UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories

Left out of the book, Life and Death Making Sense of IT

by Francis O’Neill

The four UK ghost and poltergeist stories (and a bit more), that follow were drafted and then left out of the Life and Death book. This is for reasons that, while, like the haunted places that were included, they each have very interesting tales in themselves, they didn’t really add anything more to the thrust of the message I was seeking to get across, in the Fringe Benefits chapter.

As dark and mysterious as such hauntings and stories are, they do, in my opinion, provide evidence, sometimes uncontroversial evidence, that there is more going on under the heavens than we yet fully acknowledge or seek to understand.

And, importantly, such stories do provide valuable insight and a steer towards answering one of our greatest concerns – that is regarding our survival of death.


Borley Rectory Poltergeist

We have here a, well-known, story that kicks off in the 19th century. It probably has roots going back much earlier, to a Benedictine monastery of 1362, believed to have been close by the site.

In this legend a monk is said to have ‘carried on a relationship with a nun from a nearby convent’ And that, ‘After their affair was discovered, the monk was executed and the nun bricked up alive in the convent walls.’[1] This story has no historical basis but it does tie in nicely with one of the apparitions. [ UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories ]

UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories | Borley Rectory 1892 | 400 image
Borley Rectory in 1892. Image courtesy Wikipedia

This is the Borley Rectory Poltergeist. The rectory, in Borley, Essex, was considered one of the most haunted places in the UK. It was demolished in 1944 – following a fire that spread through the building in 1939.

First reports

First reports of the poltergeist and ghostly activity there appear to have begun around 1863 – with mysterious footsteps being heard in the house, and the apparition of a nun being seen.

The nun was seen by all four of the rector’s daughters one evening. The girls apparently tried to talk to the nun but she disappeared the closer they got to her.

Rev Henry Bull

Back in those days the rector was Reverend Henry Bull. He took over from a Reverend Herringham in 1862. Reverend Bull demolished the old Georgian style rectory that was there, and replaced it with a brick building. He and his family lived in the new house, with all its ghostly goings on (the new building didn’t change anything), until he died in 1927.

Rev Guy Smith

The following year the Reverent Guy Smith took over. [ UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories ]

UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories | Borley Rectory in Ruins image
Borley Rectory after the fire. Image courtesy Wikipedia

The story develops that his wife was cleaning out a cupboard after moving in, when she came across the skull of a young woman, which had been wrapped in brown paper.

We can say she literally had discovered a ‘skeleton in the cupboard’ and shortly after that the poltergeist activity really began in earnest.

The family reported the sounds of ringing bells, lights showing up in the windows, windows being broken, sounds of footsteps, their daughter being locked in a room – this was a room that also had no key to it.

Harry Price visit – new activity

The True Ghost Tales[2] website records that the Daily Mirror and the Society for Psychical Research got involved at the time: In June 1929, the newspaper sent a reporter who wrote the first of many articles that told of the strange happenings at Borley. [ UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories ]

The paper also set up a visit for, the then less well-known paranormal researcher, Harry Price, to the place that would make his name famous. He arrived June 12th. Suddenly, new poltergeist activity started.

Stones were hurled with force, as well as a vase and several other objects being thrown. There were also some strange rapping noises that seemed to be messages of some sort.

Rev Lionel Foyster

The Smiths are reported to have fled their home in July of 1929. Next the Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne, and their adopted daughter Adelaide, moved into the rectory on October 16th, 1930. Lionel Foyster kept a diary of the poltergeist activity that happened, which he sent to Harry Price.

Price figured that between the time that the Foyster’s moved in and from the accounts given since October 1935, over 2,000 strange phenomenon had happened there, including the bell-ringing, stone and bottle-throwing and the strange writings that would show up on the walls.

Marianne forcefully thrown from her bed

Marianne Foyster told her husband about a slew of poltergeist phenomena, and one of these times included her being forcibly thrown from her bed. Once, some unseen thing also attacked Adelaide. Foyster tried on two occasions to conduct an exorcism, but to no avail. During the first exorcism attempt Foyster was hit on the shoulder by a large stone.

[ UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories ]

Pitmilly House Poltergeist

UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories | Pitmilly House image
Pitmilly House. Image courtesy Scottish Review

If you have been reading through the Fringe Benefits chapter of my book all of this will probably sound a bit familiar – and pretty scary! It is certainly disturbing.

Harry Price became a very well-known ghost hunter of this time and besides taking interest in Borley Rectory he also recorded many other stories of hauntings, and one of these was up in Scotland at Pitmilly House in Fife.

The most haunted house in Scotland

As Borley Rectory was often dubbed ‘The Most Haunted House in England’, it sounds by all accounts that Pitmilly House could have been dubbed ‘The Most Haunted House in Scotland’.

Harry Price investigated home of John Jeffrey

Price devoted a chapter to the Pitmilly case in his 1945 book, Poltergeists Over England: Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts.[3] At the time the poltergeist activity is thought to have started, which was 1936, this huge house was in the ownership of a Captain John Arthur Jeffrey.

He and his wife Alison had a couple of children, Thomas Ivan, born in 1915, and Mary Elizabeth, born in 1924. A review, Pitmilly House: ‘Poltergeist Manor’ by Lorn Macintyre,[4] writes of Harry Price’s description of what happened at Pitmilly:

Price … lists an extensive range of phenomena. Incidents included furniture sliding around by itself; ewers of water in bedrooms constantly emptied onto the beds; heavy fire-irons rattling themselves and when tied up managing to jump apart, leaving the string knotless; a heavy wardrobe tilting at an angle of forty-five degrees but not falling over, in defiance of gravity …; and a heavy bronze vase which once shot through the open front doorway ‘at an incredible speed’, changed direction through ninety degrees, and came to rest in the garden, all in front of witnesses … There were numerous fires, but conversely on one occasion the owner thought he saw a fire on his bedroom carpet yet after beating it out found no trace of damage. ‘Exorcisms’, to use Price’s term, were conducted unsuccessfully by both Roman Catholic and Anglican clergy…

Poltergeist activity recognised by insurers

In context with the above review Macintyre notes that, ‘In March 1940 an extensive fire broke out, affecting some twenty rooms, and the claim settled by the insurers was later used as evidence that the insurers had recognised poltergeist activity.’ Money and the paranormal wouldn’t normally mix in this way so it does give the account credence. [ UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories ]

Jeffrey’s driven out

Elsewhere Macintyre writes[5] that, ‘Terrified by the spontaneous fires and airborne objects, the Jeffrey’s had been driven out of Pitmilly House at considerable financial loss.’ It then became a country house hotel where, on one occasion, a ‘Welsh newspaper magnate woke to witness his clothes being tipped from the drawers. When he opened the door, fire was running for yards along the corridor wall, but without leaving a mark.’

In 1967, after failing as a hotel, Pitmilly was sold to a farmer, who later demolished it.


The Ancient Ram Inn

Forget Borley Rectory, the most haunted building in England might just go to The Ram Inn in Gloucestershire – which, unlike its rivals above, is still very much with us.

UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories | Ancient Ram Inn image
The Ancient Ram Inn. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If the commentaries are to be believed, here we are talking phenomena with a capital P.

Goes back and beyond 12th century

This former inn has parts of it dating back to the 12th century and is described as built on an ancient burial site – so plenty of time and possible reason for bad, scary, sad and distorted energies to develop and fester.

It is reputedly linked with the black arts and also built on the intersection of two ley lines, the most prominent being the ley line running between Ley farm and Uley Long Barrow (known as Hetty Peglar’s Tump) – not that ley lines necessarily invoke odd occurrences but there are those who consider they are often associated with paranormal phenomena.

