Britain’s top 10 most haunted pubs
From tales of phantom footsteps to sightings of spooky spectres, Brits love a good ghost story. And with our wealth of ancient inns and cobwebbed taverns, we’re spoilt for choice for haunted haunts.
Though a clutch have marked themselves out as some of the spookiest spots in the UK for paranormal activity, with a number in our list having appeared in the popular TV show Most Haunted. From the ghost of a young soldier beaten to death after cheating at a game of cards, to the lingering figure of a woman murdered by her soldier husband when found in flagrante with her lover, our chosen ten are havens for things that go bump in the night.
Legendary highwayman Dick Turpin even makes an appearance in a Hampstead haunt, while a number of the pubs claim to be have been visited by the clattering of hooves in the dead of night.
Your scribe was even witness to an inexplicable chill of her own during a recent visit to a London pub on the site where demon barber Sweeney Todd butchered his victims before having them baked in pies. As Halloween approaches, read on for our round-up of Britain’s top 10 most haunted pubs, but don’t blame us if you have to sleep with the light on…
10: The Mermaid Inn – Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 7EY; Tel: +44 (0)1797 223 065
Rebuilt in 1420, the Mermaid Inn in Rye boasts Norman cellars daring back to 1120. The site has played host to a long lists of non-paying guests, the most frequently sighted of which is a lady dressed in white who sits in a chair by the fireplace in room 1. Guests, many weeks apart, have told the same story of leaving their clothes on the chair during the night and waking to find them them wet.
In the Nutcraker Suite, a lady in white said to have been murdered by smugglers has been spotted walking across the room and through the door, stopping at the foot of the bed for a moment on her way past. Two years ago in the Fleur de Lys room, a bank manager and his wife awoke to find a man walking through their bathroom wall and across the centre of their room. Meanwhile, wine bottles fly off shelves in the bar and a rocking chair rocks unaided in room 17.
9: Devil’s Stone Inn – Shebbear, Beaworthy, Devon EX21 5RU; Tel: +44 (0)1409 281 210
A former 17th century farmhouse in Devon, staff have reported many strange goings on at the pub, particularly when it is being refurbished. Taps start running unaided, beds unmake themselves, pictures are found on the floor in the morning and windows spontaneously fly open. Meanwhile, loud footsteps are often heard on the landing along with phantom knocks on the doors. Room 8 is thought to be the most haunted in the inn, with guests reporting the bed covers suddenly being removed and pictures being moved on the walls during the night.
A young girl’s giggling can also be heard along the corridor and the smell of smoke can sometimes be detected where there is none, as cottages that once caught fire share the same site as the inn. The spirit of an RAF pilot who died in room 4 can often be seen at the bar. To keep bad at bay, every year on the fifth of November, the Devil’s Stone next to the inn is turned over by the church bell ringers to keep Lucifer away from the village.
8: Jamaica Inn – Bolventor, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 7TS; Tel: +44 (0)1566 86250
Sharing the name of the 1936 Daphne du Maurier novel inspired by the haunt, which was used as a temperance house in the early 1900s, the inn has appeared in TV show Most Haunted, with the makers describing it as: “one of the spookiest programmes ever recorded.” A clatter of horses hooves on cobbled ground can often be heard in the courtyard in the dead of night.
The inn’s resident ghost is that of a man thought to have left the bar one night mid pint. His corpse was found on the moor the next morning and the murder remains unsolved. Landlords report hearing footsteps around the bar when no one is there, and believe it to be the ghost of the stranger returning to finish his drink. He has also been seen sitting motionless on the outside wall. A handprint meanwhile often appears in one of the bedroom mirrors and furniture has been known to move during the night.
