The Hanbury Arms might just be the most haunted pub and hotel in Britain. In fact if you want to stay here you have to sign a disclaimer.
Whispers, whistling, singing, the sound of footsteps, glass smashing, lights turning off and taps on the shoulder are a regular occurrence. Orbs of light constantly roll around the corridors. The spirits who live here include those of children, a hangman and a sinister black shadow that lurks in the cellar.
Guests feet are tickled if they stick out of the beds. Chestnut the old rocking horse rocks by itself.
Builders working on updating the property have walked off site. There is a strange stench of garlic that emanates from one room. And one ghost distinctly smells like Brut aftershave.
For Welsh couple Tracey and Nigel Turner all of the above were reasons why this property was a perfect home for them.
The couple were aware of the ‘haunted’ Hanbury Arms hotel and pub in Pontypool from their background in paranormal investigating but it didn’t really fit their location requirements. But it kept popping up on Rightmove, people kept mentioning it, and in the end they decided to at least go and have a look at the property.
Turning up to meet the agent from Paul Fosh Auctions, Tracey and Nigel thought she was already there as the deadbolt on the inside of the front door was heard sliding open but then Deborah turned up in her car – the building was empty – it seemed like the property had already decided the couple were going to be its new owners.
Even the coffins in the cellar didn’t put the couple off, if anything it made them even keener. The property was a perfect fit for Tracey and Nigel’s home and paranormal needs.
That first visit was memorable as the couple felt an overwhelming feeling of home. Nigel says: “We thought ‘this is the one’. It’s like whatever was here wanted us here, it felt it should be our home.”
Tracey says: “As soon as we walked in we could feel the energy here, added to by the underground tunnels underneath the pub and the ley lines going through it. It’s everything we wanted.”
The property was due to go under the hammer with Paul Fosh Auctions with a guide of £140,000, but Tracey and Nigel were so keen, they bagged it prior to the auction for an undisclosed amount. Find out more about that here.
It is believed that the building dates back to the 1830s and in its lifetime has been a court, a morgue and a pub and this mix of stress, fear, death and many thousands of pints makes for an intriguing atmosphere and, some might say, a hotbed for paranormal activity.
Reports are numerous from former pub staff and customers over many years before it closed and Tracey and Nigel bought it as their new home, with whispers, glass smashing, lights turning off and distinct smells a regular occurrence.
The most frequent activity now appears to be multiple light anomalies, also known as orbs, many of which have been caught on cameras that are constantly rolling in the corridors, bar and reception rooms.
In the past, builders working on updating the property have walked off site and refused to return. Former owner Sean O’Connor told Gwent News at the time when he owned the building in 2012 with business partner Mark Baker: “The experiences we have had have been so profound and tangible that you’ve got no option but to believe it.”
The property has been investigated many times, including most recently by well-known paranormal investigator Barri Ghai from TV show ‘Help! My House is Haunted’, who also investigated BBC’s Homes Under The Hammer presenter Martin Robert’s haunted Rhondda farmhouse – find out more about that here.
The couple believe that the Hanbury Arms is laden with spirits from children to a hangman, pub customers to a sinister black shadow that lurks in the cellar – the Hanbury couldn’t be more perfect as the couple’s home and place to establish their expanding haunted museum, with many years worth of haunted items people have donated to them.
Items include toys and books and many dolls, some of which are so possessed that they remain in cases for safety reasons and can only be touched with gloves by the couple and definitely not visitors.
Tracey says all the rooms are haunted and reports of experiences are growing. She says: “For example, in the old nursery, guest’s feet sticking out of the bed and being tickled by the child spirits and Chestnut the old rocking horse will rock, and pulled out into the centre of the room, we’ve heard him in the morning and guests have witnessed it.
“The portrait room is a very active room with spirits going back and forth to the landing. We’ve got two landings and one is where the hangman wanders around. The black widow room has the spirit of a Victorian lady, but it all comes and goes around the building.
“The cellar, yes, there’s a dark energy down there, a spirit portal down there that has been there for a long time before we moved in. We’ve had guests wake up in the night and felt and seen a dark oppressive figure, cloaked figure just hovering over them.
