Ghost Sightings at the Tower of London

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The gray bricks of the Tower of London are damp to my touch, and as I run my hand over their rough surfaces, a layer of mildew clings to my fingertips.

During the centuries, these massive walls have held captive hundreds of unfortunate prisoners. I can’t help but think of all the eyes that have stared at these bricks, knowing full well the only fate that awaited them.

Some say that the Tower of London is the most haunted place in England, says Phil Wilson, a yeoman sarjeant at the Tower. “Hundreds of people have been held prisoner and died here. There are dozens of ghost stories,” he says.

Wilson should know. As one of the queen’s elite Tower caretakers, he has spent six years not only working in this fortress, but living here as well. Wilson and his wife, Ann, make their home in Beauchamp Tower. The only access to their apartment is a narrow, winding staircase, and I have to watch my step as Wilson and I walk up to meet Ann.

The ancient rooms of the apartment are oddly shaped, making furniture arrangement a difficult task. Yet the couple has decorated the rooms nicely, and I immediately feel welcome and at home. While Phil explains his work as a yeoman warder, Ann is busy preparing tea and scones. There is a delicious aroma in the room. For an instant, I forget that I am inside a prison.

Then I look out the front window.

“That there,” says Wilson, pointing to a distinctive square of dark brick, “is an executioner’s site.”

A sick feeling comes over me as I picture the gruesome scenes that have taken place there. Wilson, who knows his history, happily recounts some of the Tower’s tales as we sit down for tea.

Many of those condemned to death had done nothing but fall out of favor with the royal family, he says. Others were sentenced for witchcraft, political activity, religious beliefs or adultery. But the Tower was no ordinary prison. “It was a fortress and royal palace,” says Wilson. “You had to be a person of high status to be held prisoner here.”

Some prisoners went to their deaths with stoic bravery. Sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey was queen for nine days in 1553 before she was overthrown by her cousin, Mary Tudor, who ordered Grey and her husband put to death. Right before her beheading, the teenager delivered an eloquent speech, then laid her head bravely upon the executioner’s block.

Since then, Lady Jane’s serene ghostly figure has been seen numerous times, especially on the anniversary of her death. Others have seen her husband’s weeping ghost in the Beauchamp Tower.

Other prisoners, such as the 70-year-old Countess of Salisbury, rejected their sentences and fought to the death. “She ran from the executioner,” says Wilson, “who chased her down and hacked her to pieces.”

According to Tower legend, the woman’s ghostly apparition has been seen in grisly reenactments of her death. Others have reported seeing the shadow of a huge ax falling across the scene of her murder.

Personally, it’s one sighting I’d rather not see. “Isn’t it hard to live in a place with so much gruesome history?” I ask the Wilsons.

Read the full story at Go World Travel Magazine

Category: Travel Features