Chester is an ancient walled city steeped in history. Some 2,000 years ago, Chester was founded as one the three main Roman legionary fortresses in the province of Britannia (along with York and Caerleon, in south Wales).
When the Romans left, Chester became home to successive waves of Celts, Vikings, Saxons and Normans. Edward I’s medieval armies mustered at Chester for the war against the Welsh; English troops bound for Ireland sailed from Chester; Royalist cavaliers defended the walled city for eighteen months against their cruel Parliamentarian besiegers; Chester was a powerhouse of Victorian prosperity. In short, Chester’s history is Britain’s history in microcosm.
All of which means Chester has seen every high and low of human existence: joy and jubilation, famine, floods, plague and war. Even today, Chester remains a vibrant and genuinely atmospheric city.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that packed within Chester’s defensive walls, its narrow streets and alleyways, its crypts and cellars, are a host of well-documented ghosts, hauntings, apparitions, spooks and poltergeists from almost every century across two millennia.
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Chester- England’s most haunted City?
So there are significant and genuine grounds for claiming that compact and ancient Chester is actually the most haunted city in England. But don’t take our word for it; listen to an expert.
Dave Sadler from Para Science says:
‘My belief is that Chester, for its size, has the most haunted activity in the country. Some say it’s York or Derby, but I disagree. The amount of ghosts per street in Chester is phenomenal.’DAVE SADLER
To substantiate our claim, we’ve begun the long process of cataloguing Chester’s ghosts, poltergeists and hauntings: street by street and house by house. So far, of course, the list is far from exhaustive. But, as new first hand accounts come in, the list grows longer every day. It seems Chester’s venerable ghosts demand recognition. And so the day when Chester is widely, and officially, recognised as England’s most haunted city draws near.
102 Watergate Street, Chester
Close to the old Watergate that led out to the Port of Chester, is number 102 Watergate Street the house where nobody wants to live.
For years the large, rambling Georgian house has been used as offices. Back in 1937, the building housed the drawing offices of the Chief Engineer for the army’s Western Command. Staff were used to hearing inexplicable noises. But when two colleagues working late one night heard a long, drawn out rattling followed by a loud crash coming from a first floor room, their hair stood on end. A careful search, however, revealed nothing.
Several months later, a man dropped in unannounced to show his wife the haunted house. Staff were surprised when he told them he had been billeted there during World War I. Even then, he said, strange noises had come from the first floor room at the front. People eventually refused to sleep there. The house, he said, seemed destined to be offices forever.
13 Watergate Street Ghost
A mysterious, supernatural presence haunts Chester’s 13 Lower Bridge Street.
Like many Chester buildings, number thirteen features a Roman cellar hewn out of the sandstone bedrock, topped by later medieval and 17th- and 18th-century floors above.
The premises are now occupied by a well-known Chester hairdressers. Trouble began when renovations in 1984 apparently disturbed a dormant spirit. When the owner came into the locked shop each morning she often found shelves rearranged or items such as postcards strewn on the floor. Naturally, we thought at first that intruders had forced their way in, she said. But when we found not the slightest sign of a break in, we were genuinely puzzled.
Abbey Green- Cellar Poltergeist
Beneath a Georgian house in Chester’s secluded Abbey Green , just off Northgate Street, is a Roman cellar cut deep into the sandstone bedrock. It seems to the focus of a mischievous resident spirit who is never seen, but which moves and throws objects around.
Poltergeist activity started after renovations began in 1983. The new owner opened a restaurant and customers soon complained of hearing noises coming from beneath the floor. Three waitresses witnessed a picture lift itself from a chest of drawers and drop to the floor five feet away.
A wine bottle from a locked room upstairs was discovered in the cellar, smashed against the wall. And a heavy oil stove was several times found many feet from its usual place. For some reason, most incidents seemed to occur around teatime, between 4 and 5pm.
Strangest of all, though, was the strong smell of Lily of the Valley’ perfume that often permeated the house without explanation.
