Thursday 27 October 2016

The Bishops Stortford Ghost Walk

Ever since I was a little girl I've been intrigued by the supernatural. Whether or not you believe in such things, there is no denying the mystery that surrounds local legends - and the spooky tales that are handed down through the ages can send a shiver of excitement down even the most sceptical of spines. So with Halloween on the horizon I decided to do a little research into the history of my town - Bishops Stortford. In all honesty I was blown away by the sheer scale of ghostly happenings that have occurred in this little town of mine, and with the help of my fearless young niece Georgia, and using author Jenni Kemp's book Haunted Stortford as our guide, we set off on an adventure of our own. We spoke to locals, investigated haunted locations and yes I admit, we also sang the theme tune from Ghostbusters on more than once occasion. So please join us on a virtual tour of our haunted town, and if you live locally and you'd like to take part in person simply grab your torch, print out  the PDF of map and instructions by clinking the links at the bottom of this post and venture out into the streets of Bishops Stortford on Halloween night! Tweet to let me know how you get on with the hashtag #bishopsstortfordghostwalk.

For those taking part in person on Halloween: This is not a guided tour, simply take your cut-out map, ghostly info, instructions and go at your own pace. This walk does not include any actors or ‘frights' - other than those you create yourself! But do note it may not be suitable for young children, as some of the stories contain adult content.

You will need:

A torch
Some courage
Flask of hot toddy (optional)
Waterproofs in case of rain!

Are you ready? Then let us begin. Ghostly happenings have occurred all over Bishops Stortford, but there is a definite hot spot in the centre of the town. For those not familiar with the market town of Bishops Stortford, in the centre lies a crossroads, and it's the building that align these roads that appear to have seen the most activity. Another intriguing fact is the network of secret passages that lie underneath these roads. There was a time when schoolchildren were shown around these tunnels as part of their history lessons but health and safety soon stepped in so most of them (as far as we know) are now closed or bricked up, but the bricked up archways can still be seen in some of the premises. Curiously, these tunnels seem to run beneath many of the haunted sites. No one is certain why these tunnel were built or what they were used for but aside from linking one premises to another, some believe they could lead all the way down to the bottom of the hill, where once stood Waytemore Castle.

 Haunting #1 - St Mary's Catholic School (AKA the old convent)

St Mary's Catholic School was originally a convent founded in 1896 by four nuns, and it is said the famous Grey Lady of Bishops Stortford, who has been sighted in several locations on this trail could possibly be the ghost of the nun who jumped from the attic window after she disgraced herself. However after further investigation there are several tragic tales such as this, so it's likely there is more than one grey lady walking our lanes. Ghost walk instructions: You'll find St Mary's Catholic School at the top of Windhill on Bells Lane, and at the top of our cross. Be brave people, be brave ...

St Mary's Catholic School

Haunting #2 - The Royal British Legion

The British legion is home to more than one lost soul. Employees have witnessed a little boy at the top of the cellar stairs, and have heard the voice of a man. Some have also reported the the presence of a hostile man that has made some employers feel most unwelcome. Georgia and I popped in to hear about the happenings for ourselves and the landlady was more than happy to show us down to the cellar ....

Bishops Stortford - The Royal British Legion
The Royal British Legion

.... however, as I descended the stairs I decided to take some photos. The cellar was brightly lit but when we left the building we looked at our photos only to see they hadn't come out! When we arrived home I uploaded them anyway and by playing with the exposure, the image became a little clearer. What we are seeing under the stair is most likely a mop bucket or something equally as mundane ... but still, spooky right!? Ghost walk instructions: After leaving St Mary's school head back to Windhill and head towards the high street. You’ll soon come to the Royal British legion situated on your left.

The thing in the cellar ...

Haunting #3 - The Boars Head

The Boars head is one of the oldest buildings in Bishops Stortford, dating back as early as 1420, and it is here where the identity of another possible grey lady has been witnessed - in fact the apparition floated through an entire bar of witnesses. I spoke to the last landlord of the building who also witnessed poltergeist activity, along with several other punters. The building has been exorcised on three separate occasions and during a seance the spirit of a lady called Sarah came through - claiming she had been murdered by the local squires son on the 23rd December, centuries ago. The old landlord of the place told me the original part of the building was originally the house of vicar from St Michael's church located opposite ...

The Boars Head - Bishops Stortford
The Boars Head

... and many claim there is a tunnel leading from The Boars Head across to the church that also links up to the George Hotel. Perhaps if there is an angry male spirit at the Boars head, it's likely to be the church's vicar who is not very happy about his house becoming an ale house?! Ghost walk instructions: After leaving the British legion venture further down WindHill and you’ll come to The Boars Head on the left.

St Michael's Church - Bishops Stortford
St Michael's Church

Haunting #4 - Police Station & Courthouse

The Police station and courthouse stands across the road from St Michael's Church and has seen a lot of paranormal activity in it's day - locked doors regularly open (not ideal in a police station eh?) Cells vibrate and two officers ran into the courthouse one afternoon after hearing some loud crashing sounds - only to find the every chair and table had been overturned, despite all of the doors into the courtroom being locked. Although a relatively new building compared to it’s neighbours it was erected where a slum property once stood. Many police officers working at the front desk would hear footsteps coming down the stairs yet no one ever materialised and during refurbishment of the building workmen would regularly find tools being moved, and feel the presence of someone behind them - some of the workmen refused to work alone in the building. Ghost walk instructions: Located next to the Boars Head.

