Thursday, 3 February 2011

Haigh Hall - 'the walker in the woods'

Well, since my last post regarding Haigh Hall, I’ve not been able to track down any of those poor folk who supposedly experienced the more extreme ghostly manifestations that I’ve thus far mentioned. But I have interviewed several other folk who’ve reported experiences there. All but one want to remain anonymous. And, interestingly, all expressed concern about my Easter Monday presentation in the haunted upper tier, saying they were surprised the authorities were allowing it, given the past disasters that have occurred on that eerie top floor.

John O’Malley, a very elderly chap now, is a native Wiganer who helped clear the land at Haigh Hall in the 1950s. Of all the spectres reputed to roam the building and its grounds, he said the one he and his pals were most frightened of was that of Lady Mabel, the veiled, ragged figure who is said to cause insanity if you meet her, because she has no face.

Mabel Bradshaigh, lady of the manor at Haigh in the early fourteenth century, was married to the knight, William Bradshaigh, who had a roguish reputation. In 1315, he fled the country after his involvement in a rebellion against the Earl of Lancaster. Hearing nothing from him for many years, his wife eventually remarried. However, Bradshaigh returned in 1322. He killed his wife’s new husband in single combat, and resumed living at the Haigh manor house until 1333, when he fought another rival and this time was killed himself. In penance for her bigamy, his wife, Mabel, made a daily barefoot walk to a stone monument just outside Wigan’s north wall (the Mab’s Cross monument still exists, but has now been enveloped by the town), a distance there and back of about six miles.

No-one really knows why Lady Mabel’s ghost, well known around Wigan as ‘the White Lady’, should be so terrifying. She was not an evil person in life, though she was said to be unhappy in her final days, and indeed her phantom supposedly cuts a forlorn figure.

“You must never look at her face,” old John told me. “That’s what we were warned about. You won’t see her inside the Hall. She never walks in the Hall itself, she walks through the grounds, usually from around twilight onwards – just about the time when we’d be knocking off and setting off home through the Plants (the ‘Plantations’ – dense woodland covering the estate). She’s covered in rags and dirt, but you must never look her in the face. She hasn’t got one, and to see that empty space with no human features is said to drive you mad. At least, that’s what we were told. None of us saw her while we were working there, but we’d often call into the pubs on Wigan Lane, and the locals told stories about blokes who’d come running in late at night, terrified out of their wits, saying they’d just seen Old Mab.”

Further investigations about Lady Mabel concern the Wigan Convent, a girl’s grammar school which was constructed in the nineteenth century over part of the ground where Lady Mabel’s ghost is alleged to walk. The building was demolished at the end of the 1960s, but I spoke to a couple of ex-Convent girls (chirpy grandmothers, these days) who confirmed that a spectre known as “the Faceless Nun” was supposed to haunt the school’s basement. They didn’t automatically link this visitant with Lady Mabel, until I mentioned the similarities – lack of facial features, long, ragged robes, a veil or wimple.

“That’s quite creepy actually,” one of the ladies said. “I mean, we used to take the faceless nun as a bit of a joke, though the older girls, particularly some of the boarders, said they knew people who’d seen her late at night. But I never made the association with Lady Mabel while I was there, and I’m glad. As a child living in Bottling Wood (a housing estate abutting onto the Haigh Hall Plantations), we were really quite frightened of Lady Mabel. None of us would go down into the woods when it got dark. They used to say that Old Mab, or what was left of her, wandered the leafy paths, looking to grab you. Oooh, I’m glad I didn’t know it was supposed to be Mab while I was at the Convent. I wouldn’t have been very happy with that.”

