Wiltshire is home to many stories and tales of local hauntings, and many local history sections in libraries hold books on ghosts and folklore. Malmesbury is no exception. The abbey is possibly the first site that one would turn to for ghostly encounters, as it towers over the town as one of the few survivors of Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries due to its purchase by William Stumpe, who turned it into a parish church (Scanlan, 48). It is said that a former monk has been seen walking through the cemetery, and that monastic singing has been heard in the abbey itself.
Another famous haunted site in the town is the Kings Arms hotel and restaurant, where a deceased landlord seems to have never left his workplace.
The ghost of Harry Jones is said to cause particular problems in bedroom nine, the room where he is thought to have died. Mr Wartnaby, a previous owner, told of beer taps being turned off when no one was near them, lights mysteriously turning on and off, and heavy breathing coming from empty rooms. Mr Wartnaby also explained that there are several items belonging to Jones in the Kings Arms, including photographs and an inscribed whisky jar. Whitlock recalls the story of Harry Jones in his own work, and adds that Malmesbury’s Old Bell inn is home to the ghost of a grey lady, who has been seen inside and outside the property. Indeed, grey ghosts appear in various places across Wiltshire, such as a rectory in All Cannings and a pub in Bradford-On-Avon.
Additionally, Whitlock recounts more tales of ghostly holy figures, from yet another grey lady ghost -this time thought to be an abbess - at Beckington Abbey, to monks haunting a local tavern in Corsley and an inn at Highworth. Hauntings tend to gather around populated spaces like abbeys, pubs and inns, then, just as much as they do isolated roads and houses. Mentions of repeated sightings by different people could be perceived as either stronger credibility or eagerness to become part of a ghost story, perhaps even just the mind playing tricks.
All of these accounts seem to indicate that the hauntings are peaceful and free of malicious intent – unless, of course, mischievously turning off beer taps can count as malicious – and the recollection of ghost stories provides Malmesbury with a certain amount of charm rather than ghostly fear. There is always a hint of mysteriousness in old towns, where local stories are passed down through the generations. Whether residents believe in the paranormal or not, having a beloved local area the setting of a horror story is always an exciting experience. If the sighted ghosts would talk, Malmesbury’s source of local legends would surely grow in number, adding to its rich history.
Local Studies Champion at Malmesbury Library
Scanlan, David. Paranormal Wiltshire. Amberly Publishing Plc, 2009.
Underwood, Peter. Ghosts of Wiltshire. Bossiney Books, 1989.
Whitlock, Ralph. The Folklore of Wiltshire. Biddles Ltd., 1976.
All books are available to loan from your local library and there is a large selection at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, many of which are also available to loan via your library.