Anchorite’s cell/ Haunted Hermit’s cell
On a sandstone knoll overlooking Chester’s river Dee close to the city walls is the curious Anchorite’s Cell. Originally occupied by a hermit monk, the unique medieval cell is home to a powerful, mischievous spirit that springs to life at Halloween.
Legend says the cell was the final home of the Saxon King Harold after he escaped alive from the battle of Hastings. Other famous residents include the 12th-century Holy Roman Emperor, Henry Godscallus. During its long history, the cell has also been a grain warehouse, the meeting place of the Company of Shoemakers and, more recently in the 1970s, an architect’s office.
Now converted into a cosy, centrally heated, two bedroomed house, the cell nonetheless seems to have a rapid turnover of owners. Local rumour suggests recent occupiers left soon after a terrifying experience one night when a heavy oak door was inexplicably ripped from its hinges in front of their eyes.
Barlows/Ye Olde Vaults : Barlow’s Ghost
Until 2002, Chester’s unusual Barlow’s pub occupied two-storeys at 30 Bridge Street. It had two bars: one on the street and the other off the Row above – but with no interconnecting doors or stairs between the two!
Now converted into a soulless, upmarket shop, the building is still haunted by a disapproving former landlord.
Previously known as ‘Ye Olde Vaults’, and dating from 1789, the pub was later named after William Barlow, the devoted landlord in 1898. His sole purpose in life seemed to be maintaining the excellence of his pub and its beer.
But the pub was refurbished in 1900 and other landlords came and went; and few of the changes were for the better. Which didn’t go down well with old Mr Barlow. For many decades, regulars claimed to hear loud bangs, groans and wails emanating from his disgusted spirit.
During the recent renovations, the site foreman corroborated these claims: ‘All of us felt we was being watched’, he said. ‘It was definitely the creepiest place we’ve ever worked.’
The Lost Crypt at Booklands Bookshop
Close to the heart of the walled city of Chester, on Bridge Street, is Booklands bookshop whose stone-arched medieval crypt is allegedly home to a ghostly child.
The shop occupies a three storey, Grade I listed, 17th-century building not far from Chester’s central High Cross. But the lower ground floor is older still: the 13th-century stone crypt is built half into the earth, with the unique and unusual Rows walkways directly overhead.
Curiously, the ancient crypt was lost – bricked up and filled with rubble, until rediscovered by Victorian developers in the late 1800s. Now restored and brimming with books, it still retains an ancient air. At the rear of the crypt, beside the counter, is a narrow, half-hidden stone staircase leading to the upper storeys.
Staff warily confirm that it’s still haunted today by the ghost of a young apprentice boy who long ago fell to his death on the slippery stone. Though when asked if they’ve seen him, they refuse to say.
Soldier MacKenzie at Chester Royal Infirmary
Within the north-west corner of the city walls once stood the old Chester Royal Infirmary.
It’s an area long associated with death: almost 2,000 years ago it was a Roman cemetery whose burials are still unearthed by archaeologists today; and from the Middle Ages onwards it hosted plague cabins where infected Chester people were forced to live in quarantine until they either recovered or died.
When the Infirmary was still standing, many of the staff claimed to have seen the spectre of ‘Soldier MacKenzie’. He was a Scottish soldier brought there from the trenches with serious wounds during the First World War. When he languished and died of his wounds, he was buried with full honours – but in a hospital shroud instead of his uniform. Many witnesses believed he marched through the wards on an eternal mission to find his missing uniform.
Today the hospital has been demolished and replaced with luxury housing and apartments. Yet few, if any, of the residents can realise the dark history of the area or what lies beneath their feet.
Dewa Roman Experience
The Dewa Roman Experience, up narrow Pierpoint Lane, just off central Bridge Street, is a popular Chester visitor attraction but with a very unusual feature. For as well as the reconstructed Roman galley, street and baths, it incorporates a fascinating walk-through archaeological excavation.
As part of their trip through the dig’, visitors descend into a once-buried 18th-century cellar complete with coal chute and bricked-up doorways. The ceilings are low and the cobbled floor is still dark with ancient coal dust. The light is dim and sacks rest in a cobwebbed corner.