Strangely, it’s less easy getting information about the even more terrifying ghosts that are supposed to haunt the interior of the building, in particular the cobweb-laden upper floor. But one former junior caretaker, who worked at Haigh Hall in the 1980s, was prepared to talk:

“I know for a fact that none of the staff liked going up on the top floor. We all knew that a ghost-hunter type had had a nervous breakdown up there in the 1970s, though we were told we shouldn’t speak about it. I know people who reported other things too. One guy who’d been there a long time told me how he’d been up to the top floor to collect something. There was a wedding going on downstairs, but it was the middle of winter, and freezing cold up there and presumably quite dark. A lot of those upper rooms were being used as storerooms. He’d got hold of this box of stuff and had just come out into the main passage when he became aware of a figure standing watching him about thirty yards away. No-one else should have been up there, and at first he thought he was seeing things. This figure was wearing a long white garment – like a shroud, he said, and a black executioner’s hood. Apparently he blinked, and the figure was right in front of him. He said it was like time-lapse photography. He ran for his life, and apparently gave his notice in shortly afterwards. As far as I’m aware, no explanation was ever given for that hooded figure.”

Yet again, of course, this is hearsay. We can’t be sure if there’s anything in it. But I was interested enough by this particular tale to do some more background digging, and I can’t help wondering if it has any connection with Haigh Hall’s blood-stained Civil War history. James Stanley, the former Earl of Derby, was the Royalist commander at the Battle of Wigan Lane in 1651. Wounded and captured, he was executed at Bolton that same year. En route to Ormskirk, where he was to be buried, his truncated corpse and severed head were kept overnight at Haigh Hall in separate boxes.

Any link there? You decide.

Another thing I’ve picked up recently, though I haven’t had time to fully research it yet, is the uncovering during an archaeological excavation underneath Wigan Parish Church in the 1930s, of an altar to Mithras. This dates back to the Roman occupation of the site, when Wigan was a military camp called Coccium. Does this have any relevance to Haigh Hall’s legion of unearthly occupants? The two sites are several miles apart, but rumours have long held that an as-yet-undiscovered tunnel links them. Could this be the portal by which Haigh Hall’s spirits come and go?

More when I get it.

(The picture comes courtesy of Wigan Observer snapper, Nick Fairhurst, and shows yours truly on the stair leading to the much-feared Noah's Ark Room, believed by many to be the hub of the Hall's ghostly activity).


  1. Positively creepy. I pray for your safety, if you intend to stay in such a place and carry-out on-the-spot research, as well as story-telling activities. Maybe, trying to track down that 'ghost-hunter type' who had allegedly suffered from a nervous breakdown in the 1970-s, can generate some more leads, but as of now the place appears to be entirely avoidable, esp. at night.

  2. Interestingly enough, Riju, I have a meeting this weekend with the head of a paranormal research society who is very keen to get into the Hall's upper tier. Up until now, his every request has been refused. He's aware that an earlier investigation, held by a different group, ended in disaster, with broken equipment and at least one of the investigators needing pscyhological counselling. He mentioned that Haigh Hall is becoming famous among psychic researchers for being closed to all interest. The local authority aren't keen for it to become popular for what they consider to be the wrong reasons, but also they are nervous about further 'incidents', as there have now been several.

  3. Any lover of supernatural gets the "Deja Vu" feeling, when he/she reads about these attempts made by the authority to repress "unhealthy interest". I whole-heartedly favour an open-minded examination of the situation before any comments can be made (ready reference: "I answer that I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me"), but only wish that this examination be undertaken by professionals, with an idea about what they might be dealing with. Anyway, my prayers for anybody who wishes to undertake this endeavour.

  4. Forgive me, I missed whatever post explained the reason behind the room being named after Noah's Ark. Would you please direct me to it, or if it's a short answer, post here?

  5. Hello TMB - sorry for the delay in replying. Been pulled out with a script in the last couple of days.

    My understanding about the Noah's Ark Room is that it was thus named because, when the Lindsay family - who were the last private owners - occupied Haigh Hall, one of their children happened to be up there and, from its window, he sighted the upper roof of the stable block through the trees, and commented that it looked like Noah's Ark. I've been up there and seen for myself, and it does indeed look like the superstructure of an old house-boat sailing above the canopy of the surrounding woodland.

    It's a mundane background for what is now seen by many as an epicentre of paranormal activity, but like so many of the oddities at Haigh Hall, there is no obvious explanation for the weird and strange.