Medway Memories

Stephen Rayner's look at the Medway towns' fascinating past

Picturesque Love Lane… haunted by half a ghost

I asked about the ghost in Love Lane, Rochester — and spooks started lining up.

My grandmother Annie (née Gull), who was brought up in St Margaret’s Street, Rochester, two up from Love Lane, once told me that there was a haunted house there but wouldn’t tell me any more.

The Cooper's Arms, at junction of Love Lane and St Margaret's Street

I appealed for help and confirmation comes from regular correspondent Anne Martin, formerly of Borstal and now of New Zealand. She writes: “When I worked at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance near the bottom of Star Hill in the late 1950s a colleague, Mr Mawer, had a beloved dog, a great dane, which he would take for a walk every evening.

“One morning he told me that the previous evening their walk had taken them along Love Lane. There was a row of ruined houses in Love Lane, bombed during the Second World War. As they approached one of the houses the dog became agitated and refused to go any further. Mr Mawer looked into the ruin and saw a young woman in a white blouse — but only the top half. Below the waist there was nothing! Mr Mawer was a very sensible, mature gentleman, a civil service clerk, not given to flights of fancy. Spooky, eh?”

Barry Cox of Strood adds an extra mystery to the tale. He writes: “At the end of the Love Lane was Stanhope Press, later called Staples Printers, where my late father worked for more than 50 years. When he came back after the war and resumed working there, he often said that early in the morning and late at night it often felt if someone was watching him as he walked.

“In the 1960s I worked there for a short while and where the houses were bombed out, the air raid shelters that remained there were used by Staples as book stores. Fred West, the warehouseman, always said they were haunted and many of the girls who worked there did not like going in there. They were cold dark and damp and your imagination worked overtime. I don’t recall my dad ever saying he saw anything, just a feeling, as he knew the people who lived there before he went off to war.”

Intriguing stuff, Barry.

Peter Fogarty, a former apprentice at Staples and now managing director of a healthcare communications company in Berkshire, also confirms the sightings. He writes: “My first job was as an apprentice compositor at Staples from 1962 until 1967. At the time the small cottages on the right as you enter Staples had been rebuilt. The girls who worked in the bindery (with Fred West — mentioned by Barry Cox, above) reported unexplained sightings of a woman in a white blouse seen in the field which ran down to the river at dusk.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

 An empty carriage … its lanterns blazing

Further to the south on the road from Rochester is Burham – a mysterious village at the best of times. Where better for hauntings?

Schoolfriend Steve Hockney, formerly of Rochester but now living to the south of the county, recalls the spirited stories of his youth. Mr Hockney says: “One chap I knew swore blind he saw an empty horse-drawn carriage, its lanterns blazing, coming towards him on Pilgrims Way as he drove towards the village.

“There was another really gloomy place which had a real oppressive feel, around the burial mound. White ghosts were seen to be walking around there on many an occasion.”

The mound, of course of a tumulus near a lodge house that was always known in my youth as the Hentys’ Place — named after the family that lived there. (One of them, Kevin, was the year above me at Borstal school.)

The mound is reputed to be the grave of the British warriors slaughtered in the Battle of Medway in 43AD against the Romans in the Claudian invasion, led by Aulus Plautius. The Brits, united under the command of Togodumnus and his brother Caratacus, came a poor second.

Nearby, the music room at Starkey Castle, is said to be haunted. The building, a fine example of a medieval hall house, was built for Sir Humphrey Starkey, Recorder of the City of London in 1471 and later Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1483. The fields nearby were riddled with tunnels and occasionally tractors would sink into them. I was told that story many years ago when we had a school trip there. (Little did I know then that I would be writing about it decades later — thanks, Steve, for reminding me.)

Ghostly guardian of bygone moat

How about this chilling tale from the borders of Gillingham and Chatham, near the site of Fort Darland.

My correspondent — who asks not to be named – bought a bungalow in Montrose Avenue in the early 1970s and discovered that adjoining homes had been built over Darland’s moat.

He writes: “We lived happily enough there although an odd incident right at the start caused us some concern. There were two extremely large bedrooms and we decided to have one of them divided. Our three-year-old son slept in the bedroom to be altered and within a couple of days of moving in, a doorway for the third bedroom had been cut out and the frame of the internal dividing wall was in place.

