PUBLISHED: 14:58 30 September 2020
From Betchworth Castle to Box Hill, Stephen Roberts offers his definitive guide to the county’s spookiest places
Reigate’s caves were staked out by ghosthunters seeking the paranormal in 2013. A table balanced on one leg before spinning itself around unaided, hats were blown off, individual’s hands were ‘moved’ involuntarily and people were pushed on to the floor by forces unexplained. The caves beneath Reigate Castle are where the barons are said to have met prior to the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, with further caves (ex-sand mines) beneath the town. ‘The Dining Room’, in the High Street, the former Knight’s store, in Bell Street, and St Mary’s Church are all also said to be haunted.
An Edwardian mansion, Polesden Lacey was extensively remodelled in the early 20th century from an earlier dwelling, the very oldest manifestation of which dated back another 600 years or so. That ancestry might explain the ghostly visitor who clearly has nothing to do with the current residence, being a ’monk-like figure’ dressed in a brown habit with the hood pulled up to obscure his face; a medieval ‘hoodie’ no less. So, if you’re strolling absent-mindedly in the lovely grounds, don’t be a phone zombie, keep your eyes peeled and look around, just in case.
When I visited the cemetery in Dorking, I was searching for Victorian writer George Meredith. I found him, which was good, but I was relieved I didn’t find the resident ghost, a headless horse-rider, garbed all in black, who reputedly gallops across the graveyard, leaping over headstones, before disappearing into the hedgerow, presumably following a long-lost track or bridleway. The cemetery in Reigate Road is otherwise quite a tranquil spot. Pippbrooke House, in the same street, is also allegedly haunted, as is the White Horse in the High Street, and shops in West Street.
The only battle ever fought on Surrey soil was at Ockley, or Aclea, in 851 AD, when the forces of Æthelwulf, the King of Wessex, vanquished the Danes. Academics still debate exactly where the fighting took place, but if the hauntings at Leith Hill have any credence then the bust-up must have occurred nearby. Apparently, the base of the hill has conjured up the spectral armies, West Saxon and Danish, marching to their bloody denouement. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reckoned it the greatest slaughter of a ‘heathen raiding-army’ that could be recalled up to that time.
I’m going to slip into Croydon for this story in honour of my eldest grandson, a mad-keen Crystal Palace fan. I wonder if he knows, however, that the ground is supposedly haunted. When Billy Callender (1903-32) lost his girlfriend to polio, tragedy followed grief, as the 29-year-old goalie took his own life in the Selhurst Park changing rooms. His troubled spirit is said to still haunt the ground. Of more recent vintage was flamboyant two-time manager Malcolm Allison (1927-2010) who’s falling out with a psychic recruited to boost the team’s performance, led instead to the ground being cursed!
Staying overnight in a hotel or pub that is reputedly haunted can be an interesting experience. Wotton House, the 17th century country house hotel near Dorking, was supposedly visited by Dr Samuel Wilberforce (1805-73), a bishop and son of the famous anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, and was seen looking through one of the house’s windows around the time of his death, although he’s not known to have ever been there. There’s a ghostly fisherman (last seen 1964), mysterious footsteps and the front door has a habit of shutting of its own accord.
I visited Betchworth a few years ago when I was writing about the county’s castles for Surrey Life. I had no idea it had a ghost story until later. The famous tale is of a ‘Lord Hope’ who chased and killed an intruder, running him through with his sword, only to discover it was his own son. Whoever this Lord Hope was (sources differ), he’s said to haunt the ruins today, full of remorse for his tragic mistake. I didn’t see Hope, but I did see a black dog bounding along – there is a black dog, the so-called ‘death dog’ but he only comes out at night, so luckily not the one I saw!
Lying betwixt Guildford and Dorking, the ‘Silent Pool’ has a vaguely mysterious name and an even more mysterious story, despite it being a renowned quiet, picturesque spot between the two towns. I don’t think I would ever want to be there at midnight, so would be unlikely to see the woodcutter’s daughter, who is alleged to haunt the pool every night at this time. She is said to have drowned here having been abducted by none other than bad King John. The poet Tennyson was one of the admirers of this spring-fed lake.
Ghosts galore! I like some of my spectral stories to involve figures from history, so Grade II* Listed Vernon House, in West Street, is literally right up my street. It’s today’s library, but in 1649 poor King Charles I was held here before being shipped off to London for his execution. His ghost is said to haunt the building. Farnham is crowded with visitations. St Andrew’s Church is sometimes disturbed by Latin prayer and song, whilst the churchyard, where William Cobbett resides, is the haunt of an elderly lady. And as for the castle, well, for whom does that spooky bell toll?
More of Surrey’s spookiest places:
Ham House is reputed to be one of the most haunted of National Trust properties.
Two of Henry VIII’s wives are said to haunt Hampton Court Palace
The King’s Head in Guildford features on the popular ‘Ghost Tour of Guildford’.
The 5th century pub, Punchbowl Inn in Ockley is said to be haunted by at least three ghosts.
The Running Horses in Mickleham has two ghosts, including a farmer of the 1800s.
Kings Arms & Royal in Godalming is said to be haunted by Peter the Great, who stayed here.
The Farmhouse in Langshott is haunted by ‘Mabel’ who died after falling down stairs.
At Tadworth Court, a children’s trust home, you’ll find a mysterious painting of two ladies.
Brooklands Museum is said to be haunted by Percy Lambert, the first man to drive at over 100 m.p.h.
Ghostly sightings have occurred at the A3 Burpham slip-road where a car is said to career off the carriageway.
Royal Holloway founder Thomas Holloway and his wife are both said to haunt the building.
Box Hill is haunted by Major Peter Labelliere, a phantom rider and spooky pilgrims.
Cheam Rectory is allegedly haunted by an Elizabethan bishop and/or an 18th century rector.
Nonsuch Park there are some shadowy goings-on here, which are perhaps linked to the former palace, lost in 17th century.
Baynards Park in Cranleigh is haunted by Sir Thomas More, who’s possibly headless.
Selsdon Park Hotel & Old Palace, which was the summer house of the Archbishop of Canterbury for centuries and is now John Whitgift School, are both allegedly haunted.
Several sites in Ewell including the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin and the lock-up.
A ‘woman in brown’ is said to have been seen on the stairs at Loseley Park on a number of occasions
At Oatlands Park Hotel in Weybridge, a ‘grey lady’ and a maid are both said to haunt the hotel.
Marching troops are said to haunt the area around Thunderfield Castle in Horley.
A number of places in and around the village of Cobham are said to be haunted.
Read more: Surrey’s most haunted places