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British Christmas Ghosts Stories to Make You Shiver

Updated on December 17, 2018
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Sophie Jackson is a freelance writer who has written for national newspapers and magazines.

Christmas is a traditional time for telling ghost stories; the nights are at their darkest and for many of us the weather is cold and grim - perfect conditions to speak of things that go bump in the dark. And there are many hauntings in the British Isles that are linked to Christmas and only occur at this one time of the year. Some are linked to tragic events, while others are more mysterious - why, for instance, do so many phantom coaches roll through the country on Christmas Eve?

This selection of creepy true stories should help get you into the spooky spirit in time for Christmas. They may even make you wonder about what else lurks in the shadows at the jolliest time of the year. Behind the Christmas lights and the shopping centre Santas, there are plenty of ghosts and ghouls waiting to appear.

Tomb behind railings
Tomb behind railings | Source

The Tragedy at Calverley

During Christmas 1904, a number of the residents of the village of Calverley (which sits between Leeds and Bradford) were being disturbed in their festive celebrations by the ghost of murderer Walter Calverley. Walter's ghost had been seen coming out of the graveyard of the old church and then vanishing, his restless spirit still bemoaning the terrible crime he committed in 1605.

Walter was the son of a lord and had been to Cambridge university, but he was unhappy in love. He had been engaged to the daughter of a neighbour, without the consent of his guardian (Walter's father had died when he was a boy, leaving his care in the hands of a relative of the Baron of Cobham). The resulting trouble for this impulsive engagement forced Walter to abandon the girl he loved and to marry instead the granddaughter of Lord Cobham, Philippa.

Walter had no love for Philippa. When they returned to Calverley Hall, Walter's family home, he fell into drink and gambling to forget his despair. Before long Walter had run up huge debts, wasted his inheritance and become dissolute. But no one realised that he was also suffering from dangerous fits of insanity.

Though Walter disliked his wife, his duty was to produce an heir to the family line and together they had three sons. In April 1605 the eldest boy, William, was four, his brother Walter was eighteen months and the youngest son, Henry, was just a baby and being looked after by a nurse outside of the family home. This was to prove extremely lucky for the infant.

The exact reason for Walter's actions on 23 April 1605 are not clear, but it seems in a state of drunkenness and furious over bad news he had received from Cambridge, Walter decided to be rid of his family. Young William was playing in a corridor when his father came upon him and stabbed him, while his son Walter was with his mother. Philippa tried to protect her son, to no avail. Having murdered both boys, Walter rode out to find Henry, but luckily for the infant, his father was stopped on the road and confined in Wakefield prison.

Within a stately home, a terrible crime occurred
Within a stately home, a terrible crime occurred | Source

Walter slowly sobered up and realised the enormity of his crimes. He was filled with remorse and despair by the time he was brought to court to face up to his actions. Under English law at that time, whether a defendant plead guilty or not guilty to his crimes, if he was executed, his property would be confiscated by the Crown. However, if he made no plea, his property would remain with his family. Walter knew he would be executed and If he plead, then his remaining son could never inherit Calverley Hall.

Walter opted not to plea and stood mute in court. This was a courageous thing to do, as the court could not proceed without a plea and special measures were taken to force reluctant defendants to speak. These measures involved the person being chained to a floor and a series of heavier and heavier weights placed on their chest. The torture crushed the rib cage, pushed the air from the lungs and left the victim in agony - the hope being they would plea to escape the horror. Despite being tortured, Walter refused to plea and deprive his last son of his inheritance. He died as a result of the 'pressing'.

In the final days of his life, Walter recognised his crime and acted to make amends for it. However, it was not enough to ease the suffering of his soul and his ghost still makes fitful appearances in the village he once called home. Why he appears most often at Christmas is unclear, but that is when the residents of Calverley have their eyes peeled for his forlorn spectre.

