England has long enjoyed a most haunted legacy. With such a long and bloody history, it’s hardly a surprise that almost every city, town and village share an abundance of ghostly tales of specters and things that go bump in the night. From country houses, castles and prisons to the wilderness of the moors and beyond, you can find screaming skulls, haunted houses, headless spirits and even a forest that echoes with the blood-curdling screams of the long dead.
Join us as we explore 10 of the spookiest ghost stories and the dark history behind some of the most haunted places in England.
1. Screaming Skull of Bettiscombe Manor
Bettiscombe Manor is home to the legend of a screaming skull. In the 19th century, John Frederick Pinney returned from Nevis with a Jamaican slave who soon after passed away due to tuberculosis. The slave's only request was to have his body returned to his home country, but Pinney refused and buried the man in the cemetery at St. Stephen’s Church. Afterwards, the village and Pinney both were plagued with bad luck and spectral screams from the cemetery. The manor house was beset by rattling windows and slamming doors, such that Pinney exhumed the slave's body, brought it into his home, and refused to discard it. The body decayed, leaving only the skull to howl each time someone tried to remove it. Legend has it that if the skull is ever removed from Bettiscombe, the skull will resume its unearthly screaming and a dreadful fate will fall upon the house.
2. The Ghosts of Bodmin Jail
Bodmin Jail is a historic former prison built by prisoners of war in Cornwall on the edge of the nearby moor. Currently, it is home to a museum, displaying its gory collection of prisoners’ offenses and punishments. Before closing in 1927, the jail was the site of a naval prison, over 50 public executions, and, for a time during World War II, a cache of national treasures. Many ghosts have been spotted at this defunct prison, including a wandering spectral woman, gaunt faces peering from cells, and a woman who attempts to drag children away in a section of the old Lower Floor. Reportedly, the latter is the ghost of a woman who murdered her son after her lover told her he would not marry a woman with children. The most malevolent ghost at Bodmin Prison calls the dank dungeon home and is known to place its cold hand upon visitors’ shoulders.
3. Dartmoor Hell Hounds
The Dartmoor area of England has everything that a ghost hunter could ask for–fog-shrouded moorlands, vast swaths of windswept rock, and several ghastly spirits. Perhaps most terrifying are the yeth or yell hounds, so named for the inhuman wails they make while rambling through the area’s woods. According to Devon folklore, these headless dogs are either the feral souls of unbaptized children or the half-made spirits of unborn ones. In either case, they are doomed to haunt the moors in packs and scream wildly while hunting for those foolish enough to venture outside after dark. Supposedly, their yells drive their prey mad. If they catch you, you’ll be dragged off, never to be seen again. Most memorably, the yeth hounds were the main inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
4. The Ancient Ram Inn
This historical inn in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire is England’s most haunted Bed & Breakfast, with 20 ghosts at the last estimate. The current owners of the Ancient Ram Inn were subject to spectral attacks as soon as they moved into the former pub. Upon investigation, they discovered that this Cotswolds cottage had been built upon a pagan burial ground. During a renovation, they even found daggers and small bones and theorized that it had been the site of child sacrifice. Among the ghosts at the Ancient Ram Inn are a wandering, murdered girl named Rose, a regal high priestess, and a randy male sex demon. Despite some guests fleeing into the night after hearing children’s screams or seeing floating furniture, the inn is currently inundated with ghost hunters and horror writers. Even the world’s oldest paranormal research organization, The Ghost Club, visited in 2003, though they did not find any evidence of hauntings.
5. Village of Pluckley
Pluckley, found in Kent, was awarded the Guinness Book of Records title of “most haunted village in Britain”, and for good reason. Over 15 ghosts call Pluckley home. These include a highwayman killed during a swordfight, a schoolmaster found hanged by a group of children, and an old Romani woman who burned to death in a fire. There is also the specter of a horse-drawn carriage that rides through the village accompanied by the eerie sound of horses hooves. In addition to the haunted pub, brickworks and, cemetery, just south of the village lies the “Screaming Woods” from which villagers and visitors alike regularly hear blood-curdling screams, supposedly produced by wandering souls of long dead men and women who became lost in the forest.
