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By Adnams, also posted in News on 07/10/21
Come, sit by the warm fire with your pint of Ghost Ship, and let us share a few tales that will chill you to the bone.
There has been brewing on our site in Southwold since 1345, so there’s been plenty of time for fireside anecdotes to morph into something more. Throw in some sailing superstitions, creeping coastal fog and whistling wind, and the atmosphere is ripe for ghost stories.
As we approach Halloween, we thought we’d add to the ambiance and share some of the tales that gave us goosebumps, including a few relayed from personal experience that may yet become legend.
Walberswick, just a short ferry ride across the harbour from Southwold, is thought to be one of the most haunted villages in England. In the past, its reputation could well have been a ruse, concocted by smugglers trying to keep the coast clear, but many of these stories just refuse to disappear.
It’s no wonder that The Bell Inn, was the inspiration behind Ghost Ship. The famous paranormal investigator Guy Lyon Playfair wrote about the village in 'The Haunting of The Bell Hotel, Walberswick': "The haunting of Walberswick, at the mouth of the Blyth Estuary, has been documented at least since 1577… Invisible horses gallop across the Common in broad daylight, and apparitions have been seen all over the place: on the Common, the Green, in the Church, on the ferry to Southwold and in a local farmhouse… Walberswick is undoubtedly a place for the connoisseurs of hauntings but is not for those with weak hearts."
The Paranormal Database (yes it exists) details the spectre of a fisherman appearing in the pub and not being recognised as a ghost until he disappears. More recently, just in the last few weeks, a team member was locking up when they had a ghostly encounter.
Having swept through the pub securing all the doors, and not expecting to see anyone other than their waiting boyfriend, a figure appeared and passed by. Both saw it, understood it to be a woman, but were unable to recall any detail. The wraith-like apparition was so present and yet so fleeting, that they are still trying to comprehend exactly what they saw. Much like the aforementioned fisherman, it was not recognised as a ghost, until it disappeared.
Acutely aware of the daily dangers they face, sailors are well known for seeing omens and portents of things to come. Their families waiting at home share this heightened awareness and many strange tales of foresight and foreboding are shared within sight of the stormy sea.
A story in ‘A Selection of Ghost Stories Smuggling Stories and Poems connected with Southwold,’ by A. Barrett Jenkins, tells the tale of Mrs. Ballantine Brown. On 8th November 1863 she was going to church at around 7pm when she sensed someone walking beside her. As she reached Church Street (which following our expansion now backs on to the brewery) she observed a man dressed in a long oil skin coat and an odd-shaped sou'wester. It had a peak front and back, which was a kind never worn in Southwold, or by fisherman on the east coast.
When she came to the Brickmakers Arms (which is no longer a pub), the figure mysteriously disappeared. She felt frightened and visited a friend to relay her story and ask if any strange ships had arrived in the harbour. Having learnt that no ship had come in, she went to a relative's house, convinced that what she had seen was a warning.
The following morning, after a restless night, she joined her sister-in-law on the cliff to watch for her brother’s fishing boat, which was due to return to harbour. Upon seeing them, the local minister approached and told them that the night before, her brother had been instantly killed when a mast fell on him. The time of the incident corresponded exactly with when she saw the figure.
She was told afterwards that when the accident occurred, her brother had on a sou'wester he’d borrowed, which formerly belonged to a French fisherman. When his belongings were brought to her, she immediately recognised the hat from the mysterious figure she met in Church Street.
Our Whisky Dunwich is filled with wonderful aromas, but there’s something about this building that affects our senses in other ways. Before we moved in the whisky barrels, and our managed properties team, it used to be home to our Southwold store. Many years before that, it was occupied by soldiers during the war and it was rumoured that its long, lofty upstairs rooms were used as a firing range. One of the beams still bears a chalked message dated 30th August 1916, from the 2/4 Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the words ‘the lads from Yorkshire.’ Could a member of the regiment have staked a more substantial claim on this space?
During its time as a wine shop, the upstairs rooms were used for staff, storage and tasting events, but the team always felt a presence there. When working down in the shop, there were many instances where they heard noises above, from the stomping of army boots to the creaking of floorboards. "I don't believe in such things; but I couldn't explain what I heard! I'm not the only one either," said a past occupant. There have also been reports of noises coming from inside the building at the weekend when nobody is working.
More recently, when working late one evening, someone heard a strange flapping noise in the corner of the office. Thinking a bird had got in through a skylight, he had a look around and found nothing. He returned to his desk and got back to work, before hearing it again. This time he investigated thoroughly, crawling under desks, and even checking drawers. He recalls being convinced a colleague had smuggled in a pet. Again, he found nothing and by now he was feeling uneasy. When the noise came a third time, he swiftly packed up his laptop and headed for the door. The following day, he recounted his tale, laughing, but from that day forward he was never the last to leave the office.
We just had to share this unbeleafably scary tale. It’s one of our favourites and involves a strange walk home on a misty evening in Southwold. We came across this story in the East Anglian Daily Times’ spooky series, ‘Weird Suffolk.’ Originally told in local parish paper, The Lantern in 1976, it is the tale of Mr Slater who, on walking home from St Edmunds Church to his house on South Green, happened upon a haunted hedge.
Now, Mr Slater knew this route like the back of his hand, even with some light fog and rain. He passed the Red Lion and crossed South Green at around 7.30pm. It was dark as some streetlights had been taken out by a storm the week before. As he hurried across the grass, Mr Slater was startled to see between him and the houses what appeared to be a long, thorn hedge. It was waist high and covered in raindrops.
Knowing very well there was no hedge there, he looked left to discover whether there was something casting a shadow, only to find a second hedge just like the first. Both hedges stretched out before him in parallel. Still unsure of what he was seeing, he pressed his walking stick against it and saw it give way to the impact. He also felt a slight resistance. When he tried to grab it with his hand, he found that although it remained visible, he could feel nothing.
He walked the remaining steps to his home with the hedges either side of him. Before entering he turned around and found that they were gone. If it wasn’t for the incident with his walking stick, he would have put it down to an optical illusion. He began to wonder if maybe it was a glimpse of the past - a time slip. Could he have been transported to an age before the great fire of Southwold and the introduction of its beautiful fire-breaking greens? We will never know.
Recently, a team member’s neighbour relayed a fitting story when talk turned to strange goings on. He described how he and a friend would often use a small boat to travel from Southwold along the river, to visit the White Hart, Blythburgh, which sits on the marshy Blyth Estuary.
One dark evening, they went under Bailey Bridge and headed towards the pub when they saw a vessel ahead on the river. It was a large, three-masted ship. Immediately knowing that a ship of that size could not go under the bridge, they sharply turned around and sailed back to Southwold as fast as the wind would take them.
And so, we conclude our tales. Feel free to share them with friends over a pint of Ghost Ship and take care on your walk home from the pub.