When I hear the words ‘ghost’ and ‘Christmas,’ I automatically think about my favorite Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens and Scrooge’s nightmare evening of being visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. But did you know other Christmas ghost stories aren’t so full of hope and the spirit of the season? You may not since hauntings are far from most people’s minds during Christmas.
Some creepy paranormal occurrences tied to Christmas revolve around certain places that, for one reason or another, become haunted at Christmas time and have been so for a long time. England has several such hauntings. Today, we are traveling across the Pond to the shores of the United Kingdom.
💰The Haunting at Hawkhurst Road, Marden, Kent, England🐎
In the eighteenth century, highwaymen were notorious and feared in the English countryside. They robbed whoever came their way, and sometimes, the robbery went more violently than necessary. Hawkhurst housed some of the more notorious gangs and smugglers at the time, making the place feared along the English coast—namely, The Hawkhurst Gang.
The Hawkhurst Gang was a criminal organization involved in smuggling throughout southeast England from 1735 until 1749. This infamous gang of the early 18th century extended their influence from Hawkhurst to their base in Kent, and along the South coast, where they successfully raided the Custom House, in Poole, England.
Named after the village of Hawkhurst, the gang was first mentioned as the Holkhourst Genge in 1735. The gang was based in the “Oak and Ivy Inn,” Hawkhurst. A secondary headquarters was The Mermaid Inn in the town of Rye, where they would sit with their loaded weapons on the table. Many local legends and folklore are based on the alleged network of tunnels built by the gang. However, many hidden cellars and remote barns could have been used for storage, so it is unlikely that tunnels would have been needed during that period when large armed gangs operated openly, often riding through the larger towns in daylight.
Unlike other gangs, The Hawkhurst Gang left its mark through centuries into the present day after its demise in the way of a haunting. The story occurs on a road named for the infamous thieves. Hawkhurst Road is an ordinary road like any other in the area with one exception: On one dark Christmas Eve in the 18th century, a notorious highwayman named Gilbert stopped a horse-drawn carriage carrying a man and his daughter.
According to the tale, the bandit ordered the father and daughter to step out of the carriage so he could strip them of their possessions and valuables. The horses spooked and galloped away before he could get to the father, leaving the daughter alone with this murderous thief. To make matters worse, the girl realized the same highwayman had stopped her brother’s carriage and murdered him in cold blood a year earlier.
This young woman was no victim. When she recognized Gilbert, she refused to see such a fate befall herself. Enraged and afraid, she pulled a knife from her bag and lashed out, plunging the implement deep into Gilbert’s side.
As the highwayman clutched his bleeding wound, the daughter ran into the surrounding wilderness without looking back. Sometime later, the coach returned to find the highwayman sprawled out along the side of the road in blood-saturated mud, having succumbed to his wounds. The father and others returned and unceremoniously buried him on the same spot in a shallow, unmarked grave. Supposedly, they found the daughter cowering amongst the moon-touched trees and stark raving insane.
Locals say the tall, shadowy form of the highwayman Gilbert stalks the road to this day, terrifying motorists. Every Christmas Eve, that fateful night plays out again and again, as if on an eternal loop, perhaps imbued into the very location itself and only visible on this one night.
🌹The Haunting of Roos Hall, Suffolk, England🏠
A hunt for East Anglia’s most haunted house will undoubtedly include a visit to a strange, Tudor-style mansion on the outskirts of Beccles.
In fact, some ardent ghost hunters regard Roos Hall (sometimes called Rose Hall) as the most haunted house in England.
Built in the 16th century, it is an imposing building. It was owned by the Suckling family in the 17th century, having been bought by Sir John Suckling in 1600. On Suckling’s death, Roos Hall was inherited by Sir Alexander Temple (Suckling’s brother-in-law) in lieu of repayment of a debt but was later repurchased by the family. It subsequently passed to the Rich family following the marriage between Sir John Suckling’s widow and Sir Edwin Rich.
Some say it has an indefinable eerie ambiance. To add to this atmosphere, it is said to have the Devil’s footprint imprinted on one of its cupboards.
Across the lawn, about 100ft from the driveway, stands a giant oak tree, with a fence preventing anyone from getting too close to its girthy trunk. The reason for the tree’s fencing off is because of its local historical significance, which leads me to one of Roos Hall’s petrifying tales.
Before the tree was planted many centuries ago, a gibbet, a type of scaffold, stood in its place. A gibbet was once a form of public execution, which involved the unfortunate person being locked in a metal cage and left to die from exposure to the elements.
