This article was first published in IQ, the exclusive magazine for Mensa members. Find out more about becoming a Mensa member here.
Meet some of Britain’s spookiest characters, from musical spectres to screeching phantoms.
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Said to wander the halls of the grand Raynham Hall in the Norfolk countryside, the fabled ‘Brown Lady’ is supposedly the spirit of Dorothy Walpole (1686–1726), the sister of Robert Walpole, who is generally regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain.
According to legend, Dorothy’s tumultuous marriage to the 2nd Viscount Townshend resulted in her imprisonment and a mysterious death. Countless guests to Raynham over the centuries have reported witnessing the Brown Lady, who is said to have a glowing face, empty eye sockets and a brown brocade dress from which she gained her name.
In 1936, a photograph appearing to depict the Brown Lady was taken by photographers from Country Life and published in the magazine.
The Mackenzie Poltergeist
Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist attractions, famed for its statue of the loyal terrier Greyfriars Bobby and gravestones that inspired JK Rowling and Charles Dickens. But the kirkyard is also said to be home to a frightful apparition.
The Mackenzie Poltergeist is said to be the spirit of George ‘Bluidy’ Mackenzie, a Scottish judge of the 17th century. Nicknamed ‘Bluidy Mackenzie’, he imprisoned more than 1,200 Covenanters in Greyfriars Kirkyard, where he himself would eventually be buried.
It seems Bluidy Mackenzie is as vicious in death as he was in life – one Edinburgh ghost tour operator claims to have recorded hundreds of incidents of scratching, bite marks and burns experienced by visitors.
The Screaming Queen
Most people know about King Henry VIII’s infamous marital history, but did you know that the spirit of one of his unfortunate wives is said to inhabit Hampton Court Palace?
Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, was beheaded at the Tower of London in 1542 after being found guilty of adultery. According to legend, the stricken Queen broke free after her arrest at Hampton Court, running down what would become known as the Haunted Gallery, screaming to the King for mercy. Sadly, this was in vain – but Catherine’s desperate wails can supposedly still be heard in those halls.
The ghost of Nan Tuck
Buxted, a quaint village in the heart of the Sussex countryside, is the site of a hair-raising mystery. The story goes that around the turn of the 19th century, there lived a quiet couple called Mr and Mrs Tuck. One day, Mr Tuck dropped dead unexpectedly and the villagers accused his wife, Nan, of poisoning her husband. It wasn’t long before the word ‘witch’ was floating around.
Nan supposedly fled the village to the surrounding woodland and was never seen again. It is said that there is a circular patch of land in the woods where no vegetation grows and that the spirit of Mrs Tuck haunts a road on the edge of Buxted, which is now named Nan Tuck’s Lane.
The Man in Grey
The Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in London’s West End is said to be one of the world’s most haunted theatres. Among the many spirits that are supposed to tread the boards there, the most famous is the Man in Grey, a nobleman of the late 18th century who wears a tricorne hat and wields a sword. Legend has it that he is the ghost of a murdered man whose skeletal remains were found within a walled-up side passage of the theatre in 1848.
The Man in Grey has been spotted by actors and theatre-goers numerous times over the years. But fear not: sightings of him are generally seen as a good omen for a successful show.
If you’ve an appetite for more ghostly goings on, check out this project which documents locations with folkloric, paranormal and cryptozoological connections in the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands.
Image: Iconography on a gravestone in Greyfriars cemetery, Edinburgh. Credit: Shutterstock