The cellar is where most visitors feel uncomfortable. Perhaps subconsciously they sense it’s the scene of a haunting.
Staff at the Dewa Roman Experience are convinced there’s a supernatural presence. Back in 1996, museum guide Steven Knowles said, I was leading a tour, and talking to an elderly couple, when something flashed by me. The old lady felt it too, because she grabbed my arm and asked me if I was alright. A few days later, I was in the excavated cellar when I saw something move from the corner of my eye. But when I turned around there was nothing there.
Kane, a pet Labrador belonging to another staff member, flatly refused to enter the cellar. We’ve tried enticing him with biscuits, said the young woman, but he just sits down, begins shivering, and won’t move.
More recently, in July 2004, the manager, Christine T*****, confirmed that a terrified customer had rushed from the cellar claiming she’d felt ghostly hands closing about her neck. The panicky woman didn’t even ask for her money back she just pushed through the exit doors and was last seen disappearing down Pierpoint Lane.
Spirit’s Footsteps at George and Dragon
Not far from Chester’s Northgate arch stands the George and Dragon pub, an imposing Victorian black-and-white building seemingly haunted by the spirits of long-dead Roman soldiers.
The pub occupies a site straddling the old Roman road, or via decumana, leading out from the porta decumana, the north gate of the fortress. Roman military law forbade the burial of legionaries within the fortress, and so memorials to the dead lined the roads immediately outside. (Interestingly, many of the carved and sculpted memorial stones were reused by the Romans when they refortified the north wall of the fortress – and can now be seen on display in Chester’s superb Grosvenor Museum).
Over the centuries, both landlords and regulars of the pub have heard the drum of marching feet beneath the floors – following the route of the old Roman road. Strangely, the sound seems loudest in the cellars, closer to the original Roman ground level, which once stood several feet below the modern surface.
‘Charlie’ and ‘Herbert’ at the Pepper Street Habitat
Two ghostly monks have haunted part of Pepper Street, in central Chester, for many years. Affectionately known to local people as ‘Charlie’ and ‘Herbert’, the spectral figures achieved notoriety, however, only in the 1960s. Today, however, they’ve not been seen for a while.
At that time a long-established garage occupied the site next to what is now a modern Habitat shop. When out-of-town competition increased, the owners decided to open the petrol station 24-hours-a-day. Strangely, however, none of the staff seemed keen to do the night shift.
The culprits turned out to be two black-cowled phantom monks who prowled up from the river each night to vanish in front of the petrol pumps. Staff turnover was swift until a young woman took over the job. She apparently viewed the ghostly visitors with blithe acceptance and would call out to them each night: ‘Hello, Charlie! Hello, Herbert!’
For some people, the supernatural is a cause of fear, while for others it’s merely part of ‘life’s rich tapestry’!
Old Bishop Palace Poltergeist
Chester’s Old Bishops Palace is a large, Georgian, haunted mansion overlooking the riverside Groves above the Dee. It’s home to two well-established Victorian spirits, one of them an active poltergeist.
Back in the 19th century, the kindly Bishop of Chester rescued a small boy from the local workhouse and gave him the job of boot boy. But although the tiny orphan worked hard polishing the Bishop’s boots and shoes, he got on the wrong side of the spiteful housekeeper.
For some reason, she hated him with a vengeance. One day, when the Bishop was away on business, she sacked him on some feeble pretext and had him thrown into the street. By the time the Bishop returned, the boy had starved to death. His tiny corpse was found frozen by the river.
To this day, the boot boy’s pathetic yet mischievous spirit still haunts the Old Palace. Shoes vanish without trace or reappear in the oddest places. Now, at last, it seems the boot is on the other foot!
Fireman ‘Jack’ at the Old Fire Station
Now one of Chester’s most popular French restaurants, the Old Fire Station on Northgate Street is haunted by a helmeted and bewhiskered old fireman.