It was the murder of his children that forces Walter Calverley to still haunt.
It was the murder of his children that forces Walter Calverley to still haunt. | Source

The Backwards Walking Boots

Poor Mr Gardiner and his son found themselves resolved to spend Christmas with friends, after their own home was invaded by a very curious and restless spirit. The year was 1923 and the house was in Monkton Heathfield, a small village near Taunton. Mr Gardiner, a builder by trade, had designed and constructed the villa largely by himself. It was all ready for him and his son to settle into just before Christmas, but no sooner were they moved in then strange things began to happen.

Among the weird phenomena that disturbed his home was a chair jumping onto a table; a pair of empty boots walking backwards out of a cupboard; pictures falling from the walls; a tea-caddy 'hopping about'; a prayer-book and a postcard album being moved from a bookshelf to the opposite side of the room; a lamp rising from the table and gently descending to the floor; and knives moving about on the dinner table.

The activity sounds typical of a poltergesit haunting which, curiously, often begin around December/January. However, poltergeists are typically associated with the presence of a young person, usually a teenager, in the home, but the activity in the Gardiners' house only happened when the Mr Gardiner, an older man, was present. Could there be another explanation for the haunting? Might Mr Gardiner have disturbed 'something' while building his dream home?

Fortunately the haunting did eventually fade away and hopefully the Gardiners had many happy Christmases undisturbed in their villa. But as for an explanation for the haunting, that remains as unforthcoming as when the strange events began.

The Christmas Eve Accident

Kempston Manor is found in Bedfordshire and today serves as the offices for the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. But in centuries past it was a family home, and it was during this time that a terrible Christmas tragedy left its mark on the landscape.

It was Christmas Eve and the young son of the then owners of Kempston was waiting eagerly for his parents to return home. He was excited about the coming festivities and divided his time between peering out the windows and asking the servants when his parents would appear. Finally, just as dusk was falling, the sound of horse hooves could be heard on the gravel drive and the distant sound of wheels.

No longer able to contain himself, the boy dashed past the family servants and out of the house, intending, presumably, to run to greet his parents. But in the dark of the evening a terrible thing occurred. The driver did not see the boy and the lad ran in front of the coach. The horses knocked him down and he was fatally injured. The magic of Christmas now turned into horror, as the boy's mother jumped from the coach to find her son breathing his last on the ground. There was no hope for him and the boy died.

Every year since on Christmas Eve the horrible scene replays. It begins with the sound of horse's hooves on the drive, followed by terrible, heartrending screams. Perhaps fortunately, the house rarely has anybody inside it on Christmas Eve these days, so there is not normally anyone around to witness the re-enactment of an awful Christmas tragedy.

A terrible Christmas accident occurred when a boy ran to meet his parents on the drive of their home.
A terrible Christmas accident occurred when a boy ran to meet his parents on the drive of their home. | Source

The Lady Who Can't Go Home For Christmas

Baroness Abigail Masham was a favourite of Queen Anne and Keeper of the Privy Purse - not bad for the daughter of a London merchant. Abigail was born around 1670 and no one could have foreseen in her childhood that she would become a Baroness. In fact, her father had virtually bankrupted her family by the time she was a young woman and it was only through the generosity of a distant cousin that she avoided destitution.

Through her cousin she found herself at the royal court and she was appointed to the Queen's Household in 1704. It was through this connection that she met her husband Samuel and married him in 1707. If her birth year is correct, this means she was 37 at the time of her marriage and her husband only 28. Abigail remained in the Queen's personal circle until Anne's death on 1 August 1714. Abigail then retired to her country house and lived there quietly and privately until her own death in December 1734.

While Abigail had adored her home, later tenants of the house took less and less interest in it, and in the nineteenth century the property was in a state of disrepair and was demolished. This appears to have upset Abigail's spirit and ever since on Christmas Eve her wraith has ridden in a carriage through the village where her home once stood. Those who have glimpsed her spectre say she is looking in the direction of her lost home, her face unhappy as the carriage whips by. Abigail is one phantom who can never go home for Christmas.

