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History and Haunting of Cambridge

Updated on June 16, 2014

History

Cambridge is a university town in the county of the same name in the East Anglia region of Southern England. It is on the River Cam 50 miles north of London and is best known for the University of Cambridge that is based there, consistently one of the highest rated universities in the country.

The area that is now Cambridge has been settled going back 3500 years based on discoveries made around the Fitzwilliam College area as well as Iron Age remains on Castle Hill. The Romans settled here and after they left, the Saxons moved on to Castle Hill, naming it Grantabrycge. This name gradually altered to Cambridge.

By the 7th century, when Saint Bede was writing, the town was known to be the burial site of Etheldreda but otherwise not too impressive. The Vikings arrived in 875, as noted by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and their trading habits encouraged growth in the city. The town shifted away from Castle Hill to the area known as Quayside on the right bank of the river. Once the Vikings left, the Saxons returned and a great period of building took place such as churches, wharves, merchant houses and even a mint to produce coins.

Peterhouse College, Cambridge

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Norman Period

After the Norman Conquest, William of Normandy built a castle on Castle Hill and the Round Church dates from this period. The university was founded in 1209 by students escaping hostile people in Oxford and the oldest college still existing, Peterhouse, was founded in 1284.

The King’s College Chapel, one of the most well-known buildings in the town, was built in 1446 under orders of King Henry VI, being finished under Henry VIII in 1515.

Civil War

Cambridge was significant in the English Civil War as it was a regional headquarters for the East Anglian army, a mainstay of the Parliamentarian military effort. In 1643, control of the town was given to Oliver Cromwell, who had been educated in the city’s Sidney Sussex College. The town was fortified, troops garrisoned and bridges destroyed to reinforce the defences. Royalist forces came within two miles of the town but the defenders were never seriously challenged.

More on the History of the Colleges

Locations Around Cambridge

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A markerPeterhouse College -
Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RD, UK
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B markerCorpus Christi College -
Corpus Christi College, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RH, UK
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C markerTrinity College -
Trinity College, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB2 1TQ, UK
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D markerKing's College -
King's College, King's Parade, Cambridge CB2 1ST, UK
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E markerEmmanuel College -
Emmanuel College, Saint Andrew's Street, Cambridge CB2 3AP, UK
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F markerGirton College -
University of Cambridge, The Old Schools, Trinity Lane, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB2 1TN, UK
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G markerSidney Sussex College -
Sidney Sussex College, Sidney Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB2 3HU, UK
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H markerSt Mary the Less -
Parish Church of Little Saint Mary's, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1QG
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I markerAbbey House -
Abbey House, Abbey Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB5 8HQ, UK
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Modern Times

As with many English towns, Cambridge rapidly expanded in the 19th century while the railway arrived in 1845 with the Great Eastern London to Norwich line. The station was situated outside the town and this saw expansion in areas such as Romsey Town around it.

During World War II, Cambridge was an important centre for the east coast defence and the town has a RAF training centre. It escaped heavy bombing by the Germans and only 29 people were killed during the conflict, while none of the historic buildings were damaged. A meeting of military leaders in 1944 in Trinity College laid the foundation for the invasion of Europe.

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

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Cambridge Ghost Sighting

University Ghosts

Considering the age of the university, it is unsurprising there are number of associated hauntings. In the Christ College, there is the ghost of an elderly gentleman who is described as tall and wearing a beaver hat. He is seen near the mulberry tree in the garden and stories say that he is called Mr Round. He murdered a local doctor in a rage when he failed to save his love and walks the area in regret.

Corpus Christi College

The guild of Corpus Christi was founded in 1349 by William Horwoode, Henry de Tangmere and John Hardy in response to the Black Death and later, they founded the college. The college has a number of ghosts. The most famous, but also frightening, is that of Henry Butts, a hero of the plague of 1630 who killed himself by hanging himself in the Master’s Lodge in 1632. The ghost has survived an exorcism and was last seen in 1967, walking the passage from the New Court to the Old Court, though only from the waist up. He has always been seen in his old accommodations above the college kitchen and was so unsettling that servants refused to enter the room alone.