Built in 1912 just within the city walls, the fire station occupies an ancient site built upon since Roman times. In the 1960s, in the quiet periods of the night watch, the firemen often told tales of old ‘Jack’. According to a retired officer, colleagues claimed to have seen a ghostly figure in brass helmet and full uniform sitting on one of the fire engines’ turntable ladders, smiling directly at them.
The beaming apparition so alarmed one nervous fireman that he instinctively ‘threw the bells’, summoning the rest of the watch. When they reached the ground floor control room, they found him shaking and ashen faced. Records show he retired soon afterwards.
The Icy Room, Old Rectory
At the top of what is reputedly the steepest city street in England, Chester’s charming St Mary’s Hill is the strange and haunted Old Rectory.
Not far from Chester Castle, where criminals were executed until as late as 1883, sits the former vicarage of nearby St Mary’s Church. (In a corner of its churchyard are the unmarked graves of three witches found guilty at Chester Assizes of magick and conjury’ – and summarily hung by the neck until dead.)
According to two separate accounts from people who have worked at the Old Rectory, there is a small room at the top of the house that is always icy cold. Its door bangs shut when there’s no one near, and there’s not a breath of wind. Why? Nobody knows.
Whatever the cause, it’s not something to dwell on as you walk down spooky, cobbled St Mary’s Hill on a dark and moonlit night.
A Musical Ghost at the Queen’s School?
Overlooking Chester’s ancient city walls on the western edge of the city is the ornate Victorian Queen’s School. The city walls here take clever advantage of the steep banks of the old river, and the wall-top walkway is level with the school.
Few people realise, however, that this upmarket private girls’ school stands on the former site of the ‘City Gaol and House of Correction’. The jail was one of the first to install a ‘drop’, or mechanical gallows. The gallows stood high on the front of the building where they were used for the public hangings of Chester criminals. The grisly scenes of death attracted large, ghoulish crowds.
It’s not surprising then, that the school is haunted today. The narrow stairs and cramped attic rooms create an atmosphere of foreboding. Former pupils testify that the music room has a resident ghost. During lessons, they say, the door would often open, even if properly closed. Then, after enough time had elapsed for someone, or something, to leave the room, it would silently shut again.
Nothing was actually seen or heard by the girls, but it became common for the whole music class to respond in unison with a gentle call of ‘hello ghost!’.
A Spectral Monk at St John’s Church
The half ruined arches of Chester’s St John’s Priory and Church , close beside the Legionary Fortress’s Roman Amphitheatre, are the atmospheric scene for one of the city’s best known hauntings.
Over the years, all sorts of people have witnessed a strange cowled figure in the vicinity. The mother of a barmaid due to be married at St John’s was amazed to see a ghostly monk standing on the steps of the so-called haunted alleyway’ that leads down to the river beside the church on her daughter’s wedding day.
A schoolboy returning home one evening by another narrow path to the river on the far side of the church, was also surprised by a strange apparition. Looking up across the nearby bowling green, the ordinarily sceptical 12-year-old saw the misty outline of a monk looking at him from the edge of the churchyard above. It was there for a moment or two, he said, before it vanished. After that, his mother said, her son seemed to have changed.
A Negative Spectre at Stanley palace?
Chester’s picturesque Stanley Palace is one of the most atmospheric and haunted buildings within the city walls.
The ancient half-timbered, black-and-white, haunted mansion on Watergate Street was once the town house of James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby. Following the Parliamentarian’s resounding victory in the English Civil War, the outspoken Earl foolishly voiced his Royalist opinions once too often – openly supporting the exiled King Charles II. Predictably, the Earl was arrested in 1651, tried, and convicted of treason. Surrounded by Roundhead troopers, he was then kept under strict house arrest in Stanley Palace before being escorted to Bolton for execution.
His last days were undoubtedly traumatic as he said a final goodbye to his family and friends. Today, his ghost still wanders wearily through the ground floor rooms, dressed forever in his smartest court finery.
Strangest of all, however, is the fact that he appears as if in a photographic negative – with a dark face, black shirt, and white jacket. But quite why that is, no one can explain.
Now when you have waded through these malevolent ghosts of Chester, how about wading through these most haunted places in Little Chester Green?