Hertfordshire's most haunted locations
PUBLISHED: 12:49 21 October 2014 | UPDATED: 16:43 21 March 2016
With Halloween this month Sandra Smith opens the creaky door into the netherworld of Hertfordshire ghosts, plus spooky family events
Hertfordshire’s character – a thriving region of historic significance, charming market towns and picturesque countryside – are familiar both to those who live here as well as the many visitors the county attracts. Yet that’s only half the tale. For, according to some, there’s an active supernatural element at work too, one that manifests itself in shadowy figures and disembodied voices. Paranormal phenomena might defy the laws of nature, but that’s the attraction. So take the opportunity this month of Halloween to explore the ghosts and ghouls of haunted Herts.
One of the many towns with organised ghost walks is St Albans. Not surprisingly, the ancient city has its share of spirits. In 1812, to her father’s displeasure, Elizabeth Van Der Meulen of Romeland House eloped with musician Thomas Fowler. Thomas was later appointed organist at the Abbey. But Elizabeth endured tragedy when their baby died and her husband committed suicide. Her spirit is said to live on as a lady in grey wandering the grounds of her family home, now offices.
Other ghostly figures have been seen in the city – dressed in black walking through the Abbey, and a woman who died of a broken heart gliding down the stairs at The Grange. But the spirits are sometimes felt rather than seen. Where once the Blue Boar Inn stood on Market Place, women are said to feel a mysterious tugging of their skirts. Perhaps it’s the spirit of Charlie, a 10-year-old boy killed hundreds of years ago by a coach entering the yard and still, it is reputed, searching for his mother.
Harpenden similarly boasts sightings that defy reason. A ghost walk in the town includes St Nicholas churchyard and Rose Cottage. In the cottage is said to reside the ghost of a young woman who went to London to seek her fortune in the 17th century. Returning pregnant, she killed her baby when it was born before taking her own life. The building is reputed to experience so much moving furniture and unexplained noises that when it was rented out in the 1980s the tenants left in fright days later.
In the cellar of the nearby Cross Keys pub, banging and objects changing place are said to occur, sometimes accompanied by temperature changes and a voice pleading ‘Help me.’ Perhaps the most vivid experience, however, was when a relief manager, distracted by noises during closing time, saw three monks sitting at a table in the bar. No sooner did he catch sight of them, than the figures disappeared.
Author of Paranormal Hertfordshire Damien O’Dell had his interest in the supernatural sparked by a mysterious sighting when he was a boy. He believes ghosts are looking for closure or are too frightened to move on to what lies beyond. They are not all unhappy, he insists, but often retain an emotional attachment to the place they haunt.
He said workers at a 15th century building in Royston, which is now commercial premises in the town, have observed all manner of mysterious happenings. Clocks have moved, mirrors have launched off walls and equipment has gone missing. It’s one of several locations reputed to be haunted in the older part of town.
O’Dell also cites a number of Hitchin examples. In the Sun Hotel, Lord Haversham is understood to be responsible for guests occasionally waking in the night with an uncomfortable feeling. Perhaps his renowned gambling habit remains an unsettling aspect of his spirit.
In the nearby Hitchin Priory, which dates back to the 14th century, there are ghosts aplenty. Here, the presence of two matriarchs, one from the 19th century, the other a couple of hundred years earlier, are said to frequent various rooms as well as the grounds. The women are believed to remain determined to keep an eye on the place.