The historic city of Rochester has more than its fair share of ghostly legends – it's thought to harbour more than 40 in various locations! Here are just a few…
Halloween originated in Celtic times; when the pre-Christian calendar was determined by growing seasons. The festival of Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the start of cold, dark wintry months. Samhain symbolised the boundary between living and dead and the Celts believed that 31 October marked a crossover where ghosts of the dead would revisit the living.
Christianity arrived in Britain with its own festivals, among them being “All Hallows’ Day”– remembering those who had died for their beliefs.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory moved All Hallows’ feast to 1 November, perhaps attempting to replace the Celtic Samhain festival of the dead with a related but church approved celebration.
Samhain therefore became known as All-hallows-even then Hallow Eve, still later Hallowe’en and then of course Halloween. A special time of the year when many believe that the spirit world can make contact with the physical world, a night when magic is at its most potent.
Rochester is thought to harbour over forty ghosts in shops, private houses, churches and pubs. Here are just a few of the legends – why not investigate and see if any show themselves to you!
THE BRICKED-UP MONK
The Coopers Arms in St Margaret’s Street is Kent’s oldest pub, opening its doors in 1543. The building itself dates back to 1199, when it was part of St Andrew’s Priory.
It’s said that every November, a ghostly monk emerges from a wall of the bar; an apparition in cowl and habit, haunting the pub in the dead of night. He would have been a member of the Brethren of Coopers, who for centuries made ales and wines at the Priory, until they abandoned it in 1539.
His crimes are unknown, but he must have committed some unforgivable sin, because he was walled up and left to die.
Should you find yourself in the Cooper’s, and your drink is pushed to the floor by some invisible force, it may be the monk protesting his grisly fate from centuries ago…
THE WOMAN IN WHITE
Rochester Castle is said to be visited by a ghostly apparition resembling a woman dressed in white. It seems to be quite a common sighting among global ghostly goings-on, but Rochester’s story has a historical context based around the siege of 1264, when Earl Simon de Montfort and barons rebelled against the King Henry III. Fighting in de Montfort’s army was Gilbert de Clare, a knight previously rejected by Lady Blanche de Warrene, resident inside the castle with her fiancé, Sir Ralph de Capo.
The siege was cut short when news came that the King’s forces were approaching. Sir Ralph left the castle in pursuit of de Montfort and his rebels, all observed from the battlements by Lady Blanche.
She looked on as her fiancé appeared to return, only to be revealed as Gilbert de Clare, who, having disguised himself as Sir Ralph, was able to gain entry to the castle, whereupon he climbed the ramparts and seized Lady Blanche, still hopeful of gaining her affection.
Observing this from the fight with the rebels, Sir Ralph fired an arrow in an attempt to halt de Clare’s unwanted advances, only for it to glance from the target’s armour and instead kill Blanche.
Her ghostly white form has walked the battlements ever since, forever surveying the bloody battle below…
Some claim that the ghost of Charles Dickens has been seen haunting the High Street. The writer had expressed a wish to be buried in Rochester, Cobham or Shorne. No graveyards were available and so plans were made for a burial in Rochester Cathedral. However, his place of rest came to be Westminster Abbey, where, according to The Times in 1870 “the most illustrious Englishmen are laid”.
Could his thwarted wishes have led to this spectral High Street lingering? Or is it just a Dickens enthusiast in a particularly convincing costume…?