Bishops Stortford Police station
Police Station and courthouse

Haunting #5 - Tissimans and the Old House Cafe

A few doors down from the Boars Head stands Tissimans men's clothing department which was founded on these premises in 1601, although parts of the building date back to 1360, and to date Tissimans claim to being the oldest men's clothing establishment in the world! Originally called Slaters (and later changing to Tissimans), aside from dressing the local gentry they were also the local undertakers which might explain a few things! The building next door is now unoccupied but was once called the 'Old house cafe.' Sightings of the grey lady have occurred in both these premises on frequent occasions - employee's would often smell cooking, which would often be followed by the presence of the grey lady, and the family that lived in the Old House Cafe all witnessed her presence on many occasions. So who was this poor lost soul? the nun? Sarah? or someone else entirely. Ghost walk instructions: Tissimans is located next door to the Police station.

Tissimans & the Old House Cafe
Tissimans & the Old House Cafe

Haunting #6 - The George Hotel

Continue down the road from Tissimans and you'll come upon Bishops Stortford's oldest Inn; the George Hotel (entrance around the side of the building.) This is another frequent haunt of a grey lady - especially room 27. It is said that the room is haunted by the spirit of lady that once stayed in the room, but who was stabbed and murdered by a thief that was hiding on her balcony.  Many people staying in the room have witnessed the presence of the woman - and some have seen a mist materialise. One poor soul actually saw the lady in all her glory bending over the bed, as if in pain. Visitors often don't actually make it through the night, as many have either changed rooms or opted to sleep in their car! Georgia and I have been toying with spending a night in the room ... I said I'd only do it if my mum came - as she's hard as nails :-)  Ghost walk instructions: Just before you reach the crossroads you'll come upon the entrance to the George Hotel on your left.

The George Hotel - Bishops Stortford
The George Hotel

Haunting #7 - The Star Inn Pub

The Star Inn pub dates back to 1636, and has experienced more than a few bumps in the night. 
Noises and knocking have been heard in the small bar of the Star Inn, and the Grey lady (or one of them!) has also been encountered here on several occasions, once by a cleaner who fled the pub, never to return. A figure of a man has been has also been seen walking across the road but 3ft in the air! it is said there was once a bridge that crossed over a sewer on this road, which might explain why the gentleman was at such a height. Ghost walk instructions: After you leave the George hotel cross over the road and continue straight down Bridge Street - on your left you'll find The Star.

The Star Inn pub - Bishops Stortford
The Star Inn pub

Haunting #8 - The Black Lion Inn

Across the road from the Star lies the The Black Lion Inn - which is home to several spectres. A little Victorian girl has been sighted and her footsteps heard. Some people believe the mischievous little girl who likes to hide keys and turn off lights, is looking for her mother.  Room 6 is said to be haunted and a man staying at the inn once saw his door open, only to be joined in bed by an unseen presence minutes later! There is a bricked up entrance to a tunnel at the Black Lion that runs across the road to Coopers and possible up towards the boars head.  Ghost walk instructions: You’ll see the Black Lion opposite the Star Inn as you leave ... look out for a little Victorian girl when you peer through the window.

The Black Lion Inn - Bishops Stortford
The Black Lion Inn

Haunting #9 - Coopers Department Store

Part of Coopers department store was once a grand house, where the famous hanging judge Bishop Bonner would stay from time to time, as the house was owned by his nephew. In 1630 there was a cage that stood outside the George hotel where the felons were kept while that awaited trial, then after Bonner passed judgement they would be taken to the gaol at Waytemore Castle. On the ceiling in the entrance of Coopers on the right you can still see examples of the early 16th century original, early pargetting (plaster ceiling decoration). As for spooks, the Grey lady is a frequent visitor to the premises and has been seen on numerous time disappearing into a wall - when refurbishment took place a doorway as discovered in that very spot. Around 1980 when the store was known Maslens there was frequent poltergeist activity. University of Cambridge students believed there were two entities - a man in a brown uniform, possibly a worker from an earlier period and a hostile woman. Workmen refurbishing the building experienced a menacing presence on numerous occasions ... tools were hurtled through the air, and bolts were thrown and after feeling her presence one day and hearing a loud scraping they turned to discover gashes in the newly applied plaster. Human bones were also discovered beneath an old cupboard which were then buried, but it didn't quieten the spirit. Could these bones of belonged to the grey lady? Ghost walk instructions: Find Coopers opposite the Black lion … the entrance to one of the tunnels is just beyond the doorway on the corner, covered by flooring!

Coopers department store - Bishops Stortford
Coopers department store

Haunting #10 - Waytemore Castle

The large mound in the town park is where Waytemore Castle once stood. Historians believed the site was once a Celtic burial ground, and inside of the castle there was dungeon, a gaol and a 42 foot well. Historians also believe there may have also been a medieval hospital attached to the castle due to the human remains that were discovered. Remnants of a scorched stake were also discovered at which an adult male had been burned. With such a history you'd expect the site to have dark and foreboding atmosphere, but today it is a green and peaceful place.  

Waytemore Castle Bishops Stortford
Waytemore Castle

Ghost walk instructions: Continue down bridge street, past the council offices, and cross the road. Cross the small bridge to the left of you, and follow the path into the park until you see the large mound. Follow the path around to the right until you come the overgrown archway and iron gate at the foot of the steps that lead up to the mound. It’s not advisable to venture up to the mound as it has steep overgrown drops and is very dangerous, especially in the dark. But there is a number on the gate you can call to arrange a tour. 

Waytemore Castle Bishops Stortford
Waytemore Castle 

I hope you enjoy our ghost walk as much as we have enjoyed researching it. The stories you will read on this ghost tour are a mere glimpse into the vast collection in Jenni Kemp's book Haunted Stortford. While I have enjoyed researching supernatural Stortford, more than anything it has opened my eyes to the rich history of the town I call home, and it has been a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those that walked these streets before me. Have you ever looked into the history of your own town or house .... you never know what you might find! *cue loud 'Mwha ha ha' Vincent Price style laugh* :-)

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