Feature: Haunted Hastings

Ghost walks with Kristina Bentley, Tina Brown and Paul Goring
Ghost walks with Kristina Bentley, Tina Brown and Paul Goring

DO YOU believe in ghosts? Are you interested in the town’s legends? Then, like reporter Richard Gladstone, you may want to join an Old Town ghost walk. Here’s what he discovered:

VENTURING out into the Old Town late at night you could easily be forgiven for thinking that an ethereal presence was watching you.

Croft Road

Croft Road

For this part of Hastings is home to more ghost legends and stories than any other part of town, coupled with the fact that Hastings is one of the most haunted places in the country.

All sorts of spooks are said to haunt Old Town, such as the ghost of a priest executed for helping smugglers sneak in contraband goods and a little girl who would often steal food for her family.

Tina Brown runs the Hastings Old Town Ghost Walks and has done so for 18 years.

She even attests to seeing a ghostly presence herself around five years ago and is a firm believer in all things spooky.

Waterloo Passage

Waterloo Passage

The guide has become somewhat of a guru on the subject, having penned several books, such as Haunted Hastings.

Tina said: “There is one rumoured to be at the De Luxe Bingo and near the Pump House.

“It’s the ghost of an opera singer wearing a feather bow.

“A lady walked past us and she was the exact image of the ghost that we heaard about.

All Saints graveyard

All Saints graveyard

“Sometimes we have also had strange feelings after dark and people on the ghost walks have often said they have seen them.”

Last month Tina made a ghoulish request for volunteers to act as ghosts to haunt Old Town during her walks and to provide eerie sound effects as a backdrop to the tours.

Her offer has already been snapped up and one, Paul Goring, spooked the crowd of visitors and residents during the walk I joined, posing as demon barber Sweeney Todd and the ghost of a judge, who readily delivered capital punishment for miscreants.

One of the more gruesome tales centres around where the old post office used to be in High Street, now occupied by the Weekend Gallery.

Two brothers, Timothy and Samuel Farrell, ran a coffin-making business but strongly disliked each other.

The hatred between the pair was well-known around Old Town and the pair would often feud in the street.

One night, after a particularly violent fight, it is said Timothy dragged a badly-injured Samuel off the street into an upstairs room, locking him inside a coffin.

Tina said: “People would often ask Timothy what had happened to his brother but it was not until the 1960s that it came to light what had happened to Samuel.”

Workmen refurbishing the building found a host of old coffins and one right at the back of the room contained Samuel’s skeleton.

Scratch marks were discovered inside the coffin and it is said Timothy locked his brother in the coffin, believing he was already dead - but Samuel was still alive.

“When it became the post office, people would often say they could feel a presence lingering behind them,” Tina explained.

Just down the road at 23 High Street another spooky tale centres around a big archway that used to be a coaching station.

One day in 1796 a thick mist enveloped Hastings and the head coachman urged one of his workers not to head out to London.

At the time there were thrice-weekly horse-drawn carriage services to the capital, via Dover.

The coachman headed off, despite warnings, and was never seen again.

Tina said: “People do say that occasionally a mist comes down in the High Street in the winter and the sound of horses’ hooves can be heard because the coachman is trying to get home.”

Waterloo Passage, next to the First In Last Out (FILO), in High Street, is believed to be the most haunted part of Hastings, with its narrow, dark passageway.

The ghost of a young girl, Molly Hawkins, is rumoured to hang around there.

This part of town used to be split in two by a river, now covered over by The Bourne.

The wealthier George Street and High Street was home to merchants and traders and Molly lived in the poorer fishing community based around All Saints Street.

Waterloo Passage was often used by her as she sneaked over to the richer side to steal food for her family.

During such a spree, it is said angry traders chased her and she fell into the river and died.

Legend says her spirit leaves a single red apple inside the passage.

The Look Out Point, next to Tamarisk Steps, is believed to be another haunted place in the Old Town, said to have the ghost of a grieving grandmother of a family killed at sea during storms in February 1828.

None of the bodies were ever found and there have been stories ever since of nearby residents hearing the cries of a woman at the Look Out Point, as she stands staring at the beach and sea.

“Some people have even come out of their homes to comfort her but by the time they make their way she vanishes,” said Tina.

Hastings Castle, the monument which makes the town world famous, is thought to be haunted itself and has many ghostly tales surrounding the Norman fortress, built by William the Conquerer.

One legend is that the place is haunted by the spirits of prisoners holed up in the castle’s dungeons.

They had their tongues removed, Tina said, so they could not plot their escape.

Visitors to Hastings Castle have reportedly heard murmuring noises from alleged spirits.

And one of the most haunted places in Hastings is said to be The Stag Inn, which was built in the 16th century.

When the pub was refurbished in the 1960s workmen discovered mummified cats buried in the chimney. The legend says that practising witches put them there as an attempt to ward off evil spirits.

Underground tunnels, which were used by smugglers, were also found.

The ghost of a captain is also said to haunt The Stag Inn.

He was allegedly killed by a particularly nasty group of smugglers, who went around killing enemies by hitting them in the back of the neck with an axe.

Tina said: “When he appears and people approach him, it’s said he walks to the pub’s fireplace and disappears through the chimney. It’s said he appears around Christmas time.”

But if you can’t wait until the festive season for the chance to spy one of the Old Town’s own ghostly legends, log on to www.hauntedexperiences.eu/hastings.html. Tina can be contacted on 07817 686781. Whether you believe in the spirit world or not, the legends are fascinating to find out about. As long as you don’t scare too easily!