“About 10pm I heard our young son screaming in terror. I flew up the stairs and found him sitting bolt upright in his bed. He described an old man walking past his bed and told me that he heard him go into the bathroom. From his description the figure was in some sort of uniform and was carrying a rifle. I looked all over but could see nothing. I sat with him until he went back to sleep and then went downstairs but sat with the lounge door wide open. The least sound made me jumpy, but the rest of the night passed uneventfully.

“Next day, my son made no reference to what had happened until I was reading him a bedtime story. Then he said, ‘Daddy — don’t let that thing come in my room tonight.’ Fortunately there were no further incidents until years later. I came in late one night after watching the Gills in an evening kick-off and my wife told me as I was closing the front door that she had seen an old man in Army-style uniform standing on the stairs — or rather the upper part of him.”

Brrr!

 The white spectre of Fort Pitt

Other rumours reach me of spectres at Medway Art College, as I call it (now the University College for the Creative Arts at Rochester). It’s built on the site of Fort Pitt and the old military hospital, so many a white figure (what else?) is seen wandering there. Haunted tunnels from the old fort are also said to go under the back of the college.

Keep those spooks coming! Leave a comment here.

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6 thoughts on “Picturesque Love Lane… haunted by half a ghost

  1. I’ve mentioned some of the Fort Pitt ghosts in my upcoming HAUNTED CHATHAM book, and have covered many others in my HAUNTED MAIDSTONE, HAUNTED ROCHESTER, HAUNTED ASHFORD, HAUNTED TUNBRIDGE WELLS etc books. Always on the look out for old, obscure ghostly tales and also shedding new light on older classic cases. If anyone has any info on the so-called ‘ghosts’ of Blue Bell Hill I’d be very interested as there seems to be a lot of possibilities for the handful of spirits on the hill and none of them surprisingly, connected to the 1965 crash on the hill, which is why I now conduct a ghost walk there.

    • I recreated Jezreel’s Tower from photographs I took in the area before the last buildings associated with the tower in Canterbury Street were demolished in 2008. It was for a BBC4 programme Britain in Pictures broadcast in 2007. I am happy to send you an image of the reconstructed tower if you would like it. It is featured on my website, in the gallery section under Britain in Picture’. The BBC film shows me talking with a curator from the Medway archives, and on the site speaking with a local man who remembered playing in the derelict building when he was a little boy. My Dad grew up in the area and remembers it as a local landmark.

  2. Came across this by accident. Thank you. I remember being told about the Love Lane ghost. The mother of one of my friends mentioned seeing it. She also mentioned that whilst building work was taking place in the area, six bound skeletons were found. She wondered if it was the site of a gibbet.
    Fort Clarence, not far away, is said to have a vast network of tunnels extending away from it. One apparently runs to Temple Manor or so I’ve been told.
    Both my grandparents lived in haunted houses — one in Fleet Road, Rochester and the other Cobbs Cottages, Lower Rochester Road. Objects were thrown around, doors slammed and lights would be turned on and off.
    I wonder how many people in Medway live in haunted properties.

  3. Can I first congratulate you on a fantastic website. As a resident of Gillingham and having lived in the various Medway towns all my life, it’s refreshing to see the towns presented in a positive light. In response to the articles regarding hauntings and ghosts, I wondered if if anyone could shed some light on a story which my father has passed to me. He was a Royal Naval cadet in the 1950s and recounts a story regarding a ghost sighting within the former HMS Collingwood building, as I am led to believe the sighting was witnessed by a naval sentry and the officer of the watch who also confirmed this as true. I am also led to believe this was the first occasion that the appearance of an apparition was logged in an official naval log. Has anyone heard or remember this story?

  4. I’ve just read the messages from people and I have had a strange experience on blue bell hill a couple of months ago… my friends and i went for a drive and we told dan the driver to go to blue bell hill to see if the rumors are true so we were driving alone listening to music and as soon as we got into blue bell hill the music stopped playing.
    We drove a bit further past the old pub that was meant to be there to the wood bit we only got a bit down the woody bit in the car because the car stopped and the music started playing again out of no were (but it crackled when it was fine before we got to blue bell hill) we werent aloud to move from the woods it was like something was not letting as go and we felt like there was someone watching us…. after about ten minutes of being forced to stay in that place the car started up again and we drove of still unable to work out what happened

  5. Hi Jay.

    Interesting. Was this on the wooded old section of Blue Bell Hill (Warren Road)? Can you recall the date and be any more certain of the spot? I’ve researched and written about Blue Bell Hill’s ghosts for some years. The book of this study will be available soon. It’d be good to get some more detail on your experience (please visit http://www.roadghosts.com for contacts).

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