Shropshire teems with tales of phantom monks haunting local sites, including a notable spectral encounter at the historic Linley Hall, writes Amy Boucher.
At the start of my journey as a folklorist, I remember reading that although a ghost-ridden county, Shropshire suffers from a real scarcity of phantom monks, despite the large quantity of medieval religious institutions that still litter the landscape.
There were no regular monastic foundations in Shropshire until the Norman conquest, but the advent of Norman rule saw an explosion of new establishments. Shrewsbury Abbey was founded in 1083, Buildwas around 1148, and many others during the later 12th century.
These were places of learning, religious instruction, and areas of great agriculture and even small-scale mining. Monasteries, abbeys, and priories were important in medieval Shropshire. As a result, religion thrived in the county, with nine orders of monks, canons, friars, and nuns in operation in the area.
So why are there no reminders of such a history in our ghost lore? Well, I can inform you that the above statement was far from the truth.
There are a plethora of reported phantom monks throughout Shropshire, from the ‘burly fighting monks’ who enact their final battle at Easthope to the debauched and good-humored ‘Old Mo’ of Bridgnorth as well as the spirits that haunt Buildwas, Haughmond, and Lilleshall Abbey.
There are even Headless monks, such as the one that haunts Mount Hill at Madeley. The nearby Madeley Court Hotel has some more phantom monks who sit on the exposed beams and observe the daily going on in the building. In short, we are positively inundated with such reports.
These entities are worthy of discussion in their own right; far from portrayed as stock characters, they can tell us so much about our history and relationship with the institution of the Church.
However, today, I want to discuss a far stranger account centered around Linley Hall in Shropshire. Now the area of Linley is no stranger to unique phenomena, with reports of phantom women, will’o’wisps, and (another) black hooded monk wandering the area. Our story dates from 1860 and took place at the Hall. So, let’s uncover this terrific tale.
Our narrative starts with a young woman and a dream. The folklore states that a (sadly unnamed) young woman had come to Linley Hall as a family guest. She was staying at the Hall in preparation for her wedding to a local gentleman of some regard, Mr Pierson-Gordon.
The reception to her stay was warm, and the family made her feel very welcome, providing her with her own quarters, complete with four post-bed and a fireplace. She spent a great deal of time in the family’s company, eating and making merry, sharing the plans for her upcoming wedding.
They were a pleasant family and very happy about her upcoming celebration. Soon enough, she grew tired and retired to her chambers for a well-deserved rest. She slept with ease for much of the night; however, at 2 am, she was woken by loud knocks coming from the chimney.
The noise was loud and followed a distinct pattern. The young woman felt compelled to walk to the fireplace and then copied the pattern, banging on the wall. Soon enough, the unexplained noises repeated the pattern as if replying to her. She calmly knocked again and again got a reply. After a short time, the noises suddenly stopped. Puzzled, she tried to put the experience to the back of her mind and went back to bed.
While sleeping, the young woman’s mind was a haze. She began to dream of a tall monk standing by the fireplace, tapping on the wall, and staring at her. She did not rouse from her sleep until the monk silently walked towards her. The woman woke with a start, but after a short time, she realized she’d been dreaming. She put it down to nerves or a colorful imagination and fell asleep.
Soon enough, the monk returned to her dreams, tapping on the wall. This time, the phantom figure spoke to the woman, telling her quite plainly that she needed to open the left-hand side of the chimney breast, as there was something in there the world needed to see.
Unnerved by her experience, the young woman recounted it to the lady of the house, Mrs Lowdes that morning. Mrs Lowdes then, in turn, told her husband. Mr. Lowdes was very skeptical, but after pleading from Mrs. Lowdes and the young woman, he arranged for some of his staff to knock a hole in the wall.
This proved a good decision, for hidden in the chimney breast was a large alcove, big enough to accommodate a grown man. Upon stepping inside, they found a miniature painting of a monk. The artwork seemed dated, the paint cracked and worn from the passing of centuries.
As well as this, Mr Lowdes found a simple, rather crudely hand-carved cross lying on the dirt floor. He felt compelled to pick up the object and felt a strong energy passing through as he held it in his hand.
Though the only light in the alcove poured in from the broken brickwork, the space felt serene, almost peaceful. The inhabitants of Linley Hall were aghast, as this room didn’t appear on any plan or record. Conceivably they had uncovered a priest hole, used in the 16th and 17th centuries’ to hide itinerant Catholic priests.
The Hall had been in existence during these turbulent years of religious conflict, so the owners had taken priests in and protected them from the oppression. Mr Lowdes had the items removed from his study and bricked up the hole in the wall. The young woman never heard knocking again during her stay, nor did anyone else report such phenomena.
However, since this event, Linley Hall has gained a ghost.
Indeed, there have been a number of reports of a phantom monk, still in his dark cassock and hood, wandering the house and the grounds. He appears to be a calming and peaceful presence.
One can only speculate how the man died; unfortunately, nothing is known about his origins or who he was. However, it would be fair to suggest that his spirit had been trapped in that secret space for centuries, and the young woman had finally helped him be free.