Read more about British History
6 famous haunted pubs from around England
Up and down the land, many of the oldest buildings to be found in our towns, cities, and villages are pubs. They have colourful histories and legends attached to them, such as thirsty kings stopping by for a pint and cellar doors concealing secret passageways used by smugglers.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that many pubs claim to have resident ghosts - spectres who have ignored the call for time at the bar and stayed for a permanent lock-in.
So, pull up a bar stool, grab yourself a flagon of your favourite ale and listen to these six stories of England’s most famous pub phantoms.
1. The Grenadier (Belgravia, London)
Nestled among the high-end shops and palatial townhouses of Belgravia is a small and quaint-looking pub. This is The Grenadier, which started life in 1720 as an officers’ mess and became a boozer about a century later.
According to one story, late on a dark, foggy night in 1820, a group of soldiers were sitting huddled around a table in the pub, playing cards. One of them, a young junior officer, was caught cheating by his fellows. There and then they whipped and beat him so savagely that he did not survive the night.
Did the young subaltern return to haunt the tiny tavern? There are surviving reports going back as early as the 1880s of eerie phenomena at the pub, including sudden drops in temperature in the cellar, unseen shoulders barging into customers, unaccountable footsteps and unexplained loud bangs. In the 1960s, a pub worker had been thrown violently down the cellar stairs by invisible hands. A few years later, a barman saw an old army helmet come flying off its place on the wall and clock him hard on the head.
2. The Marsden Grotto (Marsden, Tyne & Wear)
In 1782, a retired lead miner and smuggler known as Jack the Blaster made his home in the caves at Marsden in the northeast of England. Jack used explosives to widen the caves and reputedly used them as a base for smuggling. According to a local legend, one night Jack lured a smuggling colleague, known as John the Jibber, to his dark cavern home. Suspecting John of treachery, Jack kept him prisoner, winching him high up from the cave ceilings in a mining tub, where he was starved to death, his anguished cries for help no doubt echoing through the caves.
About 70 years later, an innkeeper expanded the old caves and built rooms into them, establishing the now-famous inn in the cliffs. Not long after the inn opened for business, drinkers told of having their evenings interrupted by the sounds of eerie groans and moans, coming from deep inside the caves. Reports of these ghostly shrieks and wails continued over the years, and the old pub still has a reputation for spooky goings-on.
3. The Castle (Great Leighs, Essex)
Previously known as St Anne’s Castle Inn, The Castle in the village of Great Leighs, near Chelmsford, claims to be England’s oldest inn. Written on an old beam inside the pub are the words, ‘England’s oldest inn. Circa 1171 AD’. It might even predate that, as it is apparently mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.
With nine centuries of history behind this famous establishment, it’s not surprising that there is a rich heritage of hauntings to go with it. Before the early 1970s, over a hundred people bravely tried to spend a night in its infamous ‘haunted room’.
The numerous reports from those who spent the night in the room read like an A-Z of poltergeist activity, including furniture being dragged across the room, curtains violently ripped off and clothes scattered about the floor. Frightened guests have also described the tortured cries of a female spectre preventing them from sleeping at all.
Famous ghost hunter Harry Price went to investigate in 1944 and later a group of mediums visited, claiming that ‘dark arts’ were practised at the inn during the 14th century.
Several local legends are associated with the inn, from murders in its rooms to a witch named Anne Hughes, executed and buried near the pub in the 17th century. Anne’s spirit is said to be responsible for many strange phenomena in the intervening centuries, including hauntings at the eerie Essex establishment.
Several other apparitions have been seen at the ancient pub over the years, including the ghost of a cat and a young woman in a wedding dress.
4. Dog & Partridge (Tutbury, Staffordshire)
In the centre of the picturesque village of Tutbury, Staffordshire lies the historic Dog & Partridge pub, an imposing Tudor tavern with a warm and inviting feel.
But the whiskies served at the bar are not the only spirits to be found there. Probably the pub’s most well-known phantom is of a young girl called Gracie who was (according to legend) hanged in one of its rooms in the 15th century. Gracie’s spirit has given many guests sleepless nights, including one customer who saw her standing at the end of his bed and was so scared that he hid under the covers for the rest of the night.
Despite putting the wind up some visitors in the hostelry, Gracie has always been described as a friendly ghost. She has been heard laughing and skipping and the sound of invisible balls bouncing has been heard in the hallways. Gracie is particularly known to come out around Christmas time.
5. The Mermaid Inn (Rye, East Sussex)
The Mermaid Inn, a famous 600-year-old pub in the beautiful town of Rye, is one of the most photographed buildings in the southeast of England. However, it is also one of England’s most haunted pubs.
The infamous smuggling outfit known as the Hawkhurst Gang, which operated in the 1730s and 1740s, used The Mermaid as a frequent meeting place. A maid became romantically involved with one of the cutthroats and was murdered after it was feared that she had become too knowledgeable of their activities. Her ghost is said to haunt the public rooms on the ground floor.
There are several other ghosts said to haunt The Mermaid. Two of them are a pair of Tudor-looking men who have been seen ‘duelling’ at night.
Another phantom is that of the White Lady, who has been seen in guest rooms, walking to the foot of the beds before vanishing. Many other strange occurrences have been reported in the alehouse over the years, including rocking chairs that move of their own accord, bottles that fly off the bar onto the floor and certain rooms that suddenly become icily cold.
6. The Dolphin Tavern (Penzance, Cornwall)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a pub in Britain with more history attached to it than The Dolphin Tavern in Penzance.
In 1588, naval commander Sir John Hawkins used the pub as his base for recruiting Cornishmen to fight in the Spanish Armada, and for centuries it was the haunt of salty sea dogs straight from the pages of Treasure Island. Smugglers were reputed to operate in the pub and, with Penzance being one of the first ports of call for ships coming from the New World, it is said that The Dolphin was the first place in Britain where tobacco was smoked and potatoes were first eaten.
In the 1680s, the notorious Judge Jeffreys held one of his ‘Bloody Assizes’ trials at the pub, using the cellar as a temporary holding cell for prisoners.
Unsurprisingly, the old watering hole has several customers who have stayed for centuries after they heard their last orders, including a spook dressed in a ruffled shirt and tricorne hat. He is said to be the spectre of an old Navy officer who died in the pub in the 18th century.