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Haunted royal homes – JOHN WEST celebrates the life of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, 
Elizabeth II, with a reminder of ghosts that are said to haunt her homes


The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s country estate in Norfolk was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1862 at the request of the Prince of Wales – later Edward VII – as a home for himself and his bride, Princess Alexandra.

Sandringham House, the focal point of a 20,000-acre estate, is haunted. Poltergeist activity is said to start every Christmas Eve and continue for several weeks. Footsteps have been heard in the deserted corridors of the servants’ quarters. Doors are known to open by themselves and lights often switch themselves on and off.

Christmas cards have also moved from one wall to another and bedclothes have been found pulled off the beds.

Heavy breathing noises have also been heard in one room on the second floor and housemaids working in the house even started to refuse to enter it unless accompanied by another servant.

The present Queen once ordered alterations to the old kitchens and it appears that this increased certain activity within the building.

An unnamed member of the royal family revealed to the author Joan Forman that a female guest was given a bedroom where she witnessed an apparition. The woman had slept badly and awoke at 2 am to find the room brightly lit. The door of the bedroom suddenly opened and in came a young boy carrying a long pole.

The boy then proceeded to walk around the room, pausing every few seconds to reach up the wall with the pole to apparently light or extinguish long-vanished candles. The female witness was surprisingly unworried by this and watched fascinated till the boy suddenly vanished.

I have often found that alterations to a building can either increase or decrease paranormal activity and this particular sighting sounds very much like a recording that had somehow been activated by the building work.

Buckingham Palace (Photo: David Iliff)

Sandringham’s library is also the scene of ghostly activity where books have been seen to fly off the shelves.

Prince Charles and an aide are said to have had an unpleasant experience when looking for some old prints in this room. They suddenly became extremely cold and felt that someone was standing behind them. They turned round to find no one there. They both left the room in a hurry!

The Queen is apparently fascinated by the ghost stories and is said to be quite open to the possibility of Sandringham being haunted. In 1996, a footman fled the cellars after claiming to have seen the ghost of another servant who had died the previous year. She interviewed him about his experience and was apparently quite impressed by his conviction that he had seen a ghost.

The strangest sighting at Sandringham was made by a footman in his bedroom. He claimed to have seen something like “a large paper sack breathing in and out like a grotesque lung”. Not surprisingly he refused to sleep there after that!

It is not known who or what haunts Sandringham House. Queen Alexandra and her two sons, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and King George V, died there, as did King George VI. They have all been suggested as being responsible for the ghostly activity.

Or could it be someone else?

Prince Christopher of Greece once claimed to have seen a reflection of a young lady in a black mask in his bedroom mirror. He is said to have described her expression as sad and pleading. This occurred in a room near the clock tower.

He later visited Houghton Hall – also in Norfolk – and recognised the lady in a portrait hanging on the wall. The dress and mask matched exactly those worn by the woman in the mirror. It turned out she was a member of the Cholmondeley family who had owned Houghton Hall since the 18th century.

Buckingham Palace

You would expect Buckingham Palace to be teeming with ghosts but any would-be ghost hunter expecting to run into the spectre of Queen Victoria or any of the other monarchs who have lived and worked there since the 18th century would be sadly disappointed. Only two ghosts have been recorded on the estate and one of these pre-dates the palace by several centuries.

   Edward VII in coronation robes 
(Artist: Luke Fides) – Edward VII is said to have seen the ghost of Queen Elizabeth I in the library dressed in black

The first of our apparitions is a monk who has been seen walking along the grand terrace overlooking the palace gardens. He always appears on Christmas Day and is a decidedly unhappy shade having been seen bound in chains which clank as he moves. A legend claims that he was held in a punishment cell for breaking the rules of a medieval priory which once stood on the site.

Buckingham Palace’s other ghost dates from the 20th century. A certain Major John Gwynne, who was private secretary to Edward VII, became involved in a rather nasty divorce case and decided to take his own life rather than face a scandal in the courts. He shot himself in his first-floor office and since then the sound of a single shot has been occasionally heard in the area where he committed suicide.

Windsor Castle

The world’s oldest and largest occupied castle and its grounds are said to be teeming with ghosts.

Windsor’s most famous phantom is undoubtedly Queen Elizabeth I. An account from February 1897 concerns her appearance to an officer of the guard whose name was Carr Glynn. He was in the royal library when he heard the sound of heels clicking across wooden boards.

Suddenly from the other side of the room he spotted the figure of a woman. She was dressed in black and had black lace covering her hair. He was very much struck by the figure’s resemblance to portraits of Elizabeth I but reasoned that she must be a figure of flesh and blood.

King Henry VIII Gate at Windsor Castle (Photo: Thomas Duesing)   
King Henry VIII Gate at Windsor Castle
(Photo: Thomas Duesing)


She didn’t appear to notice the guard and walked towards a corner of the room before turning right and appearing to pass into another room. He quickly questioned a library attendant about her but was told that there was no room at the spot where the figure vanished. He also confirmed that he had seen no one enter the room and admitted that others had seen a similar figure in the same area.

