3 spooky local legends from Derbyshire
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Charlotte Baker uncovers some dark secrets from across the county
With the sun shining on the vast green ground, flowers in full bloom, it is hard to imagine that there could be a dark history to the Derbyshire countryside. But we shouldn’t be surprised, not with Eyam’s history as the Plague Village and Henry VIII’s brother, Arthur, declaring the ghost at Haddon Hall had predicted his death.
Lurking beneath the picturesque views, many ghostly tales echo the isolation, rurality, and power of the Derbyshire landscape.
Gruesome ‘Gaol Fever’ at Derby Gaol, Derby
Derby is regularly referred to as the UK’s most haunted city and, located at Friar Gate, Derby Gaol has become one of the most haunted spots in the country. The original cells still remain and now form part of the museum owned by paranormal investigator and historian, Richard Felix.
The gaol, opened in 1756, was a holding cell for prisoners who were either to attend the court or face the gallows. When built, its capacity allowed for 29 prisoners, but was later extended due to the Bloody Code (1770-1830), where hangings increased due to the inclusion of minor crimes with a sentence of execution. During this period, 58 hangings were recorded. While those are the recorded deaths that occurred on the nearby grounds, ‘gaol fever’ took the lives of many others. Gaol fever is now understood to have been typhus, which ran rampant in prisons at this time due to the dark, filthy surroundings which allowed bacteria to thrive and spread quickly between prisoners.
It has been suggested that the majority of paranormal activity occurs in June to July and then October to December. There have been claims of doors shutting by themselves and sensations of guests feeling suffocated and sick. ‘One visitor claims to have seen two dead men hanging from a beam inside the cell’, wrote the Derby Telegraph last year.
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The Screams of Winnats Pass, Peak District
Winnats Pass, in the Peak District, takes its name from ‘windy gates’, which refers the swirling winds around the landscape. The steep gorge of Winnats Pass was once believed to have been the result of a collapsed cavern, but investigations on the land have revealed that 340 million years ago it would have been a lagoon, due to the presence of ‘beach bed’ near Speedway Cavern – the sharp ravine a result of the water erosion of the weaker areas within the reef limestone. Speedwell Cavern is open to the public and involves ‘an amazing boat trip 450m under the Hills of Castleton to the awesome Bottomless Pit. Understand a little of what life must have been like for the miners working in this 18th century lead mine.’
One story that has haunted Winnats Pass involves some miners who spotted a wealthy looking couple in a bar. In 1758, Clara and Alan were travelling down Winnats Pass, after stopping at Stoney Middleton and Castleton, in order to fulfil their wish of marriage. The two were madly in love, but their families disapproved of their relationship as Alan was from a more disadvantaged family. At this time, Peak Forest Chapel would allow them to get married, without all the legal necessities.
During their stay at the Castleton Inn, Alan and Clara’s clothes and indicative wealth had attracted the attention of some miners, drinking in the pub. As Clara and Alan rode through Winnats Pass, the five miners attacked them and stole the £200 they had saved in order to start their new life. The miners murdered Clara and Alan, throwing their bodies down a mineshaft, where they remained, undiscovered for ten years.
The miners did not escape their punishment, however, as all claimed to be haunted by their crime. One miner had slipped and fallen from a cliff close to the murder site, and another died after being hit by a falling stone. One died from suicide, and one ‘went mad’. The final miner, in his death bed confession, revealed all the names of his co-conspirators and is rumoured to have bought diseased horses with his share of the money, which left him entirely poverty-stricken.
While Alan and Clara are now buried in St Edmund’s Church, Castleton, their spirits are still said to haunt Winnats Pass and the surrounding areas.
The Vault of Terror at Ye Olde Dolphin Inne, Derby
At 500 years old, Ye Olde Dolphin is the oldest pub in Derby. With its large 16th century beams and stone flooring, its Tudor origins are clear to see. But this pub once had a doctor’s practice built next to it. A young doctor, eager to hone his skills in dissection, asked for a body to be brought to him. As he began, the woman sat up, screaming and running from the room. The woman, it turns out, was not dead, but simply in a comatose state. She later died and it is reported that her screams as she ran from the room can still be heard echoing through the pub.
According to Ye Olde Dolphin’s website, there are many ghosts which haunt the pub, making staff particularly aware of their presence: ‘Whether it’s the boy that sits on the stairs, the Grey Lady that haunts the steak bar that the landlord himself, Jim Harris, has witnessed; or it’s the flying Scotsman that runs up and down the corridor that breaks up the two buildings of the pub. And finally there’s the scariest of them all, the girl that lives in our cellar. The story of the days when scientists would dissect humans who have passed away in order to gain insight into the human body. One cold evening in the middle of the night the girl opened her eyes and came back to life in our cellar as a scientist was practicing his dissection skills. Every now and then the horrified screams of the girl can be heard in the dead of night.’
The pub is also the starting point of Richard Felix’s famous ghost walk through Derby city centre. As Ye Olde Dolphin stands in a modern, busy, city centre, upon entering the pub it almost seems natural that its character evokes such spirits!
And, on a lighter note… The Tale of Lover’s Leap, Stoney Middleton
Stoney Middleton is situated in between Eyam and Calver. While a small village, the large stone cliff face provides it with distinctive features. Another unique characteristic is Stoney’s infamous folklore of ‘Lover’s Leap’.
In 1762, a young woman, named Hannah Baddeley, rejected by her lover, William, attempted suicide by jumping from the top of the 80ft cliff. Miraculously, during her fall, Hannah’s large and layered dress acted as a parachute, allowing her to fall to the ground safely, suffering only minor cuts and bruises.
While Derbyshire’s history remains firmly in the past, it may appear that some of its previous occupants are not…