Ghost Stories of Colchester Museums

 

Over the years there have been tales of mysterious encounters in each of our museums.

Scroll down for a selection of genuine accounts from former staff and visitors to the museums.

Perhaps you have seen or heard something that cannot be explained…?

The Ticking Sound

Early one Tuesday morning, Chris was opening up the Natural History Museum. It had been several days since he had last been in the building, but as he shut the alarm off he noticed something odd. The usual animal noises that filled the gallery were echoing through the cavernous building as normal, but there was something…else. 

As Chris made his way to the front desk, the noise got increasingly louder and he realised it was the sound of a clock. This was odd as he wasn’t aware of a clock in the museum at all. Most staff and visitors used their phones to check the time these days.  

He tried to get closer to the source of the sound and found himself at the large wooden doors at the back of the museum. The sound seemed to be coming from outside. Unlocking the back door (not usually opened when the public were in) he peered out into the bright sunlight to see if anything looked out of the ordinary.  

The sound was louder now, but there was no noticeable change to the area surrounding the museum. As he stepped outside, Chris noticed the sound came from a collection of gravestones to his left. All kinds of thoughts were running through his mind at this point. What could it be? Was he in danger? What was making the sound? 

As he approached the graves, he realised one in particular stood out and the sound seemed to be focused on that area. Again, nothing seemed out of place, the ground was not disturbed and the grave was fairly clear of vegetation, so anything unusual would have been noticeable 

As Chris stood in front of the larger grave, the ticking sound immediately stopped. He bent down to read the inscription: 

 Here lies the body of  

John Smorthwaite 

Renowned Colchester clockmaker 

Loving husband and father 

Died age 60

An Extra Guest for Tea

It was almost 3pm and Roy decided it was time for a break. He called up to the two members of staff on the front desk at Hollytrees Museum to see if they fancied a cuppa. A resounding “Yes, please” echoed down the stairs, so Roy proceeded to put the kettle on.  

Several seconds later, the sounds of footsteps announced the arrival of his colleagues. Roy continued to prepare the tea but, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a man and a woman enter the room. Moments later another woman entered the room and exclaimed “sorry I was so slow, I was just locking up”.

Roy stared at the man and woman in front of him. It was just him and his two colleagues on duty that day. So who was the other woman? 

The Unwanted Visitor

A man was once walking through Hollytrees Museum with his daughter. They entered one of the rooms full of costume. As they were standing admiring the displays, the girl appeared to get anxious and wanted to go.  

“Why do you want to leave sweetie?” the man asked kindly. 

“I don’t like the lady” she whispered back.

“Those are just mannequins sweetheart, you don’t need to worry about them” he comforted her. 

“No!” the girl replied, “the lady standing next to me!” 

They were alone in the room…

Ghost Fox

The children were all seated on the mat ready for the session to be begin. It was the first early years workshop of the year and the theme was “nocturnal animals”. Ben and Sophie sat in front of the group, ready with stories, games and objects to help the young ones explore the different animals that are only awake at night time 

So who can tell me what this is?” Sophie asked, holding up a puppet 

“Bat!” shouted one of the children.  

“Very good!” smiled Sophie as she placed the puppet back in the box. 

“What about this one?” she asked again. This time a moment of silence before anyone felt brave enough to answer. 

One child put their hand up and Ben nodded encouragingly.  

“Badger?” the child asked.

“That’s exactly right, well done!” Sophie replied. 

As Sophie looked through the box for her next puppet one of the children shouted, unprovoked.  

“FOX!” 

The child was pointing at an empty space towards the front of the building. Ben and Sophie looked at each other, slightly confused.  

“Do you mean Firefly?” Ben asked, moving towards the stuffed fox that sat on one of the displays.  

“No!” shouted the child, “Fox!”, getting up and moving towards the empty space beyond the display. They proceeded to pat the air, as if stroking an animal.  

Suddenly, the child reached forward as if the invisible animal had rushed away and they were trying to keep a hold of it. They began to cry.

Everyone else in the group agreed, there had been no fox that they could see. So what had the child been petting?

The Perfumed Lady

It was a cold winter’s day and the museum was particularly quiet. Sarah walked up the winding staircase in the centre of Hollytreesglancing into each room as she made her way to the top floor.  

As she approached the Childhood Gallery she stopped, hearing a murmuring coming from inside. She always loved to chat to members of the public, perhaps she could demonstrate the Victorian writing tablets to one of the children? 

As Sarah made her way around the curved room, rather than the voice getting louder it grew more and more distant.  

At last Sarah reached the exit and realised the murmuring seemed to be coming from the opposite side of the gallery, where she had just entered. Rather than retrace her footsteps, she headed out into the landing and back through the door she had first used.  

This time, upon entering the room, a sweet smell of lilac suddenly greeted her. The voices were no longer present, so Sarah decided to continue her journey upstairs. As she reached the office on the top floor, she mentioned the experience to the Senior Duty Officer.  

