Ghosts of Penzance

Ghosts of Penzance

By . Last updated

The old market town of Penzance grew up around an ancient chapel sited near to where the harbour is today. It is from the location of this chapel that the town gets its name, Pensans, meaning holy head(land).
Over the years the Penzance prospered and became one of Cornwall's largest towns with money from mining, farming, fishing and trade all flowing into the coffers.

However, Penzance's rise was not without incident. In mediaeval times the town was attacked by the Spanish Armada, frequently raided by pirates, hit by a tsunami and visited by the plague. With such a colourful history it is little wonder that there are a number of ghost stories emanating from the town.

It appears that much of the hauntings in Penzance are based around the main thoroughfares from the harbour to the town centre; Chapel Street and Quay Street. These streets have been cited amongst the most haunted in Britain and with the amount of history positively oozing out of the stones here it is not surprising.

The Dolphin Inn

At the bottom of Quay Street next to the harbour is the Dolphin Inn. One of the oldest pubs in town the Dolphin has catered for seafaring folk for over 500 years. Notable patrons include Sir John Hawkins who used the inn as a headquarters whilst preparing his fleet to do battle with the Spanish Armada.

Quay Street - Penzance
The Dolphin Inn

A more notorious guest at the Dolphin was Judge Jeffreys, often referred to as "The Hanging Judge". It is said he set up court in the dining room to continue with the "Bloody Assizes" a series of trials for those involved in the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. The prisoners were reputedly kept in the cellar and, given Jefferys' brutal reputation, it is certain some met unpleasant ends.

It is little surprise then that the Dolphin Inn is said to have not one, but three ghosts. Of all these it is "the Captain" who has made himself most obvious. This archetypal old seadog has been seen and heard plodding around the rooms and stairways of the inn wearing tricorn, frilled shirt and jacket replete with brass buttons. Although the Cap'n appears good-natured enough it can only be assumed he met his death in some unfortunate circumstances within the Dolphin.

Another ghost that has been seen on more than one occasion is that of a fair-haired young man. He has been witnessed in the bedrooms standing at the end of the bed when the occupant has awoken. His identity remains a mystery and it is said that as soon as he is spoken to he drifts away. However, one suggestion is he is the ghost of a man who died in 1873 when he fell into the cellar.

The final resident ghost of the Dolphin is a woman in a dun coloured dress from the Victorian era. This haunting seems to be more recent with a member of staff seeing the ghost in 2000. It was just before the pub opened to serve Sunday lunch when the form of a woman was seen to appear out of the wall beside the bar and travel across the pool room, disappearing into the opposite wall.

As well as the sightings there have been any number of mysterious goings on at the old inn. These include sounds as if heavy items were being dragged across a wooden floor. One of the strangest happenings is the appearance of imprints on beds, pillows and chairs in some of the bedrooms despite the fact they have been empty and locked.

Chapel Street

Adjoining Quay Street is Chapel Street, perhaps the most interesting street in Penzance, if not Cornwall. An eclectic mix of shops and houses ranging from the medieval to the Victorian. It has always prospered and in olden days was home to many of the town's merchants.

Chapel Street - Penzance
Chapel Street

It was in one of these well-to-do houses that our next ghost story originates. Mrs Baines was a widow living in a fine house with an orchard. Over the years she became obsessed with preventing the local children from scrumping her apples.

To this end she enlisted the help of her manservant, Jan, to watch over the orchard during the night. Suspecting Jan was not taking the task quite as seriously as he might Mrs Baines got up in the middle of the night to check. Dressed in her nightgown and bonnet she crept down stairs and out into the garden. With no sign of the servant the old lady decided to prove her point by making it look as if someone had made off with her favourite apples.

As she shook the tree to tree to get the apples down, Jan who had been taking a nap in the hedge awoke with a start and let loose a shot from his blunderbuss. The shot found its mark killing Mrs Baines outright.

In the end it seems Mrs Baines got her wish; the ghostly form of an old lady in lacy bonnet and nightgown patrolling the orchard made certain of that.

The story is that the house remained empty for many years after Mrs Baines died on account of it being haunted. It seems that at one point the local vicar was called in to exorcise the ghost but with limited success. The ghost of an old lady has been sighted in several places on Chapel Street over the years, most frequently in the Turk's Head pub.

There are several other stories of ghosts on Chapel Street. Some of the more sinister ones include ghostly funeral processions to the graveyard of St Mary's church at the bottom of the street and a phantom stage coach drawn by headless horses.