Favourite with ghost hunters in UK

It’s a favourite haunt for ghost hunting groups with many visits having been made. The tv show ‘Most Haunted’ team also visited back in 2004 – and an event that happened in the barn there caused one member to seriously consider walking away from the show.

According to the BBC website, it is, ‘the scene of some truly hair-raising ghostly encounters, from drops in temperature to dancing lights and spectral shadows.’[6] There is reportedly also a spectre catlike creature that roams the place. Visitors generally don’t like the Ram Inn – ‘most visitors feel the spirits are unfriendly’.

Oppressive atmosphere

It has been described as having a heavy oppressive atmosphere, which is hardly surprising with the observations of it having no proper means of heating, looking dilapidated with much old and discarded rubbish filling up the rooms, and not to mention the open grave in the living room – yes I did say ‘open grave’ and ‘living room’ in the same sentence. Here again a sad and miserable location.


30 East Drive Pontefract

Another location popular with ghost hunters, and visited by the Most Haunted TV team, is 30 East Drive. This unassuming address is considered by some to be one of the most active and nasty haunted buildings in the UK – and indeed some would stretch to Europe too.

UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories | 30 East Drive image
30 East Drive, Pontefract. Image courtesy Google

Similar to Enfield Poltergeist

The pattern appears somewhat similar to the Enfield Poltergeist.[7]

This haunting has been running for a long time, since the 1960s.

It all began – if indeed this was the actual starting point – when the Prichard family of Jean, Joe, Phillip (15 at the time) and Diane (12 at the time) moved into the semi-detached house during 1966.

All kicked off back in 1966

Things began happening almost immediately: a ‘fine layer of chalk-like dust falling not from the ceiling, but from a level below head height’ is the first event recorded. Pools of water also appeared in the kitchen when attempts were being made to clean up the dust – resulting in one person slipping over on the water. This was only the beginning of several years of:

… incredible, inexplicable events; green foam appearing from taps and toilet even after the water was turned off, the tea dispenser being activated resulting in all the dried tea cascading onto the work surface, lights being turned off and on, plants leaping out of their pots and landing on the stairs, cupboards shaking violently, photographs being slashed and an endless list of levitating and thrown objects including a solid oak sideboard.

The description continues:

When both Phillip and Diane were beginning to exit adolescence, the activity reached a new climactic height with Diane’s long hair suddenly standing on its end, followed by her being dragged kicking and screaming up the stairs, an event that left her seriously traumatised and with clearly visible finger marks on her throat.

30 East Drive website[8]

Diane Pritchard a focus for nastiness

The poltergeist, known as ‘Fred’ and, or ‘The Black Monk of Pontefract’ concentrated most of its dark malevolent activity on Diane Pritchard. She was the main focus of the haunting. As she grew older the attacks took on a new level and, on at least one occasion, she was dragged screaming up the stairs.

The 30 East Drive website adds that, ‘her face was constantly slapped and she was pulled out of bed. Her hair was forever being pulled from her head. Diane ended up severely traumatized and with clearly distinguishable finger marks on her throat.’

Exorcisms have so far failed

To date, exorcisms have been tried with no effect. When tried, walls have seeped holy water, faces have been smacked, people reportedly have been shoved down the stairs and ‘Fred’s’ hands could appear from nowhere and even conduct the Christian songs:

…whilst wearing huge women’s fur gloves. In fact, many of Fred’s antics were both amazing and often highly amusing, like when he calmly poured an entire jug of milk he removed from the fridge over a sceptical aunt, leaving the kids in stitches.[9]

Want to know more…

Colin Wilson wrote about this haunting in his book, Poltergeist, which can be found on Amazon. Also the movie, When the Lights Went Out, is reportedly loosely based upon events at 30 East Drive.

The house is now in new ownership. Pat Holden who directed, When the Lights Went Out, was looking for ways to promote the movie when the house came up for sale.

He is also related to the Pritchard family, which may have made a difference. A number of websites are catering slots for groups, up to ten, to visit the house – even stay over the weekend.


