Muncaster Castle is one of the Britains most haunted buildings, scientists have been researching the ghosts of the Castle since 1992 and are still unable to explain some of the strange occurrences reported at the Castle.
Muncaster Castle is a privately owned Castle overlooking the Esk river, about a mile south of the west coast town of Ravenglass in Cumbria, England. The current owners the Pennington family have lived at Muncaster for at least 800 years. The Castle was built in the year 1258 on the foundations of a previous Roman settlement. Its original purpose was as a fortress to defend against the Scots, it was later used as an outpost protecting the trade routes from Carlisle. The oldest parts of the castle include the Great Hall and the 14th century Pele tower, a type of watch-tower fortification unique to the English-Scottish border region.
As with many historic buildings, it has been extended and refurbished with almost every era in history. The last of the building was done by the fourth Lord Muncaster in 1885 who commissioned the famous architect, Salvin. The castle contains a wealth of architectural features and artefact's from a wide span of English history, including a rare portrait of king Henry VI, an Elizabethan banqueting table, and also an impressive library containing approximately 6,000 books.
In recent years Muncaster Castle has been plagued by the paranormal, doors open and shut on their own accord and phantom footsteps echo through the corridors. Staff and visitors have often complained of their door handles being turned as if someone is attempting to enter the room, upon investigation there is no one there.
Muncaster's most famous ghost is that of Tom Fool (Tomas Skelton) he was the court Jester reputedly the last in England. Tom was by all accounts a dark character responsible for a number of deaths during his time at Muncaster. Tom would often be found under the chestnut tree, just outside the doors of the castle, and when travelers came by and asked the way to Ravenglass, if he didn't like the look of them, he would direct them down to the quick sands instead of over the ford. It is also said that under instruction from Sir William Pennington, Tom murdered a local carpenter decapitating him. The Carpenter had been having a secret affair with Sir Pennington's daughter Helwise, but Sir William found out and decided to put an end to it. Tom carried out the killing to keep favor with his master.
Tomas Skelton died around the year 1600, his portrait still hangs in the castle. One tourist to the castle had a frightening experience while standing looking at the portrait she said that she could plainly hear footsteps, on stone flooring, walking up behind her. When she turned to see who was approaching she realized that she was alone. The tourist was convinced the footsteps were on stone flooring, a claim which astonished staff and a local investigator who has been looking into the hauntings: When he interviewed her sometime after the experience, he pointed out that the stairs and corridor were, in fact, fully carpeted but she never realized this, even after the experience.
The present owners of Muncaster Castle, Phyllada and Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington, believe Tom still keeps a watchful eye on the castle, and occasionally gets up to more sinister mischief. The castle still has a special day called 'Tom Fool's day', which is a family fun day with various attractions.
The Tapestry Room seems to be the focal point of the paranormal activity at Muncaster Castle. Visitors often report feeling an unwelcoming presence in the room. Guests who have stayed the night in the Tapestry Room, have reported the sound of babies crying, or children singing softly. Black figures have been seen leaning over alarmed guests, whilst others have experienced a heavy weight falling on top of them in the antique four poster bed. A paranormal investigation team reported seeing a black, featureless figure walk into the tapestry room and vanish.
James Cartland, archivist and friend of the Pennington family, was invited to stay at the castle during the early 1980s and was put up in the tapestry room "I heard this sort of strange muttering sound as if someone was talking. I stuck my head up the chimney because I thought it could have been the sound of the wind, but it was a very still and frosty night. I was the only person in the wing of the castle that night, so there was nobody else around to make a noise. Everybody else was at the other end. I walked around a little and out into the corridor. When I returned to my room, the noise was still going on and was more audible by then. It was definitely the sound of a child crying. I got back into bed - I never slept a wink that night. It was a terrible night!".
A teenage girl had stayed at the castle with her mother a year earlier. The girl, now a trainee Lawyer, has spoken how she heard footsteps along the corridor outside her room when, suddenly, the door of her room opened, and the sound of a crying child filled the room.
