The Ghosts of Chester

Written by Luke Greensmith

Originally published on September 14th, 2021


This episode has been on the back burner for a little while now, being a Chester based episode. Chester is the nearest former Roman town to me, one with a lot of heritage and organic city growth including its own defensive walls still in place and maintained for tourism. It doesn’t have quite the personal connection York does for me, but it’s a damn pretty place that’s a lot of fun to explore. Chester isn’t the first place I think of when it comes to haunted places around the Isles, but everywhere has its tales and Chester has a LOT of history to draw upon. As I found during my research, it’s pretty damn haunted over there.


SECTION BREAK - The Haunted Thornton’s


I’m not sure how renowned Thornton’s is internationally, but they’re a nationwide chocolatier’s in the UK who are pretty far spread and well liked. Thornton’s of Chester is home to what may be the most famous ghost of the city: Sarah.


Sarah is a poltergeist Thornton’s inherited from the previous owner of the property Bewley’s. The upstairs stock room and the basement appear to be her primary haunts with stories going back to the Bewley days and carrying on through to the present of drastically rearranged stock being discovered in the morning. Staff venturing into her territory can be in for a scare, often a feeling of dread but with a chance of being ghosthandled, leading to some staff refusing to venture either up or downstairs alone and at least one delivery driver won’t enter the store himself. Certain things can draw Sarah down to the main store floor though. The very first February after Thornton’s moved in to the building, they set up a Valentine’s Day display which Sarah absolutely demolished. The first time she did it was the worst, but Sarah really doesn’t seem to like any love and relationship themed displays. This is understandable considering her origin, as she is supposed to be the spirit of a woman who hung herself after being stood up at the altar.


Sarah also seems to have a problem with people who don’t believe in her. There’s a story of one time a woman loudly proclaiming ghosts aren’t real immediately getting shoved from behind when there was no one there.


There’s one more way to draw Sarah down to the main shop floor… What’s extra notable about this spirit is she seems to like to play up for an audience. When a ghost tour is outside of the closed store in an evening telling her story the freezer thermometers can drastically change their displayed temperature in front of groups of witnesses, and as tour groups arrive to check the building out sometimes random boxes of chocolates have been moved from displays to unusual places such as the middle of the floor. A psychic claims to have become aware of Sarah as a spirit with a rope around her neck, and put her to rest. Sarah does not appear to have gotten that memo though, and the freezer thermometer can still play up when a ghost tour group are lined up outside to hear about her.


SECTION BREAK – A very creepy photo


While not as active as a lot of other haunted places, this one has a disturbing piece of evidence to go with it. This happened at the Bombay Palace in Upper Northgate, a family owned Indian restaurant. If you go search online for “ghostly figure spotted Bombay Palace Chester” you should be able to see this photograph yourself. This occurred 3am one night in the run up to Christmas 2013, the co-owner Aaron Ali was sat in the dark after closing. He was front of house when a banging noise came from the back of the restaurant. Alone, afraid, and worried someone else may be in there with him, Mr Ali gets his phone out to record. The bad news was that in his panic he had the camera set to take stills. The good news was that there was no living person in there with him that night. The worse news is that he caught something on camera anyway, despite being alone.


The men’s toilet’s had the door propped open by a mop, a normal end of night bit of cleaning up to help air it out. While not recording video a picture was taken through this door, catching the mirror in the deeper darkness beyond. Apparently at first it just looked like the mirror was somehow catching some light. At least until the “light” in the mirror is zoomed in on.


It looks like a white mask of some description caught in the mirror just hanging in the air, and it is pretty damn creepy to look at.


Now, Mr Ali insists this is no photo manipulation. In his own words he doesn’t know enough about computers to try this, and he was initially reluctant to share the picture with press as he didn’t want to make his children afraid of the restaurant. But multiple people, both staff and customers, have been saying for years before the picture evidence they felt there was “something” in the back of the restaurant. And the real kicker? In the 80s a coffin was found in the basement.


An empty coffin.


What the heck is loose in there?


It’s a good thing it isn’t particularly active. This one gives me a bad feeling…


SECTION BREAK – Spooky secrets


Sally’s Secret Garden is a gift shop with a coffee garden, which sounds all kinds of adorable and I now want to track it down and see what they’ve got. But while the whimsical name refers to the café area on offer, there do seem to be several hauntings that can be added to the list of secrets to be found there. Sally’s Secret Garden inherited quite a lot in the building they set up in. A grade 3 listed building with a specifically grade 2 listed Carolean design ceiling dating back to the 1670s. Then there’s the inherited ghosts that come along with the fixtures. The premises has a reputation for some pretty bold poltergeist activity, to the point where it is regularly caught on security cameras. There’s a fair amount of disruption recorded now, up to and including multiple heavy set paintings falling off the wall at once, and assorted investigations seem to point the finger at the spirit of a young boy running about the place with a toy still in hand. Innocent chaos, really. But there are two more worrying spirits that came part and parcel with that beautiful ceiling.


In an upstairs part of the café you may have the misfortune of bumping into a monk, or a previous owner who was a sea captain that died of a chest infection. The monk may turn up in a corner seat with a window. Share the same seat he is in, and you become short of breath until you move away. Sit on a couch in the sea captain’s favourite room when he’s around, and you develop chest pains until you leave the room. These two are somewhat worrying. Is this malicious? Or just a very unwelcome sympathetic reaction where you share their symptoms if you occupy the same space as them? Either way, these are spectres which are unpleasant to directly cross paths with.


