Brighton's Ghost Walk - spirits of Sussex past
PUBLISHED: 10:42 18 November 2013 | UPDATED: 10:42 18 November 2013
Brighton's Lanes have a natural allure with their old creaky buildings and fascinating specialist shops. They're a hive of tourist activity and a magnet for alternative music buffs and devotees of exotic fashions. But there is another hidden attraction in Brighton's lanes - the spirits that haunt the old buildings, many of whom only come out at night.
The Whispering Ghost
No. 6 Little East Street is a listed cottage dating back to 1800, with a history of paranormal activity. Strange occurrences were first documented there in 1997 by owner Jim Bingham when it opened as a restaurant. Staff heard their names being whispered but when they looked around, they were alone.
Then in 2008, Pauliina Talvensaan and Manu Leppaney bought the property and transformed it into a Scandinavian bar called Northern Lights. They had a late night opening party, and after all the guests had departed, they sat chatting quietly beside the bar. It was 3am. Suddenly, they heard slow, heavy footsteps ascending the wooden staircase. They looked at each other in alarm, aware that everyone except themselves and the barman had gone home. It sounded like someone heading to bed after the party had ended – but that was impossible! Manu and the barman went to investigate, but there was nobody there.
They experienced continued disturbances, and then one day a psychic on the Ghost Tour of The Lanes said she felt an overwhelming paranormal energy on the staircase and around the fireplace. She said that a benign spirit was stuck in limbo due to a sentimental attachment to his former home.
Keen to get to the bottom of this strange phenomenon, in 2009, Pauliina and Manu called upon Pauliina’s sister, a sensitive, to conduct a séance. During proceedings, three clear knocks were heard from the ceiling and she said she sensed a 19th century gentleman with a cane and also identified the spirit of a young girl who lives in the cellar. It is thought that these spooks still haunt the building to this day.
The phantom nun
A bricked-up doorway to the rear of the Quaker meeting house on Meeting House Lane is the mythical location of the phantom of an ill-fated nun. The spectral image of a shrouded woman has been seen disappearing through the doorway - cold air and mist accompanied one sighting. The mysterious figure was also spotted drifting down Black Lion Lane.
The legend behind the hauntings states that in the 12th century, the Priory of Saint Bartholomew stood close to where the Town Hall is today. A young nun, whose name has been lost in the mists of time, had a romantic interest in a soldier who had been sent to protect the priory from pirates. They fell in love and ran off together, but were soon caught. The soldier was hanged for deserting his post and the nun was imprisoned inside a bricked-up wall in the priory cellars and left to die.
It’s an enduring story, but some people argue that the Quaker meeting house was built many years after the alleged incident, and others claim that the phantom is a Quaker woman, and not a nun at all!
Doctor Brighton’s, a bar on the corner of Little East Street, has seen poltergeist activity in a number of locations. In the 1980s, a resident barmaid was upstairs in her bedroom when her cosmetics flew off the dressing table and her bedroom mirror split in two. Then a ghostly figure appeared in an old armchair before vanishing into thin air.
Men using the toilets downstairs have described a shadowy figure reflected in the mirror, but when they turn around to see who is there, they are completely alone.
Other strange occurrences within the property include a former landlord’s cat who spat and hissed at an invisible force, and a window cleaner who had to constantly remove children’s fingerprints, even though children were not permitted on the premises.
It later transpired that illegal abortions took place on the site. A woman suffering from the after-effects of a crude termination died there, and her son knocked his head and died too. Perhaps they are the restless spirits that still haunt the building.
The Druid’s Head
This pub is surely one of Brighton’s most haunted locations. Spooky experiences include the brief apparition and vanishing of a lady in a red dress, glasses moving by themselves, lights flickering and ghostly appearances only visible to children.
Two tunnels were discovered in the cellars during renovation work in the 1960s. The first tunnel led to the sea - possibly used by smugglers in the past. The second led to the Royal Pavilion and was thought to have been used by the Prince Regent to smuggle prostitutes into the Pavilion. Many years ago, a smuggler was murdered by customs officials in one of these tunnels. Some say his spirit is responsible for the disturbances.
In the 1970s, one of the landlords saw a hooded figure dart beneath the staircase, close to where the murder took place. Staff still report feeling uncomfortable and more than 100 strange and paranormal experiences reported at The Druid’s Head have left many people feeling a little on edge – and others, completely terrified.
Staff at Brighton’s YMCA, a former 19th century manor house, say a spirit lives in the basement. The female spectre was spotted in 2008 and again in 2009, wearing a long, flowing dress. A clairvoyant visiting the property that year detected a strong male presence too and suggested that the phantoms were the spirits of Prince George and his wife, Maria.
The building, Steine House, was commissioned in 1804 by Prince George, the Prince of Wales. He married Maria Fitzherbert in private, only to discover that his marriage was not recognised under the Royal Marriages Act. They were forced to keep their relationship low profile, so he commissioned the excavation of a tunnel running between his home, Brighton Royal Pavilion, and Steine House where she lived, so they could discreetly enjoy private liaisons.
The phantom spotted in recent times matches Maria’s description, and it is believed that the twosome shared so much happiness in the house that they are reluctant to leave.
If someone embraced you from behind during a ghost walk in Brighton’s Lanes you’d probably think it was your loved one. Otherwise you’d knock them away. That’s what happened on a recent ghost walk along Black Lion Lane in Brighton, but when the woman turned, there was nobody there.
The phantom who embraces ladies in Black Lion Lane is thought to be the same spirit who has a reputation for terrifying sleeping guests in one of the houses. Many years ago, a woman staying at a property on Black Lion Lane felt her bed start to rock. She awoke startled, and found herself pinned to the bed while an unseen figure breathed heavily onto her face.
On another occasion, a guest was woken by the mumblings of a man in the room below. Then lumbering footsteps ascended the stairs and the temperature in her bedroom dropped. One side of her bed sagged and unseen hands started to touch her. The frosty fingers terrified her and she jumped up and switched on the light. The room warmed up and her harasser had gone.
The lady of the house said she felt the house had once belonged to an old sea captain who liked to rest in an old chair in her lounge - it creaked from time to time with his weight!
Brighton’s Ghost Walk
Today, you can visit these, and other, haunted locations in and around Brighton’s Lanes with a guided ghost walk led by expert ghost-hunter. Rob Marks. Rob has written a book about the Brighton Ghost Walks and the spirits you might encounter on route.
Do the walk:
01273 328 297