The Ghosts of Fulwood Barracks
Like any self-respecting establishment of venerable age, Fulwood Barracks has its obligatory ghosts—not just one, but at least three, and that’s before counting the spectral squad of Roman soldiers said to tramp the line of the old Roman road right through the middle of the parade square.
The Spirit in the Old Officers’ Mess
The best documented is the “presence” which haunts – or used to haunt – the old Officer’s Mess in Block 57. This account first appeared in The Lancashire Lad, then the journal of the old East Lancashire Regiment (30th Foot), in 1935, but it relates to a series of incidents which took place just about a century ago, in the years just before World War I …
“It was in February, 1910, (writes “M.A.R”) that, being then attached to the Depot of the 30th at Fulwood Barracks, I had my encounter with the apparition which I afterwards ascertained was already a fact accepted by those who had more intimate knowledge of the place.
I remember that the quarter occupied by me was on the ground floor next door to the Mess, and that the room was distinguished by having a stone or marble mantelpiece, it having at some time formed part of the actual Mess premises.
Well, I had paid a hurried visit in the evening – a Sunday – to Lieut. (Qrmr.) and Mrs. Williamson’s, genial souls, and had gone to bed quite in my right mind, and not meriting the witticisms and pointed remarks of the other members of the Mess on their hearing later of my experience of that night. This statement you must accept if you purpose continuing with this slight narrative.
By eleven o’clock, when I was tucked away in bed, a heavy gale raged (and, incidentally, much damage was done to public buildings in Preston), and I was forced to get up and close the shutters to deaden the noise of the wind and clattering of the windows.
Then I went off to sleep, to be awakened by what sounded like a loud clap of thunder. I was so awake that I sat up in bed to get a better idea of how the storm was progressing, and my eyes travelled over the darkness of the room, to be arrested by what appeared to be a phosphorescent figure standing between the foot of my bed and the fireplace. I looked hard, and there it certainly was. It seemed
The old Officer’s Mess and its associated accommodation. “M.A.R’s” encounter probably occurred in one of the ground-floor rooms behind the lamp-post, and Lieut. James’ brave sword-cut on the floor above.
to be wearing some kind of belt, and with a gasp of surprise I sank back on my pillow still watching, and before my eyes the figure gradually faded away.
Satisfied that I had seen something quite extraordinary, I leapt out of bed and dashed into the adjoining quarter of Lieut. A. A. Sharland, disturbed his dreams of “Rubio” winning the National, and invited him to “step this way”. But either he knew something or was perfectly comfortable as he was. At any rate, he refused to budge, and just kindly invited me to doss down for the remainder of the night on his camp bed, and this I gladly accepted.
As might be expected, I was badly ragged when the story got around the next day, but I think that the consensus of opinion was with me in that I had seen “something,” and Lieut. Harrison, of the Loyals, after a very prolonged sitting over dinner was dared to take my place in my quarter on that night following, and accepted, and, of course, slept like a log.
The little local excitement died down, and was not revived for me until one day about three weeks later, when Lieut. Walmsley, of the Loyals (T.A.), who was also attached for training returned from a trip to Accrington. He related to me that there he had met a senior officer in the Territorials, and in the ordinary course of conversation Lieut. Walmsley remarked that he was doing a course at Fulwood Barracks. Thereupon his friend announced that he also had been at Fulwood for two years during the Boer War, that he had occupied quarters in a room, with a marble mantelpiece, on the ground floor next door to the Mess, and that on occasions he had seen “something” in that room. A strange coincidence.
Afterwards, of course, in about 1911 or 1912, there was the incident of Lieut. James, then lately posted to the Depot from the 59th in India, and when returning by night from “visiting rounds” drawing his sword and having a cut at a “something” standing in the passage above my old quarter.
Soon after my strange experience I left Fulwood Barracks, but I understood that the distinguished veteran Chaplain, the Rev. Smith,* of Zulu War fame, who in those days lived just outside the Barrack gate, interested himself in the matter, got into touch with the Psychical Society in London, and said prayers in my room.