Sally’s Secret Garden is something of an alternative venue, which may help bring out the paranormal activity found within. The gift shop sells a wide range of new age accoutrements and they hold such things as wiccan workshops there. It’s definitely an interesting sounding place to visit!


SECTION BREAK – A walkway for ghosts


The Queen Hotel was built in 1860 with the express intent of keeping The Poors away from people of proper breeding. The prestigious hotel was built with a covered walkway to take first class train passengers directly from their platform to the hotel with no risk of peasants dirtying the eyeballs of their betters. While probably a great laugh for the rich people of the time, their hubris appears to of angered some deity who is into class warfare and this walkway, not to mention the Queen Hotel, seems all kinds of cursed to the point were disasters have left this walkway sealed off to the living. Only the occasional ghost is spotted using the sealed path now, by those unfortunate enough to catch sight of the path at the wrong time.


Some 8 years after the Queen Hotel opened a train departing Chester station collided with a trailer full of paraffin tanks, which promptly exploded setting the whole train on fire killing 32 passengers from the hotel. That’s a pretty extreme collision, ending in an incendiary explosion! One theory goes that these deceased passengers are the ones you can spot on the sealed off walkway these days, coming back from their interrupted journey in confusion still at what befell them.


I mention the Queen Hotel may be cursed itself, and I have a few reasons for that! It caught fire about a year after opening, fire being a running theme here, with what was at the time the female servant’s quarters only suffering smoke damage. This smoke damage was repairable, so repair these quarters workmen did. As they did so, they found the mummified corpse of a newborn baby under the floorboards. Back in the latter half of the 1800s, an illegitimate birth was an incredibly shameful thing, and it appears that tragically some poor women gave birth in her room then smothered the baby before hiding the evidence. After all this came to light, she threw herself out of the window to her death. The room that these terrible events unfolded in is now Room 301, and it isn’t uncommon for guests staying there to call down to reception complaining of being able to hear a crying baby at night.


There are then a few famous entities to contend with. A chef once hung himself in the cellar, and there now appears to be a ghost there. As well as an apparition that is spotted at times, there are also wet footprints trodden about down there when there should be no one around. Weirdly, it is claimed that it is not the chef who killed themselves haunting the cellar but is instead the person who found the body who lingers beyond the grave.


The most brazen spectre of the hotel appears to bother people in room 230. This is no historic haunt, with two encounters within weeks of each other happening in 2015. The second encounter wasn’t so bad. A lady staying there was awoken to see the figure of a moustachioed blonde man in a tailcoat stood watching her, beating his hands on the end of the bed. They thankfully vanished after terrifying the poor woman. But the encounter a few weeks earlier was far more worrying… A couple staying in room 230 were awoken by a banging at the window, to see this same well dressed spirit standing outside on what could only be thin air. Having woken the couple up, the figure climbed into the room before then climbing into the bed with the poor couple. They ran out of the hotel at 3am and refused to go back inside! I can’t say I blame them after that.


This isn’t even all the paranormal activity there! Baths mysteriously fill themselves, orbs turn up on camera, and speaking of things turning up on camera: a skeletal bride can be captured in the background of pictures taken during wedding functions held at the hotel!


The Queen Hotel is haunted as all hell, and I’m now thinking about staying there in the near future. Maybe try to get room 230, see if anything happens…


SECTION BREAK – A very nasty fall


Okay, we’ve got time for a quick bonus story, and we can’t do a story from the United Kingdom without a haunted pub being chucked into the mix!


This is from The Pied Bull, Northgate Street not too far from the Bombay Palace of Upper Northgate. It’s a traditional pub which still has bedrooms guests can book into, like a lot of the older inn style businesses do, and it has a fair few hauntings to speak of. Not too surprising given that the building dates back to 1155 and it may be the oldest continuously licensed premises in the city.


In the overnight rooms, there’s a chance to encounter a chambermaid who used to work there in rooms 7, 8, and 9. A stable hand from back when it was a coaching inn who burned to death is said to be found roaming the hallways too.


But there’s a particularly infamous spirit haunting The Pied Bull, and he seems pretty cranky about how he died. In 1609 a man called John Davies fell down the cellar stairs, during which he accidentally stabbed himself to death with the knife he was holding. From that day he really doesn’t seem happy about this, and has made his feelings very clear to staff venturing down into the cellar as an inexplicable blast of cold air can hit them near bowling them clean over. When not stomping around in the cellar where they met their ignoble end the ghost of Mr Davies can sometimes be spotted in the Resident’s Lounge reading a book. Best not to ask him about his fall should you encounter this phantom though, it feels like a touchy subject.


SECTION BREAK


That’s all for this episode. I’m starting a themed run of three episodes from the next podcast, we’re doing the most haunted places in the UK! There are three locations each claiming the title, and I’ve split them up so they’re all title holders in their own regard. After them? We may do a vote for fun on who is the overall most haunted… I’ll fill you in more as we go.


LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production.


A primary source for this episode is the book Chester: City of Ghosts compiled by Mary Ann Cameron.


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