6. Langham Hotel
The 5 star Langham hotel is the grand dame of London establishments. Opened in 1865 and styled after a Renaissance palace, the hotel has reputedly the most haunted hotel room in the country. There are five ghosts that regularly make an appearance at the hotel. The most active of them is the spirit of a German Prince, who jumped to his death out of a window, just before the start of the First World War. He haunts the fourth floor; guests have seen him walking through walls, and he is well known for moving objects from place to place. Room 333 is the most haunted room in the entire hotel. There have been numerous sightings in this room of a man in Victorian evening dress who walks towards guests while they lay in their beds, his arms outstretched and eyes empty, before vanishing into thin air.
7. 50 Berkeley Square
This four-story brick townhouse at 50 Berkeley Square in Mayfair, London was constructed in the late 18th century for the contemporary Prime Minister, George Canning. After his death, an elderly woman lived there. It was then rented in 1859 by an eccentric Mr. Myers. After being jilted at the altar, he slowly went mad, and number 50 fell into disrepair. Rumor spread of an attic room haunted by a tortured youth, murdered child, or monstrous man. Soon, legends abounded of maids and soldiers alike going mad after staying in the house. In one story, two sailors entered the home, unaware of its reputation, and awoke to a monstrous presence and fled. One of the pair tripped and died from head trauma. By 1998, 50 Berkeley Square was both the oldest unaltered building and most haunted house in London. To this day, a police notice stands on the wall inside the house that proclaims that the upper floors cannot be used for any purpose. May all who see it heed its warning.
8. The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Perhaps the most famous specter on this list is that of Lady Dorothy, sister to Prime Minister Robert Walpole and wife of Viscount Charles Townshend. Due to her husband’s hot temper, she lived a troubled life in the country house of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England and was often limited to her rooms. A hundred years after dying from smallpox in 1726, Dorothy’s ghost, wearing a brown brocade dress, was first spotted during Christmas festivities. A year later, the Brown Lady mocked a skeptical Captain Frederick Marrat who had requested to stay in her haunted rooms, causing him to shoot her ghost in the face. She vanished until 1926, when two visitors saw her on the stairs. Then, in 1936, she became famous when Country Life magazine photographers captured her image, though she has scarcely been seen since.
9. The Tulip Staircase
Historically, the Queen’s House section of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has seen its fair share of hauntings, from a woman gliding through walls to unexplained choral chanting. However, few had captured clear evidence of this 4,000-year-old structure’s ghosts until retired Reverend Ralph Hardy of White Rock, British Columbia took a picture of a shrouded figure on the Tulip Staircase in 1966. Legends told of a maid who died after being thrown from the highest banister and regularly appeared to visitors as a pale figure mopping blood at the base of the staircase. Convinced that he had captured a ghost, Hardy sent the photograph to a London ghost club, who arrived a year later to hold a séance. The notes from that event provide some sense of the disturbing events that occurred that night–including an invisible bell ringing and a luminous stone appearing before the handwriting became indecipherable. To this day, visitors and staff alike regularly report ghostly sightings.
10. Tower of London
The Tower of London’s historic complex sits on the River Thames’ north bank and hides a bloody legacy of torture going back to its founding in 1066. Specter searcher are likely to see the ghosts of Henry VI, Margaret Pole, Lady Jane Grey, and the Princes Edward V and Richard, who were murdered and hidden beneath a staircase. Anne Boleyn famously walks the grounds where she was beheaded in 1536 with her head under her arm. In addition, several guards have witnessed other-worldly apparitions, including one beefeater who died of fright in 1816 after being attacked by a spectral bear. Even the spectators of the Countess of Salisbury’s execution linger here, still shocked by the eleven cuts of her inexperienced beheader.