NOSTALGIA: Terrifying encounter with a ghostly mirror

Pevensey Castle is steeped in history. Photograph by Poliphillo
Pevensey Castle is steeped in history. Photograph by Poliphillo

If there is one thing worse than seeing a ghost it’s nearly seeing one, especially near a castle which once sold for £40, writes historian 
and ghost walk tour guide Robert Stephens.

Pevensey Castle has been a ruin for a long time, even as far back as 1306.

Constable Roger de Levelande was accused of breaking up and selling the wooden drawbridge and things became worse after the Civil War when Cromwell’s Commissioners managed to parcel off the castle for demolition to John Warr of Westminster for £40, whose intention was to use the stones as rubble.

Luckily the castle survived until 1925 when the Duke of Devonshire gave it to the state.

The origin of the castle’s ubiquitous ghostly White Lady is a spectral talent show between Lady Joan Pelham, whose husband Sir John Pelham joined Henry Bolingbroke, who later became Henry IV, only to leave his wife in charge of the castle, to be besieged by men loyal to Richard II. According to legend she smuggled a letter to her husband who came to her rescue (this may well be a story itself as the pair did not actually get married until 1400).

The alternative is Henry IV’s wife Joan of Navarre who was for a while imprisoned at the castle by Henry V on charges of witchcraft – though it would appear on fairly relaxed terms as a prisoner.

While the castle was falling into ruin, the village of Pevensey was undoubtedly more important for its cattle market.

Bradshaw’s guide lists Pevensey as having a market day on Thursday (Southdown sheep) and fairs on July 5 and September 15 – days when cattle were led around the castle regularly for sales from special sidings at Westham Station.

The cattle market has long gone and is now a car park run by Pevensey Town Trust but overlooking the car park is another building Castle Cottage tea rooms, nestling against the eastern wall of the castle.

It is now open again but for several years was shut while English Heritage decided what to do with the building.

In the 1970s and 80s it also went through a long period of being abandoned and it was then it started to get the reputation for being one of the haunts of the White Lady.

It was a tale too good to be resisted by a group of local children who one Hallowe’en decided this had to be the ultimate location for a ghost hunt.

Maximising their chances they crept into the empty building through an open door.

It was near midnight and everywhere was deathly still.

There was no White Lady downstairs, so they turned the corner and started to make up the stairs.

They had barely taken a few steps when they glanced up to see a vague ‘white shape’ on top of the stairs and worse still as they approached, it got larger and larger.

They ran out screaming, having met the ghost. Only several days later did one of them return in broad daylight to the scene of the action, very carefully turning the corner at the bottom of the stairs and looking up to the very spot the spectre had appeared – she wasn’t there anymore – but there was a large mirror – looks like they had only just nearly seen a ghost.

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