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24 September 2014
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"Bloody Pomfret"
sun setting over ponte castle
The sun sets over Pontefract Castle
We may think of Halloween (All Soul's Eve) as the time when ghosts walk and things go bump in the night but here in West Yorkshire it seems ghosts don't have a season! We've been along to Pontefract Castle to see what we could find...
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We chose an October evening to see what might be hidden in the castle's ancient stones and who better to accompany us than the site's custodian, Steve Coulson.

Pontefract Castle was once one of the most important fortresses in the land (it has a fascinating history) - a king was even murdered here. However, according to Steve, no-one has yet spotted the ghost of Richard II.

Inside the magazine, Pontefract Castle
Entering a different world: the magazine beneath Pontefract Castle
However, tourists visiting the castle from all parts of the world have reported the same sighting - a black monk walking from the remains of the kitchen towards the steps up to the ruins of the Queen's Tower. Strangely the monk is always seen walking from west to east, never in the opposite direction. Steve says the monk has been seen by quite a lot of people over a considerable period of time and they are of all ages and different backgrounds and "when you hear it from so many people you start to believe it."

These sightings usually take place around 5pm (locking-up time in winter) and people who see the monk are usually shaking and upset. Steve adds: "When that starts happening, it makes you wonder if there is something there."

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been deposed, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,
Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed;
All murdered: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antick sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp.
From Richard II by William Shakespeare

Perhaps, because of the deaths known to have occured within the castle walls, over the years the town earned the nickname of 'Bloody Pomfret.'

Perhaps the castle's past most comes to life during a visit to its underground magazine, built originally as the cellar for the Great Hall and later used to store gunpowder and hold prisoners during the English Civil War.

It is here that Steve had a strange experience of his own. Although he has never actually seen anything that could be described as strange, on one occasion returning to his office after taking a school party underground, he heard a loud knocking. Concerned he had left someone behind, he returned to the magazine and unlocked the door but there was nobody there. Steve learned later that a former custodian had also heard the sound of knocking coming from the magazine.

Inside Pontefract's Hermitage
Inside Pontefract's Hermitage: You may not like to look too closely.

A few months ago his colleague is convinced he saw a shadow going down the stairs. It is with some trepidation then that we approached the magazine steps armed only with a candle. It was certainly very dark underground and we could hear a steady drip, drip, dripping of water. We held our solitary light up to look at names inscribed hundreds of years earlier by the prisoners held here during the Civil War.

Steve says, when it comes to people seeing things at the castle, "the majority of what I'm told is laughable." However, the castle may have another ghostly inhabitant. A girl, probably between 9 and 13 years of age, with long brown hair and ragged clothes, has been seen reflected in the mirror at the visitor's centre on more than one occasion but when the spectator looks round there isn't anybody there...

Nor is the Castle the only spooky building in Pontefract. Victorian engineers working below what is now Pontefract General Infirmary in 1851 discovered a tiny chamber built by monks who wanted to live as hermits. It can only be reached by a spiral staircase and it even has a skeleton in the ceiling.

Listen to Steve Coulson, castle custodian, talk to Martin from the website

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Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle

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