It’s the home county that’s graced by Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester. It’s famed for the fake tans and drama that is Towie. It’s home to the country’s largest adder population at Danbury Common. It’s brought us the sophistication of Mark Wright and Joey Essex, and the world’s longest pleasure pier at Southend-on-Sea. But, now, come to the dark side for some terrifying Towie tales…
This rambling Victorian mansion has been named the most haunted house in England. Borley Rectory was built for the Rev Henry Bull on the site of an ancient monastery from which, supposedly, a monk and nun had tried to elope. The monk was executed, the nun bricked up in the cellars of the monastic buildings.
From the start, the Bull family was troubled by a ghostly woman peering through the windows of the new rectory – and she was even seen on the lawn in broad daylight. Not surprisingly, servants rarely stayed long.
And things got worse when Rev Henry’s son Harry succeeded him. Apparitions now included a ghostly coach and horses racing up the drive. And when, in the 1900s, another cleric and his family moved in, the ghostly phenomena took an even more extreme turn. Psychic activity centred on Marianne, his young wife – messages addressed to her were scrawled on the walls, even as witnesses watched – ‘Marianne, please help get’ and ‘Pleas for help and prayers’.
Spooks were recorded in photographs, objects moved on their own, and ghostly figures were been seen all over the grounds of the house. The Blue Room was the site of two separate deaths and a group of phantom nuns were seen walking around the building. The old Rectory was destroyed by a fire in 1938, but its reputation lives on – and it’s still buzzing with psychic energy…
Ancient Loughton Hall – built in the 1500s, rebuilt about 1616, burnt down in a spectacular fire in 1836 and again rebuilt – is home to a number of unquiet spirits. Housemaid Mary froze to death there and haunts the rebuilt Hall, locking doors from the inside of rooms. Her shade has also been seen on the landing, looking down at visitors to the building. Two other ghosts also walk there – one a man in black, the other a man dressed in tweed. In 2000, a girl reported seeing just the top part of a phantom soldier as she walked a small wooded path near the Hall.
Notorious highwayman Dick Turpin lived and operated at Traps Hill, Loughton, in the 1700s, where he joined forces with the Essex Gang. He’s also thought to have used a cave in the High Beach area of Epping as a hideout for many years. And, on dark and stormy nights, it’s said Turpin’s ghost can be seen galloping down the hill on his faithful steed Black Bess.
The Palace Theatre dates back to 1912, when it first opened as the Palace of Varieties. The theatre manager was a man named George and, after the venue got into financial difficulties, George sadly hanged himself in the theatre. There have been many sightings of him since, usually by staff, but also by theatergoers – many of whom have been startled by a ghostly figure sitting near them during a performance. People who’ve seen George also say he’s accompanied by a strong scent of pipe tobacco. And many actors who’ve worked at the theatre claim they’ve felt a ghostly hand on their shoulder…
4. Saffron Walden
The Old Sun Inn and The Cross Keys pub are both hotspots for spooky goings-on. The Sun has a Cromwellian and Civil War history. It’s no longer a pub, but the building remains as business premises. People have reported seeing a Cromwellian soldier in the older parts of the building. Furniture moves by itself and there have been many reports of break-ins because of noises coming from the building. The Cross Keys, on the corner of High Street and King Street also has Civil War ties and it’s said that, every Christmas Eve, a man is seen running down a dead-end passageway in the pub to simply vanish.
Manningtree is home to legendary 17th century witch hunter Matthew Hopkins. It’s thought Hopkins and his assistant John Sterne sent up to 400 people to their deaths – 19 unlucky souls were hung at Chelmsford in just one single day. Hopkins, who claimed to have ’the Devil’s own list of all the witches of England’, was buried at Mistley Heath and his ghost is said to appear at full moon by the village pond – the scene of many of his witch trials. He’s also said to haunt Hopping Bridge, the Mistley Thorn Hotel, The White Hart Inn, and The Red Lion.
Known as ‘the village where witchfinders feared to tread,’ Canewdon was apparently home to a huge number of witches and warlocks. And local legend claims the village will always be home to at least six witches. There are many ghost stories connected to the village, too – mostly centred on the 14th century church of St Nicholas. A grey lady is said to walk from the church’s west gate towards the river Crouch, and legend has it if you run anti-clockwise round the church on Halloween, the Devil will appear. The police often close off the area that night to discourage the many brave folk prepared to give it a go…
A famous resident of the village in the late 19th century was George Pickingill, said to be a ‘cunning man’ – a practitioner of magic, the ‘master’ of a group Canewdon witches and founder of nine covens – who also introduced the idea of female leaders to the craft.
The Old Garrison pub was originally built in 1898 as a hospital for soldiers and their families from the nearby garrison. In the 1990s, the manager was puzzled to regularly hear children playing in the pub, even when it was closed. He found that, when he opened the door at the bottom of the pub stairs, the children’s voices always stopped. A terrified maintenance man even saw apparitions of ghostly children in Victorian clothing playing in the bar area. Another spook often spotted by guests and staff is that of a man dressed in an old fashioned white medical coat.
The Red Lion is one of the oldest inns in the oldest recorded town in Britain. In 1638, chambermaid Alice Miller was having an affair with a wealthy businessman but, when he found Alice was inconveniently expecting his child, he decided to get rid of her. He pushed the pregnant Alice from a hotel window to her death. Since that day, her ghost has wandered the halls of the hotel. Sightings of Alice go back for 200 years, when the then owner, in an attempt to stop guests complaining of spooky events, bricked up the door to what’d been her room.
His work was in vain – visitors to the hotel still report seeing the ghost of a woman, and she most frequently appears in rooms 5, 6 and 10. And, joining tragic Alice, a ghostly monk roams the halls, and a little boy haunts the Parliament Room.
9. Layer Marney
Layer Marney Tower is a Tudor palace, said by many to be one of the most haunted locations in Essex. Building began in 1523 under the orders of Lord Henry Marney, as a residence to reflect his status and personality. Unfortunately, Marney died before it was completed. After his death, the tower had many owners, one of whom frequently entertained Queen Elizabeth I. It’s said that Lord Henry Marney still walks the grounds, mourning the fact that he didn’t live to see his home finished. Often, he appears in full armour or riding on horseback.
A phantom gardener also haunts Layer Marney Tower, tending a patch where the bodies of two children were found many years ago.
And a visitor who stayed for a few nights at the tower complained she woke to find herself being harassed by a pair of disembodied hands.
10. Epping Forest
Epping Forest’s history dates back to the Iron Age and it’s seen Roman battles, Norman invasions, and notorious highwaymen, such as Dick Turpin. Close to London, the forest is known as a burial area for murder victims, and it’s thought many victims of the infamous gangster brothers the Krays ended up here.
So, unsurprisingly, it has more than it’s fair share of spooky activity. Ghost hunts are regular events and, as well as the ghost of Turpin, there are numerous other psychic phenomena that have occurred down the years. The ghost of Boudica, Queen of the Iceni tribe, is said to haunt the forest. There’s regular poltergeist activity, with people reporting they’ve been pushed or touched by invisible hands. On one occasion, the ghost of a man in a tricorn hat and cape, and riding a black horse was seen.
At the Wake Arms roundabout, a headless biker and a horse-drawn coach have been seen, and a troubled spirit is said to run out in front of drivers, before vanishing. Another spooky sighting is the ghost of a young girl – said to have drowned near the Kings Oak Pub – as well as a headless horseman. At Hangman’s Hill, there have been reports of the ghost of a man in the wooded area and terrifying screams are heard.