Nightmare in the City of Dreaming Spires: Two more Haunting Oxford Ghost Stories
Before we get started, I have a super exciting announcement to make. Are you subscribed to my newsletter? If you are, you should have access to the members’ area of this website, where I have just uploaded a teaser for Wicked Book 2!
For now, it’s only available for subscribers, so if you’re not a subscriber yet—why not?
Seriously, just do it.
You’ll thank me, I promise!
And if you haven’t read the first book yet… It will be going on sale on all platforms from the 12th to the 15th of November. That means it will only be USD/EUR/GBP 0.99 for four whole days. It has a rating of 4.5 on all platforms, and everyone who reads it loves the characterisations.
So, what are you waiting for? Check it out now!
In the meantime, here’s a little taster of what the supernatural world of Oxford has to offer.
Last time, I covered several spooky Civil War spectres. This post, we’re casting a broader net: stepping out of the university and away from the 1600s, here are two more weird and wonderful hauntings in a very special location.
One of my favourite locations in my book was Oxford Castle and Prison. Aside from its cameo as the vampire headquarters in Wicked Magic, it also happens to be one of the most haunted buildings in Oxford—unsurprising, considering it’s a whopping 1000 years old! It was first built by the Normans in 1071-73, but after falling into disrepair in the 12th and 13th centuries, it was repurposed as a prison. The prison ran up until 1996, when it was taken over by the municipal council and became the tourist attraction we know today. During its tenure as a prison, it hosted several rather unsavoury inmates, one of whom was the not-so-bland Miss Mary Blandy.
In 1752, Mary Blandy was sentences to death by hanging. Her crime? Poisoning her own father with arsenic.
Mary was a woman in her twenties, who lived with her father in Henley. Concerned that his daughter was doomed to spinsterhood, her father set about acquiring a husband for her (by offering a rather considerable dowry). Enter one Captain William Cranstoun, a Scottish gentleman. Outwardly respectable, he seemed like the perfect candidate. By all accounts, Mary was rather enamoured of him. Sadly, her father was less willing to overlook the one minor flaw: he was already married back in Scotland.
When Captain Craunston proved unable—or perhaps unwilling—to annul his current marriage, Mr Blandy threw him out of the house. A short while later, Mr Blandy fell terribly ill and died. It turned out that Craunston had sent Mary a powder which would help convince her father to allow them to marry—or so she believed. In reality, it was arsenic!
Mary was arrested and found guilty of murder, and six months later she was hanged at the prison. However, the public remained divided—innocent, mislead young woman or conniving murderer? Whichever she may have been, she’s certainly a busy ghost. Here’s a short list of places she’s reportedly been seen:
Dolesden Lane, Turville, Buckinghamshire
Churchfield Wood, Turville, Buckinghamshire
Little Angel Inn, Remenham, Berkshire
Oxford Castle and Prison, Oxford, Oxfordshire
Park Place, Remenham, Berkshire
Henley on Thames Parish Church, Oxfordshire
Thames Riverbank, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
Blandy House, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
Town Hall, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
An Imperial Spook
Mary Blandy might have been getting into all sorts of places, but Empress Mathilda has only been seen in one single location. For that, she certainly makes her presence known—as is proper for someone of her standing!
Let’s rewind to 1135. England was faced with a problem: the king had died, and someone needed to succeed him.
His named successor was his only surviving (legitimate) child—bright, talented, multilingual… and a woman. What a shocking notion! There’d never been a female ruler before; there wasn’t even a proper word for it. At that time, queen just meant the king’s wife, not a ruler in her own right.
Born in 1102, Mathilda, granddaughter to William the Conqueror, was a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the aristocrats of England weren’t having it. There couldn’t be a female king. Incroyable! But her older brother had passed away in a shipping accident, leaving her the sole heir. She made plans, including remarrying in order to produce her own heir.
However, luck wasn’t on Mathilda’s side. When her father, Henry I, passed away, she was in France.
Enter Stephen: Mathilda’s cousin. He seized the throne and forced Tillie to remain in exile in France.
But wait—there’s another player. Mathilda had a half-brother (actually, apparently she had several half-siblings). Robert was a threat to Stephen’s rule, and sensibly decided his head was more likely to stay on his body if his sister were to take the throne. He threw his lot in with her, and this gave Mathilda enough backing with the barons to attempt a takeover.
All did not go according to plan. (You know what they say about plans…)
With England split between Mathilda and Stephen, a stalemate ensued. This broke in 1141, when Stephen was captured at the Battle of Lincoln. Mathilda, having cleared her way to the throne, set about organising a coronation.
The barons weren’t having it. They blocked her attempt to crown herself and set the English press to work doing what it does best (ruining the reputations of perfectly upstanding politicians, obviously). Mathilda tried for Westminster (the treasury) next, but a battle there resulted in Robert being captured, and Mathilda only narrowly escaped. Mathilda was forced to exchange Stephen for Robert, and the fighting picked up where it had left off.
Mathilda retreated to Oxford, her centre of command, but things weren’t going well at all, and in the winter of 1142 Stephen laid siege to the castle. Except, he didn’t count on Mathilda’s wiliness. Rather than surrender herself, she made a daring escape: dressed all in white to camouflage against the snow, she climbed down the tower and crossed the frozen river.
The war waged on for years after that, before finally the cousins reached a truce: Stephen would take the throne, but Mathilda’s son would be his successor. Once again, Mathilda’s wiliness saw her the victor of the day: Stephen lived for only a year as king, whilst Mathilda enjoyed over ten years of her son’s reign.
Her ghost is said to haunt Oxford Castle and Prison to this day, recognisable by its white cape, though some remain unconvinced. Why would she haunt there when she died in France? Maybe she had unfinished business…
That’s it for today. Two spooky women who have left their mark on Oxford. Want more content like this? Or to share your own ghost stories? Comment below. In the meantime,
and see you next time (with a little announcement).