* The Reverend George “Ammunition” Smith was the Chaplain at Rorke’s Drift when the 24th Foot (soon afterwards re-named the South Wales Borderers) won 11 VC’s , as portrayed in the epic film “Zulu.” He gained his nickname by spending the night of the battle handing out ammunition to the soldiers.
Padre Smith ended his military career as the Fulwood Barracks Chaplain, after which he took rooms in the old Sumner’s Hotel across the road from the Barracks.
He died in 1918, and is buried in Preston Cemetery, where his grave can still be seen. (MORE)
Perhaps it is fitting to mention, in conclusion, that the oldest inhabitants of those days had it that prior to being an infantry mess a cavalry regiment had been stationed there, and that a tragic fatality had taken place in that very room, which was then part of the Mess. But, occasion also being the father and mother of invention, to this one cannot attach very much credence.
And, in any case, what does it matter?
The Presence in the Chapel
The Garrison Chapel of St Alban, above the archway at the entrance to the Barracks, is the second oldest chapel still in use in the British Army. For many years it was lovingly cleaned and maintained by a group of volunteer ladies who were absolutely convinced – and would firmly tell anyone who listened – that it was inhabited by a friendly, if sometime mischievous, presence. Cleaning materials would mysteriously move about the place overnight, and there is at least one story of a brass pot flying across the Chapel without any apparent means of propulsion, and bearing ever afterwards the dent to prove it.
Mike Glover, former Curator of the Museum, was showing some visitors around a few years ago when one of them asked if it was haunted. Mike related the story above.
“I can confirm that, “ said the guest. “ I’m psychic and I can see something behind you right now.”
She was looking at the area near the pulpit to the right of the altar, precisely where the old cleaning ladies always said it was.
The Garrison Church of St Alban. The “presence” is said to occupy the area on the right, near the pulpit
Believe that or not as you wish; it is rather more difficult to rationalise the experience of a television crew which came to the Barracks shortly afterwards to record an item about ghosts. Set up in the Chapel, their modern, state-of-the-art, highly-sophisticated electronic camera panned slowly across the scene – until it reached the area by the pulpit, when for no reason that anyone was ever able to discover, it stopped. Swung to a different area, it started again quite happily – but when returned to the pulpit, once again it stopped, an occurrence which repeated itself several times. An electronic glitch? Microwave interference? You decide…
The legend of Private McCaffery, who murdered his officers on Fulwood Barracks Square (click here for the full and tragic tale), has echoed down the years at Fulwood Barracks. Many generations of soldiers have believed that his ghost haunts the Barracks, and to this day his supposed shade provides a convenient scapegoat for any unexplained happening or sudden noise. There is no “evidence,” however, that either of the apparitions referred to above is him, or that he is “present” anywhere else. McCaffery met his doleful end many miles away, on the scaffold at Kirkdale Gaol, Liverpool, and his oft-supposed presence at Fulwood Barracks seems to be nothing more than an association of ideas.
The Roman Soldiers
Around 2,000 years ago, a road ran from the Roman fortress and settlement at Ribchester, on the River Ribble some miles to the east of Preston, to a supply port at either present-day Freckleton, or Lytham, on the coast. The line of it has been preserved down the centuries and is still followed today by what is now called Watling Street Road, Fulwood. Like all Roman roads, it was arrow-straight – until Fulwood Barracks was built squarely across it. Now there is a kinked diversion which leaves the original line to the east of the barracks, and then re-joins it to the west. If one mentally extends the original line, however, it will be noted that it would have run straight through the middle of what is now the Barracks’ main parade square
This 1892 map shows the diversion of Watling Street Road around Fulwood Barracks, and the line of the old Roman road passing straight through the parade square, along which the squad of Legionnaires is said to march.
It is said that on dark and stormy nights, when the wind howls in off the Irish Sea and all sensible people are tucked up safely in their homes, it is sometimes possible to glimpse a ghostly squad of Roman soldiers tramping the path of the original road across the parade square.
Except that, because the ground level has risen over the past 2,000 years, they are only seen from the waist up …