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The darker side to our green and pleasant land

25th March 2013 Print
Oxford Castle Unlocked

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the notorious Jack the Ripper murders in East London in 1888. The identity of the killer of five - or possibly six - women has remained a mystery, but the case has continued to horrify and fascinate. In the run up to the anniversary of the first Whitechapel murder on 3rd April, VisitEngland looks back on the country's horrid histories and haunted hotspots, and reveals how the braver ones amongst us can experience them today.

Jack the Ripper - East London

The killer who stalked the Whitechapel area of London back in 1888 was dubbed 'Jack the Ripper', but who exactly was he? Was he the grandson of Queen Victoria, the Queen's physician, a cabbie or a butcher? This 'who dunnit' conundrum remains a constant source of dark fascination and visitors to the capital with a daring disposition can try a Jack the Ripper walking tour of Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane. Alternatively, hear the gory tale retold, in a setting that recreates the Ten Bells on a stormy night, at the new London Dungeons.

The Pendle Witches - Lancashire

Over 400 years ago, in August 1612, ten people were found guilty of witchcraft at Lancaster Castle and executed on the moors. Were the Pendle Witches malevolent people possessed by supernatural powers, or innocent victims of a time obsessed with the pursuit and punishment of witchcraft? Intrigued visitors can walk the Lancashire witches trail, which starts in the shadow of Pendle Hill and follows the route the witches took through the Ribble Valley to Lancaster Castle where they stood trial. Once at the castle, visitors can take a guided tour to see the dungeons where they were imprisoned, and the courtroom where they were tried.

Tudor terror at The Tower of London

The Tower of London is an iconic London landmark with beefeaters, ravens and a gruesome history. And it was during Tudor times that the Tower had its bloodiest period in its history, when cells and torture chambers were rarely empty of political and religious prisoners of Henry VIII. Politician Sir Thomas More was beheaded after refusing to accept Henry as head of the new Church of England, and his majesty's second wife Anne Boleyn was beheaded within the Tower's walls after falling out of favour having failed to produce a male heir. Send yourself to the Tower and see the world-famous Crown Jewels, try on a genuine suit of armour and learn about the legendary black ravens.

A 12th century monk pulling hair at Oxford Castle Unlocked

The castle has a history of murder, witchcraft, imprisonment and execution and is reported to be one of the most haunted locations in the country. The castle is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts including a 12th century monk who pulls the hair of visitors to the Crypt, and a man who hanged himself at the castle in 1761 and can now occasionally be seen in Debtor's Tower wearing an expensive waistcoat, cape and tricorn hat. Visitors can explore the castle's many frightening areas including the Well Chamber, Prison Cells and the 900 year old Crypt beneath the building, or book a terrifying ghost tour and take part in vigils and séances in the dead of night.

The most haunted city in the UK

A city famous for England's final hanging, drawing and quartering, and the venue for the very last pressing to death in the country - a trip to Derby could haunt you for a lifetime. The city lays claim to some terrible tales: the spirit of executioner John Crossland, a criminal who earned a pardon for carrying out the death sentence on his own father and brother, roams restlessly around Derby Cathedral; poor Alice Wheeldon, accused of plotting to murder Prime Minister David Lloyd, is said to haunt the Guildhall; and victims of the Black Death were buried alive at St Peter's Churchyard in the 14th century. Join a guided ghost walk of the city with Most Haunted's Richard Felix, or hold an overnight vigil in 18th century prison Derby Gaol.

The most haunted building in the UK - Galleries of Justice, Nottingham

Nottingham's Galleries of Justice tell some of the sinister stories behind the city's own outlaws, which are brought to life in the very building where they were judged, imprisoned and executed. The setting for this historic visitor attraction is Nottingham's old courthouse and gaol, voted 'the most haunted building in the UK' by paranormal investigators Fright Nights. Take a ghost tour to hear tales of the Shire Hall's dark and sinister past and be led around the haunted corridors, cells and dungeons.

War of the Roses - Tewkesbury

One of the most significant moments in British history, the Battle of Tewkesbury took place on 4th May 1471, and was the single most decisive battle between the Yorkists and Lancastrians in the War of the Roses. The slaughter of the Lancastrians on the battlefield led to this area of land being known as the Bloody Meadows to this day. Today, the battlefield is easily accessed, and there are self-guided trails and interpretation panels to explain what happened during the course of that fateful day, almost 550 years ago. This summer, the biggest Medieval Festival in Europe will re-enact the battle and transform Tewkesbury into a living history landscape between 12th and 14th July.

Never-seen-before haunted rooms at Warwick Castle

This medieval castle has a ghastly past which haunts it to this day.  The Watergate Tower is said to be haunted by Sir Falke Greville, one-time owner of the castle, murdered by his long term manservant who went on to pack his wounds with pig fat. It's also said that the ghost of a young maid, who was blocked up behind one of the walls after giving birth to her master's child, wanders the Kingmaker area. Last month (February) the castle unlocked four never-seen-before rooms. The four ancient rooms - Barbican Battlements & Captain's Room, Bear Tower, Watergate Room and The Guards' Room - reveal tales of battle, siege, murder, power struggles and hauntings.

Anne Boleyn and her headless horses at Blickling Hall - Norfolk

This 16th century estate near Aylsham in north Norfolk, is a treasure trove of romantic buildings, beautiful gardens and landscaped park. However it is believed to be haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn. The apparition is said to appear every year on 19th May - the anniversary of her execution. Her ghost is said to draw up to the door of the stately home in a carriage pulled by headless horses and driven by a headless coachman. The house, now a National Trust property open to visitors, was built on the site of a former manor which was once home to Anne Boleyn, the mother of Queen Elizabeth I.

Frozen witch in the Wookey Caves - Somerset

Legend has it that during the Dark Ages, an old woman lived alone deep in the caverns of the Wookey Caves in Somerset. She was branded a witch and all local mishaps and problems were blamed on her. Eventually, a Holy Clerk of Glastonbury exorcised the witch and turned her to stone. Her frozen figure remains in this cavern - known as The Witch's Kitchen - to this day. Visit the Witch's Castle and Kitchen in the Wookey Hole Caves. Or catch a glimpse of Wookey witch's original skeleton, on display at Somerset's Wells & Mendip Museum.

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Oxford Castle Unlocked