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I have lots of projects planned for 2023. You will probably see me discovering more ghosts and strange occurrences in Wiltshire (of course) but I am also going to be travelling a bit further afield. Some of my creative friends from the writing, folklore and paranormal world will be joining me.

Today I am delighted to be introducing you to Lawrence Patrick McNeela, author of Forever Onward – Battling the Beast of Dartmoor. I highly recommend you have a read of his excellent debut novel by the way! You can find it here.

You can always rely on an old pub to deliver a good ghost story, so I was very happy when Lawrence told me he has his own personal tale. And, it’s from his time as the landlord of a haunted pub, The Royal Standard. Enjoy!

Black and white photo of bartender. 19th century. The Royal Standard pub Mary Tavy
Old photo of Royal Standard pub Mary Tavy Devon

The Golden Lady of the Royal Standard Pub

Nobody told me the pub I took over as landlord in autumn 2014 was haunted. Quite the opposite; the locals swore to almost a man that it wasn’t. Their number included Dave, who lived in a nearby cottage, and whose grandfather had been landlord during the 1960’s. He’d actually been born there during that spell, yet never heard nor saw a thing out of the ordinary.

I’d never seen a ghost either and was fairly sure I didn’t believe in them. Yet seeing is believing and one Friday night, waiting on two stragglers to finish their beers so I could lock up, I saw her for myself. An elegant woman wearing a gold ball gown. Drifting silently through the bar.

“Did you see that?” I asked the two drunks in a shocked voice.

“See what?” They slurred in unison.

“A woman! There was definitely a woman there. She appeared from nowhere.”

“We didn’t see nothin’. You’re imaginin’ things.”

The three of us went to investigate but there was of course nobody to be found. The ghost only appeared for a moment, as though heading for what had once been a skittles alley (converted into a restaurant long before my time as landlord) and which I’d turned into a family area. By the time we reached there, she had gone!

I saw her once again, when sitting on the toilet in my flat above the pub of all places! Yes, you don’t read many ghost stories with details like that. Charles Dickens really misses a trick there!

My barmaid Kat saw her too. I was away skiing with friends in Bulgaria: a fortieth birthday treat to ourselves. On my return, Kat told me she closed one night and cashed up. The lights were all off, save for those in the bar itself. Looking up, she saw the ghostly lady standing nearby, staring at her. The lady then vanished. Kat was so scared, she couldn’t leave the pub without calling one of the locals on her phone, asking him to drive down so he could chaperone her to the door.

I’ll be enjoying a reunion of old university buddies soon. One of the friends I’ll see is Jenny. The last time we met was eight years ago, when she came down to stay at the pub. Whilst there, she also saw the ghostly lady, watching her in the bar after closing time.

There were noises too. I quickly got used to those.

They started with ghostly footsteps crossing the threshold to my bedroom door late at night. I’d been alone at the time, so knew they could belong to no living agency. Pans and glasses would apparently smash in the pub kitchen, yet no damage was ever done. Another time I spent away on holiday, with my young daughters in Turkey, I left the pub in the charge of a chap named Alistair, who had extensive experience of running such places. He later told me he’d experienced something very unsettling.

One night after work, he and a young barman treated themselves to an impromptu lock-in. They stood by the bar, all the lights off, and the place otherwise empty. Or rather, apparently empty. A great noise came from the stage area, as though someone had lifted a chair, then sent it crashing down upon the wood in great fury. The two men were too scared to investigate. They quickly downed their drinks and left the pub to whatever angry spirit wanted them gone.

You’ll no doubt ask where this pub is and what has become of it now?

The Royal Standard Inn is on the main A386 road between Tavistock and Sourton Cross. It’s nominally in the Dartmoor village of Mary Tavy, but more accurately the old hamlet of Blackdown, a place as dark and dreary as its name suggests. It’s anyone’s guess who the ghostly lady is, for The Royal Standard was built during the 19th century as a miners’ pub and ‘chip shop’. That is to say, a place where those hard-working, hard-drinking, men were paid their wages in mine tokens.

It’s not a pretty history but the only women present would’ve been whores, serving the needs of young men spending time away from their home towns and villages, and therefore female company. Certainly, it wasn’t the kind of establishment frequented by elegant ladies clad in gold ball gowns.

Which leads to a theory: maybe she was a relic from an older past, when something else stood on this site. The old King’s Highway to London once passed very closeby, so perhaps she was something to do with that. Of course, there’s a far darker, more sinister possibility, which was suggested to me by Dave’s wife Sue, the one person amongst my regulars who believed The Royal Standard haunted. She believed the place visited by the unquiet spirit of one Lady Tavistock. On closer inspection, that person appears to be the notorious Mary Howard of moorland folklore infamy.

You can read about Lady Howard’s ghost on my blog about Dartmoor legends:

It was fun running a haunted pub, something for the bucket list. However, it was a thankless task financially, and I joined the list of landlords who couldn’t make running The Royal Standard profitable. I closed the place in December 2015 and promised myself I’d never stand on that side of a bar again. Someone else then tried running it as a licensed cafe but suffered the same fate. The Royal Standard is now awaiting development to be turned into flats, with houses planned for the car park and beer garden. Having lost touch with the building’s owner, I’ve no idea how far into that process he’s got.

But I do know this.Whoever buys one of those flats is going to get quite the surprise when they move in and find their new home is share with a ghost!

Horror | A gothic horror novel, set on Dartmoor during the Victorian era. If you like werewolves, horror, Hound of the Baskervilles, and folklore, this is the scary, thrilling book you’re looking for. Featuring Sabine Baring-Gould and a strong supporting cast of men & women battling TheBeastOfDartmoor – com

Lawrence McNeela swapped serving beers in a haunted moorland pub for writing about scary things instead. His debut novel, a traditional gothic horror set on Victorian Dartmoor, features the famous folklorist and antiquarian Sabine Baring-Gould. Forever Onward, Battling The Beast of Dartmoor is published by Castle Publishing, Dunheved and available to buy online at


I hope you enjoyed Lawrence’s tale of the golden lady of the Royal Standard Pub. If you haven’t already subscribed please do and I’ll send you a quick email next time I post a new story.

And, if you happen to have your own strange experience you would like to share, get in touch. I’m all ears!

You can also find me on Twitter and Mastodon.

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