So, is Horncastle the most haunted town in England?
Reporter JOHN FIELDHOUSE bravely volunteered to join the town’s Ghost Walk - on Halloween. Setting out from the Market Place, the route took in some of the town’s most historic and infamous buildings.
But, did anyone see a ghost?
So, did things go bump in the night for you on Halloween? They certainly did for the 200 people who attended Horncastle’s very own Ghost Walk.
Local historians Pete Harness and Paul Scott did a tremendous job entertaining the crowds. No-one present actually saw a ghost - and the tour was probably more about Horncastle’s history than spooks and ghouls - but it still proved to be a fascinating evening. It started in the Market Place with Pete and Paul suitably decked out in hats and dark clothing.
The pair almost seemed overawed by the number of people who turned up. ”We were expecting 20 or 30,” they admitted. After a brief outline of the history of Halloween, it was time for a tall about hidden passageways beneath the Market Place. The passageways were built to ferry beer to the various ‘ale houses’ in days when the Post Office was the popular Lord Nelson pub. The queues at the counter back then were probably as long as today.
We all crammed on to a footpath as Pete - torch in one hand, bell in the other - revealed details about one of the town’s oldest surviving buildings, the Community Oven, which was attached to the long-gone Saracen’s Head.
The oven used to cook bread for the town’s poor. It’s now situated above one of the town’s Kebab Houses.
Pete quickly shone his torch across the road to the Sir Joseph Banks Centre. There was first mention of a ghost - ‘The White Lady’ - who is often seen walking through walls as she heads from the centre in the direction of the Wania Restaurant. There was an intriguing stop-off at the Manor House gardens and a rare chance to see one of the four giant bastions of Roman Horncastle’s walls.
Historians are uncertain about Horncastle’s importance as a Roman town. The walls were thicker and higher than Lincoln’s before being ‘stripped’ by various builders down the years.
Pete reckons Roman Horncastle was built as a first line of protection to defend Lincoln from Saxon raiders. It was ‘home’ to German mercenaries who had marched via Caistor High Street. Hopefully, they side-stepped the pot-holes.
From Manor House, it was on to St Mary’s Church. There was a brief stop at the northern end of the church which Pete revealed is in permanent shade. It was used as an area to bury the town’s suicide victims. Inside the historic church, there were tales of the Lincolnshire Rising of 1536 - led by a Belchford clergyman - which was ruthlessly quashed. Some of the ringleaders were executed in particular gruesome style, several in the Market Place and others at Hangman’s Hill near Mareham Road.
There was mention of the English Civil War and the battle at Winceby where Oliver Cromwell came within seconds of being killed by Sir Ingram Hopton.
Hopton was slain instead and Cromwell ordered a memorial to be built in his name in the church.
There was no menton, though, of the hundreds of Royalist troops who were butchered as they sought sanctity in the church after being routed at the battle.
There was, though, a explanation of the phrase ‘stinking rich’, According to Pete, rich folk wanted to be buried in the centre of aisle of the church - and there were so many of them that they were incarcerated just six inches below floor level. The fumes of decaying bodies were too much for some.
There was a brief stop in the ‘fresher air’ of the churchyard. Pete hinted the raised level of much of the churchyard is because of huge the number of bodies buried over the years. Across the road, we stopped off at the home of William Marwood, England’s last public hangman, a friendly Horncastle cobbler.
According to Peter, Marwood met a grisly end, poisoned by Irish sympathisers after he’d hung a number of terrorists in Dublin.
The walk headed on past the old Fire Station - now an outbuilding at a coffee house - and onto the Horncastle News office.
Peter shone his torch up to the top floors where, a few years ago, newspaper magnate Eddie Shah apparently saw a ghost during a meeting with a town businessman. He left Horncastle quickly and never returned. Just beyond Dexel, Pete told us the car park was once part of the stable yard for the long gone George Hotel. Residents claim they can still hear the sounds of horses and carriage wheels on the cobbles.
Outside the Ship Inn, we stopped off for tales of a time when the River Waring was a hive of activity, brimming packed with barges and, apparently, ladies of the night.
Directly across the A153 used to be the grandest in Horncastle, owned by the Hammerton family. They even built extension - The Devil’s House - to keep Satan and his followers away.
Pete revealed the Ship Inn is still haunted by the ghost of a former landlady whose image appears in blows of water.
Not to be outdone, The Bull Hotel has a cupboard which will only open - when you politely ask it to.
Opposite The Bull, is the Kings Head where Horncastle’s last public hanging took place following a murder.
We then stopped near the town’s Music Shop to hear about three young children who apparently haunt one of the chimneys. They are still waiting for their father to come home. Pete reveals several other town shops are reported to be haunted. - one by the ghost of Mr Redmore.
In the car park, outside the Coning Street Co-op, we heard about a massive ‘henge’ to the north of Horncastle.
Pete tells a wonderful tale about two Londoners - ‘Ernie and Bernie’ - who built a golf club in the middle of the henge, There were all kinds of unexplained events. The duo left an open Bible on the stairs every night.
There was still time for stories about Horncastle’s biggest brothel - now home to one of the town’s bookshops.
Then, it was back to the Market Place. via a dark and mysterious passage.
There was a full moon. The church bells rung. Leaves rustled in the trees. A dog howled in the distance.
Still, the spooks refused to show. Perhaps they were watching ‘Corrie’ on the telly.