Slap bang in the middle of Weird Wiltshire sits the historic and beautiful market town of Devizes. It is literally dripping with stories of the paranormal. There are so many unexplained tales of the ghosts of Devizes; if I covered them all now, you would be reading this blog post through to next year! So today, I’ll tell you about just some of them.
The origins of Devizes are pretty hazy. What is clear is that it is an ancient place, inhabited for many centuries. There was undoubtedly some sort of settlement in Roman times as artefacts from that period have been uncovered and can be seen in the Wiltshire Museum. However, some believe Devizes may have been founded even before the Romans arrived in 43AD. What is certain is, it was around 1080 that the first castle in Devizes was built by Osmund, the Bishop of Salisbury. Since then, the town has been continuously occupied.
Devizes has a rich history, like many ancient settlements. Many lives have been lived and lost there over the centuries. It is true to say it has experienced its fair share of historical turmoil, leading to many tales about ghosts of Devizes.
The Black Swan
One of the most famous Devizes hauntings must be that of the Black Swan Hotel, situated in the Market Place. It is now so notorious it has been featured on the paranormal tv program, Michaela Strachan’s Great British Ghosts. Many paranormal groups have visited the hotel to investigate the ghostly goings-on.
The pub dates from 1732, although the cellars are thought to be dated from the 15th century. From one part of the cellar, approximately ten underground tunnels carry on out of Devizes. As well as a hotel, the premises were previously used as local Courts of justice. The town gallows were situated in front of the hotel.
Down in the cellars, you may encounter Ambrose Saintsbury, a horse dealer and old landlord of the pub. It is also alleged he was a highwayman, robbing travellers on the roads to and from Devizes. Within the cellars, paranormal investigators have experienced knocks, bangs and drops in temperature. It has even been reported that Ambrose has been seen, dressed in black wearing a Tricorn hat, sat upon a horse. That must have been a shock to the person who witnessed him! Ambrose has also been seen in the bar and spoken to customers, before mysteriously vanishing into thin air. During vigils in the closed-off part of the cellar, galloping horses have been heard, disappearing through walls and on into the tunnels, terrifying investigators. Dark figures have been spotted, quietly watching staff and visitors.
Beware of Room 4! The Ghosts of Devizes WILL keep you awake…
The cellars are not the only haunted part of the hotel. Should you wish to stay the night in The Black Swan, you may not want to book Room 4. You can see this room in the photo of the hotel. It’s the top left room. Many guests have fled room 4 in the middle of the night, thanks to the ghost of a young lady. Materialising through the wall, she sits and gazes out of the window before getting up and gliding across the room and through the wall behind the bed. Weirdly, this wispy figure generally turns up at 1.15am. The current owners and managers have said many guests have experienced phenomena in the room, even those from other countries. People who have absolutely no idea of the hotel’s history and Room 4.
Bed shaking, taps running in the night, toilets flushing and most alarming, being awoken to feelings of being strangled and breathlessness have all been reported. There was a fire at the hotel in the 19th century and a young girl was trapped in Room 4. Sadly, she burnt to death. Could this be who is haunting Room 4? Or is the ghost that of a lady who is said to have died during childbirth in this very room. The hotel manager stayed over in this room before, following a late shift. She was awoken to the sound of scratches. It sounded like someone trying to escape the room and got louder and louder. The manager has never stayed there again.
Johnson’s the Cleaners
It is here that an old man in a shabby overcoat has been seen to disappear through a brick wall on the side of Johnson’s the dry cleaners, much to the alarm of those that have witnessed it. It is thought there was once an entrance to a stable yard, belonging to a grocer, in the side of this brick wall. A photo from 1890 of an old horse groom exists. Could this be the man who goes through the wall?
St Mary’s Church Walk
St Mary’s Church was first built in the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 15th century. A walkway runs to the side of the church and it is said local folk try to avoid walking there after nightfall. During the English Civil War, Royalist forces were besieged by Cromwell’s troops. In 1645 the Parliamentarians attacked and many deaths occurred on both sides. The graveyards of the local churches became so full that bodies had to be buried in an upright position under the paving slabs of the walkway. Whilst sixteen bodies were found during the development of the area and reburied in the churchyard, it is thought many more bodies are still buried under this path. People have felt their legs being grabbed by unseen hands and dark figures have been witnessed, unmoving, blocking the way. I know this much…I do not my ankles touched by the ghosts of Devizes!
The Kennet and Avon Canal Museum
Sitting beside the Kennet and Avon Canal in an old converted warehouse is the Kennet and Avon Museum, which tells the story of the canal built to link Bristol to London. There are certainly some peculiar happenings at the museum that staff have shared. There are feelings of being watched and women, in particular, seem to get this special attention. Voices have been heard when no visitors are in the building and a man of around 50 or 60 years of age has been seen in the building.
Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns visited the museum and Derek shed some light on the man as well as some of the ghosts of Devizes. He felt he was a professional type of person named John who liked to ‘embarrass’ women. Whether you believe in Derek’s psychic powers or not, the information he gave out did seem to be pretty relevant.
A young girl was also picked up in the building and she tends to superimpose her face onto one of the museum mannequins. This has been seen by a couple of the staff there and in paranormal circles is known as transfiguration. I would imagine that is a pretty strange thing to see.
I paid this place a visit but unfortunately, since it was during the lockdown of Summer 2020, the museum remained closed. The staff member looked at me with a rather strange look when I asked if she was aware of any of the ghostly tales. Sometimes, people think you are bonkers if you ask about ghosts! I’m hoping to get back there sometime and have a chat to someone who is a little more enthusiastic about the ghosts of Devizes!
Hidden away in the corner of St. John’s Churchyard is a quaint little cottage, Sexton’s Cottage, built in 1615. Originally an Almshouse, it was also used as a home to the Sexton of the church; someone employed to maintain the church and look after the building and grounds. It has also been used as a hospital at some point, which brings me to the reputed haunting. A lady glides through the house with a candle in hand. She wears a bonnet and cloak and it is thought she may have been a nurse who continues on her nightly rounds, checking on patients. Only this time, she is a ghost!
Palace Cinema/ Bingo Hall
The last haunted building we will cover today is the Palace Cinema in the Market Place. It first opened in 1912 and is still run today, partly as a cinema and partly as a bingo hall. It has a retro feel to it and is much loved by local people.
Heavy footsteps are heard walking back and forth on the upper floors. Projectionists report cold spots in the small projection room. Three male ghosts are said to haunt the Palace Cinema. One is dressed in an 18th century outfit and is seen in the lounge room. Another man in 17th century clothing has been spotted on the staircase. The last is thought to be Mr Bobby, who was once a manager of the cinema. He is always spotted in the same seat of the cinema. I wonder if he is just waiting for the next film to begin!
More Ghosts of Devizes Coming Soon…
Devizes is somewhere I will definitely revisit in a future blog. There is a lot more to be covered. Reports of hauntings exist in The Bear Hotel, Devizes Castle, Old Town Lock-Up, many pubs and other businesses, private dwellings, and even a pond! Even the Iceland branch in Devizes has a resident ghost.