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ROCHESTER CASTLE VIGIL
By Robin Laurence

Rochester Castle, in common with several others, is reputed to be haunted. A TPPRU/ASSAP team recently went to investigate whether there is anything paranormal to be found there.

A brief history of Rochester Castle

Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, started work on building the castle in about 1087. The keep (great tower) was built by William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1127, when he was granted custody of the castle. The Archbishops of Canterbury remained in custody of the castle until 1215, when it was taken back by the crown after a seven week seige by King John. During this seige considerable damage was sustained by the southeast tower of the keep, which King John's soldiers undermined, causing the whole quarter of the keep to collapse.

In 1264 the rebuilt castle saw more action. From 17-26 April the castle was attacked by two rebel armies. Gilbert de Clare came up from his castle at Tonbridge, then the following day (Good Friday) Simon de Montfort came from London. Within a day they had captured the outer bailey and trapped the defending soldiers, led by Roger de Leybourne, within the keep. A truce was declared on Easter Sunday, but the following day saw more fighting. The castle was extensively damaged by stone throwing machines, and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Simon de Montfort gave up his fight after hearing that the King was approaching with a large army. It is said that during the seige, Lady Blanche de Warren died at the castle when she was hit by an arrow. During the battle an arrow was fired at one of the knights defending the castle, it bounced off his armour and struck Lady Blanche in the heart. Her ghost is said to haunt the battlements on the anniversary of her death.

Haunted Rochester CastleResearch and the vigil

In spring 1992 I received a phone call from Mr Munn, head custodian at Rochester Castle. He asked if TPPRU (Thanet Psychic and Paranormal Research Unit) would be interested in staging an all-night vigil at the castle in the not too distant future. I arranged to meet Mr Munn at Rochester for a discussion and tour of the castle a couple of weeks later. During the meeting he told me about the history of the castle and the ghost of Lady Blanche de Warren. He also told me that he had spoken to two witnesses who had seen an apparition at the castle in recent years. I also learned about a second ghost, thought to be that of Charles Dickens, which has been seen in the moat area on several occasions. By the end of my meeting with Mr Munn two dates had been suggested for a vigil later in the summer, and over the next few weeks arrangements were confirmed with English Heritage.

On the evening of 4 July 1992 a group of 18 investigators assembled at Rochester castle for the all-night vigil. The investigators were divided into working teams of three people, and were given a shift rota showing the locations in the castle and its grounds where they should be stationed. By 10.00 p.m. the members of all six groups were in position, except for our accompanying reporter from the Observer newspaper (Amanda Mitchison), who arrived by scaling the main gate at about 11.00 p.m. After Miss Mitchison's rather noisy arrival, all of the team members settled down to endure the nights bad weather.

The first event of the night took place at 12.00 a.m., when members of several groups noticed a police car parked outside the castle grounds. The police officers were extremely intrigued to see figures on the battlements of the castle in the middle of the night. They then took a large searchlight out of their car and shone it at some of the team members who were positioned in the castle. This incident finally came to an end when the custodian, who was with Group E, went down to the police officers and explained what was happening. After everyone settled down a succession of small events took place, the first and most notable being the turning on of a movement activated security light which was mounted on the outside of the keep at the main entrance. This light was noted to turn itself on and off on many occasions during the night, although nobody was actually within range of its sensor. At noted times several groups reported hearing heavy thumps and metallic clicks coming from within the keep. Many unexplained noises occurred during the course of the night, none of which can definitely be identified. Undoubtedly the main unexplainable incident of the night happened at about 4.25 a.m. when footsteps were heard to come down the stairs but no-one accompanied them.

Unfortunately the weather turned out to be quite miserable for the time of year. As our resident reporter wrote, 'every two hours the rota changed so that those standing in the continuous drizzle on the battlements got the chance to try out the howling winds in the gallery and those in the howling winds in the gallery tried out the drizzle round the moat.' This should give you some idea of how foul the weather actually was.

Details of the shift rota

The groups were:

Group (A) Robin Laurence
Group (B) Anthea Holland, Andrew Burnage, Geoff Holland, Amanda Mitchison, James Howard
Group (C) Lee Darwood
Group (D) John Spencer, Jo Darwood, Tony Wells, Tim Dedopoulos, Adrian Coombs-Hoar, Mary Coombs-Hoar
Group (E) Dave Thomas
Group (F) Bob Wootton, Norman Munn, Grace Wootton, John Merron, Sioux Miller

The shift rota was:

 
10-11.40
12-1.40
2-3.30
4-5.30
Battlements
A
F
E
D
Mural Gallery
B
E
F
A
2nd Floor
C
D
A
B
1st Floor
D
C
B
E
Ground 1
E
B
C
F
Ground 2
F
A
D
C

There were twenty minute change-over periods between each shift.

Conclusions

Although the weather conditions were unfavourable the teams who took part managed to carry out a fairly successful vigil, with only the 4.25 a.m. incident being worth noting as definitely unexplained. As usual with such vigils members of TPPRU and ASSAP wish to express their gratitude to English Heritage and the Head Custodian at Rochester Castle.

Media interest

There appears to be an increase in the number of 'ghost watches' these days. ASSAP gets frequent requests for suitable places to stage vigils. There is a corresponding increase in media interest in such vigils. It is possible that last year's 'Ghostwatch' TV programme may have encouraged the trend, though it seems to have started before that.

Reporters quite frequently accompany teams from ASSAP, TPPRU and similar organisations on vigils. On the Rochester vigil Amanda Mitchison of the Observer went along. She compared ghost-watching with other 'odd' hobbies, but nevertheless seemed favourably impressed with the modern equipment and disciplined approach being used.

Stephen Jarvis accompanied another ASSAP/TPPRU vigil at Fort Amherst in Kent. This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph recently and stimulated further interest in the subject. Mr Jarvis clearly found that Fort Amherst had a ghostly atmosphere. It was a shame no ghosts turned up to enliven the proceedings.