Due to a passion for history and a working background in archaeology, I’m slightly biased here, but in my humble opinion the village of Avebury, in the southern, English county of Wiltshire, is a very special place. As far as we know, its origins as a location of human settlement can be traced back to the late Mesolithic period – around 9,000 years ago.
As a young archaeology student, back in the distant 1980’s, I found Avebury to be a place of utter wonder and intrigue. This was the place where my eager trowel hit a chunk of ‘something’, deeply buried at the site of an ancient settlement on the edge of modern Avebury, which had been abandoned for millennia. Upon retrieving the object, I found a clay pot. My teacher informed me that mine were the first Earthly eyes to view this utensil in over 5,000 years.
Such facts can blow a young, curious mind wide open. Enormous clouds of mystery still hang over Avebury and surrounding areas, especially concerning the intricate patterns of standing stones that surround and interweave through the village itself – as well as the construction of Silbury Hill - the tallest, man-made mound in Europe - and a whole heap of other archaeological ‘goodies’ that supply many more questions than answers. As a location steeped in the annals of time and mystery, it’s little wonder that this fascinating piece of Wiltshire called Avebury holds a serious reputation for the paranormal and unexplained phenomena; a reputation that continues to yield tales from across the centuries, as well as very recent accounts of ghostly occurrences.
At the fulcrum of the tiny village, lies the imposing site of Avebury Manor. Built in the 16th century, on the site of a 12th century priory, Avebury Manor is open to the public and well worth a visit. While Avebury Manor provides a rich source of historical artefacts and information, it is also apparently an excellent source of paranormal activity, with reports of at least four ghosts. Perhaps the most prominent of these involve many sightings of a male apparition, presumed to be a 17th century owner of the manor, Sir John Stawell (1600-1662).
Sir John’s life was far from dull, especially as it involved playing a role in the English Civil War, in which he chose to support King Charles I. After the king’s defeat, Sir John spent many years imprisoned and tortured within the Tower of London, before returning to Avebury for his final years; physically and mentally, a broken man.
His apparition has been spotted in various parts of the Manor, noticeably standing by a southern window and looking out over his estate. His sombre face has also been spotted from the garden, peering back at visitors to the Manor and it is often mentioned that his appearance is preceded by the scent of rose water and a very sudden drop in temperature. Often dressed as a Cavalier, his ghost has tended to present a very solid, yet sad presence and past witnesses claim to see actual tears running down his face, just before Sir John proceeds to engage in his popular pastime of vanishing into thin air. This ‘atmosphere of sadness’ appears to carry over into other areas of the Manor, with records of some tour guides and visitors refusing to enter specific rooms, due to the prompt arrival of ‘a dark, oppressive energy’.
Another ghostly visitor to Avebury Manor is known as ‘The White Lady’, who wanders freely around the building and floats around the beautiful, landscaped gardens. Little is known about the identity of this apparition, although the rumor mill places her in the Manor around the same time as Sir John Stawell, during the English Civil War during the 1640’s.
While the ‘White Lady’ has been spotted often around the gardens, particularly near the gate to the south of the property, her most common tactic is to follow visitors around the building, before tapping them on the shoulder. An article from the ‘Western Daily Press’ newspaper in 2014, claims that a tour guide at the Manor was gripped very firmly at the shoulders and pulled backwards, by some unseen presence. The anonymous and unsettled guide also put forward a theory (of interest to any male paranormal investigators) that the ghost is particularly drawn towards bearded men. When she has been seen as a solid form by several witnesses, the ‘White Lady’ is described as breathtakingly beautiful and dressed in period, 17th century attire.
Another ghost who has been spotted at the Manor is believed to be that of a former serving girl, or maid, who is sighted around the kitchen area, while a further apparition – a medieval monk, perhaps dating back to the earlier roots of the location – has been seen most frequently within the Manor, but also in the gardens.
Perhaps it is this same monk who also wanders around the grounds of St James Church, directly opposite the Manor House. The earliest parts of the church date back to around 1000 A.D. and, from personal experience, it’s certainly a location that carries a heavy – almost electrically-charged – air within its walls. The ghost of the monk has been spotted wandering around the churchyard, being seen in recent years in a very solid form, until approached when he slowly began to dissipate and fade away.
Another spectre associated with the church is that of a young woman, spotted several times wandering around the churchyard and believed to date back several centuries to Norman times. Sharing the churchyard with the monk and the lady is the spirit of a young boy, who has been seen standing silently amongst the gravestones. Personally, I’ve always found St. James Church to be a wonderful location, full of peaceful, but powerful energies, perhaps due to the intersection of different ley lines that pass directly through it.
When it comes to spirits, a local pub is usually a good source of both refreshment and information and the ‘Red Lion’ in Avebury is certainly no exception. It’s claimed that at least five ghosts still wander around the pub and it has been listed in the top ten of all haunted worldwide pubs. Built as a farm in the 1600’s, the building became an inn during 1802; a handy spot for thirsty coach drivers and their passengers, being only a stone’s throw from the busy A4, the old London to Bristol road. An interesting fact about the pub is that it possesses a well which is 86 feet deep; currently a centerpiece in one of the bars of ‘The Red Lion’.
