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Castles are often held, usually by tour guides, to be haunted. Somewhat unusually, Dover's imposing castle had no recorded history of hauntings before Robin Laurence started his investigation. Robin not only turned up a history of haunting, but also produced some extraordinary video evidence on a memorable night in October 1991.

Haunted Dover Castle by Robin Laurence

[This account first appeared in ANOMALY Number 10]. During the summer of 1991, I visited one of southern England's most famous castles (the castle was not identified in the original article) to carry out some research and talk to members of staff who had experienced many strange events while going about their everyday duties. It was soon apparent that the stories which were told by the castle staff made this a very special case.


At least six separate apparitions have been seen in the main areas of the castle within the past two years, while one sighting dates back to 1978. These sightings together with sounds from the past, seem to have turned the castle into a virtual time capsule.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CASTLE

The earliest signs of a castle on this site date back to the Iron Age. The most prominent part of its ancient history is shown by the Roman remains which are still standing today.


After the Norman conquest of 1066, whatever fortification stood on this site was significantly strengthened, but the history of the stone castle as it stands today dates back to the reign of Henry II (1154-1189). Documentary and architectural evidence survives which states that the main construction of today's castle started at the end of the reign, so we can be sure that the date was between 1181 and 1188. Henry spent more than £6500 on building the castle, which is approximately one third of the total amount he spent on 90 castles throughout England during his 35 year reign. Over the next 400 years at least another £17,000 was spent on upgrading this magnificent castle, which was an enormous amount of money in those times.

THE INVESTIGATION

After gathering all the reports from members of the castle staff, it was soon apparent that there were two main areas of haunting. The keep had the most reports of activity, with the underground tunnels following close behind. Other reports from the castle grounds were noted, but as these are extensive it was decided to concentrate on the two main areas.

The Keep

The following descriptions, given by the castle staff, are as precise as we can ever hope to get. Historic costume books were shown to the witnesses to try and give us some idea of the time period which the apparitions could belong to.

A male figure dressed in early 17th century costume (cavalier style 1610-1630) was seen by a female member of staff in 1990, around 8:30am while she was cleaning in the basement area of the keep. She described a man wearing a black wide- brimmed hat with a purple cloak which draped to the floor. The witness also reported that the figure had long dark wavy hair and a moustache. The figure stood staring at the witness for about 30 seconds then faded away into nothing.

Another apparition which has been seen is that of a woman wearing a long flowing red dress. No facial features could be seen and the witness reported that a crying or sobbing sound accompanied the sighting. This apparition has been seen on more than one occasion in the vicinity of the west stairwell, and also in the mural gallery at the top of the keep. This apparition was reported by a male member of staff. It was not possible to date the figure.

Slight glimpses of a figure in blue have been reported on many occasions in the mural gallery area, and this apparition has been witnessed by more than one person on many occasions.

On another occasion very recently, two female members of staff saw the lower half of a man's body crossing the doorway of the King's bedchamber during the evening search of the keep. The two witnesses followed the figure into the chamber only to find he had disappeared, and there was no other exit. Other members of staff were close by in the main hall at the time.

The Underground Tunnels

The main report to come from the underground tunnel area is that of a 17th century pikeman (soldier carrying a small lance-type weapon), who was seen in the guardroom at the furthest end of the tunnels by a male member staff back in 1979. At that time the castle was owned by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. The witness described how a soldier wearing a 'morion' helmet and carrying a pike walked into the guardroom through one wall and out again through another. This incident lasted only a few seconds and took place at about 6pm, while the witness was in the process of locking up at the end of the day. This incident took the witness completely by surprise, and it took him a good five minutes before he could move away from the spot. There have been no other reports of this apparition by any of the present members of the castle staff. The original report was made in June 1979.

On looking into the report of the pikeman walking through the walls of the guardrooms, I decided to look for any doorways around the area where the incident took place. There was no trace of any doorway having existed in either spot. In fact, the brickwork is of late 18th century construction and is completely original. The fact that we have a 17th century soldier walking through 18th century walls interested me somewhat, so I decided to try and find out what had stood on that site prior to the brick guardrooms. Sure enough, I discovered that an earthen spur construction had been on this spot until the late 1790s. This information seemed to tie in nicely with the report of a soldier from a period sometime before the 1630s.

Another report which comes from the underground tunnels is that of a male figure dressed in a blue cloak, who has been seen walking along the passageways on more than one occasion, although it is thought that this figure may be the same figure in blue who has been seen in the keep. The underground tunnels also seem to be affected by sounds from the past. During the summer of 1991, an American tourist and his wife commented to a member of the castle staff about the "very realistic sounds" (screams and moans) which they heard while touring the passageways. The two visitors were the very last to leave the tunnels and thought they had been listening to an audio recording of sound effects. It should also be pointed out that these two visitors were the only people in the tunnels at the time. Although the tunnels were designed as an outer defence system, they were never actually used. However, there was a siege of the castle in 1216, and that particular area saw some fighting.

