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Throughout Chillingham Castle’s years of restoration, countless bodies have been discovered hidden in various hidden rooms, crawlspaces, and behind brick walls. Perhaps most notable of the discoveries where the skeletons of a man and child found hiding in a small underground vault. No one knows who they are, or why they were hiding in the tiny stone vault in the first place.

The Chilling History of Chillingham Castle

Believed to be the most horrific place in Europe, the Chillingham Castle has seen many wars, deaths and tortures since the 12th century.

In North Northumberland, within sight of the Cheviot Hills, lies the medieval stronghold of Chillingham Castle. Tucked away on the outskirts of the village of the same name, it is remote and forbidding in aspect. Wild cattle still live in these parts, descendants of the beasts that once roamed the ancient forests of Britain. This was once a lawless land, subject to violent cross-border raids during the constant bloody warfare between England and Scotland. It seems peaceful now, but that peace may be deceptive.

Built in the 12th century in the northern part of Northumberland, England, Chillingham was originally intended to be a monastery, but since 1246 the infamous castle has been owned by the same continuous bloodline, and not all of them were very nice. It was the distinguished Grey family who scooped up the surrounding forest and palace, and while renovating the massive building, they added a dungeon and torture chamber or two. It is purportedly quite haunted, with some, however, refusing to go … cries of terror and pain can be heard emanating from a passage in the wall. When those cries fade, it is said that a halo of blue light has been known appear. A figure of a boy in blue was seen as it approached a guest’s bed during a refurbishing of the castle, after which the bones of a boy along with fragments of a blue dress were found in a wall of the room.

It is estimated that over 7500 Scots, including men, women and children of all ages were tortured and killed in this dungeon over a three-year period.

In medieval times it sat right on the border between Scotland and England. Home to the prominent Earls Grey for over 700 years Chillingham has hosted royalty and withstood numerous sieges.

Chillingham Castle is widely regarded as one of, if not the, most haunted places in the country. Dating back over 800 years this castle was built for one purpose and one purpose alone, killing. In the heart of Northumberland the castle was the first line of defence, preventing the Scots getting over the border to invade England back in the days of William Wallace when the castle was ruled over by King Edward I (17 June 1239 to 7 July 1307, a.k.a. – Edward Longshanks). It has a truly amazing, yet horrific history which is precisely why it has earned the reputation of being called one of the most haunted places on Earth.

Chillingham Castle. The Torture Chamber. The serene face of the Iron Maiden is supported by a horrible, larger than life size hinged and spiked casing to hold a live body.  The thumb screws, chains, leg irons, cages, man traps and branding irons remind of a world long past.

The Dungeon is quite small with markings scratched into the mortar by the prisoners that had been keeping count of how many days they had left to live. The prisoners knew from the rumours and sounds they heard while in the dungeon that they could expect to have had their both arms and legs broken before being thrown 20 feet down a hole into an Oubliette (a secret dungeon with an opening only in the ceiling with no means of escape) and left there to die, either from starvation or their injuries. Prisoners were also known to eat chunks of flesh from others who had died and at times even from their own bodies in a vain attempt to prolong their life. It has been reported by several people who when they looked through the iron grate covering the Oubliette’s hole, they could see a dying girl looking back up at them.

These are the remains of the last person to be killed here. Many people have experienced things here, orbs have been seen and photographed and some people have actually picked up emotions from the room. The room has a depressing feel to it.

Next up is the Torture Chamber, nearly all of the torture implements are in perfect working order and each is as sick and deranged as the next. The floor is on a slope, this was so the blood could drain away down to one side of the room. For many thousands of Scots, this will have been the last place they ever saw. The torturer here was a man called John Sage, he was a major celebrity in his day.

Before he was a torturer he was one of King Edward’s best men on the battlefield and had worked his way up to the rank of Lieutenant. Sage was injured one day whilst at a battle, his leg was wounded and he couldn’t fight anymore. Sage begged Longshanks to keep him on in some capacity and he was given the role of castle torturer. Sage was a brutal man, he hated the Scots and he revelled in the role, even devising some devices of his own.

There is a boiling pot, gadgets for gouging eyes out, barrels full of spikes that would have had a prisoner tied in and rolled around until the flesh was ripped from the body and they died in agony, there are cages that would have been attached to a prisoner’s stomach and a starved rat would be put inside and the only way out for the rat was to eat his way out through the victim!

Some of the things the prisoners would have endured at the hands of this man are unimaginable. Sage tortured upwards of 50 people a week for the three years he held down this job. There are many torture devices on show.

Barrel of nails. The victim would be put in the barrel and the barrel rolled down a hill.