A nice Edwardian ghost story

UK Ghost and Poltergeist stories | portrait of a ghost
Courtesy ExclusivePix and the Daily Mail

A nice ghost story to end on… I’ll bring this article to a close with a less scary, even possibly charming ghost story that was made public via a BBC programme back in 2012. This story was also reported in the Daily Mail newspaper[10] at the time, from which I draw what follows – you can also see the images accompanying this story off the link to the newspaper.

The sound of Chopin’s music on piano

It is about a ghost who sounds like she was a very cultured person and fond of playing the piano too – indeed it was my partner, a pianist herself, who first drew my attention to it.

This Edwardian lady spectre made frequent visits to the mansion home of Mr Alan Smith. She was always accompanied by the music of Chopin, according to the startled people who bore witness her presence.

Could be seen in the corridors

Mr Smith’s family had seen the apparition of the lady many times at the house. He said how her ghost would walk along the corridors and into the bedrooms, usually at about one o’clock in the morning, and how, ‘She was usually wreathed in a blue haze and just drifted around.’

Her legs weren’t visible, which is reminiscent of the ghost I saw in Peterborough. Mr Smith said that, ‘Sometimes she would even arrive at the bottom of my bed in the middle of the night.’

Remarkable twist

The story could have ended there – with the haunting being an ongoing feature of Heale House, in Bideford, Devon – but then a twist in the story changed the situation.

This was brought about by a painting that came into Mr Smith’s possession via the owner of a local bric-a-brac shop.

The shop owner, after discovering Mr Smith was the owner of Heale House, proceeded to tell him she had something that should be returned to the house, its rightful home. She then showed him the painting, and gave it to him. The painting – thought to be by Cyril Roberts, a prominent painter based in Paris – shows a woman seated at a piano in the Heale House drawing room.

The point being also that the face was eerily familiar to Mr Smith. He quickly realised it depicted the woman his family had been visited by.

The portrait brought an end to the haunting

Once the portrait was returned to the house and placed in the drawing room the sightings stopped. Mr Smith told the Daily Mail, ‘I thought there must be some kind of scientific explanation. Other people who visited the house were terrified – but they now believe she’s been put to rest because she got her painting back.’

Mrs Bell and the Antiques Roadshow

Mr Smith became so fascinated with the situation that he decided to investigate the history of the painting. He identified the woman as a Mrs Bell, one of the mansion’s previous occupants, who had been bankrupted and forced to sell all her possessions – including her beloved portrait – shortly before her death in the early 1900s.

His research into the painting uncovered more on her background as the wife of an Argentine beef rancher who lived in Heale House. He said that, ‘From what we know about Mrs Bell, she was a very cultured lady. It must have been sad for her to see all of her possessions sold.’

The story then came to public attention after Mr Smith took the picture to be appraised on the BBC Antiques Roadshow television programme – which was shown on Sunday 19th February 2012.

Notes & References

[1] Borley Rectory – [Accessed 17/02/2012].
[2] True Ghost Tales – visit [Accessed 17/02/2012].
[3] Harry Price (1945) Poltergeists Over England: Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts. London Country Life.
[4] Lorn Macintyre. A review, Pitmilly House: ‘Poltergeist Manor’ for the Society for Psychical Research. Visit [Accessed 17/02/2012].
[5] Macintyre, L (2012, 20 December) Christmas at Pitmilly, the house where things happened at night. Scottish Review. [Accessed 17/05/2015]. The Pitmilly House image also derived from this article.
[6] Visit the BBC website [Accessed 17/02/2012].
[7] See my book, Life and Death Making Sense of It. In the Fringe Benefits chapter.
[8] Visit [Accessed 17/05/2015]
[9] Ibid.
[10] Daily Mail newspaper, February 18th 2012. Also find online [Accessed 20/05/2012].

Associated Links:

Psychic Babble and the Paranormal
Lucky escapes or intervention
The Illusion of Reality

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