The most common phenomenon, which is reported quite frequently in the vicinity of the tower section of the tunnels, is that of the sound of banging doors, described by members of staff as "heavy wooden doors being slammed shut". As we were to find out on a subsequent all-night vigil (see postscript for definition of vigil), these sounds come as quite a surprise.

THE FIRST VIGIL

After some considerable negotiation with the management and owners, it was agreed that a team of 16 investigators could stay overnight at the castle to try and come up with a natural explanation for the strange experiences which had been reported to us. The first of the two vigils took place on 12 October 1991.
The sixteen investigators taking part were divided into two groups of eight people, one group working in the keep, and the other working in the underground tunnels. The two groups then worked in pairs throughout the nine-hour vigil. The grouping of the team members was as follows:

Group A Robin Laurence Andrew Burnage
Group B Chris Cherry Peter Moore
Group C Joan Norden Carol Higgs
Group D Neil Cook Adrian Coombs-Hoar
Group E John Solley Lisa Bodley
Group F Robert Tong David Thomas
Group G Ian Peters John Spencer
Group H Keith Akers Susan Nickolls


The shift rotas for each group were as follows:

 

THE KEEP

 

8pm-10pm 10.15am-12.15am 12.30am-2.30am 2.45am-4.45am 5am-6am
Mural Gallery A D C B A
Second Floor B A D C B
First Floor C B A D C
Basement D C B A D


THE UNDERGROUND TUNNELS

 

8pm-10pm 10.15am-12.15am 12.30am-2.30am 2.45am-4.45am 5am-6am
Tower to Upper Passage E H G F E
Tower to Lower Passage F E H G F
Mid-passage to Spur G F E H G
Far Passage to Guardroom H G F E H


Results Of The First Vigil

The vigil itself started slightly later than planned, due to the fact that the entrance to the underground tunnels was not left unlocked. After contacting the night security staff, it was only a short time before a security guard was on the scene to unlock the door.

No member of either group reported any strange events during the first shift. At 11.22pm, during the second shift, the first incident occurred. David Thomas, who was at that time patrolling the mid-passageway of the spur, reported hearing a sound like a heavy wooden door being slammed shut. Unfortunately this sound was not heard by the other member of F team who was further along the passageway at the time. It was not recorded on tape.

The second incident to take place during the vigil was reported by D team, which was positioned on the second floor of the keep. Both members of this team reported hearing a loud bang, which seemed to come from the west stairwell, behind the locked double doors which lead to the stairwell. Both team members proceeded to investigate the sound, but no apparent cause could be found. They reported that, when they both turned around and started to walk away from the doors, the doors were shaken vigorously for approximately 4 seconds, then the action immediately ceased. Both investigators checked the area thoroughly, but no possible explanation was found. This incident took place at 2.20am and was not recorded on tape.

Another incident was reported at 2.20am by H team, who were stationed in the lower passageway in the underground tunnels. The two members of this team reported seeing a shadowy figure move slowly down the stone stairwell at the end of the passageway. On calling to the figure, it turned and rapidly moved back up the stairs. The two members of H team decided that the figure they saw must have been John Solley of E team patrolling the area, and nothing more was thought of the incident until the change over period (2.30-2.45am). During this 15 minute period, John Solley was asked if he had walked down the stairs at 2.20am. John Solley said he had not walked down the stairs at all during the shift and at the precise time that the incident took place he had been at the other end of the passageway that leads into the spur.

At 3.40am another incident occurred when the two members of H team, who were at the time stationed in the mid-passageway which leads to the spur, reported hearing a sound like that of a heavy wooden door being slammed shut, in the vicinity of the stairwell. This sound was recorded on audio tape. The members of the team checked the area thoroughly, but no explanation was found.

At 4.40am the two members of H team once again heard the sound of a door being slammed shut, and again the area was checked thoroughly, but nothing was found. This sound was also recorded on audio tape.

At 5.20am the most significant incident of the vigil took place. The two members of B team had a video camera trained on the double doors of the second floor stairwell (keep), where the members of D team had previously reported some activity. At 5.20am these doors were shaken vigorously for approximately 6 seconds. This event was recorded on video tape. The area was immediately checked from the stairwell side, by members of A and D teams. No persons were found on the stairs, and there was no exit. The doors to the roof were firmly locked and the exit through the basement was covered by the members of D team. No explanation was found for this phenomenon, which must be one of the few recordings of poltergeist phenomena actually in progress.

Another two incidents were to come to light during the later debriefing period. The first happened at 3.15am, when members of G team witnessed the sound of a door being slammed shut at very close quarters. In fact Ian Peters, of G team, said the sound emanated from very close to where he was standing. The incident came as quite a shock to Ian, who is a very experienced investigator. Once he had recovered he tried to find a logical explanation for the sound he had just heard.

