Ghosts and Hauntings of Cambridge and Ely


Cambridge and its surrounding villages and towns have an unseen history, and equally fitting quite eeriness to them, that could match if not overwhelm any other place in the British isles with an unexplained and spooky reputation. Cambridgeshire known in olden times and written in the Domesday Book as "Grantbridgeshire" is not a stranger to the macabre and otherworldly, this is not surprising considering its vast history going back to bronze and iron age times. Its been home to many bloody battles and historic events, important in the psyche and moulding of the English and even British make up. The city of Cambridge it self can be recorded back to the late bronze age around 1000 BC, so its no lightweight when it comes to its residual past. It has history oozing from its landscape.

Cambridge is also notorious for having educated many famous occultists such as Aleister Crowley and John Dee, and Levi, Eliphas to name just a few, it is also where the secret occult society the Golden Dawn was founded and housed.

Many famous historical characters have influenced Cambridgeshire, such as William of Normandy, Oliver Cromwell, and even the Vikings when they invaded East Anglia.

Cambridge is now a university city, some of which are the University of Cambridge, Kings college, St Johns college, and Christ’s College. All of which at some point have been reported to have had a brush with the supernatural.

Above Cambridge

Cambridge City Hauntings and Ghost Stories.

Many legends and stories have been absorbed into the stonework and listening ears of the side streets and cobbled roads that still crisscross the city. Some may well be exaggerated fantasies thought up by tipsy bar and tavern dwellers in the centuries gone by, but some have a ring of reality to them based on the fact the city at night can take on a spectral spirit of its own, with its dark open areas surrounded by illuminated churches and towering cathedral.

Today Cambridge by night is bustling with shoppers, pub goers, and repetitive traffic, adding to the cities exuberance of energy. Its gaslight roads rushing with modern sounds and sights, mixed in with its ancient forgotten past, but after midnight when the bustle has quietened to a whisper, you can also hear the voices of the past, and the clattering of horse driven carts and carriages that dragged over the cobbles by rattling chains and galloping hooves, so given this atmosphere and history you can probably forgive the myths and legends that have accumulated over the years whether they be true or not.

One such exaggerated and farfetched story is of the Fitzwilliam Museum. The two animated stone Lion statues that also seem to guard the building are said to come alive at night, jump from their platforms and drink from the guttering below, followed by their disappearance into the walls of the museum its self. This is said to always happen at the stroke of midnight.

Above the Lion statues

A more typical example of a haunting is said to happen in the Montague Road part of Cambridge. A spectral women is sometimes seen swinging from a Hammock in the windows of one of the summer houses. Investigation into this apparition concluded that a women died in the house fitting the apparitions appearance and description that died of tuberculosis just a short while before the first sighting of this particular phantom.

Emmanuel College in the past has had strange reportings of phantom footsteps said to be that of a one time living resident of the college that committed suicide, the building that the audibles were heard in have since been knocked down, taking the strange footsteps with them. The current building has not said to have suffered the same noises, which indicates this could be of the residual kind of haunting, that some call the effects of what is known in paranormal investigation as the “stone wall tape theory” where the stones and buildings materials them self can record and absorb the past and replay them at a later date, remove the walls, and so do the phenomena.

One of the most popular and common descriptions of a ghost or spirit is that of a grey lady, and Girton College was of no exception. The lady in grey has been seen walking, or better worded, as gliding down the corridors of the grounds, mostly in the latter 19th century. Very little evidence or reports exist that she is still today haunting the college. Its said the lady is of a student that died soon before she was due to start her studies at the college, interacting she was young.

Above Girton College

Sidney Sussex College is a more recent haunting that dates back only to the 1960s. Some suggest although never proved, that the building was used as a resting place for Oliver Cromwell’s decapitated head. As strange as it may sound, the head has been seen floating around the grounds, and even staring into peoples windows who are unfortunate enough to be staying in the dormitories at the times these ghastly apparitions take place, it must have been a terrifying thing to see by any stretch of the imagination.

Another grey lady, probably different to the one above, has also been seen haunting Abbey House on the Abbey road. Other apparitions have also been seen there, from a women in white, a butler, to a squirrel and a rabbit or hare. Poltergeist activity and the sound of rattling chains have also be reported. An exorcism on the house was performed and said to cure the house of its disturbances, however this could just be speculation as it may well have failed, but covered up to put anyone who wished to purchase the house minds at rest so not effecting the price of the house.

Christ's College, Mulberry Tree in the Garden is said on a full moon at around midnight has seen a transparent elderly gentleman who seems to be walking around in circles the mulberry tree, in regret at murdering a doctor that apparently failed to save his lovers life.

Corpus Christi College, from 1904 onwards, Doctor Butts spirit has been seen dressed in white walking around the grounds. He hanged him self in his room by his garters on Easter Sunday 1632, after suffering from depression, and every Easter he is said to wonder aimlessly from wall to wall muttering to him self

Above Corpus Christi College

Sherratt & Hughes book shop was once thought to be the oldest bookshop in England, closed in 1991 it had been subject to reports of a Victorian couple browsing the aisles of books.

