|Is this the most haunted castle in Europe?|
Whenever I get the chance for a break, I head for Cornwall. I love Cornwall, some of my relatives have made their home there. So when the opportunity recently presented itself to spend a week with friends in St Ives - all expenses paid I may add, I didn’t need much persuading. There’s something enchanting about Cornwall, I adore its quaint little fishing harbours with their narrow cobbled streets. Its dramatic north coastline, fashioned over millions of years by the remorseless battering from the Atlantic Ocean which has claimed many a ship and crew over the centuries and where even today the eerie cries of stricken sailors can still be heard mournfully echoing across the bays.
Cornwall is a county steeped in legend and folklore. It is said King Arthur of the Britons had connections here at Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor. A pool thought to be bottomless and where legend has it King Arthur left instructions for Sir Bedivere to cast his sword Excalibur into the pool following his defeat and mortal wounding at the battle of Camlann, where he fought the evil Mordred. Some say the battle of Camlann took place at Slaughter Bridge ten miles away, close to the River Camel or Cam. As Bedivere cast Excalibur across the still water, a maiden's hand rose from the depths and caught the magical sword before sinking back into the inky depths. This gave rise to the ‘Lady of the Lake’ legend. And what of Cornish Piskies who’s hats should be rubbed vigorously at every opportunity for good luck, if you can catch one that is. And the giant - Cormoran, who lived on St Michaels Mount and would wade ashore at night to steal cows and sheep from the villagers to satisfy his enormous appetite, that was until a local lad named Jack rowed out to the island one night and dug a pit so Cormoran would fall into it and die, which he did following Jack’s early morning wakeup call which he announced by blowing his horn and pissing off old Cormoran big time.
But what of Cornwall's ghosts, for there are many. Before I left home I picked up a few books on Cornish hauntings. Flicking through the pages one name kept popping up - Pengersick Castle near Praa Sands. It would appear this castle has been tipped as Britain’s, nay - Europe’s most haunted castle. Now that’s quite a boast and one I could not resist following up. I searched the internet for Pergersick Castle only to discover it was closed for renovations - blast, just my luck! Not to be deterred I emailed Ruth E Thomas - Secretary for the Pengersick Historic and Education Trust who, bless her, arranged a private tour of the castle conducted by Jay Hodgetts - Chairman of the Trust, who graciously agreed to doubled as our guide and historian for the afternoon.
Pengersick means head of a marshy place, which is no doubt attributed to the stream that passes close to the castle en route to the sea. Nothing remains of the grand original 12th century Manor with its huge double courtyard. What does remain is the granite Tudor castle keep - c1510. Today, following the death of Angela Evans, the last owner, it lies empty, cared for by the Pengersick Trust, who Mrs Evans bequeathed it to. Many plans are envisaged for the future of the castle but as with all dreams comes funds, or the lack of them. Hopefully with a grant these dreams can be finally realized, I sure hope so.
The tower is entered through the original doorway over which hangs a ‘drop-slot’ used for pouring boiling oil and other ‘substances’ onto the unwelcome. Here, Jay told us, some have felt an overwhelming sense of malevolence and on occasion have refused to go any further. A sixty-five step spiral stairwell takes you through three floors and up to the roof and battlements where a little girl dressed in red loved to dance until a gust of wind sent her over the edge to her death. There have been several reports of that same little girl enticing the unwary ever closer to the battlements edge. Hypothesis voiced by some spirit mediums (one of whom you may know through a somewhat staged ghost show) as to her identity, her age and time of death, are suppositions at best and can not be deemed reliable. In fact there is no definitive proof that such an accident ever took place.
