In many cultures around the world, the roots of the literature come from a strong culture of oral storytelling. Folklore is a great example of this as we still see the phenomenon in action today. Whether it be telling spooky stories around a campfire or hearing local legends from the people of the area, these old stories still hold an element of intrigue. With Hallowe’en just around the corner, get ready for a whistlestop tour of the UK through these 5 British ghost stories!
British Ghost Stories
The Green and White Ladies of Crathes Castle (Aberdeenshire, Scotland)
Technically these are two ghost stories, but they are so interlinked that it seems only right to include both. The Green Lady is perhaps the more famous ghost with interest in her reignited for both locals and tourists after a sighting was captured on camera in 2016. However, there have been numerous other sightings that make her the stuff of legend. The most famous is a sighting by Queen Victoria herself. According to local legend, the Green Lady is thought to be the daughter of the 17th or 18th century landowner, Laird Burnett. It is believed she became pregnant by a stableboy before mysteriously disappearing shortly after giving birth. When she appears, she is holding a green orb, thought to represent a baby. On some occasions, she has been seen carrying an actual baby. Sightings of her are especially spooky because she runs across the room before disappearing into the fireplace.
If that wasn’t spooky enough, the White Lady also inhabits Crathes Castle. She is not as legendary as the Green Lady. However, her story is sure to give you chills all the same! More is known about the facts surrounding the White Lady and she even has a name. The ghost is thought to be of a young lady called Bertha.
The story goes that Bertha was engaged to be married to Laird Alexander Burnett. She therefore had a room in the castle while he arranged the wedding. Alexander’s mother, Lady Agnes, didn’t think she was a suitable match for her son and poisoned her one night over dinner while he was away. When Bertha’s body was removed from the castle by her parents, Lady Agnes screamed after seeing what she believed to be Bertha’s ghost. This ghost is rarely seen and is said to be less scary than the Green Lady, but I still don’t fancy staying the night at Crathes Castle!
The 13 Ghosts of the Tower of London (London, England)
Rather petrifyingly, the Tower of London is thought to be haunted by 13 ghosts including Guy Fawkes, Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. Below is a list of 5 of the most blood curdling ghosts to see there:
Henry VI was murdered in the chapel of the Wakefield wing of the Tower of London in 1471. Several people have reported seeing his ghost in the chapel at the stroke of midnight. Nothing like a punctual ghost!
Guy Fawkes is famous for conceiving the Gunpowder Plot. Ever heard the rhyme “Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot?” Well, the key part to this is treason as traitors were sent to the tower of London. It is reported that Fawkes was tortured before being executed. Visitors to the Tower can still hear his ghostly screams.
The Faceless Young Woman was first encountered by a guardsman on duty in 1957. As he was walking past the Salt Tower, he encountered a shapeless form with the face of a young woman. Nobody knows who she really was, and this adds a chilling element of mystery to the tale. Guards have also reported being followed by a malevolent spirit nicknamed ‘The Nameless Thing’ whilst on duty. Could the Faceless Young Woman perhaps be an embodiment of The Nameless Thing? Regardless, I certainly don’t fancy being a guard at the Tower of London.
Visitors to the Tower of London have long reported hearing the footsteps of a ghostly monk. The noise sounds like the rhythmical slapping of sandal against the stone floor. Despite the noise having been audible for years, visitors and guards are yet to catch a glimpse of the monk. Somehow a ghost without a visible form seems more haunting than the traditional ghost!
The ghost of a bear has been seen several times in the Jewel Room where the crown jewels are kept. This seems a strange one, but Henry III kept a menagerie of animals at the tower. These included bears, tigers, and an elephant. It is thought that visitors came to watch the horrific pastime of bear baiting and the bear is therefore a spectral guard to the crown jewels, not letting anyone forget the barbarity of the past.
There are many more ghostly sightings that have been reported (and who knows how many that haven’t?) but the Tower of London remains a popular tourist attraction with an average of 2.8 million visitors per year. If you are looking for a supernatural thrill, a tour of the building with some of the most haunting British ghost stories is for you!
The Waterston Lady (Llanstadwell, Pembrokeshire, Wales)
The Welsh culture provides us with one of the best-preserved examples of folklore taken from the oral tradition. The Mabinogion is a collection of eleven tales collected in the 14th century featuring many elements of the Celtic tradition. Steeped in superstition and passed down by generations, these tales hold their own element of supernatural intrigue. It is hardly surprising, then, that the Welsh culture gives us some of the best British ghost stories. With so many to pick from, it was hard to decide which one to pick for this post. However, I settled on ‘The Waterston Lady’. She is an enigma but also still relevant today.
People walking or driving on the rural Waterston Road, Llanstadwell have long reported seeing a mysterious old woman. The woman is often surrounded by a blue aura or is carrying a blue orb which stand out in the darkness. She is typically wearing a tattered dress which may be a wedding dress. Her hair is long and unkempt and in some accounts, she looks very sad. To add another level of mystery to this supernatural tale, horses and carriages have also been witnessed to drive along Waterston Road. They then disappear, never to be seen again. A bit like the punctual ghost of Henry VI in the Tower of London, the Waterston Lady appears between 10pm and midnight on Saturday nights.
When all this information is taken together, I can’t help but think that there are some extreme Miss Havisham vibes. The woman growing old in her wedding dress and living with elements of her wedding that never happened surrounding her sounds familiar. Although this has not been suggested or researched, could the story Waterston Lady be the inspiration for the character of Miss Havisham or vice versa?
The Friendly Ghost of Springhill House (Moneymore, Co. Londonderry)
Ghosts are scary, spine-tingling spirits to be avoided at all costs, right? Wrong! Northern Ireland has its fair share of ghost stories like the Green and White Ladies of Crathes Castle. There are tales of women haunting castles, banging on bedroom doors after meeting an untimely death at the hands of another centuries ago. These stories are all very interesting and spooky. However, one story that comes from Northern Ireland that stands out amongst British ghost stories is the ghost of Springhill House. It is a short story. Nevertheless, it packs that signature punch of a ghost story which becomes etched in your memory.
It is said that the ghost of Springhill House belongs to former resident Olivia Lenox Conyngham. Unlike our other ghosts, she didn’t meet a grizzly end. Legend suggests that she haunts the house because she enjoys the company of the public who come to visit the house and gardens. Instead of eliciting fear in people, she leaves them with a warm and friendly feeling. This is one of the nicest ghost stories ever!
Now you’ve toured all four corners of the UK in 5 ghost stories, you may want to explore more stories from different corners of the world. NPR has a great article that gathers ghost stories from around the world which can be accessed here. Happy reading and happy Hallowe’en!