The Most Haunted Town in Mercia?
The coveted title of “Most Haunted Village in Britain” seems to change holders almost every week, and depends very much on who is making the claim, but as far as the Midlands are concerned it appears that one place seems to rise above all others when the topic comes up – Prestbury.
This charming Gloucestershire village lies in the ominous shadow of Cleeve Hill, near to the town of Cheltenham, and like so many of our villages it began as an Anglo-Saxon settlement.
Preostdabyrig was its original name which in Old English meant “priest's fort” so it could have once been a stronghold built to house a priest or perhaps built under his instructions, possibly to defend against rampaging Danes. In any case, this “priest” origin might have something to do with the haunted reputation of Prestbury...
The most well-known ghost in the village is reputed to be the figure of a priest or monk who takes a little tour of the streets beginning at the church of St Mary. From the churchyard the hooded cleric walks through the grounds of the old priory next door, naturally walking straight through the surrounding wall, before heading for the High Street from where he loiters on a patch of land reputed to have once been a cemetery before he casually enters a cottage where he then vanishes into an upstairs room! This figure is known as “The Black Abbot” and is said to only appear on the major religious festivals such as Christmas, Easter and All Saint's Day, so at least we know when to expect him!
In 1990 a photographer named Derek Stafford caught the eerie silhouette of what appears to be a cowled figure in the churchyard, while trying to get a moody shot of the gravestones in the floodlights – I have posted this picture here so you can judge for yourself...
Two phantom riders also haunt Prestbury, the first a fellow in Medieval dress mounted on a brilliant white charger. He is said to be the spectre of a messenger who was racing to the camp of Edward IV on the eve of the Battle of Tewkesbury.
Lancastrian scouts and snipers dotted the area and one such archer killed the rider as he made his journey. Interestingly, it has been said that although the descriptions of this ghost seem to come from quite old and antiquated accounts, more modern witnesses have only seen a strange glowing “blob” shape along his route. Perhaps his shade is fading away?
The other spectral rider is said to be that of another messenger from another conflict – the English Civil War. Prestbury was a Parliament stronghold and the occupying Roundheads would string ropes across the lanes at night to catch anyone trying to race in or out of the village. They did indeed catch a fly in their web, a Royalist rider racing to Gloucester, and the shocked man was flung head-first towards the waiting soldiers. After a beating it was clear he was not going to give anything away and so the messenger was killed there in the lane. They say you can hear the galloping hooves and screaming of his horse racing along Shaw Green Lane towards the ominous Cleeve Hill in the early hours of certain mornings.
A “White Lady” has been seen wandering another street, phantom harpsichord music is heard in a house, a little girl was seen in the grounds of the Prestbury Hotel and a man in full armour has been sighted clanking along The Burgage...while on more than one occasion people living near the church have been strangled by an invisible figure! Possibly the most bizarre ghost of the village is the occasional appearance, again near the church, of a phantom shepherd complete with a transparent flock of sheep!
Prestbury is a beautiful village with three welcoming old pubs, The Plough next to St Mary's Church being the oldest, so judge for yourself on a visit soon. Please respect the graveyard and surrounding area though, as in 2019 the Reverend Nick Bromfield banned all ghost walks and tours from the church grounds!