Copyright 2014 Hidden Wirral
The Headless Duck Little Stanney, now best known as the location of Cheshire Oaks Outlet Village, is also home to one of the strangest ghosts in England – the ghost of a duck. At one time, the people of Little Stanney were a laughing stock for miles around because they refused to go down the road to Stoak after nightfall. The reason, they said, was they were in danger of having their ankles pecked by a duck. A group of villages led by the village butcher lay in wait for the duck and ambushed it. The butcher decapitated the creature with his trusty cleaver and buried its head in the ditch at the top of the lane. But even this did not solve the problem because from then on villagers were too afraid to use the lane because it was haunted by a headless duck. They implored the parson to exorcise the ghost, but for all his efforts with bell, book and candle, the ghostly duck remained, to the terror of the villagers and the amusement of all for miles around.
Ghosts of Poulton Hall Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived nearby in Rock Ferry when he was American consul, recorded a legend connected with Poulton Hall concerning ‘an attic chamber, with a skylight, called the “martyr’s chamber,” from having in olden times been tenanted by a lady who was imprisoned there, and persecuted to death for religion…’ There was also a locked room in the hall that remained unopened for half a century. One of the Greene family shot himself while in the room, and his ghost was said to haunt it. When it was reopened in 1910, a panelled room was discovered, with a library of four thousand books collected by Reverend Thomas Greene, Rector of Woodchurch in the early eighteenth century. Another legend associated with Poulton Hall is that of the phantom hitchhiker, or ghostly nun, who haunts the bridge across the Dibbin on the road from Bromborough to Spital, and other roads in the vicinity. In 1970, a woman on her way back from Clatterbridge Hospital saw a girl waiting for a lift by the side of the road, but as the woman approached, the girl vanished. In the same year she was seen again by a motorist. Later, a man driving along Poulton Road stopped to offer a lift to a woman in a long dark coat, but as he opened his door she vanished. It is said to be the ghost of a girl who left Poulton Hall to go to a nunnery. As she crossed the bridge she was attacked by a man who raped her and then murdered her before flinging her body into the stream below. An alternative version of the story says that the nun was walking from Birkenhead Priory to St. Werburgh’s Abbey in Chester when she spent the night in a manor house near the bridge. The lord of the manor is said to have starved her to death because she refused his advances. In yet another version he beheaded her, and in some stories the ghost is a headless nun.
Prenton Hall In the old Wirral dialect, ghosts were referred to as “buggens”, a word of Welsh origin related to bogle and bugbear. There was a rhyme about the buggen of Prenton Hall: When gorse is in blossom and holly is green, Prenton Hall buggen is then to be seen. It is not on record what the buggen looks like, although in 1961 a visitor to the Hall saw the ghost of a monk watching her in the lounge. Prenton Hall was once a grange (farm) belonging to Birkenhead Priory, so perhaps the buggen is a monastic spirit. At one point, probably in the nineteenth century, an old lady lived at the Hall with her maid. The maid was working downstairs one day when she heard from upstairs what sounded like a cascade of coins. Thinking her mistress had dropped money in the room above, she hurried up the staircase to help her. The old lady had also heard the noise, and she was on her way down to see what had happened when the maid met her on the stairs. It appears that at some point a bag of money had been hidden in the wall, and over the years the bag rotted away until the money fell that day. No one knows who put it there, or why, but perhaps it was a gift from the Prenton Hall buggen! The Ghost Room
Returning to Leasowe Castle, there is a room on the mezzanine level between first and second floors called the Boardroom, also known as the Oak Room, or the Ghost Room. Octagonal in shape, it is lit by two windows set in the thick walls and it is panelled from floor to ceiling, although originally the walls were rough-hewn stone. At some point in the building’s history, the owners became embroiled in a family feud with another noble line. They took prisoner the head of the rival family and his young son, who they shut up in the Oak Room. Fearing that their captors would torture them, the father smothered his son then killed himself by dashing out his brains against the wall. The building has been a hotel several times during its chequered history, and the room itself was at one point a bedroom. A visitor, who had heard nothing of the story related above, made “a terrible hullabaloo at midnight,” saying that he had seen a man and a boy standing in the moonlight between his bed and the windows.