The torture chamber is one of the most horrific and intriguing places in the castle. There are still many of the torture devices displayed here and most of them are still in perfect working order. 

One of the most famous of Chillingham Castle’s wandering spirits is also said to be a haunting by the infamous torturer of John Sage: “The castle in his day is said to have been the home of the notorious torturer. 97% of every person who went into the castle…did not come out…said to have been killed by this horrible killing machine of a man.”

Sage is purported to be a sadistic ex-soldier turned torturer from the days of King Edward I. The tale of John Sage is very detailed and very bloody – replete with devious and cruel tortures, kinky sex, and eventual retribution.

When night falls around Chillingham Castle, one of the most feared sounds to be heard on occasions is that of ‘something’ slowly dragging its foot as it wanders the corridors. It is believed to be the spirit of former Lieutenant, John Sage who earned the nickname ‘dragfoot’ when in life, his leg was injured by a spear during his last battle in the ongoing wars with his Scottish neighbours.

After an injury during a battle with the Scots, John Sage was desperate for work and honoured to have been given the title of Chillingham Castle’s torturer by the castle owner King Edward I of England.  John Sage quickly became an expert monster of a man as he perfected his gruesome work. Work that gave him an immense sense of accomplishment in his art, for over the next 3 years, at times torturing up to 50 of his Scottish enemies a week and many of them simultaneously.

Sage would taunt the captured Scots as he tossed them into the castle dungeons. So much so that they would wish they had perished on the battlefield. Sage has become renowned as one of the most hideous torturers in history. One torture device he invented became known as one of the most feared–the cage. This apparatus would trap its victim and then placed over a blazing fire – basically roasting the victim for hours, whilst Sage sat studied his enemy as they writhed and screamed before their death.

Torture cage with the model inside, at Chillingham Castle Dungeons. Each of the numerous torture devices used in this room is each more horrific than the last. These include a stretching rack, a bed of nails, a spiked chair, an Iron Maiden, thumb screws, chains, leg irons, cages, man traps and branding irons.

Nail boots

As the war was coming to an end with the Scots, John Sage wanted rid of the Scottish prisoners being held in the castle so he rounded up the men, women and older children took them to the courtyard and put them all onto a huge bonfire. The younger children were kept in the Edward room and could see their parents being burned alive, they will have also heard the screams and will have been able to smell the burning flesh. Sage knew that if he released the younger children they would return when they were older to seek revenge, so he took a small axe and went to the Edward room and hacked the children, some as young as one year old, to pieces. The axe can be seen today on the stairwell.

The Edward room is one of the most active rooms in the castle and people often say they see the chandelier hanging from the ceiling swinging without it being moved. The room has a foul smell and a strange atmosphere.

It was this insatiable thirst for torture that eventually led to his downfall. In the torture chamber there is also a torture rack, this particular device proved to be the undoing of John Sage, for Sage had a girlfriend Elizabeth Charlton, and one night they were having sex on the rack when Sage started to strangle Elizabeth to heighten her sexual pleasure, unfortunately he took it too far and killed her. Elizabeth’s father was a member of the Border Reivers, a group of tribal leaders, broken men and outlaws. They were not to be messed with, and of course, they wanted Sage killed.

The Border Reivers were a very powerful organisation who commanded a vast, highly skilled and experienced fighting force. It is recorded that the Reivers met with Edward Long Shanks and instructed him that if he did not have Sage killed they would join forces with the Scots and launch an assault on Chillingham Castle. This time the Scots would probably win due to their backing from the Border Reivers.

As Long Shanks was virtually penniless due to the war against the Scots, he was forced to call for Sage to be hung. Sage was captured and hung in front of an enormous crowd, in the grounds of Chillingham Castle. As he hung the crowd started to take souvenirs, cutting off Sage’s toes, fingers, testicles and nose whilst he was still alive. It’s not known how long Sage hung there mutilated before he died. The ghost of John Sage has been seen frequently wandering the castle by many visitors and staff over the years. As many have claimed when night falls around Chillingham Castle, one of the most feared sounds they’ve heard on occasions is that of ‘something’ slowly dragging its foot as it wanders the corridors. Believing it to be the spirit of former Lieutenant John Sage who earned the nickname ‘dragfoot,’ when in life, his leg having been injured by a spear during his last battle in the ongoing Scottish wars.

The Torture Chamber. The Blue boy, poor, wandering, Lady Mary, a tortured child, the Royal procession and so many other famous stories. Chillingham retains them all because the Castle stays calm and unaltered ever since ancient battling days. With all its beauty and calm, Chillingham Castle has many ghosts….