“Some days and some nights you go in the building and it’s pretty quiet, but sometimes the place comes alive in different areas. All in all there’s nothing that will harm you, you do get the odd oppressive feeling when you come up onto the hangman’s landing but the rest of the spirits are just people.”
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But just because the couple knew they were getting a property with a spooky reputation and would have to share it with ghosts, that doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes get scared.
Tracey says she is a spiritual empath, a term used to describe an individual with special psychic abilities to sense the emotions and energies of others, be they dead or alive. She says her first ghostly encounter happened when she was six and met and chatted to her nan, who had passed.
Tracey is used to the more unexplained elements of life then, but even she was nervous spending her first night at the property.
She says: “I stayed awake most of the night to be honest! But I have got used to the place now and I sleep quite well even though I haven woken up in the middle of the night and seen the outline of a figure in Victorian dress, floating across the room.
“But we relax in the house fine, but we do get scared sometimes, especially going down to the cellar, but it’s our home. I’m not going to say it isn’t scary sometimes because it is, but there’s a lovely energy here too.
“Freddie and Emily, the child spirits, follow us around, I hear them, and I’ve seen a dark shadow that made me jump. There are scary moments but we’re used to the footsteps now, the singing, whistling, voices, taps on the shoulder but we know nothing will harm us. Living here day to day to get to know who’s who.”
But it’s not just visual and sound experiences the couple have encountered since moving in, they have also been enveloped in the garlic smell that has become synonymous with the building, experienced for many years by many people.
Tracey says: “There is a strange garlic smell that emanates from the cellar, it’s been reported here for many years, it’s a putrid smell, it’s really odd. It makes its way up the cellar staircase, through the bar, up onto the landing.
“In the paranormal field, one of the theories is that that type of smell would be a negative energy but my theory is that one of the gases that comes out of a dead body is said to smell of rotten garlic, we’re thinking it is one of the spirits that was left behind when it was a mortuary, in the body store.”
Nigel adds that another spirit at the property smells like Brut aftershave, but is quick to point out he is not to blame for that aroma, saying “That’s definitely not my aftershave!”.
After spending time living at the property the couple were convinced it has many layers of history and attached spirits so came up with the idea of letting people stay the night in four rooms, although guests have to sign a disclaimer that release Tracey, Nigel and all their spirit tenants from any blame if they get spooked.
The evening includes a health and safety talk, a tour of the building and haunted objects museum, a Victorian séance and then free time for guests to do their own paranormal investigation using the couple’s equipment before it’s bedtime and the lights are switched off.
Tracey says: “We have a protection around the entire building to get rid of negative energy coming in and when people come here and we are actively calling for it we have a safe circle of protection.
“But you’ve got to know when to step out of an area when the spirit is not wanting you there, so we leave, we always work with respect. We don’t allow provoking and we are completely respectful not just to the living but also to our spirit friends.”
Since the property opened its doors in February there have been five guests who didn’t make it through the night to get their achievement certificate in the morning, having opted to leave in the middle of the night instead.
Nigel says: “One group were doing an investigation, and they encountered a dark shadow moving across the wall, then they went into the bedroom to sleep and the shadow was looming over one of the group and she was like ‘that’s it, I’ve got to go!'”
Tracey says: “We’ve woken in the morning to a note downstairs saying thank you but because of the encounters, we’ve had to go. We’ve had people sleeping in the bar instead of the cellar as they don’t want to stay in there.
“One person was physically pulled into the corner in the museum and they left, we’ve had people come to stay and refuse to go into the cellar, let alone sleep in there. One lady had an experience in the nursery and left in the middle of the night.”
But the couple aren’t on a mission to convince people of the existence of the paranormal, they just open their home and let people experience this unique building for themselves.
Tracey says “You do have to have an open mind to go into the investigations, but we don’t preach to anyone, we tell everyone that maybe nothing will happen paranormal and we try to debunk things – we don’t fake anything, there’s no hidden gadgets. It’s just a pure, honest, paranormal investigation which people appreciate.
“We have had quite a few people who arrive very sceptical but they leave with a different mindset. We always say all a sceptic is someone who hasn’t have a paranormal encounter… yet.”