The other incident was reported by several members of the underground tunnels group, and again this was the sound of a door being slammed shut, but heard at different points throughout the tunnels. This incident was noted at 5.15am, but was not recorded on tape by anyone who heard the sound.

The following list shows all of the incidents which took place during the vigil:

The Keep

2.10am Team D: First reported incident of poltergeist activity, apart from the double doors on the second floor.

5.20am Team B: Second incident of poltergeist activity, involving the double doors on the second floor. Recorded on video tape.

The Underground Tunnels

11.22pm Team F: First noted sound of slamming door, reported by David Thomas.

2.20am Team H: Shadow seen moving down stone stairwell, at the end of the lower passage.

3.15am Team G: Second noted sound of slamming door.

3.40am Team H: First recorded sound of slamming door. Recorded on tape in the mid-passageway of spur.

4.40am Team H: Second recorded sound of slamming door. Recorded on tape in mid-passageway of spur.

5.15am Several teams: Second noted sound of slamming door. Reported by several members of the underground tunnels group.

THE SECOND VIGIL

Due to the success of our first all-night vigil, the owners of the castle agreed that we should make a return visit. The date was set for 30 November 1991. The group again totalled sixteen investigators, but due to the colder weather, the shift rota was altered.

Team members were as follows:

Group A Robin Laurence Andrew Burnage
Group B Chris Cherry Peter Moore
Group C David Thomas John Merron
Group D John Solley John Spencer
Group E Susan Nickolls Lisa Bodley
Group F Richard Pilcher Hamish Mashall
Group G Adrian Coombs-Hoar Ian Peters
Group H Joan Norden Carol Higgs


Second shift rota (30 November 1991):

10pm-11.40pm 12am-1.40am 2am-3.40am 4.00am-6am
Mural Gallery E H G A
2nd Floor F A H B
1st Floor G C F H
Basement H B E C
Guardroom and Far Passage D E C G
Passageway through Spur C D A F
Lower Tower to Lower Passage B F D E
Upper Tower to Upper Passage A G B D


Results Of The Second Vigil

This vigil was as a whole less eventful than our October vigil, with only a few minor incidents noted. The first incident occurred during the second shift period (12- 1.40am), when one of the members of H team left a tape recorder running in the blocked-off mural gallery at 12am. On returning to this gallery from their working position in the other gallery, the two investigators were surprised to see that the tape recorder had been switched off, and the sponge wind-shield had been removed from the microphone. Although the microphone was in the position it had been left in. The recorder was then reset and left to run for the remainder of the shift period. When the tape was played back, we were surprised to hear that the tape recorder and microphone had been disturbed during its running time. Bear in mind that there was no-one else at all in either of the mural galleries at the time. It has been suggested that the sound which has been recorded could be that of rats or mice interfering with the recording equipment. Although this would not be the first time that a mouse or rat had affected such equipment, there was no physical sign eg. droppings or chewed cables. The sponge microphone wind-shield which disappeared during this shift was not recovered.

The second noted incident took place, again in the blocked-off mural gallery, during the third shift period (2-3.40am). Members of B team noticed a very strong smell of perfume in the area. Later checks with the female members of the group revealed that none of them was wearing perfume of any kind. No other members of the group smelt perfume during any part of the vigil.

The third and final incident was noted by the members of E team during the third shift period (2-3.40am). At 3.05am both members of this team heard two loud thuds in the basement area of the keep. These sounds were recorded on audio tape, but are of extremely poor sound quality.

Summary Of Phenomena Noted In The Second Vigil

12.45am H Team: Found tape recorder switched off, in the blocked-off mural gallery. Tape recorder disturbed (recorded) in the blocked-off mural gallery.

2-3.40am G Team: Noted strong smell of perfume in the blocked-off mural gallery.

3.05 am E Team: Noted hearing two loud thuds in the basement area of the keep.

WEATHER CONDITIONS

Weather conditions during both of our vigils at this castle were extremely favourable. In both cases there was no wind or rain, although there was some cloud cover. Outside temperatures did not fall below freezing.

CONCLUSIONS

All the information documented was noted as accurately as possible. In our opinion, there seems to be adequate information to suggest that this 12th century castle is actively haunted by at least six separate ghosts. Most members of the groups which took part in these vigils personally experienced some type of phenomenon.
All members of the teams who took part in both vigils have expressed their gratitude to the manager and owners of this magnificent castle.

POSTSCRIPT

This case was conducted by Robin Laurence (an ASSAP member) with his group, TPPRU (Thanet Psychic and Paranormal Research Unit) based in Kent. The case was run as a joint TPPRU / ASSAP investigation.

Several vigils have been organised at Dover since 1991, though none has produced results to match those of the first. English Heritage, which manages the castle, was at first unwilling for it to be identified in reports. However, they have changed their mind and it featured in the television series and book 'Strange but True?'. The now famous video has been shown several times on television.