The gibbet on the grounds of Roos Hall facilitated the deaths of hundreds of local criminals and was eventually replaced by the oak tree, which served the same purpose but by way of hanging.
Perhaps the tree contributes to the many ghost stories originating from Roos Hall.
It’s said that on occasion, a lady dressed in white can be seen at the spot where she died, walking around the tree six times in an attempt to summon the Devil.
Some other entities include the apparition of a little girl who creepily appears in one of the upstairs windows. Far away from the tree and facing the building itself, visitors have reported being startled by the face of a young, pale girl who creepily appears in one of the upstairs windows. She is seen waving from the window.
It is also reported that a phantom hound prowls the grounds.
But, the most exciting and frightening haunting occurs on Christmas Eve.
Legend is that every Christmas Eve, the intimidating presence of a ghostly phantom coach pulled by four snorting jet-black horses will manifest out of thin air in the night and speed down the road and up the estate’s driveway. The male phantom is missing his head in the driver’s seat.
This supernatural movie plays the following Christmas Eve again. The coach never makes a sound, and it vanishes just before reaching the hall proper. The identity of this headless coach driver and why he should appear only on Christmas Eve upon a carriage pulled by demonic black horses is a mystery. Still, it has become a famous piece of paranormal legend in the area.
🏰The Haunting at Hever Castle, Kent, England🌉
The historic Hever Castle, located in the rolling, idyllic countryside of Hever, Kent, has its own Christmas haunting.
But, before I delve into the Christmas haunting, I want to note several reported hauntings that occur at other times:
The first is a rather unpleasant male spirit known to stomp around with a disapproving look on his face and grunt in disgust. This rude spirit is known to bang on walls and slam doors. No one knows who this ghost is or what he is so angry about. It’s suggested that those touring Hever Castle avoid this spirit if encountered.
The second ghost is that of a horse galloping through the long gallery at full speed. He vanishes right before crashing through the wall. That could give this person a bump in the heart rate.
These stories bring me to the most infamous haunting of Hever Castle. And, it only happens at Christmas.
Hever Castle was built about 1270 as a walled-in country house surrounded by a moat. Between 1462 and 1539, it was the residence of the rich and powerful Bullen family, later known as the Boleyn family. The original owner, Henry Bullen’s son Thomas, changed his name to Thomas Boleyn. He married Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. The two had a daughter named Anne Boleyn, who would create a major scandal at the time and who lies at the root of the castle’s paranormal shadowing.
Anne’s sister, Mary, infamously began to have an affair with King Henry VIII, married to Catherine of Aragon. By all accounts, the King was unhappy with his marriage to Catherine. So, he began an affair with Mary. Boring of Mary, the King chose to pursue Anne. Anne spurned his advances and told the King he must divorce Catherina and marry her.
The King, allegedly obsessed with Anne, wrote her dozens of love letters. He continued to profess his undying love for Anne. The King continued to work on divorce from Catherine. While waiting for the divorce, King Henry made Anne the Anne Marchioness of Pembroke and gave her money, royal lodgings, and much else.
Anne eventually gave in to his advances. She became pregnant with King Henry’s child, and they secretly married in 1533, and she became Queen. The two had their child, Elizabeth, and continued to defy all those who wanted to see them separated and who called her coronation an abomination.
Unfortunately for Anne, King Henry VIII was soon chasing skirts again, a bridesmaid at their wedding named Jane Seymour. To make matters worse, numerous rumors surfaced that Anne was sleeping around with everything that moved, including an inappropriate relationship with her brother, and the King began to believe it.
King Henry had Anne arrested, charged with treasonous adultery, and beheaded in 1536 at the Tower of London.
Hever Castle had many different owners, including the famous American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1903, before finally coming to Broadland Properties Limited. They have put it on public display.
Through all the changes in ownership, one resident has remained the same through the centuries: Anne Boleyn herself. According to the book Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland by Richard Jones, and for reasons not entirely clear, Anne’s spectral form appears every Christmas Eve upon the bridge on the property that spans the river Eden. The apparition slowly floats towards the castle, perhaps trying to come home from some other place, but fades then vanishes before reaching the castle doors. The manifestation repeats yearly.
So, my friends, if you are looking to visit England during Christmas and have a paranormal encounter, you are in luck. Happy Ghost Hunting.
Until next time, may the sun always be on your face, the wind at your back, and the good Lord walk beside you.