The Case of Haunted Castle, Carlisle, UK


OK, after all the excitement of the “haunted theme park”, parts one and two, and with Thorpe Park’s ghost appearing in the papers all over the world, it’s time to see what else is in the news. Firstly, I’ll get this in again – if you have had an odd experience please fill in the survey at www.strangesurvey.com It’s being analysed by grounded theory so Becky does not need a random sample; if you know people who claim to have had relevant experiences please pass on the url, and ask them to submit a report.

So what follows a haunted theme park?  A haunted castle of course! Um… The problem is these news stories fail to excite me – because the venues always market themselves to ghosthunters and paranormal tourism is big these days – well actually I think the profits to be made are pretty mall, but everywhere markets their ghosts. Which is fine, the folklore is part of Britain’s heritage, but I doubt we will push the frontiers of psychical research here. Anyway the Cumbrian News & Star published this fun little article on the 1st…

Ghostly figures sighted at Carlisle’s new haunt?

By Phil Coleman

Last updated at 13:18, Tuesday, 01 February 2011

There was a distinct chill in the air as Tony Goddard recalled recent events in his new workplace…

Hidden behind the ancient walls of Carlisle Castle, this 80-year-old building once provided a canteen and library rooms for soldiers of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. But since 1960, it has provided storage space for the county’s archive service. The building is now being prepared for yet another role – as the new HQ for the Castle’s Border Regiment Museum.

So the building in the castle grounds may well be worth a visit: what interests us though is the spooks…

But since beginning work there, says Mr Goddard, the museum’s assistant curator, he has been shocked by a catalogue of ghostly happenings.

They have included:

  • Shadowy figures lurking in doorways and rooms;
  • Unexplained bangs and footsteps hurrying away;
  • Small objects flying through the air;
  • Lights turning themselves on overnight;
  • The sound of a ghostly piano coming from the empty upper floors.

Now this is good stuff. I won’t go through each phenomena one by one, as I often do, because let’s face it they are the same kind of things we have seen throughout the year I have been writing Polterwotsit. (March will see the blog’s  first anniversary, and a phenomena round up of what I found over the year in the press). Objects flying through the air will always fascinate me: and the sound of ghostly piano is rather good, as unlike knocks or bangs that is unlikely to be something like the building settling — it is therefore probably either real music, a hallucination, or something spooky. Well, that does not narrow it down much!

Mr Goddard, who has long been fascinated by the paranormal, said: “The building is called Alma block, and we’ve been working here since January 10, and there have been lots of strange things.

Alma block – so it was named after the Crimean War, clearly, or for some association with that war. Anyway, this is where it starts to get interesting. At the time of the article they have only been working in the building for twenty days or so, yet have experienced a considerable amount of phenomena – rather more than I would associate with a classic haunting, actually, for such a short time period. Yet Tony has always been fascinated by the paranormal, and I think possibly in that we might find a key to the phenomena?

Well firstly, people are more likely to experience odd things when they first move in to a building I think. The sounds smells and layout of the rooms are unfamiliar – after a few weeks there, you start to move around on “autopilot”, not really paying attention. At least I don’t! Now Tony’s fascination with the paranormal clearly creates an environment where anomalous noises etc are liable to be misinterpreted as paranormal- but then if he was a lifelong hard sceptic, we could equally argue that he might make the opposite error, and miss genuinely weird stuff. The building already had a reputation for being haunted – Most Haunted, the infamous TV show had already been there, os Tony and colleagues were certainly primed to interpret things this way. Alternatively we could take the idea I sometimes play with, and have been messing around with for eighteen years – that the story of a ghost legitimises their own psychic powers, as the results of such psi can be attributed to the supernatural third party, and hence they haunt themselves. OK, I guessed no one would buy that. 🙂

“One of the strangest was when three of us were sitting in the staff room, and I know there was nobody else in the building because there’s only one way in. But we heard the sound of somebody banging on the internal door. When we opened it, there was nobody there, but we heard footsteps running up the steps to the first floor.

