Last weekend, I had the chance to do some touring around Warwickshire between my museum meetings. Warwickshire was first created as a division of the Kingdom of Mercia in the early 11th century. During the middle ages it was an important area for the country since it is the middle of England. The region has been inhabited since prehistory. During the 1st century AD, the area was at the frontier of the Romano-British empire, and was an important location for protection of the Romans legions. Following Roman departure, the area became inhabited by the Anglo-Saxons and was a large portion of the Mercian kingdom. During the Viking invasion, it was once again at the frontier between the English people and the Danish. Norman conquest led to the construction of Warwick Castle and it was during this period that the famous Lady Godiva made legend.
While I was visiting this region, there were two things that I wanted and was able to do. First, I visited Kenilworth Castle- one of my favorite stops in England. Kenilworth Castle was constructed between the Norman and Tudor periods, and was home to a lavish affair between Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester. The castle is a fantastic example of changing architecture from a defensive structure to a fashionable palace. It also is home to a number of ghosts, including a man in black killed during a sword fight, a little boy who haunts the stables, an older woman who breaks candles in the gatehouse, and a lost girl in the gatehouse who calls for her father. Personally, I like Kenilworth because it is usually fairly quiet and I feel like I have the opportunity to commune with the past.
Another more infamous castle nearby is Warwick, which is one of the most haunted but also a highly touristed castle. It was first built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror and it has seen more battles than any other castle in Europe. There are two major haunted areas: the tower and the dungeon. Sir Fulke was murdered by his manservant in 1628, and is said to materialize on cold evenings near his portrait. The dungeon, which currently houses a large grotesque display created by Madame Tussaud on torture for the tourist side of the castle, is also supposed to house a number of spirits who were tortured there. For a more visceral experience, you can see the world’s largest working siege trebuchet. In their heyday, trebuchets were used to eviscerate castles and destroy siege lines.
I’ve been to England quite often, but this visit was my first time visiting Stratford Upon Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and also the home of his grave. Sadly, there was a wedding going on in Holy Trinity Church so I didn’t see the grave, but I did get to wander around the cemetery. It is a beautiful cemetery with tall grave markers and the sidewalks winding through it are lined with both old and new markers. If you want to learn about the deaths in Shakespeare plays, then this is also the place to go. Ophelia’s death was said to have been inspired by Shakespeare’s cousin who drowned at age two while picking corn marigolds. There is also some surprising archaeology in this area, including a Roman soldier with African heritage who died in Stratford Upon Avon 1,700 years ago and was excavated 5 years ago.
There are also some fantastic haunted places to stay, including the place I stayed at- Coombe Abbey Hotel. The abbey had been the home to numerous monks, one of which was brutally murdered and is said to still roam the grounds and is responsible for flinging items around the kitchen. Another ghost is a gypsy girl who runs across the stables due to a curse. Sadly while I was there I didn’t get to see any ghosts, though I did have the chance to eat some amazing foods and a couple great nights.
Hauntings in Warwickshire. BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/coventry/content/articles/2006/05/24/weird_spooky_tales_feature.shtml