This is of special interest to any paranormal researcher, as it involves the most well-known of the pub’s ghosts, a woman called Florrie. The legend – again focusing on the period of the English Civil War – states that Florrie’s husband was away fighting, when she became enamored with another man. Upon her husband’s return, he discovered her unfaithfulness and duly responded by killing her lover, before strangling poor Florrie; throwing her lifeless body to the bottom of the well (a distance of 86 feet) and subsequently sealing it with a large rock.
Over the years, Florrie’s restless spirit has been sighted on many occasions around the pub, but usually not too far from the well. She has been seen walking through various walls of the pub, as well as in the ladies toilets. The countless tales of objects flying across the bar have also been blamed upon Florrie, as well as her fascination with anyone in possession of a beard – much like the unknown lady in the Manor.
During the course of my research, I interviewed a lady who wished to remain anonymous, (let’s call her Susan) but shared an experience with me from just a few years ago. Susan was seated in a side lounge of the pub, away from the dining areas and main bar. While sat there at a table by a staircase (waiting for her first drink and therefore reportedly stone-cold sober), she was astonished to witness a lady’s hand suddenly appear through one of the walls and simply hover in mid-air. According to Susan, she was amazed, yet oddly calm at this sighting, which lasted for a few seconds, before the ghostly hand - perhaps belonging to the infamous Florrie - disappeared into nothingness.
The ‘Red Lion’ is also home to a male apparition and once again there is an accompanying legend behind the ghostly sightings, also from around the time of the 17th century, when the property was still a farm. It is rumored that the farmer did a deal with some vicious outlaws, hiding them in his cellar until they were safe from capture. Sadly, being vicious outlaws, they proved to be rather untrustworthy and murdered him and it is this man who has been spotted on several occasions, especially in the cellar area, often carrying a knife.
In 2004, a paranormal group from Swindon investigated the pub and had some interesting experiences. Alongside some accounts of objects being thrown, or moved, around the pub, one investigator reported the unpleasant experience of encountering an approaching, male form who was thrusting a knife out in front of him as he walked. Other reports that evening included a variety of cold spots and chills, the sound of movement coming from empty rooms, footsteps, bouncing lights and being touched by unseen hands, with the highlight of the evening apparently consisting of a crate of beer bottle tops being thrown down the cellar stairs, directly at the group.
While this alone would usually qualify as sufficient for a haunted location, the ‘Red Lion’ lays claim to at least three more apparitions. Another lady has been spotted in one of the pub’s bedrooms, usually accompanied by the apparitions of two young children, seen cowering in the corner of the room. How the three spirits are linked remains a mystery. Finally, the ghostly image of a coach and horses have been both seen and heard over many years; the carriage stopping outside of the pub, while the sound of horses’ hooves have attracted the attention of many.
The appearance of the phantom coach was viewed as a sign of death by several of the pub owners throughout the centuries. During an investigation in 2015, as reported by Wiltshire’s ‘Gazette and Herald’, the pub’s manager, Ryan Rawal stated, ‘Plenty of the team here have experienced something they cannot quite explain – it is certainly an interesting place to work.’ Sadly, due to recent mishaps by an unknown paranormal group in which valuable items were damaged, the pub is currently not open for any further investigations, but hopefully this will change in the future.
Outside of the older buildings in Avebury, several paranormal tales are to be found. In 1916, Edith Wilton, the Mayor of Wilton, near Salisbury, was travelling through Avebury when she spied a mysterious fair happening around the ancient standing stones. Assuming it to be a special day in the local calendar, she paused to watch for a while, before moving on through the village. It was only several years later that she discovered that Avebury did indeed have a history of such fairs amongst the stones, but that the last one had occurred in 1850, 66 years after she had witnessed it. In more recent times, the apparition of an old man has been seen waiting at a bus shelter on the fringe of the village, however, when approached the man is simply no longer there.
Just outside Avebury, on the main A4 road, lie the archaeological mysteries of Silbury Hill and West Kennet long barrow, which were built hundreds of years before Stonehenge. There are tales of a horseman riding around the base of Silbury Hill – sometimes headless – but it is West Kennet long barrow which appears to hold more interest.
The long barrow was an ‘active’ tomb for around 1,000 years, housing a total of 46 bodies (perhaps royal, or ‘socially elite’) which were excavated in 1859. While the barrow is a popular destination for tourists, it also holds legends of a ghostly priest, often seen near the ancient monument around mid-summer. An artist named John Palmer is reported to have slept in one of the chambers of the barrow, only to be awoken in the middle of the night by an odd, moving light. He claims to have left the barrow and momentarily witnessed a moonlit landscape, much different from modern times.
As recently as 2007, a group called ‘Twilight Shadows Paranormal’ spent an evening at West Kennet. Amongst their experiences they noted odd sensations of nausea and ‘tingling’, along with the noise of knocking and footsteps, along with the distinct sound of a woman’s voice calling out from inside the barrow on two separate occasions.
For anyone who simply love to walk amongst ancient history, and/or to be within a location which is very rich in tales of the paranormal, Avebury has something for everyone. Being such a great spot, it’s naturally a tourist trap, especially in the summer months, but if you get there early enough you can easily have the whole place to yourself for a considerable time, followed by a tasty lunch at the ‘Red Lion’. Just keep your eyes and senses open; you might get lucky.