Henry Pengersick (aka le Fort) inherited the castle from his father - Roger, who died in 1329. Henry married Engrina Godolphin, whose family owned adjoining estates. The had a son and heir, another Henry who married Margaret Petigrew. It was this Henry, also known as le Fort, who gave rise to the legends of the lawless Pengersicks’. Henry was said to be a ruthless and violent man, indeed he received the ’Greater Excommunication’ for gravely wounding both David Lyspein, the vicar of Breage in 1330 and his companion, a monk from Hailes Abbey Gloucestershire who were visiting Henry to collect tithes, a practice that continued till the dissolution of the monasteries in 1547. Pengersick stands in the Parish of Germoe which was held by Hailes Abbey, so Henry was duty bound to cough up. Henry received absolution from the Pope in 1335 by special dispensation. Henry’s anticlerical feelings persisted however, he felt the annual disbursement of £47 pounds to some faceless office miles away in Gloucestershire did not accord with his sense of justice. The vicar and monk in question did not die at the hands of Henry as legend would have it. Having said that, there have been numerous reports of a monk dressed in dark clothing wearing a wide brimmed hat seen in the garden and especially close to a stone archway. Henry died in 1343, but his ghost seems reluctant to leave and has taken up residence in the castle, odd really considering it had not been built during his lifetime. Henry resided in the adjacent Manor, but materials from that building were used to construct the castle which may have resulted in a ‘residual transference’ if such phenomena exists.
Pengersick Castle is reputed to have in excess of twenty ghosts. Here’s just a few of 'em: The ghost of a little boy is often seen and felt, mostly by women apparently as he tugs sharply at their clothing like an impatient child seeking attention. A women in white haunts one of the bedrooms, she is thought to be Henry’s wife - Engrina. A gigantic demon dog or barghest which is said to have been conjured up by John Milliton who reputedly dabbled in the black arts, appears in one of the bedrooms. The barghest is reputed to manifest on the death of a notable family member. Such a beast haunts the walls that surround York City. The third floor bedroom seems to be a hot spot, indeed it is regarded as the most haunted room in the castle. A monk and a knight have been seen here, plus two women dressed in 13th century fashion. One has been identified as Lady Engrina Pengersick who emerges from the bedroom wall dressed in a grey gown. She heads for the four-poster bed and peers over at whomever may be sleeping there. Whether she still does now in view of there being no bed since Angela Evans left the property is yet to be confirmed. Maybe she stands at a point where the bed once occupied. The other woman rises from the same bed cluthing her stomach. One of the most frequently seen ghosts it that of the first John Milliton. Legend has it he hid himself away in the castle for the rest of his days following a brawl in London where he supposedly killed a man. It is also rumoured that he plotted to kill his irksome wife by poisoning her wine but she suspected and switched goblets and in so doing killed them both. What is not clear is how, having switched goblets she knowingly drank poisoned wine.
There are many photographs purporting to show so-called ‘spirit orbs’ I have a few which have ruined some flippin‘ good photos, which reminds me I must clean my camera lens. Surely there can be nobody left on the face of the planet who still thinks these harmless specks of dust and moisture are something other than just that? sigh. Moving swiftly on.
Restoration work is currently underway at Pengersick, which is thought by some researches to trigger an increase in ‘paranormal activity’ amongst those who rest the eternal sleep. We were not surprised then to hear Jay tell us of one builders experiences. This particular gentleman had been subjected to so many strange goings that he now keeps a diary. Amongst his entries are footsteps heard coming from other rooms, doors slamming, keys rattling and people shouting and whispering. One story concerned his tool kit which he had put to one side in the castle ready for the following day. When he returned that morning he was surprised to find his tool kit was not where he had left it. Thinking it may be in his car he went down to check - not there. He couldn’t remember taking it home but resigned himself to that conclusion. Not to waste the day he set about clearing some rubble from an adjoining room. As he started picking his way through the detritus he was amazed to find his tool kit slap bang at the centre of the rubble.
Jay’s own experiences have included the movement sensor alarm being activated sometimes three or four times during the night. Jay is the key holder and has lost count of the amount of times he has been called out to reset the system. On one such occasion he noticed a builders chisel in the middle of the floor which had not been there when he had locked up after the builders had left. Could this have been the object that triggered the alarm? Whilst he was packing books away that belonged to the late Angela Evans, one suddenly flew across the room narrowly missing him. A monk follows him around the garden and stands at a distance watching him.