7: The Old Bank of England – 194 Fleet Street, London, EC4A 2LT; Tel: +44 (0)20 7430 2255
Before the Bank of England stood here, two taverns – The Cock and The Haunch of Venison – occupied the site in the 16th and 17th centuries. Both were demolished in 1888 to make way for the construction of the Law Courts branch of The Bank of England, which traded on the site for 87 years. Now a pub again, the spot boasts a grizzly past at it lies between Sweeney Todd’s former barber shop and Mrs Lovett’s pie shop. The tunnels and vaults below the present building were where Todd’s victims were butchered before being cooked and sold in pies to Mrs Lovett’s unsuspecting customers.
db is not one to get spooked easily, and is quick to brush off haunted happenings, but a recent tour of the old bank vaults made the hairs on the back of our neck stand on end. Located in the basement, on the night of our visit, the temperature outside the vaults was toasty. Entering the room, the drop in mercury was astounding despite the fact that there were no windows or places where a draught could creep in. Never in my life have I been so convinced of a malevolent presence that I couldn’t explain. I felt a chill in my bones and couldn’t wait to get out. The experience left me certain that there are some things in life we can’t logically explain.
6: Ostrich Inn – High Street, Colnbrook, Nr Slough, Berkshire; Tel: +44 (0)1753 682 628
With foundations dating back to 1106, the inn, originally named The Hospice, was used as a hideout by legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, while famous London diarist Samuel Pepys also slept within its walls. The inn is said to be the site of over 60 murders. Most famous were those committed in the 17th century by the landlord at the time, one Mr Jarman, who with his wife made a profitable sideline by murdering wealthy guests after they had retired for the night.
The pair had a trap door built into the floor of one of their bedrooms and, when a suitably rich candidate arrived, they would tip the sleeping victim from the hinged double bed through the trap door and into a vat of boiling liquid below. The unfortunate guests’ belongings were then sold to local gypsies. Paranormal activity at the inn includes strange noises, objects moving of their own accord and ghostly figures.
A woman in Victorian dress has been seen walking the corridors, while the most haunted area of the building is the upstairs restaurant next to where the murders took place. Another common report is of cold spots in the downstairs ladies loo, which used to be the pantry where Jarman stored his victims’ bodies.
5: The Red Lion – High Street, Avebury, Wiltshire SN8 1RF; Tel: +44 (0)1672 539 266
A woman known as Florrie is said to haunt this family pub in Avebury, Wiltshire – the site of Europe’s largest stone circle dating from between 4,000 and 2,400BC. The story goes that Florrie was thrown down a well by her soldier husband during the time of the English Civil War. Having gone to battle, while he was away Florrie took a lover. One night her husband returned unexpectedly from duty and discovered Florrie in flagrante with said lover. In a fit of rage, he shot his love rival dead, stabbed his wife and threw her body down a well, sealing it with a boulder.
There have been several sightings of a black-clad Florrie walking around the pub looking for a man with a beard, though reports differ as to whether she is seeking her husband or lover. On one occasion, a chandelier in the restaurant started spinning at an alarming rate when a man with a bushy beard was sat underneath it.
Customers have seen Florrie disappearing into the mouth of the well in the bar area, which has been glassed over and now doubles as a table. She has also appeared in the ladies loos and a former landlady reported seeing her throw salt and pepper mills across the tables in the restaurant. Guests have also reported sightings of the ghosts of two children cowering in the corner of the Avenue bedroom, while a horse-drawn carriage has been known to pull up outside the pub in the middle of the night accompanied by the clattering of hooves.
4: The Spaniard’s Inn – Spaniards Road, London, NW3 7JJ; Tel: +44 (0)20 8731 8406
Built in 1585 as a tollgate inn, this north London pub has a colourful history. Local legend has it that aforementioned highwayman Dick Turpin was born at the inn and later used it as a base for his nefarious operations. Turpin’s pistols hung above the bar until recently, before being stolen. The pub takes its name from two former landlords, Spanish brothers Francisco and Juan Porero, who fought a duel over a woman in which Juan was killed. Buried near the inn, his ghost is said to haunt the pub, along with that of Turpin, who has been seen on the road outside and heard in the upstairs rooms.
Mentioned in both Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the poet John Keats was a regular at the Hampstead haunt, and reportedly wrote his famous Ode to a Nightingale in the pub’s large garden one summer afternoon, where the figure of a woman in white can often be seen. Fellow scribes Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron were also patrons.