Newmarket Road is home to probably one of the most bizarre apparitions to have taken place in Cambridge, in fact some could argue the most bizarre in ghost history. A spectral penguin is said to waddle up the road, this has been seen by more than one person, a large number of people in fact, but has been suggested by paranormal investigators that this is not a penguin at all, but a doctor in a cloak, with a beak like mask on, in hope it would help him avoid catching the black death or plague.

Peterhouse is the place of a ghost seen in 1997. It is said to be that of Dawes, a former bursar who hanged him self after an alleged election scandal, he was seen drifting through the room he hung his self in.

The BBC Radio Cambridgeshire studios are said to be haunted by the ghost of a man, said to be a womanizer, who has been touching up the women who work there. Many different complaints have been reported by the female workers of being pinched and poked by an unseen ectoplamic pervert.

An underground passage in Grantchester is said to run from the Old Manor house to King's College, Cambridge Chapel, 2 miles away. It was said that a fiddler who offered to follow the passage set off playing his fiddle, soon the music became fainter and fainter, until it was heard of no more. The fiddler was never seen again. On a 17th century map of Grantchester, one of the fields is called Fiddler's Close. His eerie tunes can still be heard echoing around the surrounding fields at night to this day.

Surrounding Cambridgeshire.

Wicken Fen now a nature reserve is famous for its sightings of dark spectral dogs. At nearby Spinney Abbey Farm once stood an old priory. Local tales tell how monks can still be heard chanting in the still of the night, and that their ghosts have been seen. Strange lights are reputed to be visible, which could be either ghostly or just natural Will o' the wisp. These lights can be seen wandering from the farm to Spinney Bank, which is a bank now between Spinney Abbey and Wicken Fen. The most well-known legend is of the phantom black dog, sometimes known as Old Shuck or Black Shuck. This legend is a common one across East Anglia and is applied to many locations. The dog is said to have eyes the size of bike lamps and it is also said that, if anyone is unfortunate enough to meet the demonic dog and happens to look into its red/orange eyes, that are described as "burning like fire", then their death will soon follow.

Above Wicken Fen

Cottenham Church has had some strange goings on in the past. Legend has it that the church was once further away from its centre point, and when the locals tried to remove it brick by brick to its new location, the stones in the dead of night were mysteriously moved back to its original site. People kept guard at night to catch the culprits, but no one was found, until one night one such person on the look out, saw the stones floating by on their own accord back to the original grounds.

Once a convent, Hinchingbroke House in Huntingdon is said to be haunted. The bridge over the Alconbury Brook named Nun's bridge is said to be haunted also by one of the nuns which once lived at the old convent that is now Hinchingbroke house. It's said she is often accompanied by another ghost which resembles the appearance of a nurse. The myth goes that the nun had a lover, a monk, that caused them both to be murdered. In 1965 a married couple reported seeing the ghosts on the bridge, and again when they returned home the same night.

Ely, also known as the “Isle of Ely”

With its grand and magnificent cathedral now a huge tourist attraction as well as Christian place of worship, Ely is famous for its hauntings and even helps fuel its tourist industry.

Looking at the Cathedral built in 1082 its hard not to imagine it having a ghost or haunting of some kind, in fact its probably infested with spiritual activity, its seen much tragedy and drama in its long history that is for sure, not to mention the hundreds that have died and been buried in it, such as the countless men who died building the religious place of worship. A labour of love is an understatement.

Above Ely Cathedral
Its no wonder that people in more recent times who have been involved in restoration or repair of the cathedral have reported seeing and experiencing strange things. Workers as recently as the 1990s have reported seeing monk type figures walking around the grounds, and up and down the staircases of the bell tower or steeple, and having their tools vanish, only to reappear later. Sudden cold spots and the feeling of chills can often be felt in what is now the cathedrals shop. The shop is probably one of the most famous parts of the building known for its paranormal activity. The shop now sells local ghost books, as a recognition of its spooky guests.

Inside as well as outside the cathedral its self are the tombs of people who were once important members of the cathedral, and its congregations and spiritual clergymen. Could it be that these souls buried within its walls still wondering the structure are protesting its modern invasion of sightseers?

Oliver Cromwell’s house in Ely built in the 13th century, now a museum, gift shop, and creepy tour house, was once the home to the military and political leader Oliver Cromwell who lived from 1599 to 1658. After his death in 1661 his body was dug up and given a “posthumous execution” where his head was put on a pole outside Westminster Abbey for some years to come. What happened to his head after this is uncertain. So its no wonder that his soul might seem not at peace and still making it self known to those who dare to stay at his once family abode.

Cromwell’s spirit or ghost is said to haunt the museum. Cold spots, knockings and other strange things have all been experienced there. Cromwell is said to be still in the same frame of mind now while haunting the house, as he was when alive, and has refused to move on. Much of Cromwell’s torment in life was when he lost he daughter to cancer at the age of 29, her spirit has also been reported to have been seen in the bedroom she occupied in life.

By Barry Stevens (Faeden)

Sources of the pictures.