Whether fact or fiction, imagination or reality, people love sharing ghost stories, particularly at this time of year, and castles are a popular location for unusual sightings and mysterious happenings.
Of all the castles in the region, none have seen as much war, romance and royalty as Sudeley over its dramatic 1,000-year history. And with such a colourful and eventful past, it is easy to see why some people believe there could be spirits from bygone eras which still wander the halls and corridors to this day.
There have been dozens of unusual sightings and occurrences at Sudeley Castle over the years, including a blacksmith hammering in the vaults, a young, blonde boy playing in the garden and even a friendly, panting dog. A number of guests staying overnight have even been terrified by a heavy weight sitting on their bed in the small hours.
There are a few more insightful ghostly tales that seem to crop up quite regularly – one of Sudeley’s best-known modern resident ghosts is said to be that of a formidable Edwardian housekeeper called Janet who, after retiring to a nearby cottage in the early 1950s, returned to the castle weekly to make life hell for her successor. After she died, Janet continued to spring unexpected visits to the upstairs rooms, running her finger disapprovingly over the furniture and alarming staff and visitors alike.
Janet’s frowning ghostly figure, wearing a mop cap, a white blouse and long skirt, has also been seen keeping watch on the staircase, continuing her dedication towards keeping the household staff in line. It is said that Janet would patrol the staircase at night to ensure no ‘after hours’ goings-on took place, and it seems that, even in death, Janet refuses to give up her duties.
Ghost hunters wanting to experience Sudeley’s supernatural side may wish to take a walk down ‘the haunted staircase’ – said to be the most haunted spot at the site, to see if they encounter ‘Janet’ for themselves.
Sudeley Castle is also believed to be home to a royal ghost, Queen Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s six wives, who lies entombed in the beautifully restored 15th century st Mary’s Church in the castle grounds. Katherine, who died five days after giving birth, is said to roam the Castle corridors looking for her infant daughter, who is believed to have died around the age of two.
A well-documented account of a ghostly encounter with Katherine Parr was in 1860 when a worker on the estate called Fred Simmons was asked to fix a broken blind by the then chatelaine of the castle, Emma Dent. After repairing the blind by candlelight one evening, he was returning through the Chandos Room when his candle suddenly went out. He then felt a woman rush past, her silk dress rustling. He presumed it to be Mrs Dent but on speaking to the castle housekeeper, Mrs Bayliss, discovered that no one else had been upstairs at the time.
He later confessed that some time previously he had taken a tooth from Katherine Parr’s coffin. Writing in his notebook, he said; “Could it be so, that the ghost of Katherine was permitted to roam over those old precincts – making night hideous – and to fill with awe those who had been guilty of robbing the dead!” Perhaps unsurprisingly, his wife soon urged him to return the tooth to the coffin.
The castle’s tithe barn is said to be frequented by a young girl in her 20’s, a Victorian guest at the Castle, who has long auburn hair and wears a white dress – she is playful and happy and it has been suggested that this is because she had a holiday romance at the castle and the barn is where she met her lover.
There are said to be numerous canine spirits, including a large black Labrador, hunting dogs and two King Charles spaniels. Indeed, Emma Dent’s two beloved dogs, Busy and Juno, are buried under a mulberry tree at the castle – could they be among them?
Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe, has lived at Sudeley Castle for almost 50 years, and has yet to encounter a ghost at the historic attraction. “I have often been asked if Sudeley is haunted,” she said, “and over the years I have heard some strange and curious tales from visitors, guests and employees alike.
“However, since the major renovations here in the 1980s, I have not been too worried about staying here alone or walking the corridors at night. The plumbers, electricians, carpenters and decorators saw off the creaking floorboards and draughty passages, the noisy Victorian lead pipes, the ill-light corners and musty damp rooms of my early days at Sudeley. Now the only spectres that seem to remain are the murderous screams of the peacocks at the crack of dawn.”
It seems there is a ghostly tale at almost every corner of Sudeley Castle – some sad, some happy, some unexplained, but there is certainly more than meets the eye at this beautiful, historic place. Who knows whether some of those who spent their lives at Sudeley Castle still linger on?
But if ghost-hunting isn’t for you, there is plenty to keep you occupied on a visit to the castle and its 10 award-winning gardens which are ablaze with autumn colour at this time of year.
Until the end of October families can take part in an Autumn Trail around the grounds, finding out about some of the creatures that call our countryside home. Younger visitors can also play on the new fun fort at the attraction.
Half term will also see a Halloween-themed children’s fun day at the castle on Wednesday October 24. Children will be able to take part in gruesome archaeological activities to help unravel the secrets of a series of ‘bone boxes’, as well as taking part in devilishly crafty arts and crafts activities. Denzel the animatronic dinosaur will also be meeting visitors on the day.