Legend has it that the castle was built from the spoils following the shipwreck in 1526 at Gunwalloe Bay of the King of Portugal’s carrack - the Santo António. This was King John III flagship. Its cargo was estimated in excess of £18,800, a fortune in those days. Many of the locals and crew (45 of the 86 survived) tried to salvage much of the property from the ailing ship. The King demanded the return of his cargo, so King Henry VIII set up a Court of the Star Chamber. Some of the evidence presented at the court survives as does the inventory, but little is known of the outcome. However, manorial rights at the time would have included an assumed right to goods from wrecks on manorial lands and three prominent landowners took advantage of this ruling to improve their status, amongst them was John Milliton of Pengersick Castle who was implicated in the disappearance of valuables from the wreck, though nothing was ever proved. He became Hign Sheriff of Cronwall and Pengersick Castle was much improved around this time, which may lend weight to the ‘spoils’ claim. There is some evidence that Henry VIII ordered the salvaged cargo to be returned to Portugal, but much of it went mysteriously missing. It is said that even today the ghosts of the crew from that ill-fated wreck still haunt the castle grounds looking for their valuables. A tale that bears a resemblance to the plot from John Carpenter’s movie The Fog (1980). It is hinted that Carpenter was inspired by the stories of a leper colony in St. Ives, Cornwall. The colonists would lure ships onto the rocks by walking the cliff edges with flaming torches then plunder the wreck. This may account for the ghost stories of long dead sailors haunting the bays around St. Ives. The Fog centres around the crew of Elizabeth Dane, a clipper ship captained by Blake and his crew which was sank and plundered as a result of a conspiracy by six residents of Antonio Bay (a name synonymous with the King’s ship perhaps) who lured the clipper onto the rocks by way of a false beacon. Blake and his crew return on the hundredth anniversary to take back what is rightfully theirs - creepy stuff. The exact location of the Santo António lay undiscovered until 1981.Today it is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act.
Some time ago Devon-Sound Art Radio 102.5fm aired a piece on Pengersick’s ghosts, which included a claim by the host that they had captured on video an apparition of a woman in one of the bedrooms, but when asked of the whereabouts of the footage the response was less than encouraging, the party who claimed to have captured the footage could not remember where they’d left it - how convenient. You would have thought that something as significant as video footage of a ‘full blown manifestation’ would have been treated as the holy grail of photographic evidence, or am I missing something here.
Much has been voiced, televised and written about Pengersick’s ghosts, you may consider some of the aforementioned stories a tad dubious and even outrageous but even so Pengersick remains a Mecca for ghost hunters who are undeterred, after all we all enjoy a good ghost story, well some do, because it is regrettable that I have learnt that a small number of ghost hunters who claim they have spent “many hours at Pengersick Castle,” see fit to decry the claims of others who have experienced something they have not. These individuals have set themselves up as the definitive experts on all of Pengersick’s ghosts (a ridiculous, unsupported claim impossible to substantiate given the subject matter). To dismiss and refute folklore, legend and the claims of others simply because it does not fit their résumé is, in my opinion, both conceited, naive and blinkered. Surely it is better to embrace all accounts and include such information in your files. It is unfortunate to find such arrogance amongst ghost hunters but sadly it does crop up from time to time albeit extremely rarely. I have in the past met such individuals and my advice should you encounter them is to politely turn and walk in the other direction. Remember, regardless of what rubbish you may be asked to swallow, there is no such thing as an expert on ghosts; there are no certificates, no university degrees, no tests to pass. To bring yourself up to spec, read a few books, attend some vigils and you will be as qualified as the next person. We’re all armatures in this strange enigmatic pursuit, its just that some of us have been doing it longer than others.