1610 two women from Berkhampsted were hanged for witchcraft; and that the Tall Man haunts the King William IV pub; and that the devil materialised in the cellar of The Bull Inn. But what about the homes of the region? Which properties possess back-stories that are unlikely ever to appear in their sales brochures?
Phantasmic carriages aside, Holywell Hill’s homes have a reputation for frequent hauntings. One Georgian property is allegedly the stomping ground of a poltergeist, whom the families in residence there over the years have come to get used to. Despite the strange noises and flickering lights, the presence is said to be unthreatening and almost part of the furniture. Down the hill, one property houses the spirit of ‘Granny Sheldrake’, a less friendly entity whose company is reported to be more prevalent when young children are in the house. More unnerving perhaps is the ghost reported by former resident of White Hart Cottage, Mrs Perkins, who was visited on occasion by a gentleman wearing a white ruff around his neck, a black skull cap on his head and without a face. It is now thought that the since deceased Mrs Perkins has stuck around too.
Hill End Farmhouse on the outskirts of St Albans has a gravel pathway leading up to the front entrance. It’s well known that people inside the cottage have heard footsteps on the stones outside, approaching the door, causing dogs to bark ferociously at the apparent visitor. On opening the door however, no-one has been there. Another cottage, on Park Street, was photographed in 1965. When developed, the image showed the figure of a man with a bandaged head standing at the window. The owners were abroad at the time, and it was discovered that someone had been tortured and killed there years earlier.
Fishpool Street has a macabre history - potentially why it’s home to much residual activity. One home was the setting for a strangulation; residents have since woken in the night feeling the sensation of hands around their throats. A weeping lady in a blue gown ambles around in the early hours of the morning outside one particular house, wringing her hands. It’s thought that she is the ghost of a woman who smothered her baby there, who died out of misery and cannot bring herself to leave. A friendly ghost lives next door however.
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Number 15 was once the site of The Crow Inn and a bakery, which burnt down on Good Friday in 1873. Here, latches and locks are often opened on their own, dogs and cats have been known to stare at things that aren’t there, and a tapping noise is prevalent through the house (thought to be the ghost of an invalid who would tap on the floor to alert her daughter that she needed her). Elsewhere, a gentleman with a top-hat appears up and down Fishpool Street whenever someone new moves in, thought to be checking them over.
Off Fishpool street is Welclose Street, home to a woman who appears in the nursery. Could this be the same lady who smothered her child, known to wander the road outside? Romeland House is an impressive city manor house, now a business. It’s home to a Grey Lady who was the daughter of the lord of the manor. She eloped against her father’s will, with the Abbey organist, which ultimately had to end. Up the hill towards the cathedral, Romeland cottages stand. This row is especially haunted, most notably the cottage nearest the churchyard. In 1903 the Skeat family moved in. The maid experienced two incidents on recurrent nights. The first occurred when she was climbing the stairs to bed. Records tell of an invisible force pinning her against the wall and extinguishing her candle, followed by the appearance of a dark shape that began speaking to her in Latin. The next evening the same apparition visited her. She jumped awake to see it standing at the foot of her bed. It was dressed in monks’ robes with a medallion around it’s neck, since identified as those given to pilgrims visiting the Abbey in the Middle Ages.
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The modern development of homes on Remus Close was the setting of an encounter in 1974 with an apparition described as being unearthly. The witness claimed this creature was ‘shaped like a tree’ but with a half-human face, which gave off a sinister aura. Experts believe this to be a vision of the Green Man, a figure that is found in many architectural designs around St Albans.
On St Peter’s Street, directly opposite the church, are the Pemberton Almshouses, founded in 1627 by Roger Pemberton the High Sheriff of the county. Witness accounts state that a woman living there would often return home to find the shape of someone under her bedclothes and the strong smell of tobacco in the air. On lifting the sheets, no-one was ever there.
This street is now mostly occupied with businesses and shops. Prior to this, these were residential homes, which today are rife with ghouls. These include a butler who committed suicide after getting caught drinking his employer’s brandy, a man without legs and a chambermaid who was allegedly buried alive in the walls of Ivy House. Mallinson House, which stands at 38-42 St Peter’s Street, made the headlines of this very newspaper in 1872 when the ghost of previous resident Dr William Russell appeared and attracted a crowd that had to be broken up by the police. The article reported that ‘some imaginative person…saw, or fancied he saw, a figure…at one of the upper windows.’
Perhaps this rather sceptical tone should have been curbed given that St Albans has since been declared the fifth most haunted city in England.
In fact, the entrance to French Row, where the Herts Advertiser offices now sit, is reported to be roamed by a malevolent man and a wicked seamstress. Which is always nice to discover as I write this, at 8 o clock at night, alone in the office.