Of old, West Kirby was noted for its ghosts. One haunted the narrowest part of the lane between West Kirby and Caldy, while the ghost of Mrs Glegg, a former lady of the manor, was said to walk abroad at night on the Mount (the part of Caldy Hill near Kirby Mount). The most feared ghost was “he who walked in Highfield Lane… nobody was bold enough to encounter him when darkness set in…”
A popular belief among nineteenth century schoolboys in West Kirby was that it was of vital importance to spit upon a rock known as the Cat’s Face. During Lent, the boys had to attend a service at St. Bridget’s, but if they alone were present the service was brief and there was no sermon. If adults attended, however, the service was as long as usual and a sermon was included. Spitting on the Cat’s Face would ensure that adults stayed away, including “certain Miss Browns” who frequently attended church services. Should they appear, the boys knew that one of them had failed to make the traditional offering.
Church Customs Various superstitions and customs were linked with local churches. For instance, it was believed that the spirit of the last person buried in the graveyard remained at the lych-gate and ushered new arrivals to their grave. The belief sometimes resulted in fights when more than one burial happened on a day, each side wanting to bury its dead first so it would be conveyed to the grave by the ghost. It was also seen as a bad omen for a bride and groom to pass through the lych-gates. It was held to be particularly unlucky for a burial to take place on the north side of a church. This came from a belief that the northern part was for the burial of unbaptized children, excommunicated people, and suicides. It was also where the bodies of strangers drowned during shipwrecks were buried, something that was seen as the duty of anyone who found a body on the shore; should they fail in this duty, the ghost of the drowned person would haunt them, which is the theme of Egerton Leigh’s poem The Curst Fisherman (See the chapter on Meols and Hoylake). At St. Bridget’s, a special bier was kept at the church for the purpose, and the road to the shore was nicknamed “Corpse Alley,” since it was the way taken by the bier. Drowned corpses were a common occurrence on the shore, sometimes due to the nefarious activities of the wreckers.
Neston and Parkgate’s Buggens As previously mentioned, ghosts were known as “buggens”, and the word remains to this day in Buggen Lane, which leads from Moorside in Parkgate towards the centre of Neston. It is said that smuggled goods were sometimes transported down this road, and clearly it gained a reputation – perhaps with the aid of the smugglers themselves. Another story says that a woman lived at Townfield, the house at the top of Buggen Lane, with two young children. One day the children sneaked down to Parkgate for a swim but were drowned. The lane is haunted by the ghost of their mother, still searching for her lost children. In the late nineteenth century, an artist named Henry Melling lived at the old Quay House near Parkgate, with a bed-ridden invalid niece, Clara Payne. An elderly lady wearing a red cloak used to sit quietly by the fire and keep her company. The girl did not find the old woman at all alarming, and when she stopped appearing, Clara missed her greatly. Who she was, no one could say, but it is thought that she was an “earthbound spirit.” Another strange visitor came to St. Winefride’s, the Catholic church in Neston, during the lifetime of Teresa Higginson. She was trusted with the keys to the church whenever the priest was away. One morning when he was absent, Teresa saw a strange priest enter the church. He indicated to her without speaking that he wanted to say Mass. She prepared the church for the service, although she had never seen him before. Afterwards, he went into the vestry, and shortly after, she followed him to find that the place was empty and there was no sign that anyone had been there for days. When she asked if anyone had seen him leave, she learnt that no one had seen him. Finally, the Bishop of Shrewsbury was consulted, and he said that the description of the strange visitor was identical to that of a previous parish priest, now dead and buried in the churchyard.
The Ghost of Thurstaston Hall Many years ago, a famous and successful portrait painter, Mr W Easton of the Royal Academy, was staying at Thurstaston Hall while painting a portrait of the family then at the hall. He had been given the arch room in the west wing, a vaulted room that formed part of the old chapel. Easton had been sleeping in this room, in a magnificent four-poster, for some time without experiencing anything untoward. One morning in the small hours he heard the door to the room open and he looked up to see an old woman wringing her hands, apparently in great distress. She stood at the foot of his bed and said nothing, even when he said, “You seem to be in great trouble! Is there anything I can do for you?” She went to the other side of the room, pulled a bell-rope, and disappeared. The same happened the following night, and so many times that, although he could only believe it to be a supernatural experience, he lost any feeling of fear, to the extent of drawing a rough sketch of the apparition. A while later a man who knew this story and had seen the sketch was staying at a house somewhere else in England. He recognised one of the family portraits as identical to the apparition in the sketch. When he asked the family about it, they told him that they had once occupied Thurstaston Hall, and the lady in the painting was the former lady of manor who was said to haunt the place, having killed her own child with a knife which she dropped on being disturbed. When one of her servants finally found the knife, she was put on trial and executed, but her ghost continues to search for the murder weapon. When the man mentioned this to Easton, he swore that he had never heard of the family, or their legend, and had certainly never seen the portrait. A photograph of the sketch recently sold on EBay for over four hundred dollars.