The late Lord Carlisle had a similar experience which he recounted to an ex-curator of the castle, Philip Denham-Cookes "Lord Carlisle told me that he had only stayed once in Muncaster and that was in the tapestry room. He had been woken up during the middle of the night by the sound of a young child crying. He admitted he had never been more terrified in his life. Lord Carlisle was awarded the MC in the last war so he wasn't a man easily frightened, but he has said that nothing would ever get him to stay at Muncaster again."
Recent investigations revealed that in the Tapestry Room had previously been a children's nursery. During the castles long history there have been a number of deaths several of these have been children some of these were buried in the castle grounds. Muncaster Castle allows paranormal groups and investigators to spend the night in the Tapestry Room, to experience the supernatural for themselves.
Archaeologist Clifford Jones has been investigating the Roman significance of the grounds around Muncaster Castle. He believes his excavations may change the Hadrianic boundaries of the of the area and reveal that Cumbria played a much more significant role in the Roman Empire than was previously thought.
Clifford's excavations may not only have unearthed a physical Roman presence in the area, they may also have disturbed the dead. Clifford had been staying in the castle towers one night when he heard someone chopping wood. Only he and the mistress of the house were in the castle. Clifford went down the stairs to the court yard, all the time hearing the chopping noise, but when he got there he he was alone. "Please stop the noise," he said. And it stopped.
Clifford ran back up the stairs. The first room he went into was the toilet. As he entered the light bulb blew. He went back out on to the landing and the light bulb blew there. He then went into the lounge and the bulbs there blew too. He was so disturbed by what had happened that he left the castle for three days before getting the courage to return.
Mary Bragg is one of Muncaster's less well known ghosts, who met with a violent and untimely end in 1805. Mary a housekeeper in Ravenglass, was in love with the footman at Muncaster Castle. Unfortunately for Mary, so was one of the housemaids, and she was not keen on competition. It is said that the house maid plotted to rid herself of this love rival, and she may have been ultimately responsible for Mary's death.
Mary Bragg's mother was the last person to see her alive after her death she told how two men called, claiming her lover was seriously ill. Mary told her mum that the two men were taking her to his bedside, she was never seen alive again.
Mary's body was found some weeks later, floating in the River Esk, it was hardly recognizable because of the horrendous injuries. The body had also been partially eaten by eels, the coroner could not say for certain how she died and no one was charged with her murder.
The ghost of Mary Bragg can often be seen wandering the grounds of the Castle and along the local roads. Mary's ghost is often dressed in white her form however varies sometimes a misty figure, other witnesses have reported a solid form, or a darting figure sometimes jumping out in front of cars before vanishing.
The partner of one of the members of staff walked in to the castle one day and asked what they were filming outside, because she said that she had just passed a handsome fellow dressed in 15th Century attire. The sighting took place in the middle of the day she had even said hello to him as they passed each other. After only a few steps she had turned to see where the man was going and he had vanished, she had presumed he must had entered the other courtyard. The castle was searched but no staff or visitors had seen anyone in period dress that day.
Jason Braithwaite, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist from the University of Birmingham has been studying the phenomena at the castle for some 15 years, and has suggested one possible explanation as being "strange and anomalous magnetic fields" in the areas of the hauntings, which might affect certain people with a tendency towards "more erratic" brain function, such as those who suffer from migraine headaches or epilepsy, for example.
From October 26 until November 2, Muncaster Castle is offering a series of torchlight ghost tours each evening during its 'Halloween Week', where visitors can discover more about the castle's supernatural residents.
The castle is not only the residence of the current owners, Peter Frost Pennington & family, but in common with many such ancient estates in the British Isles it operates as a function center and a site where civil weddings may be held, has bookable accommodation for 24 guests, and is also the location of the headquarters of the World Owl Trust, a registered charity dedicated to the preservation of owls and their habitats.