The atmospheric St John’s Church was the setting for the launch of Mary Ann Cameron’s Book “City of ghosts”
The evening was introduced by the Rev David Chesters. “Why come to a Church to launch a book about ghosts?” he said. “ A few years ago there was a ghost play in the ruins, and the audience came into the Church and they spoke about souls and spirits. God is a spirit, we worship him in spirit, it’s a very spiritual place” He said the Church was a “thin place” where the veil between heaven and earth was at its very thinnest.
Mary Ann, one of 36 qualified Chester Tour guides took to the stage and spoke about the cover photograph taken by Mickle Trafford photographer David Mitchell. It shows the tour guides assembled in a ghostly pose amidst the ruins. The mysterious back over allegedly shows a genuine spectre of a hooded monk….
Mary said that she took inspiration in writing the book from the many ghost stories she heard across the city from residents and businesses. She recounted one tale she heard when she was rehearsing for her role as Jesus’ midwife in the mystery plays two years ago. Another actor who lived in an unnamed suburb told her about a floating head moving around his flat. He was too scared to tell anyone for fear or ridicule, but after a late night party and many drinks he told his assembled friends and neighbours. The person from the flat below replied “we’ve got the body…”
In preparation for the book, she visited every building in the city reported to be haunted. Sally’s secret garden “seems to have 4 ghosts” she said, with some ghostly activity captured on CCTV. She says staff at the Queen Hotel have many disturbing stories to tell, particularly from the second floor of the building.. Ye Olde Kings head, a regular target for ghost hunters has cupboards and doorways opening and shutting on their own, and ghost children on the stairways. The 15th century Blue bell is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman whose Royalist lover failed to return from the battle of Rowton Moor. She has been seen opening and closing the upstairs window… Staff downstairs have also heard the cries of a child, thought to be a servant girl who was raped and killed by Roundhead soldiers. Mary says that the last member of staff present every evening will say “goodnight” to the presence that is often sensed.
Tour guide Liz Roberts, suitable dressed in black gave us a brief tour of the grounds of St John’s as night started to fall and bats were flying through the ruins. St Johns was Chester’s original cathedral, was the site of a civil war cannon that besieged the city, and the famous “coffin in the wall” and the many legends associated with it. Supposedly when the coffin was uncovered and opened the bones within fell out and many crumbled to dust. The monk that is said to wander the grounds, looking for his own remains, which were reburied in an unknown location.
Back in the Church we spoke to Sally, of Sally’s Secret Garden on Bridge st row who described ghost activity in her shop ” We have orbs .. but most of the time he just makes a mess of the shop, turns all the incense boxes the wrong way round, he’s a young lad that makes a mess , pictures falling over for no reason at all .. I used to go upstairs and I couldn’t breathe in a certain room ” This sensation was noticed by customers as well, and research found that a Sea captain had died of a chest infection in the room.
Sally described how a customer had complained of a rude old lady rushing past her on the stairs without saying a word. “There was nobody on the stairs.. ” Sally replied
I asked Mary if she had ever seen a ghost ? “If you read the book, Viyella CC on bridge street.. I had to leave there… ..The Bishops School just outside the Northgate i had a few experiences there, so did the cleaner.. there was one room where one lecturer just refused to work in…
“Chester is the most actively haunted town in the country and the book will tell you all about it”
I asked Gavin Matthews , present with some of the Dee106.3 team if he’d ever had any strange experiences in the city:
Liz Roberts : “we would like people to come on the tours and share their stories…they’re not just for tourists.” The ghost tours take place Thurs to Sat at 730 with tickets available from Ghostcity.com or the Tourist info centre.
But is there something out there, lurking in the shadows? Having lived in Chester all my life, and often walked the lonely alleyways, I’ve never seen anything even vaguely supernatural, even at 4am in the morning. Liz took us down the haunted passageway from St Johns to the Groves, supposedly haunted by ( another) monk.
“You can’t prove they do exist but you can’t prove they don’t. 9 times out of 10 you can explain it.. but you have to think about the “what if?”.
Rev Chesters : “the Church of England and the Catholic Church have exorcists… think on that”
City of Ghosts is available from Beatons, Sally’s Secret Garden, Tea on the wall, and the visitor information centre. All profits go to St Johns
David Mitchell photography: http://www.cvphotos.co.uk