The Barnston Dale Fiddler In Barnston Dale, when New Year’s Eve coincides with the full moon, there appears in the dale a ghost known as the Phantom Fiddler. Tradition says that the sound of fiddle-playing can be heard all along the dale, and that anyone who sees the ghost risks bad luck, madness, or even death. The story goes that in 1952, a boy dared his older brother and his sister-in-law to go down into Barnston Dale that New Year’s Eve, there being a full moon that night. They accepted the dare and walked the mile from his family’s house to the dale. It had been snowing earlier and as they set out the snow began again. They walked along Barnston Road towards the stretch where it goes down into the dale, passing a house on the left. It was then that they saw a figure about fifty yards ahead, walking in the same direction. They thought it was a man wearing a greatcoat, and it stood out clearly against the drifts of snow. The man wanted to call out to the stranger but his wife was scared and stopped him. It looked to her as if the figure had no head. When they reached the spot where they had first seen the man, they were surprised to find that he had left no footprints. There were none on the pavement at all apart from their own, and the snow was not so thick as to cover them. The figure still walked ahead of them, going down the road into the dale. The couple could not explain it, and they hurried home without taking up the dare. The next time that the full moon will coincide with New Year’s Eve is 2017.
Heswall’s Buggens If local tradition is to be believed, ghosts were a common sight in many parts of Heswall, and these legends were either exploited or even concocted by smugglers to cover their unlawful operations. When there was to be a landing of contraband on Heswall Shore, it was said that “the ghost walks tonight,” the idea being that those who were not in the know would be frightened off. Other supposedly haunted areas included Barnston Common, (now Whitfield Common and its vicinity), where a headless dog was supposed to roam; the Beacons, which was haunted by a large black hound; the Dales, which was home to a green ghost; Cottage Lane and Well Lane, where the Devil drove his black hearse at night; and the Bloody Gutter on Heswall Shore, where the ghosts of two mariners, who had fought each other to the death over smuggled goods, haunted a path leading to the shore from Broad Lane where the Dungeon Brook reaches the beach. There are also traditions of smugglers’ ghosts in the gullies that run up the side of Thurstaston Common. Whitfield Common, the Beacons and the Dales remain wild, largely unspoilt areas in a sea of later development. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century they were only part of the five hundred or more acres of heath that was Heswall Common, perfect country for smugglers to congregate and to store their goods before transporting them on to the purchaser. These were superstitious times. The stories of ghosts were no doubt told and retold in the inns and alehouses of the area, expanded and elaborated upon until the more fearful villager would never dare go near these locations after dark: even if anyone happened to pass that way when smugglers were abroad, sightings could easily be explained away as ghosts.
New Brighton Palace has a history that goes back further than when the building was constructed. Beneath the Arcade is a network of tunnels that were once utilised by the Wallasey Wreckers and Smugglers. Dead Bodies would be stored in large pits and they say that on any visit to the tunnels you will come across at least one of the lost souls looking for a way out. There is also the legend of an old lady whom has been seen roaming aroud the bar area during its time as The Creep Nightclub. Visitors have often smelt smoke in the tunnels which may be a past reminder of a fire that took place during its time as a munitions factory.
Wallasey Village Library is haunted by a Gentleman called William with a dark soul. A little girl is also roaming the cellars, unable to leave because of the older Gentleman.
New Brighton Community Centre is a Former Police Station, and there are several spirits in the old Cells area that like to make their presence known. Witnesses have captured audio evidence of a ghoulish voice shouting "Get Out" and Footseps cn be heard walking above when the building is unoccupied.
The Black Horse Pub (Sheridans) in Wallasey Village is again haunted by a little girl who perished in a fire nearby. She has been known to play games with punters in the side bar. The Celler also houses several spirits, whom are not as friendly.
The Little Theatre in Birkenhead, is haunted by the Ghost of a Priest from its time as a church. There is also a gentleman whom still likes to perform on stage, whilst Actors warm up for the evening performances. The Dressing rooms have also got ghosts, whom like to scare those getting ready. Objects have been moved whilst peformers have been in the room, with one gentleman to scared to return to the stage and left as quickley as possible.
The Pilot Boat Hotel was formerly a Morgue in New Brighton, opening in 1747 it is the oldest surviving pub in Wallasey and several ghosts roam the cellars.
The Magazine Hotel in New Brighton is haunted by an unhappy witch whom is seeking revenge for her death during the 17th century.