The Ghost of Great Barr Hall
The Northern outskirts of Birmingham may not be the kind of place you'd expect to find a tranquil yet spooky ruined mansion turned asylum set in a large and completely wild woodland, but at Great Barr that's exactly what still stands, just, today.
Great Barr Hall first rose during the late 1700s and was heavily reworked over the decades in the Neo-Gothic style. Crenelated “battlements” and vaulted ceilings were big features of this architectural fashion and Great Barr had them in spades. As time went on the Scott family found the Hall to be a cumbersome financial burden and began to lease it out to the Lunar Circle, This was a private gathering of Birmingham bigwigs which included in it's ranks the likes of Josiah Wedgewood, James Watt and Mathew Boulton and even future American founding father Benjamin Franklin. Conspiracy theories abound to this day about what exactly this proto Bilderberg Group got up to but it didn't help that they met on each full moon and today have megaliths erected to commemorate each member – bizarrely on an Asda car park.
Cutting a long story short their downfall was sealed by the Priestley Riots in 1791 when a huge mob rampaged round each Lunar man's house in turn, trashing and burning most of them. The flames were fanned by Joseph Priestley declaring support for the French Revolution after it had descended into the murder and madness of the Terror. Great Barr Hall? Untouched. Whatever halted the mob is unclear but for whatever reason they stopped at the gatehouse then turned back.
After this period the Hall was eventually turned over to a hospital board and repurposed as an asylum. If you thought that name is outdated and thankfully no longer used, brace yourself for it's more detailed title... “a Colony for Idiots”! Rather than the traditional idea of a Victorian asylum with inmates in cells the plan at Great Barr Hall was to allow the patients to have some autonomy and for some of them to live in the various gatehouses and outbuildings built around the estate. Two big fishing lakes were and still are a feature of Great Barr Hall and local lads would sneak in to fish the ponds while the residents wandered around the woodlands, oblivious to them.
The Hall was wound down as a facility by the late 70s but there are stories of former residents coming back, their attachment to the beautiful grounds was so strong. It was here that the ghost stories began, with the unofficial anglers seeing faces at the windows of the Hall and ghostly figures wandering through the trees at night. As happens with the stories spread by kids they were exaggerated and spread far and wide but when adults began claiming to have seen them too Great Barr Hall developed a reputation as a full on haunted house. The mansion itself was left to rot and crumble with no attempts at all made to preserve it in anyway.
Great Barr Hall became a mecca for ghost hunters and “paranormal investigators” which led to the main building being fenced off from the public, not that it has stopped anybody, judging by the plethora of Youtube videos online, and some fascinating accounts of spectral encounters have been posted in various groups and forums. When I had a look around the ruin of the mansion I found a good two dozen candles laid out in a circle in one room with the remains of a small fire at it's centre – who knows what had gone on there! The West Midlands Ghost Club group carried one man's account of a spectral white horse suddenly appearing out of nowhere before racing towards him – then vanishing. Lady Scott has allegedly been seen wandering the grounds in full Georgian attire along with dozens of anecdotes of whispering voices, disembodied crying and urban explorers being poked and shoved by unseen hands.
While the sprawling grounds of Great Barr Hall have been turned into a wild nature reserve the mansion itself is in a very sorry state with little chance of it ever being restored. Other than the ritual remains in that one room I didn't get any sense of the supernatural inside the Hall itself but the woodlands around it were strangely atmospheric. That feeling of being watched or followed never went away and it's certainly not a place I'd want to be around at night. While I don't encourage anyone to go clambering among what remains of Great Barr Hall, I wonder if anybody has actually camped out in those woods overnight and experienced anything?
Great Barr Hall as it stands today
The old bridge across the ponds
One of the ruined old outbuildings where patients would live within the woodlands
Interior of Great Barr Hall
Window of the old chapel adjoining the hall
Great Barr Hall as it once stood
Nature is beginning to claim the hall as it's own