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.
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.”
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.