If you are a fan of good ale, pub food and the paranormal then this pub could be the perfect match for you.
The pub in Essex is claimed to be the oldest in the whole of the country and is even rumoured to be haunted by a witch.
Travelling between Little Waltham and Braintree you’ll find the small village of Great Leighs.
It’s here you’ll discover St Anne’s Castle Inn, a seemingly ordinary pub with a big secret.
The pub is steeped in history and is said to be haunted by several spectres.
Now called The Castle at Great Leighs, it is owned by Pie and Pint Inns who have two other pubs in Roxwell and Rochford.
On their website they reveal: “The Castle is steeped in spooky local legends, these tales tell of spirits haunting the pub and grounds of The Castle, including the witch that was burnt at the stake at Scrapfaggots Green.”
But its history runs much deeper than that.
‘The oldest pub in England’
St Anne’s Castle Inn is nearly a millennium-old and has a sign claiming to be ‘The oldest inn in England, 1171 AD’ on its wall.
It could be even older than that, as it is reportedly mentioned in the Domesday Book published 20 years after the Norman Conquest in 1086.
Historical evidence leads us to believe that the inn sold ale to pilgrims travelling to Thomas Becket’s tomb back in the 12th century.
Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until 1170 when he was murdered by followers of King Henry II of England.
You may question its age when looking at it from the outside, but that’s because there was a fire in the 1500s.
The blaze destroyed the thatched roof causing it to be replaced with tiles.
But if you step inside, the timbers date back hundreds of years, and the cellars lead to remains of tunnels that are rumoured to link the inn with Great Leigh’s Church and Leez Priory.
What is the Domesday Book?
After the Norman invasion and conquest of England in 1066, the Domesday Book was commissioned in the December the previous year, ordered by William The Conqueror. He needed to raise taxes to pay for his army so he completed a survey to assess the wealth and assets throughout the land.
The book was first published in 1086, containing records for 13,418 settlements in the English countries south of the Rivers Ribble and Tees – this is where the border with Scotland was at the time.
From the 12th century, the extensive record was referred to as the Domesday Book due to the huge amount of information inside.
It is in fact, two books, not just one. The first volume (Great Domesday) contains the final summarised records for all counties surveyed except for Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Instead, these three counties the full, unabbreviated information, was sent to Winchester by the commissioners and is preserved in a second volume (Little Domesday). It is still unknown why there were separate.
The Domesday Book has 413 pages and is kept in a specially made chest at London Public’s Record Office in Kew, London.
There are many ghosts said to be haunting the site, according to reports, including; a girl with blonde curly hair, a little boy, a lady in a wedding dress named Elizabeth, a man who sits in the bar smoking his pipe and even the ghost of a cat.
These spirits are not thought to cause distress but it’s indicated that darker spirits lie in the area.
Back in the 19th century, George Harry Benfield lived at the Old School House within the village. He was hung in 1875 for murdering his wife and son after finding out his first born son, Thomas, was in fact his brother’s child.
It’s said that he used a rope to strangle the pair and that his evil spirit has haunted the old pub.
Mediums claiming to have the power to reach the afterlife have picked up on the spirits when they’ve visited St Anne’s Castle, connecting with ‘not-so-Christian monks’ and a huntsman from the 1300s who ‘practiced the dark arts’.
Many different groups have investigated the old inn over the years.
The witch of Scrapfaggot Green
One of the most infamous ghosts to be associated with the site includes Anne Hughes (or Hewes), who was burnt at the stake and buried nearby in the 17th century.
She was accused of bewitching her husband to death, had a stake through her chest and burned at the crossroads.
Anne was denied a Christian burial and her charred remains were buried at a place called Scrapfaggot Green, with a large two-ton stone placed on top to mark the site.
Her spirit was still greatly feared and Anne’s resting place remained undisturbed for centuries until the Second World War.
The road that passed by the Green needed to be widened for the new Boreham Airfield and it was during the works when bulldozers displaced the stone.
After this, rumours are that strange things began happening, from the church bells ringing at midnight with no one around to play them, to sheep out of their fields and no sign of how they got out.
Strange noises were heard throughout the night and painting supplies were moved to different rooms with no one there to move them.
Harry Price, a ghost hunter, visited the inn on October 11, 1944, and spent a day investigatng.
He claimed a few hours before his arrival, thirty sheep and two horses had been found dead in a field after being poisoned. Price was shown a large boulder during his visit, weighing 200 pounds, which had been dropped outside a neighbour’s door with no sign of who put it there.
In his notes , the ghost hunter wrote: “Perhaps what interested me most was a certain bedroom in the St. Anne’s Castle Inn, which cannot be slept in – peacefully. Mr. Sykes asked me what I thought of it. I told him that the contents of the room appeared to have been shaken out of a pepper-pot.
“He said: ‘It is always like this. Nothing will “stay put”. Over and over again we have straightened up the place, only to find next morning that everything was higgledy-piggledy. We now use it as a lumber room, but boxes and furniture are scattered about night after night. No other part of the house is affected.'”
The villagers even asked Price for his help stop the ‘hauntings’.
“They asked me what they had better do about it,” continued Price.
“I told them that if they believed the witch to be responsible for their troubles, the logical thing to do was to restore her tombstone to its original site. This they did, ceremonially, at midnight on October 11 to 12, placing the stone east and west in the traditional manner.
“The phenomena ceased. The result of my visit was that I came to the conclusion that the Scrapfaggot Green manifestations were partly genuine, partly the work of a practical joker, and partly due to mass-hysteria.”
Information for this article came from Haunted Essex, by Carmel King, Paranormal Essex, by Jason Day, and eeireplace.com.
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