Radley Church no longer exists, but its bells still toll...
Radley Church no longer exists, but its bells still toll... | Source

The Bells Still Ring

We know very little about the lost village of Radley (not to be confused with Radley in Oxfordshire which still exists). The lost Radley used to stand a short distance from Halam in Nottinghamshire, and there remains a road running through Halam that bears the lost village's name. This was once a lane that connected the two locations. However, in the Tudor period Radley was abandoned and its buildings were left to go to ruin. Eventually they disappeared beneath the ground including, it is said, what remained of the parish church. Today, the exact location of the lost village is unknown.

Apart from an old road name, the village is virtually forgotten - except, that is, for a spectral bell-ringer who stops at the village each Christmas Eve and rings bells that have not hung in Radley for five centuries. For those who happen to be nearby, the peals of the bells on the winter breeze is a sad reminder of a place lost forever.

A phantom drove of pigs makes a spectral appearance on Christmas Eve in Wiltshire
A phantom drove of pigs makes a spectral appearance on Christmas Eve in Wiltshire | Source

A Very Haunted Bridge

Two very odd hauntings are said to occur on a bridge in Calcutt, Wiltshire on Christmas Eve and neither has an obvious explanation. The first appears very random, as it features a phantom drove of pigs (some say piglets) who cross the bridge on this particular day. There is no spectral swineherd accompanying them, or any legend to explain the phenomena. The piglets are distinctive as they are white with red ears. Presumably the original piglets were being driven across the bridge to be sold at market, but why this event replays over and over through the centuries is unknown.

The second haunting has no connection to the first, except the two visitations appear to have coordinated their appearances to avoid clashing. A ghostly coach being pulled by a team of four horses clatters over the bridge on the same day. Where the coach is headed and who the passenger aboard it is we do not know.

Interestingly, Christmas Eve is a prime time for phantom coaches; Anne Boleyn, the unlucky queen of Henry VIII, rides about in a coach on this day, and several stately homes get paid a visit by a spectral carriage on the 24 December. At Roos Hall, Suffolk, a carriage drives right up to the door. It is said that inside the hall there is a cupboard containing a footprint made by the Devil himself. Is it Satan in the carriage? If so, what is he doing paying house calls on Christmas Eve?

Is the White Lady of Worstead a guardian angel?
Is the White Lady of Worstead a guardian angel? | Source

The White Lady of Worstead

No one knows her name, but for centuries a ghostly white lady has haunted the old church in Worstead, Norfolk. She typically appears on Christmas Eve, but avid ghost hunters are advised not to seek her out, as the person who last did died. The year was 1830 and a local man said he would climb into the belfry of the church and steal a kiss from the spectral white lady. It was all bravado for his friends, and no one took the matter very seriously. The man went into the church while his friends waited outside, he was gone a long time and eventually people became worried.

Heading inside the church they found him huddled up on the floor, seemingly frozen in terror. All he could whisper was "I have seen her, I have seen her." A short time later he died.

It would seem the White Lady did not approve of the man's rash intentions, but she also has a gentler side. Diane Berthelot believes the White Lady helped her recover from sickness. Diane was visting Worstead Church in the summer of 1975, during a period of ill health. Diane was feeling low and unwell, she sat on a pew to pray and felt a sensation of peace coming over her. She was not aware at the time that her husband had taken a picture of her.

Months later, Diane was going through the pictures, having not looked at them before, and came across the one taken in the church. Sitting behind her as she prayed was a ghostly white figure of a woman wearing a bonnet. The person had not been visible at the time. Diane believes the White Lady made an out of season visit to the church to heal her, a belief that was shared by the vicar of the church in the 1970s. Diane felt very fortunate to meet the White Lady, a completely different experience to that of the man who tried to steal a kiss from the ghost. So is the White Lady a guardian angel? And why does she usually restrict her appearances to Christmas Eve?


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