Mangle used for torturing hands.

The Great Hall leads into the Chapel and the Minstrels Gallery. The Great Hall is a long room with lots of artefacts on the wall. There is a life-size statue of a horseman on his horse, there is a huge stuffed elephant’s head with chain mail elephant armour on, and there is also a tapestry with a skull beneath it. People have experienced lots of strange things near the tapestry, whether it be cold spots or noises being heard.

From the courtyard, figures are often seen passing the windows of the great hall when no one is actually in there. The skull is also known to move around the room but never leaves it.

The Minstrels Gallery is a balcony overlooking what is now used as the Tea Room. People have been pushed down the stairs here and, while on this balcony, people often suffer from terrible headaches and/or an awful feeling of nausea to the point where they feel like throwing themselves over the top down onto the concrete floor below. There is a story that when Tea Room was being excavated a giant toad-like creature came through a wall before taking the form of a human and then disappearing, it is said that it now haunts the castle.

The Chapel is where people would come to pray to their God before going out to kill Scots or torture them. On the wall are flags that would have been taken into battle, a huge sword, a spirit bell, crucifixes, paintings of Mary, the mother of Christ. The Chapel was recently excavated and relics and human bones were found under the floorboards. Cameras often refuse to work in this room. Digital camera sometimes have their batteries drained of power in this room other people have found orbs in their photos.

The atmospheric Minstrels’ Hall, decorated with spears, tapestries and the world record head of a prehistoric elk, has two huge fireplaces. Beside the Great Hall, the voices of two men are often heard talking. It is never possible to follow their words, and they stop talking if one makes serious efforts to trace them.

The Edward Room (also known as the Killing Room) is on the top floor of the castle. All the way around the top of the room runs a balcony. In the room is a suit of armour holding a two-handed sword, on the walls hang weapons such as swords and pikes, there is a helmet, lots of cow horns and flags. On display are the documents that were found walled up with a Boy in the Pink Room (closed to the public).

The Blue Boy (also known as the Radiant Boy) found some documents to be given to the Spanish from the aristocrat who owned the castle at the time to help them defeat the English during the time of the Spanish Armada. The boy was walled up alive with the documents and his body was found in the 1920s along with some blue cloth from his clothes hence the blue boy. The bones of his fingers were worn away from where he had been trying to scratch his way out.

It has been reported that when the hour of midnight sounds sometimes you can hear his cries of agony and fear. The centre of the cries always emanates from the Pink room. The noises are usually traced to a spot near a passage cut through a ten-foot wall. When the wails die away, a bright halo of light sometimes appears around the old four poster bed, anybody sleeping in the bed would see the figure of a young boy dressed in blue, and surrounded by light, gently approaching them. He is the most famous ghost to roam the castle and he also seems to be the friendliest towards the public.

Another famous Chillingham ghost is that of Lady Mary Berkeley, wife of Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham. The ghost wanders the corridors of the castle looking for her wayward husband who ran away with Mary’s own sister. Lady Mary was left in the castle, alone with her baby girl as a companion, heartbroken. Visitors to Chillingham have often heard the rustle of an old fashioned dress or a chill as if the ghost of Lady Mary has walked by.

During restoration work in the nineteenth-century, workmen uncovered two grinning skeletons, the bones of a man and child, close to a trap door that opens to the stone arches of the underground vaults. Is it possible that they hid during a Border Reiver attack only to be trapped in their safe hiding place. Workmen also discovered in the lower dungeons of the castle, the perfectly preserved figure of a man sitting in a chair. Unfortunately, as soon as the air rushed in, the body crumbled.

The torture chamber, which was built with a narrow sloping floor in order to drain the blood away easily, was for a time, run by a man named John Sage, who was the very embodiment evil. It’s estimated that thousands of Scots died at the hands of Sage and his torture chamber straight from hell.

Bed of nails

Famous and infamous Ghosts of Chillingham Castle

Leonora, Countess of Tankerville, had always felt a connection with the spirit world. Even before she had ever visited Chillingham Castle she received a precognition that one day she would be its lady. One morning, whilst staying in France, she dreamed that she was walking up to the castle when a young man approached her saying ‘I have come to walk with you until my brother George is ready.’ Soon George (a recent acquaintance) arrived and the young man disappeared. Leonora went on to marry George, Earl of Tankerville. Later she was able to identify the young man in her dream from a photograph – he was her husband’s brother and he had died two years previously in Afghanistan.

