From Racton to Rye, Sussex teems with unquiet presences

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Peter James’s latest novel, The House on Cold Hill, was inspired, he says, by having once lived in a haunted manor near Ditchling. He had to enlist the vicar of Brighton, an exorcist, to deal with an intrusive crinolined lady. Which was done in four words: “You may go now.”

Last Halloween I wrote here about the ghosts of Brighton and Hove, one of Britain’s most haunted cities. But Sussex as a whole is one of the most haunted counties.

A brief sampling of Sussex ghosts might begin at Racton in the far west, where Lordington House harbours Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who appears with a red streak round her neck, having been beheaded by Henry VIII.

A Cavalier soldier, killed by Roundheads, used to haunt the Crab and Lobster at Sidlesham (the pub has now been exorcised), while a Roman centurion haunts the Castle Inn at Chichester. Bognor’s Picturedome cinema has a spectral cinephile.

While staying at Slindon Park, an Elizabethan house with Catholic connections, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce encountered a ghostly Catholic priest in the library. The priest indicated a book on the shelves; the bishop opened it to find a paper inside. Guessing it was the cause of the priest’s unrest, he cast it unread into the fire.

Arundel Castle boasts several ghosts, including a kitchen boy forever banging pots, the first Earl of Arundel roaming the keep, a young woman who committed suicide by leaping from the Hiornes tower, and a blue man in the library.

Amberley vicarage was once haunted by a golden-haired young girl; in 1904 the skeletons of a young girl and a woman, probably her mother, were unearthed in the dining-room.

At a bungalow in North Lane, Rustington, a ghostly figure in an oilskin has recently been seen, while inexplicable things happen to the freezer, microwave, and washing machine.

A ragged and emaciated boy and girl, begging for food, haunt Bramber.

The Crown Inn in Lewes has a mad priest in its cellar, an 18th-century man in brown in a bedroom, a murdered lady in grey.

Beds levitate in room 26 of Shelley’s Hotel. Anne of Cleves House has an elderly woman hanging from a beam, while at Malling House, the police headquarters, Annie, said to be a murdered housemaid, haunts the rose garden.

A lady in a rustling blue silk dress haunts Deans Place at Alfriston, while an 18th-century heir and his dog, murdered by robbers, haunt the road from Alfriston to Seaford.

At Michelham Priory, near Hailsham, one of Sussex’s most restless sites, a Tudor lady pursues a cloaked man down a vanished staircase.

Beachy Head is stalked by a black monk, luring walkers to throw themselves over, while the ghosts of suicides actually step over.

There are ghosts on Eastbourne pier (a caped man in a trilby), at the Atlantis nightclub (a wartime soldier), the Royal Sovereign (a tall-hatted policeman), Eastbourne College (a hanged pupil), and at Willingdon roundabout (a lady golfer).

A metal rock band, practising in Chapel Studios in 2002, was spooked by hymn-singing nuns.

Herstmonceux Castle boasts a ghostly drummer, an executed former owner, Lord Dacre, plunging with his horse into the moat, and a white-cloaked 18th century lady, Georgiana Naylor.

Pevensey Castle and Battle Abbey also flit with ghosts, while Brede Place has been called “the foremost haunted house in Sussex”.

Rudyard Kipling described haunted Glydwish Wood, near Burwash, as full of “ancient ferocity and evil”. Robertsbridge has a phantom unlit cyclist.

The streets of Rye, in the county’s far east, have unquiet monks, while Henry James’s cook is among Lamb House’s ghostly host. In room 16 of the Mermaid – one of Britain’s most haunted inns – two duellers in doublet and hose forever clash swords.

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