Does the thought of sharing a room with a ghostly presence leave you needing to reach for a drop of the hard stuff? You can complete both halves of the equation in these five spirited taverns, which lay claim to regulars from beyond the grave.
That pubs should be a fertile ground for ghost hunters is no surprise. They’re often among the oldest buildings in their communities. And their long histories are often bloody, the local inn – welcoming strangers of all shapes and sizes – was often also a courtroom, gaol or even execution chamber.
Britain has a fantastic and unique pub culture, and surely, there’s always room for a ghostly elbow or two at the bar – as long as they get their round in.
If you fancy a spirit with your spirits, read on.
1 – The Spaniards Inn, Hampstead, London
The Spaniards today is the very picture of the middle-class good life amid the million-pound houses of leafy North London. It wasn’t always so, though. Back when this part of the capital was very much open country, Dick Turpin took a break from holding up coaches to enjoy a pint at the bar. According to some sources he (or perhaps his father) was the landlord. The tollgate over the road from the pub was certainly as good a place as any to stage a roadside robbery, and some who failed to pull it off were dangled from a nearby tree. Anti-Catholic rioters on the way to torch nearby Kenwood House were stopped here by the landlord’s cunning plan of providing them with free drink. It’s certainly got literary pedigree, having hosted Keats, William Blake, Mary Shelley (of Frankenstein fame) and Bram Stoker – who may have picked up the plot to Dracula – among many other favourite writers. The name is down to two Spanish landlords, the Porero brothers, who like good passionate Latins, duelled over a woman and provided the inn with its first ghost, poor Juan, who lost.
2 – The Skirrid Mountain Inn, Llanfihangel Crucorney, near Abergavenny
An inn of some sort, probably serving pilgrims on their way to nearby Llanthony Priory, has been recorded since 1100 on The Skirrid’s current location (the current building is mostly 17th century). Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndwr probably came here in the 15th century, and the tavern in Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream may have been inspired by this already spooky spot. But it’s the pub’s role as a courthouse that may account for the lost souls that give visitors “ysgwyryd fawr” or the big shiver. They didn’t just judge them at the Skirrid, they could walk them out of the first-floor courtroom’s door and launch them into eternity over the bannisters. One-hundred-and-eighty poor souls are said to have breathed their last on this lightning journey to the bar.
3 – The Chough Hotel, Chard, Somerset
As well as boasting a unique name (the chough is a now-rare crow-like bird found on Britain’s coasts) the Chough has a link to one of the nastiest episodes in British history. The Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 was a reaction to the arrival of a Catholic king, James II, on the England’s throne. James didn’t last long, losing the kingdom to William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, but the rag-tag West Country army that signed up with James, Duke of Monmouth (a bastard son of Charles II) was no match for the well-trained Royalist army and many were slaughtered at the Battle of Sedgemoor near Chard. Those that weren’t slain faced the tender “justice” of the original Hanging Judge, Judge Jeffreys, whose Bloody Assizes saw 320 hanged and many more transported. Jeffreys stayed at the Chough during his still-remembered tour of Somerset. He is just one of many ghosts said to hang around the pub, where camera flashes are said to fail in front of a gravestone set into a fireplace, and a sealed room was opened in the 1890s
4 – The Ostrich Inn, Colnbrook, Berkshire
Another building with roots in Norman times, this pub, originally called The Hospice, dates to 1106. The town’s location on the London to Bath road made it a traveller’s hotspot, with 10 coaching inns by the 16th century. That is no doubt what attracted Dick Turpin to park Black Bess at The Ostrich from time to time. It’s not Britain’s most famous highwayman, but a nefarious landlord who’s the really spooky resident though. Known now only as Jarman, this 17th-century proprietor is said to have set a trap door under the best bed in the house which flipped open to dump well-to-do guests into a boiling bot in the kitchen. More than 60 visitors were said to have checked out this way before Mine Host and his wife met their own end courtesy of the official trapdoor. Jarman’s story may be behind the Sweeny Todd tale. With so many unquiet spirits potentially hanging around, it’s no surprise that The Ostrich is a favourite with ghost hunters, who see a Victorian woman and experience cold spots in the ladies toilet, the reported location of the ghastly saucepan.
5 – The Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh
Many haunted pubs embrace their spooky histories – it’s good for business. Certainly the Banshee Labyrinth isn’t shy of mentioning the spirits that may lurk behind the fruit machine. Unlike our other pubs, the Banshee has arrived on an already haunted spot, the infamous Edinburgh Vaults. Lurking under the South Bridge when it was completed in the late 18th century, the Vaults were soon colonised by the city’s cheapest taverns and brothels, their darkness proving an irresistible lure to local ne’er do wells, including body snatchers Burke and Hare, whose entrepreneurial thirst for fresh corpses brought them in search of people who wouldn’t be missed. Soon the Vaults were one of the city’s worst slums, housing the very poorest of the poor in unhealthy, lawless style. The Banshee’s particular claim to ghostly fame is the scream of the beast after which it is named. This was heard as the pub was being refurbished. One of the workmen who heard it was phoned soon afterwards to be told of a death in the family. If you can handle the thrash metal nights and fetish clubs, you too can enjoy an evening of drinks flying against the wall for no reason.