Leonora went on to have several strange experiences during her time living in the castle. From highly personal encounters, such as when she had a vision of an officer friend only to discover that he had died many miles away, at the very moment he appeared to her; and the dramatically historic, such as when she witnessed a tense Tudor tableau taking place before her eyes. She recorded her experiences in a pamphlet published in 1925, which can be read on the Chillingham Castle Website.

Leonora believed that we all had the capability to tap into the spirit world, but that to do so an individual needed to cultivate an understanding of that sense and discipline.  Over the years she is not the only person to have had a close encounter with the supernatural at Chillingham Castle.

The Blue Boy/The Radiant Boy

“Several ghosts are known to wander the castle’s timeworn interior. The most famous is that of the ‘Radiant Boy’, a childish wraith that is seen in the castle’s Pink Room, and whose heart rendering cries of either fear or pain echo through the corridors upon the stroke of midnight. In the past, cries always seemed to emanate from a spot near where a passage is cut though the 10-feet thick wall into the adjoining tower. As they faded away, a bright halo of light would appear, and the figure of a young boy, dressed in blue, would approach those sleeping in the room.

Later, the bones of a child, surrounded by decaying fragments of blue cloth, were found behind the wall. They were given a Christian burial, and thereafter the ‘Radiant Boy’ was seen no more – until, that is, Sir Humphrey began letting the room. Some guests complain of a blue flash that shoots out of the wall in the dead of night. Although they attribute it to an electrical fault, Sir Humphrey is quick to point out that there is no electrical wiring in that particular section of the wall.

This apparition has been linked to the bones of a child found walled up in the castle. It was during renovation work in the early 20th century this grisly discovery was made. Remnants of mouldy blue fabric were discovered along with the skeleton. After the bones were reburied with due ceremony, the phenomenon appeared to cease. However, recent visitors have claimed to have observed a blue orb in the pink room…

Documents dating back to the Spanish Armada were also found within the wall. When the body had been found, small were marks were found etched on the boy and had been examined. Experts found the tops of his fingers on his bones had been worn down. This had lead people to believe the boy had scratched at the wall so hard to escape he destroyed his own fingers. The owners also claim that the ghosts of John Sage, a former torturer, and of Lady Mary Berkeley haunt the castle.

Image purports to be of Lady Mary Berkeley.

Lady Mary Berkeley

Another famous ghost is that of the tragic Lady Mary Berkeley (died 1719). She was the wife of Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham (1655-1701). She was abandoned by her faithless husband who ran off with her sister, Henrietta, causing quite a scandal (an account of which is provided in the sources section below). The heart-broken Lady Mary was left with her baby, wandering the halls of the castle, longing for the return of her errant husband. He never returned – and she, apparently never left. Even today visitors to the castle have reported the rustle of silk accompanied by an unearthly chill, which has been interpreted as indication Lady Mary has passed by on her sad vigil. She is said to be buried just beyond the castle in the tiny medieval church of St Peter’s in the village of Chillingham.

The White Lady in the pantry

A thirsty ghost once importuned a footman guarding the family silver, in the white pantry. The unfortunate man was accosted by a wispy lady in white, begging for a drink of water. As he turned to obey her wishes, he suddenly recalled that the pantry was locked (to protect the silver) and that it should have been impossible for anyone to gain entry….on turning back to her, he found she had vanished. It has been suggested that the lady could have been the victim of poisoning…hence her search for water.

At first glance, Chillingham Castle looks like something right out of a fairytale, but the reality of Chillinham’s bloody history is anything but. Unless, of course, your idea of a fairytale includes gruesome tortures, mass murder of children, and the violent ghosts of people burned alive.

The early castle at Chillingham was little more than a medieval tower with light fortification. It was originally built on the site of a monastery. In 1296 the Scots raided the nearby village and burned the abbey down with the villagers inside.

In 1298 King Edward I of England stayed here for a time on his way north to subjugate the Scottish. A gothic window was installed to celebrate the king’s stay.

In 1344 Sir Thomas de Heaton gained a license to crenellate and he built much of the impressive castle we see today.

Chillingham Castle is a standard quadrangular castle. It was built for border defence so it has massive oblong towers at each of its four corners and walls that are up to 3 metres thick in places. There is also evidence that it used to have a moat. In 1536 the castle came under attack during the uprisings around the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’. It wasn’t taken by the rebels, but it did suffer some damage and two of the corner towers were subsequently rebuilt.

The next major period of building occurred around 1620. The Greys had been actively involved in James’ accession to the throne and King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland) stayed here on his way south from his only visit to Scotland after he became King of England.

The preparations for James’ visit must have taken some time. With the decrease in tension along the border, Chillingham Castle was gradually being converted to become a domestic residence. The moat was filled in and the north range of the castle was rebuilt.