That is interesting, and it would be good to investigate, with various doors and windows open, to see if the wind could generate the noises. One thing that can make a door bang is if it is sticky, and does not fully close, but catches somewhere on the frame. After a time it suddenly releases, and closes (or opens slightly) often with a very loud bang. However banging suggests multiple knocks, not explicable by my theory — and while this clearly sounds like someone playing a prank, Tony insists it is not. I would be interested though in how many keys exist!

“Last week, I was working on some shelving and I had the feeling I was being watched. So I turned round. Through the window to the room next door I could see the figure of a man, just standing there, looking at me. I just said ‘you don’t frighten me’ and I turned round.”

This is interesting, and something I have seen many times before; the feeling of the presence comes before the sighting of the apparition. Tony’s reaction, turning his back on the apparition is interesting in itself – a brave fellow – but the journalist has failed in an extraordinary way — this sighting is the very centre of the story, it introduces our chief protagonist – the ghost — and yet the article has not a single word about what he looked like. One wonders if Tony could not offer a description? We don’t know if the ghost was old or young, short or tall, anything. The absence of descriptions seems remarkable – but then what was remarkable to Tony was the fact there was a figure there at all, not what he looked like. So I believe the account, I’m just curious as to why the lack of description, it’s not what one would expect. I may have to have a look at Robin Wooffitt’s Telling Tales of the Unexpected and see if this kind of thing is common. (I’m glad I have a copy — it is £181 on Amazon at the moment!)

Telling Tales of the Unexpected by Robin Wooffitt

Telling Tales of the Unexpected by Robin Wooffitt

At other times, said Tony, washers have been thrown at him from above – when nobody else was in the room and another time he heard the sound of a piano, though there is not one anywhere near.

The phenomena clearly seems centred on Tony — and in many ways this does sound reminiscent of a poltergeist case. The direction from which the washers come, above, is interesting — I would like to know more about this. In fact, it is clear that Tony is the key witness, and has had some really interesting experiences…

One of the most disturbing stories has been about the image of a boy seen standing near the entrance to the old caretaker’s flat on the building’s upper floor. The gloomy doorway is known to be markedly colder than nearby rooms.

Suddenly there is a sharp shift. This does not seem to have been a recent experience, this sounds like something that happened a while ago, before the museum. I suspect this may be the traditional ghost story of the building, maybe dating back twenty years or so, who knows? Well if I could get to Carlisle Record Office and look for newspaper clippings on ghosts we might find out — if anyone is in Carlisle and willing to help, please do drop me a line.

It is not the first time that Carlisle Castle has generated ghost stories. In 2009, the castle was investigated by Most Haunted team from Living TV. Among the stories that brought them there was that of a ghostly woman who reputedly stalks the corridors. It is claimed that in 1823, the apparition frightened a soldier so badly that he bayoneted the spook, impaling the wall behind it. He is alleged to have then fainted and died of shock the following day.

This reminds me of a story attributed to the Tower of London, or something one might find in Catherine Crowe or Lord Halifax, but I don’t know the source. I quickly looked and found the following in The Cumberland News from the time of the Most Haunted teams visit

A ghostly woman reputedly stalks the corridors, and, in 1823, frightened a soldier so badly that he bayoneted the apparition, impaling the wall behind it. He is alleged to have fainted and died of shock the following day. Three years earlier, a woman clothed in tartan was supposedly discovered bricked up on a staircase in the Captain’s Tower. She was holding a young child and wearing a costume which was said to date back to Elizabethan times.

This fits with the findings of the Most Haunted team and of the castle’s staff, who have reported seeing mysterious figures on the top floor of the tower. In 1992, an apparition moving beneath an arch between the exhibition and gift shop area in the castle’s King’s Own Border Regiment museum was blamed for setting the alarms off three nights in a row.

Could this figure under the arch be the boy mentioned? When I have a moment I’ll trace the 1992 story, and see what I find.  For now, I find this one more interesting than I first thought I would: expect a follow up later in the week

cj x

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