Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Of Drummer Boys and Black Monks. Haunted Dudley Castle

My novel – The Devil’s Serenade – mostly takes place in an imposing Gothic style mansion built by Victorian industrialist Nathaniel Hargest. When Maddie Chambers inherits it from her Aunt Charlotte, she soon discovers she has acquired far more than mere bricks and mortar. From the strange appearance of tree roots growing in the cellar to the manifestations, noises and a nostalgic wartime song played again and again, Maddie’s fears grow and intensify. What is going on here – and who, or what, is seemingly hell-bent on driving her insane?

Of course, my novel is just that – fiction. But, in real life, there have been numerous reports of houses cursed or possessed by demons. Sometimes these emanate from the ground on which the house was built. Other times, the builder of the house has somehow managed to impart his – or her – evil into the fabric of the place so that it becomes irrevocably woven into the walls.

In still more cases, the building itself has witnessed so much horror, violence, war and siege that the imprint of its past sticks with it, replaying itself over and over down the centuries.  Rather like a movie, scenes are played out, characters from the past - whose spirits haven’t moved on - appear to those living in the present. Sometimes inflicting little more than mild surprise and, at other times. with terrifying results.

One such place is the fortified castle of Dudley in the West Midlands of England which was founded in 1071, and has a reputation as one of Staffordshire’s most haunted spots. According to legend, the current building was erected on the site of a much earlier wooden structure.

Not just one ghost, but many, are heard and seen – in various rooms, pacing the parapets of the now ruined castle and glimpsed through the windows of the Chapel.
If you venture into the offices when the castle is otherwise empty, you may hear – as others have – footsteps in the same room as you. These ghosts are not shy. They seem quite content to be seen. An entire group of ghosthunters claim to have witnessed a spectral figure pacing across the parapets. An old woman has been witnessed on a number of occasions and a drummer boy from the Civil War, who was shot from the battlements, also returns to the scene of his demise, performing different drum rolls. It is said to bring bad luck for you if you hear him.

In 1983 another ghost – that of an elderly Medieval lady – was seen in the castle.

Dudley also has a resident ‘Black Monk’. He has been reported as haunting the entrance to the keep and has also been seen through the window of the Chapel. His presence is not too surprising as the castle is close to the ruins of St James’s Priory, which dates from the 1100s. The priory housed Benedictine monks who wore black habits.

During the English Civil War, the castle became a Royalist stronghold and was besieged twice – in 1644 and then in 1646, when it fell to Cromwell’s forces and was ordered to be partially demolished. In addition to the hapless drummer, the most frightening of Dudley’s ghosts is someone else who perished in the siege of 1646. She is known as the ‘Grey Lady and is thought to be the ghost of Dorothy Beaumont. She has appeared to both staff and visitors over the years. In the 1960s, she was spotted in the old aquarium and in the 1970s, she was seen in the Chapel window.

In life, Dorothy lived in the castle and gave birth there to a daughter who sadly died. She also developed complications and died soon after, having requested that she be buried beside her daughter. She also requested that her husband attend her funeral. Neither wish was granted and Dorothy was buried in a churchyard on the other side of the town from her daughter. They have never been reunited and sad Dorothy is said to roam the castle and beyond, searching for her dead baby. Her ghost appears in many locations including a pub named after her – The Grey Lady Tavern - situated in the castle grounds. Here alarms go off for no reason, in the middle of the night. The temperature suddenly and inexplicably drops, while a strange blue mist wafts through the bar.

Of all the locations in and around the castle, the most haunted is said to be the chapel undercroft. There lies one of the castle’s most formidable lords – John Somery. People have reported seeing legs beside the coffin, others have felt their clothes tugged or thought they were being prodded by someone. One little girl was apparently flipped over a chair during a paranormal investigation and shadowy figures have been caught on camera. Strange, unexplained grinding noises have been heard emanating from the chapel above.

Dudley Castle is brim-full of ghostly snapshots from its tumultuous past. It seems one generation after another has left an indelible mark that refuses to be laid to rest.

Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she's about to remember…
When Maddie Chambers inherits her Aunt Charlotte’s gothic mansion, old memories stir of the long-forgotten summer she turned sixteen. She has barely moved in before a series of bizarre events drives her to question her sanity.

The strains of her aunt’s favorite song echo through the house, the roots of a faraway willow creep through the cellar, a child who cannot exist skips from room to room, and Maddie discovers Charlotte kept many deadly secrets.

Gradually, the barriers in her mind fall away, and Maddie begins to recall that summer when she looked into the face of evil. Now, the long dead builder of the house has unfinished business and an ancient demon is hungry. Soon it is not only Maddie’s life that is in danger, but her soul itself, as the ghosts of her past shed their cover of darkness.

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Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Bride Who Lost Her Head

My novella – Linden Manor – features the ghost of Lady Celia Fitzmichael, about whom a scary nursery rhyme was written, which haunted my main character, Lesley Carpenter. In it, Lady Celia is never mentioned by name. Instead, she is referred to as ‘The Scottish Bride.’ And woe betide you if you laid eyes on her ‘blackened face’.
Writing this story inspired me to go in search of allegedly true reported sightings and tales of tragic brides who seem unable – or unwilling – to leave the place of their mortal death.
My quest has led me to all sorts of interesting stories. None more tragic than the frequently retold tale of The Headless Bride of Yellowstone Park.

The story goes that a fifteen year old girl from a well to do family fell in love with an older man who worked as a servant in her parents’ home. When her parents discovered the illicit romance, they were horrified and tried to stop the couple from seeing each other. But their daughter was wilful and obstinate. She would have her lover, and if her parents wouldn’t sanction their union, the couple would simply elope and cause a terrible scandal.

Realising the girl meant business, her father relented and the two were married in a quiet ceremony before going away to the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone for their honeymoon. The girl’s father gave her a considerable sum of money for them to live on until her new husband could find work.

Almost immediately, things went badly wrong. After a first day, spent happily together, sightseeing and enjoying each other’s company, the husband fell in with a group of gamblers and lost all their money. He confessed what he had done and insisted the girl telegraph her father for more funds. Understandably her father refused to help and, when his daughter broke the news to her wastrel husband, a furious fight ensued, heard by many of the Inn’s other guests.

At some stage during the night, the husband left. A ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign placed on the couple’s door kept staff at bay for a couple of days. They assumed the girl was grieving for her lost love. But, when she hadn’t been seen for a couple of days, the housekeeper decided to gain entry.

 A terrible sight awaited them. There, in the bath, the housekeeper found the girl’s headless and bloody corpse. Her screams brought help from other staff. The police were summoned and an extensive search was mounted to find the husband. They never caught up with him.

Meanwhile, staff at the hotel mounted a detailed search of the building, trying to find the missing head. Finally, a persistent foul odour led them to its hidden location - in the Crows’ Nest of this unusual building. It was not a pretty sight. Her tangled blonde hair framed a rotting face, with wide eyes and a horrified stare.

Not long after her burial, a member of staff was up late, when he heard a strange noise coming from the lobby. As the clock struck midnight, he investigated and looked far up, towards the Crows’ Nest. There, slowly descending the stairs, floated a headless figure, dressed in white. He stared in disbelief as he realised she had something gruesome under her arm – her severed head, complete with tangled blonde curls and horrified stare. She floated along the corridor until she arrived at the door of the room where she had been murdered. Then, she vanished.

His was the first of many sightings, still reported to this day. So, if you stay at the Old Faithful Inn, please don’t have nightmares…

Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body? 

All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it. 

But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish bride herself, a sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley, terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last.