King's College & Chapel

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King’s College

John Barrett was an eccentric Fellow of King’s College in the 16th century who was paranoid about being followed. He obsessively locked his room and was rumoured to keep a coffin in it. One night other fellows were woken to terrible screams but were unable to get past the locks on the room to help out. Eventually the room was entered to find Barrett dead in his coffin and the room in ruins. His death was termed as ‘unexplained’, certainly as to how the assailant escaped a well locked room. On the anniversary of his death, strange noises are heard in the room and adjacent staircase.

Trinity College

In the 1863 History of the Supernatural, William Howitt mentions a story told to him by the poet William Wordsworth from his brother Christopher, who was a Master of Trinity College. A student approached Dr Wordsworth to say that he thought his room was haunted as he was awoken each night by a child walking around the room and moaning, its hands stretched out palms upwards. This was not the first report of a haunting in the room and other students had abandoned the rooms for this reason.

Other Colleges

Amongst the other haunted educational establishments in the town is Emmanuel College, where the ghost of a suicide victim is said to stamp up and down the hallways. The building has now been demolished and no reports have been lodged from the new building.

Girton College has a Grey Lady who moved along the corridors of the college and seems to come from the 19th century. Rumours say she was a student who died before she could start her studies in the college.

Peterhouse is the oldest of the colleges of the university and its ghost is that of a former Bursar called Dawes who hung himself after an election scandal. He killed himself near the Combination Room and his ghost is seen in the area, accompanied by knocking sounds.

Sidney Sussex College has a more recent haunting dating from the 1960s. A disembodied head has been reported around the college, floating about, and sometimes seen staring out of the window. Some have suggested it is the decapitated head of Oliver Cromwell.

St Mary the Less cemetery

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Around the City

The Haunted Bookshop lives up to its name and has two ghosts but neither of which ever disturb the readers on the shop floor. The shop is on St Edward’s Passage between King’s Parade and Peas Hill and has the ghost of a large man dressed in dark, Victorian-era clothing who haunts the cellar while in the upper rooms is a blonde haired woman wearing a green dress.

Trumptington Street is an attractive street in the town overlooked by many of its historical buildings. During the reign of Queen Victoria, a woman was viewing a house on the street when her gaze was captured by a full-length portrait of a woman in a green dress. As she was leaving, the woman was informed that the house was haunted by a woman in green and she asked if it was the woman in the portrait. The owner was puzzled by this as there was no painting there and when they returned to the room, it was pictureless. The other ghost associated with the street is the wife of the first Master of Peterhouse who operated The Little Rose hostelry that was popular with students. After her death, she continued to look in on the students who frequented the building.

The cemetery of St Mary the Less is entered through a stone gate and on top of this is reported a dark, evil presence. Some stories say it is the spirit of William Dowling, a strict Puritan who was obsessed with ridding the church of Catholic imagery after the Civil War. The presence was also connected with the suicides of several students in the Peterhouse dormitories across the street from it. Alongside the church is Little St Mary’s Lane and the ghost here is the exact opposite of the cemetery spirit. It is a little girl in a frilly Victorian dress who walks down the street, bedecked with ribbons and smiles.

Addenbrooke Hospital

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History of Haunting?

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The award for the weirdest haunting in Cambridge comes from Newmarket Road where a phantom penguin has been seen by a large number of people. It walks up the street in a waddling manner. Some have suggested that it is actually a doctor with a cloak and a beak-like mask that was worn to avoid catching the plague, which is perhaps more likely an explanation than it being a penguin!

The spirit of one of the summer houses on Montague Road is believed to be that of a woman who died there from tuberculosis prior to the sightings first being reported. She is seen swinging from a hammock in one of the windows.

Abbey House is very busy in supernatural terms with a poltergeist having been reported, a butler, a woman in white and also the echoes of chains being reported. An exorcism was carried out in the 1960s but has been unsuccessful as reports continue.

Addenbrooke Hospital is on Hills Road to the south of the town and has the ghost of a nurse who appears only when a patient is given morphine. It is said she accidentally killed a patient with too high a dose of the drug and for this reason, hangs around to make sure no-one repeats her mistake.

Paranormal Reading

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