A grand entrance front was built onto the north range (though it is unclear as to where the original entrance would have been). The towers were converted to residential wings and a banqueting hall and library were added.

The modifications were continued into the 18th and 19th Centuries. Capability Brown laid out the landscaped parkland around the castle in the 1760s. Around 1828 the renowned architect Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, who had been responsible for the renovations at Windsor Castle, was employed to lay out the ornate Italianate gardens around the castle.

Torture chamber

The Grey and Bennet families had lived in the castle from the 15th century – the magnificent Grey Tomb in the nearly St Peter’s Parish Church testifies to this long-standing association.  However, by the twentieth century the castle, like so many other grand houses of Britain, was falling into decay.

During World War II the military was billeted at the castle and caused much structural damage.  Even going so far as to strip out the ancient wood panelling.  It would seem that final nail had been driven into the coffin and the Tankervilles ceased to reside in their ancient ancestral home. The castle seemed likely to go the way of many a great house after the War, if not to be demolished outright, then to linger on as a ruinous shell of a once glorious past.  Until that is Sir Humphrey Wakefield came across the castle and in 1982 and decided to purchase it.  His wife could trace her ancestry back to the Grey family – nevertheless despite this family connection, apparently she had more sense than to live in the very dilapidated until a lot of work had been done to improve it!

John Sage met his overdue demise in the courtyard of Chillingham Castle at the hands of a tribal leader whose daughter he had killed. Sage was strung up and mutilated, with local villagers cutting off his nose, testicles, and toes as souvenirs. He was left to die from his injuries as the crowd watched on, occasionally taking a piece of him for their own morbid collection.

Since then the indomitable Sir Humphrey has set about restoring the castle (and stamping his own idiosyncratic style upon it – more a glorious homage to the Ghosts of Motley Hall than National Trust wannabe – and all the better for it!) and it is now open to the public, it is even possible to stay in apartments in the castle. These days one of Chillingham’s primary claims to fame is that is it purported to be one of the most haunted castles in Britain and consequently, prospective ghost hunters can take part in highly entertaining ghost tours and more in-depth all night vigils.

Chillingham Castle was hell on earth, and many of the souls who lost their lives so violently and traumatically have continued to play out their final moments over and over again. It seems as if the castle itself is acting a massive trigger object, linking the ghosts of the dead from the past to future, forcing us to remember the atrocities that happened behind the cold, stone walls of Chillingham.

Many other phenomena have been reported at the castle: disembodied voices in the chapel, phantom monks on the Devil’s Walk and malevolent presences lurking in dark chambers…whatever your view of the supernatural, Chillingham Castle certainly has an extensive history of strange phenomena contained within its blood-soaked ramparts.

Today Chillingham Castle has a number of roles. Chillingham has been called ‘the most haunted castle in England’ and, if the accounts are to be believed, it certainly seems to have more than its fair share. It has attracted a number of ‘ghost-hunting’ shows including Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters International and the documentary A Blood Red Sky. Ghost tours are held regularly throughout the year.

Much of the castle is open to the public and some of the rooms have been decorated as they would have been in their most famous period. So you have rooms like the Edward I room decorated in a 13th Century style and the James I’s room with its spectacular Elizabethan ceiling.

Visitors to Chillingham Castle have reported having their hair pulled, arms scratched, and even being bitten by unseen jaws in the darkness. Add these first-hand accounts to the hundreds of strange photos and audio recordings to have been captured inside the stone fortress, and its no wonder that Chillingham Castle is said to be the most haunted castle in the world.

Castle History – Chillingham Castle

Chillingham Castle – Wikipedia

Chillingham Castle, Northumberland, England – Ghost-Story.co.uk

Great Castles – Legends – The Ghosts of Chillingham Castle

Chillingham Castle’s Haunted Torture Dungeon Has a Dark, Bloody …

Chillingham castle: A splendid recovery – Telegraph

Chillingham Castle – History, Travel, and accommodation information

Chillingham Castle – A Bone Chilling Experience ~ Places on the …

John Sage | The Haunted Palace

Ghost of Chillingham Castle, History & Torture chamber & ghosts of …

Chillingham Castle, Chillingham, Northumberland | Castles Uncovered

Chillingham Castle ghosts – Medieval Castles

Chillingham Castle Ghosts – real British ghosts

The Old Chillingham Castle In Europe Has A Fully Stocked Torture …

Chillingham Castle Ghosts, Alnwick, Northumberland – Haunted Rooms

Chillingham Castle | Castle | Wooler|Northumberland

Chillingham Castle | Historic sites in Chillingham | Visit Northumberland

 


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