The Ghosts of Chillingham Castle

It’s believed to be the most haunted castle in Britain” which is no surprise, as the castle was the location of at least eight well-recorded and famous executions over the years. It is also said to have been the ghostly lair of Britain’s most prolific torturer and murderer – John Dragfoot!

In 1925, Lady Lenora Tankerville, Mistress of Chillingham Castle, first recorded some of the phantoms and spirits in her manuscript, The Ghosts of Chillingham Castle.  Lady Lenora’s first account is of how some stones and plaster fell from the wall in her own bedroom revealing the skeletons of a man and a boy.  Their identities where never revealed.

On another occasion, the walled-up corpse of a man was found in the dungeon.  He was so well preserved that the workman who discovered the corpse fled in terror thinking him still living.  According to Lenora, for a while the body remained intact then quickly turned to dust as fresh air and moisture did their work.

Lady Lenora makes mention of five specific phantoms that she knew about.

The Blue Boy / Radiant Boy

The Blue Boy, a famous phantom, was heard to cry out at midnight in agony or fear shortly before appearing in a halo of light.  When the wall of what is today the Pink Room was opened, the skeletal remains of boy dressed in remnants of blue were found.

Blue Boy Chillingham Castle
The Radiant Blue Boy of Chillingham Castle (C) Clint Pavenu

According to lady Lenora, the noises always emanated from a location near a passage carved through the ten feet thick wall into the next tower, and as the blood-curdling cries faded away, a dazzling halo of light began to develop near the antique four-poster bed. Anyone sleeping there noticed a child clad in blue and surrounded by light approaching them softly.  These appearances stopped when lady Lenora had the bones and clothes given a proper burial.

However, in more recent years visitors have reported seeing an electric blue light or halo appearing around the halls of the castle and specifically over a four-poster bed in a tower bedroom.  One person even claimed to have seen a young boy dressed all in shimmering blue standing at the end of their bed. It would seem that the Blue Boy or Radiant boy as he is sometimes called, is back.

Lady Mary Berkeley (Lady Grey)

Another well-known ghost, Lady Mary Berkeley, often wanders around the southwest turret stairs and her dress can be heard trailing across the floor most evenings. Many believe that she still searches for her wayward husband who abandoned her. A broken-hearted Lady Mary lived on in the castle with only her baby girl as a companion.

The fact that this rogue left with her own sister, Lady Henrietta, during the reign of King Charles II, sparked a significant controversy and a legal dispute before the renowned—or should we say notorious—Judge Jeffries. Sadly she died aged just 31 – some say she just lost the will to live and must now haunt the castle until her husband returns.

lady Mary Chillingham Castle
Lady Mary Berkeley Chillingham Castle (Lady Grey) (C) SS Clint Pavenu

Lady Mary Berkeley, wife of Ford, Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham, and Earl of Tankerville, is the second most well-known and verified ghost. Some say she is still searching for her missing husband. Even today, as the tragic and worried wraith goes by, one still occasionally hears the rustling of her clothing across the stairs and hallways. An icy shiver soon spreads and chills the witnesses to the bone.

Lady Of The Portrait

The portrait of a beautiful woman is believed to be haunted by the lady herself.  During the 1920’s a children’s’ nurse at the castle claimed she had seen the woman in the picture mysterious appear out of the oil painting and walk across the room.  One witness might be doubted, but the children and nanny of a visitor to the castle also observed the same occurrence only this time the phantom lady followed them around the room as looking for company.  Even more disturbing was the testimony of a visiting psychologist who decided to watch the picture and see what happened.  When later asked if he saw anything her replied “No … Nothing malefic”.

However, according to Lady Lenora, the next morning, as the psychologist was strolling through one of the rooms, he stopped in front of an oil painting and cried out. That is the woman I saw the last night!

Lord Tankerville was perplexed by this, and he said, “It is not the one who is reported to walk.” Well, it is the one I saw, his guest said. Later that day, when Lord Tankerville brought up the subject with his former nurse, who was still living at the castle, she immediately said, “Oh, m’Lord, don’t you know? That is the same woman as in the nursery portrait although it when she was considerably older.”

Spectral Voices

Lady Lenora also reported often hearing, as did other people, soft voices as if people were talking in a room down the hall.  When she or others tried to listen closely to what they were saying they simply faded away. Specifically, she mentions hearing voices in the library but declares that they weren’t unpleasant and bothered no one.

This phenomenon is still said to occur today although with a lot less frequency.  A visitor to the castle wrote on their Facebook that they had heard the voices and rushed into the room from where they where coming.  Although he and his wife saw no ghosts, they did report that the room was exceptional cold for a summer’s day and there was a distinctive smell of alcohol and tobacco even though smoking is strictly prohibited inside the castle.

The Thirsty Lady

The final ghost on Lady Lenora’s list is the pale thirsty lady of the silver storage room.  Before Lenora arrived a at the castle a footman had been cleaning the silverware in the room when a pale lady asked him for some of his water.  He instinctively turned for his mug but when he turned back, she was gone, and the room still locked from the inside.  Other visitors to the castle also claimed a similar experience unaware of the original story at the time.

Other ghosts believed to haunt the castle:

John Dragfoot Sage

John Sage Dragfoot Torture ChamberJohn Sage’s narrative is immensely deep and violent, full of subtle and merciless torments, sexual encounters, and final vengeance. In summary, Sage was a violent and brutal soldier who became the torturer at Chillingham Castle after an injury in battle. He is said to have murdered over 2,000 Scottish prisoners and was finally executed himself for accidentally killing a warlord’s daughter while having sex.  The full story of John Dragfoot and his terrible deeds can be found here.  Sage currently holds the title for being the most evil ghost in Britain.

Ghost of the Pantry Man

Many visitors to Chillingham Castle have reported seeing a friendly ghost in the pantry. The spirit of the pantry man is said to have been killed by the cook, who blamed him for stealing food from the kitchen. The story goes that one night as he slept, she crept up behind him with a large knife and chopped off his head. Afterward, she took his body and put it in a barrel filled with brine (an ancient way of preserving meats) and buried him under some rocks outside

The Chanting Monks

No self-respecting haunted castle overlooks the occasional appearance of ghostly monks still chanting their prayers and holy rituals. Chillingham is no exception. They have been seen in the old courtyard and heard at various locations around the castle.

vil Monks Chillingham CastleSo it would seem that Chillingham Castle is not a place for the faint of heart. It’s dark, it’s isolated, and it’s haunted by the ghosts of its past. If you visit the castle today and hear footsteps or see shadows, then you might be seeing one of these ghosts! Just hope it’s not John Dragfoot Sage.

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