3: The Golden Fleece – 16 Pavement, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 9UP; Tel: +44 (0)1904 625171
The early 16th century Golden Fleece has a reputation of being one of the most haunted pubs in the country and was visited by the Most Haunted team in 2005. One of its resident spooks is said to be that of Geoff Monroe, a Canadian airman who was staying at the pub in room 4 when he died in 1945 by throwing himself out of the bedroom window.
People staying in his former room have reported sightings of a figure in full uniform standing over them and a corresponding drop in temperature. Customers have also complained of bed covers being removed, clothes taken off the rails and thrown on the floor, and the sound of footsteps running across the hallway.
During a ghost hunt in 2002, a number of people saw a man dressed in late-17th century clothes walking through the wall of the bar. Another spirit known to haunt the pub is that of Lady Anne Peckett, wife of the one time Mayor of York, John Peckett. A number of guests and staff have reported sightings of her wandering the corridors and walking up and down the staircase at night. Other ghosts include a man known as One Eyed Jack dressed in a red coat and holding a pistol, and the ghost of a boy believed to have been trampled to death by horses outside the pub in the Victorian era.
2: The Skirrid Inn – Llanvihangel Crucorney, Monmouthshire, NP7 8DH; Tel: +44 (0)1873 890258
Wales’ oldest pub, The Skirrid Inn dates back to 1110. Named after the mountain that looms over it, the pub has appeared in the TV show Most Haunted and is said to be one of the UK’s spookiest taverns. Glasses fly across the bar by themselves, faces have been seen at the windows, things mysteriously disappear only to turn up weeks later and residents often wake to an ice-cold room and the feeling that they are being watched. It is thought that one of the main spirits at the inn is that of Fanny Price, who worked at the pub in the 18th century and died of consumption aged 35. There have been many sightings of her in room 3.
The first floor of the inn was once used as a courtroom where people who committed serious offences were given capital punishment. In 1685, during an exceptionally bloody period in the inn’s history, 180 insurgents from the Monmouth Rebellion were hanged from an oak beam over the staircase just outside the courtroom. The hangings were ordered by Baron George Jeffreys, who has since been seen walking the upper floors of the inn in search of people to hang.
One felon who was sentenced to death, sheep rustler John Crowther, has been seen several times at the property. Other ghostly occurrences in the house are the powerful scent of perfume; the rustling of a lady’s dress; the sound of soldiers in the courtyard and sightings of a lady in white. Perhaps creepiest of all, many visitors have complained of feeling as if they were being strangled by a noose, which is no surprise given the pub’s history. Some have even reported the appearance of welts on their necks resembling rope burns.
1: The Grenadier – 8 Wilton Row, Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 7NR; Tel: +44 (0)20 7235 3074
This red, white and blue-fronted pub in Wilton Mews, far from the madding crowd in London’s upmarket Belgravia district, is reported to be one of the most haunted pubs in Britain. Decorated with military paraphernalia, the inn was once frequented by the Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards (hence the name), as the upper floors of the building were used as the Officers’ Mess of a nearby army barracks.
It is said to be haunted by the ghost of a soldier who was beaten to death and thrown down a stairwell after he was found to be cheating at a game of cards. The incident happened in September, which is when the pub experiences its highest levels of supernatural activity each year. A solemn spectre has been seen moving slowly across the pub’s low-ceilinged rooms and footsteps have been heard pacing empty rooms, while there have been reports of objects disappearing or mysteriously moving. Chairs and tables have also been known to rattle, wisps of smoke appear where there is no cigarette, and an icy chill can hang in the air for days on end, with someone even reporting to have heard a moaning sound coming from the depths of the cellar where the beating took place.
While the BBC was filming a programme on Britain’s most haunted pubs in 1982, the crew were tasked with taking a series of atmospheric stills shots of the pub. When they had the photos developed, the head of a mustachioed young man was found peering into the pub through one of the window panes, which lie 12 feet from the ground.