It later emerged that in Elizabethan times a flight of stairs did exist which led from that corner of the library to a terrace. Queen Victoria’s daughter, Victoria, the Empress of Prussia, and Edward VII are also said to have seen the figure in the library. A tradition states that the Tudor queen also appears during times of war. There are unsubstantiated reports that George VI saw her several times in September 1939. Rumours persist that a female member of the current royal family has also witnessed her.

It appears that the shade of Elizabeth once shared the library with another royal ghost. George III often stayed at Windsor and his ghost is said to have been seen by members of his old guard shortly after his death.

The guards were passing the window where their former commander-in-chief used to stand in order to watch his troops below. They were somewhat surprised to see the unmistakable figure of George III standing there and seemingly very much alive. The commander without thinking automatically called out “Eyes Right”. The figure of the king returned the salute. This appears to have been a one-off haunting as no one has since reported his presence in the library or appearance at the window in question.

Charles I is reputed to haunt the area of the Canon’s House while Henry VIII is said to walk parts of the castle. Dragging footsteps and groans are said to mark the Tudor monarch’s laboured passage through the castle rooms and corridors. Henry’s unlucky second wife, Anne Boleyn, also haunts Windsor but apparently steers clear of her former love. She confines herself to the Dean’s Cloister. Her tearful face has been seen peering from a window.

In 1936 several spruce trees were removed from the castle grounds at the request of Edward VIII. Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert had originally planted these. Workmen at the time claimed to have seen a figure resembling Victoria striding towards them waving her arms and moaning. She was obviously not amused!

One of the most interesting ghost stories connected with Windsor concerns the return of a father to warn his son of impending doom. The story was first reported by Edward Hyde, the first Earl of Clarendon in his History of the Rebellion in England which he compiled after he fell from Charles II’s favour.

The Duke of Buckingham was a favourite of Charles I but was deeply unpopular in the country as he was thought by many to have too much influence over the king and affairs of state.

    Victoria, Empress of Prussia, 1867 
(Artist: Franz Xavier Winterhalter)

Victoria, Empress of Prussia, 1867 

(Artist: Franz Xavier Winterhalter)

In February 1628 an officer of the King’s Wardrobe had retired to his bed in the castle only to be confronted by a ghost! The spirit of Buckingham’s father, Sir George Villiers, appeared and drew aside the bed curtains. He then instructed the astonished man to warn his son that he was in terrible danger unless he “did not somewhat to ingratiate himself to the people, or at least to abate the extreme malice they had against him”.

The officer was obviously unimpressed as he ignored the warning, assuming it was just a bad dream. The ghost appeared the following night with the same appeal but was again ignored. On the third night the phantom appeared yet again and the officer finally agreed to pass on the warning after reluctantly conceding that this was no dream.

He expressed concern to Sir George that he wouldn’t be believed and so the ghost gave him “two or three particulars” that were only to be mentioned to the duke. The officer travelled to London and managed to gain an audience with Buckingham. History records that the duke, although troubled by the message, failed to heed his father’s warning. A disgruntled subaltern named John Felton assassinated him in August 1628.

Other ghosts include a number of men seen in the early hours of a certain day in April 1906. A Coldstream Guardsman saw several men descending the steps of the East Terrace. Assuming they were intruders, he shouted a warning which went unheeded by the men who continued to walk towards him. He challenged them a further two times before firing his rifle at the first figure. The figures suddenly vanished and the hapless soldier was confined to barracks by his disbelieving superiors.

In 1927 an 18-year-old sentry in the Grenadier Guards shot himself while on duty in the Long Walk after becoming depressed by life in the Army. A few weeks later, one of his former colleagues, a Sergeant Leake, reported that he recognised the ghost of the young man coming towards him one moonlit night. It emerged that another soldier had also encountered the ghost of the suicide during his patrol of the Long Walk.

The ghost of a policeman, who died in the 1940s of a heart attack, haunts part of the castle grounds. The Deanery is haunted by a young boy who shouts, “I don’t want to go riding today”. His footsteps can also be heard crossing the building.

In the Curfew Tower, yet more ghostly footsteps are heard on the staircase and the tower bells once swung on their own, which coincided with the temperature in the area suddenly becoming cold.

A kitchen in the Horseshoe Cloisters is home to the ghostly figure of a man and horse that walk through a wall. The records for Windsor Castle reveal that the cloisters were once used as stables.

Finally, a possible time slip occurred in 1873. A night-time visitor to the castle noticed that a group of statues had been erected near St George’s Chapel. They consisted of three standing figures, all in black with a fourth crouching down. The central standing figure was holding a large sword.

When the visitor later returned to re-examine the group, they had vanished!

John West

John West is an author and broadcaster. He makes regular appearances on Mustard TV in Norfolk and is currently working on a new TV series on ghosts for Made TV in Leeds.

John can be contacted via his two websites:
www.johnwestmedia.com & www.hauntedheritageuk.com

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