“Ah, so you have finally met the white lady, I see”.  

Ghosts In The Prisons

It was late one Friday night and the Castle had been open a little longer for a group of students taking part in the escape experience. Only two members of staff were left in the entire building, both closing down the upper galleries.  

They walked around the Chapel, turning off all the lights as they went, before making their way back into the Roman galleries. As the pair approached the spiral wooden staircase that led downstairs, they heard a voice floating up from below.  

So, you’ve come to take a look around have you?… 

It was the unmistakable sound of the jailor, part of the interactive sound and shadow display in the prison downstairs.  

The two members of staff glanced at one another and then back down the stairs. The recording continued its long, mournful monologue, and they decided not to check downstairs, but continue locking up the rest of the building.  

Before finishing, they agreed to have one final look in the prisons, just to make sure there wasn’t anything out of place.  

As they walked into the dark, echoing space the sensor didn’t trigger. There wasn’t the usual greeting made by the jailor from the sound and shadow display. In fact, the sensor had been turned a full 180 degrees so was facing the wall. It would have been impossible for it to pick up any movement whatsoever. So who had they heard earlier on, down in the prisons?

The Souls of All Saints

The Natural History Museum in Colchester is housed in what once was All Saints Church. The building stopped being used as a church after the Second World War, as there were no longer enough parishioners to keep it running.  

The museum now has a series of cases with local wildlife taxidermy, fossils and interactives, which explain the changing climate and habitats of Colchester over millions of years. As part of this experience the calls of wildlife have been recorded and play throughout the building on occasion. When the sounds are turned off at the end of the day however, there are sometimes other noises that can be heard throughout the ancient building… 

If you listen carefully, when no other sounds can be heard in the church, you can occasionally hear a whispering coming from the back of the building, where the Geology and Climate Gallery is. Some believe they are the voices of those who are buried in the surrounding graveyard. 

James Parnell

It was closing time and Sam was on duty to lock the upper galleries and make sure everything was switched off. As she approached the Boudica gallery she saw a shadow pass across the glass in the doors leading to the “staff only” area of the building. Wondering if a member of the public had gotten lost and ended up in there she went to investigate.  

As she passed through the doors, Sam called out Hellooo, I’m afraid we’re closed now. If you’d like to come with me I can let you out downstairs.” 

There was no reply.  

Sam saw movement through the second set of doors leading to the Great Staircase and wondered if they had got trapped in there after a tour. As she headed towards the gate a figure appeared to limp out of the shadows towards her. 

As Sam approached she started to slow, feeling something wasn’t quite right. The figure, rather than becoming clearer as it approached the gate, appeared to be growing darker, as if engulfed in a thickening cloud of fog. Suddenly, the figure vanished entirely. A name echoed clearly in Sam’s head, almost as if the entity had been calling out to her this whole time.  

James Parnell.

The Face At The Window

The sun was beginning to set in Castle Park. Hollytrees Museum had been closed for several hours now, but Dave liked to do a loop around the building before he locked the gates for the evening. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had been hiding in the garden to the side and had to call for help after being locked in 

As he made his way round through the archway to the east of the house something made him look up at the impressive Georgian building beside him. To his surprise he saw what looked like a light on in one of the upper windows.  

Dave took a few steps away from the building to get a better view and as he did so a face started to materialise in the window. The face was youthful, but with very outdated clothing. Concerned, he decided to do another loop of the building, to see if any doors or windows were left open. All staff would have gone home by that point, so it couldn’t have been one of them.  

As he made his way back round to the front the light was off and the face was no longer visible. Feeling he may have imagined things he headed home for the night.  

The next morning, Dave met up with the security guard for Hollytrees and explained what he had seen.  

“Ah, yes, that’ll be Miss Lisle!” replied the security guard. 

“Oh! What was she doing working so late?” asked Dave.  

The security guard raised an eyebrow at Dave. 

“Why, Miss Lisle has been dead almost 300 years….” 

Lucas and Lisle

It was Chris’ turn to lock up the Castle. As they made their way around the lower galleries everything seemed eerily quiet. They had worked after hours before, but there was something about this particular evening that seemed odd. 

It was a warm August day and Chris wanted to lock up quickly as they had plans that evening with some friends. Slowly making their way past the Lucas vault, a loud bang reverberated through the building. Wondering if someone had been locked in and was slamming a door, Chris decided to go and investigate.  

As they rounded the corner to the front of the building two figures slowly emerged from the great staircase. The pair wore the fanciest hats Chris had ever seen and were both dressed as if they were from the 1600s. As they descended the stairs they passed straight throughout the metal gates, turned right and walked through the thick wooden doors leading to the outside.

What’s On

Events

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Browse the diary to find fun, family-friendly events all year round. 

Exhibitions + Displays

Our programme aims to showcase the variety of the collections from art to archaeology, costume to clocks.

Saved for the nation, ‘Walton Bridges’ will be on display at Colchester Castle from the 26 September 2020 – 28 March 2021.

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