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Apparitions in the archives: haunted libraries in the UK

Following our look at haunted libraries in the US last year, this Halloween we turn our sights to the phantoms haunting the libraries and private collections of Britain. From a headless ghost, to numerous abnormalities surrounding a vast collection of magical literature from a late ghost hunter, here are some stories around apparitions that have been glimpsed among the stacks – you can choose whether or not you believe them to be true….

St. John’s Library, University of Oxford

St. John’s College Library is thought to be haunted by the headless ghost of Archbishop William Laud, who was beheaded in 1645 following impeachment by the Long Parliament. Guide books perpetuate the myth of the ghost of Archbishop William Laud disturbing readers by kicking his head along the floor of the library. This is not something library staff have reported in living memory. However, there have been several occasions, some recent, others going back fifty years, where readers say they have heard sounds of footsteps advancing and retreating along the floor of the long reading room, which was built by Laud in the 17th Century and is known as the Laudian Library. These sounds have never been explained away by mundane causes such as problems with the heating. As the Deputy Librarian states, “we do know that Laud cared passionately about his library, and we like to think he has a friendly presence here.”

Felbrigg Hall Library by National Trust Images. Used with permission from National Trust.

Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

Late Felbrigg Hall resident William Windham III was supposedly obsessed with books, and most ghost stories surrounding the estate link back to him and his personal library. Having died from injuries that he sustained after he heroically tried to save burning books from a fire at a friend’s personal library in London, his ghost is now believed to return to his own collection of books at Felbrigg in order to finally read the texts he didn’t get a chance to when he was alive. Staff and volunteers at the Hall report seeing William sitting at the library table, or relaxing in one of his reading chairs. According to at least one source, Windham’s ghost will only appear when a certain combination of books – presumably his favourites – are arranged on the library table.

The Harry Price Collection of Magical Literature, Senate House Library, London

Senate House Library, part of the University of London, is home to the Harry Price Collection. It is a collection of nearly 13,000 books, pamphlets, and periodical titles on all aspects of magic and the paranormal: from conjuring, to witchcraft and the occult, as well as prophecies, and spiritual phenomena such as ghosts and mediums. These were collected by and named after the leading paranormalist and psychical researcher Harry Price, who investigated cases of alleged hauntings during his lifetime. Ever since the books took residence on the eighth floor of Senate House, the library’s staff have reported strange activity, such as hearing the sound of loud laughter or whispering when no one else is around, and seeing floating books or even full-blown apparitions, including a mysterious cloaked figure and a glowing ‘Blue Lady.’

Raglan Castle, © Crown copyright (2017) Cadw, Welsh Government. Used with permission.

The librarian ghost of Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire, Wales

As one of the last castles built in Wales, Raglan Castle was constructed between 1435 and 1525. Now a ruin, it is still a tourist attraction for visitors, who have reported catching glimpses of a ghost in bardic clothes. This figure has been described as beckoning to them from the vicinity of the wing of the castle that was once the library, and he is therefore thought to be the ghost of the castle’s librarian. During the Civil War, the librarian hid a collection valuable books and manuscripts in a secret tunnel beneath the castle –and it was lucky he did, for one of the first acts perpetrated by the enemy was the destruction of Raglan’s priceless library. Although it is not known when or where the librarian died, it is now thought that his spirit still watches over his hidden cache of literary treasures. The ghost was reportedly last seen in the summer of 2001, when a girl on a school trip came running from the castle, ashen-faced, insisting that she had seen him gesturing to her from a dimly lit corner.

Featured image credit: old books library by jarmoluk. Public domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Cynthia Garrett

    Another place to add to my bucket list. See an ghost persuading me to come a little closer, to read some of the treasure of his time, would draw me in to his time, his world, leave mine far behind. Thank you for your articles!

  2. Mark Conway

    I have a library of 20,000 supernatural and ghost books and a very spooky house… interested incoming?

  3. James McArthur

    I agree with you, Cynthia Garrett. The world of the ghost and of olden times is far more interesting to me.

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