This Day In History

1763 47th Foot (later 1st Loyals) disembarks at Cork, Ireland, on posting from North America.
1898 The Depot of The East Lancashire Regiment moves into Fulwood Barracks from Burnley Barracks, which is in a poor state of repair. It occupies the block on the west side of the Infantry Square, and the Depot of the Loyals is concentrated on the east. The East and Loyal North Lancashire Regimental Depots will remain together for over 40 years,
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Fulwood Barracks

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 Presence in the Chapel
* Private McCaffery 
* The Romans 

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.

The old Officers Mess at Fulwood Barracks

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.


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 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…

Private McCaffery

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 …


A “Fearful Tragedy” and The Ballad of Private McCaffery

Barracks Commandant Colonel Crofton was one of McCaffery's victims

In 1861 Private Patrick McCaffery, aged 19, of the 32nd Regiment was serving at Fulwood Barracks with the 11th Depot Battalion, under the command of Colonel Hugh Crofton who had commanded the 20th Regiment of Foot during the Crimean War and had led his men in the battles of the Alma, Sevastopol and Inkerman.

The Adjutant, Captain John Hanham. was a captain in the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot. After being wounded during the Sikh Wars he was posted as Adjutant of the Depot at Fulwood. There he appears to have been something of a disagreeable, domineering martinet, to the extent that even the Commanding Officer seemed to have been under his influence and McCaffery, an indifferent soldier and a loner, was usually in trouble.

On Friday 13th September the young soldier was on sentry duty outside the officers’ quarters when the Adjutant ordered him to take the names of some children who were suspected of breaking windows. McCaffery obeyed, but with obvious reluctance and consequent lack of success. He was accordingly charged, and sentenced by Colonel Crofton the following day to be confined to barracks for 14 days. Later that morning McCaffery saw the two officers walking across the Infantry Square and, loading his rifle, he knelt on the footpath outside K Block (the East Wing, since demolished), aimed and fired. The first percussion cap did not explode, so he deliberately replaced it and fired again at a range of 65 yards, “the bullet struck Colonel Crofton in his right breast and, passing through that region, then went into Adjutant Hanham’s left arm, entered his breast and lodged in his spine. Adjutant Hanham put his hand upon the wound and then coolly walked off to the officers’ quarters. Colonel Crofton stepped back a few paces, threw up his arms and said “Oh my God, I am shot”. He then walked up to his own quarters with the aid of a little assistance”, at least according to one account in the Extraordinary edition of the ‘Preston Mercury’. Colonel Crofton died at 11 p.m. the following evening and Captain Hanham died on the Monday at 11.30 a.m.

McCaffrey’s trial was set for the Liverpool Assizes, where he appeared in December. The result was a foregone conclusion, though the defence was particularly inept. The sentence was carried out on Saturday, 11 January 1862, in front of Kirkdale Gaol, at Liverpool. This is part of the account of the scene from the ‘Liverpool Mercury’ (13 January):

“Immediately after the clock had struck twelve, the wretched culprit, followed by Calcraft [the hangman], walked, apparently firmly, upon the scaffold, whither he was accompanied by Father Lanns, reciting prayers suitable to the occasion. A smile seemed to play upon his youthful countenance as he took a farewell look at this world. He was dressed in the prison garb, consisting of a grey jacket and trowsers. His mild countenance and boyish appearance elicited the sympathy on the part of the immense crowd. As soon as Calcraft, who was dressed in a suit of good black, had produced the white cap, the priest took from his breast a small crucifix, which the wretched culprit kissed with much fervour. His lips were observed to move in prayer until the rope was adjusted round his neck. The priest then shook him by the hand, Calcraft also bade him farewell in a similar manner, and everything being arranged, the bolt was withdrawn, and the unfortunate young man was launched into eternity, having been kept standing at the trap a much longer time than usual. He seemed to suffer a good deal, his struggles being great. The last words he uttered were – ‘Blessed Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and soul. Jesus and Mary, have mercy on me!’ When the bolt was drawn, shrieks burst from many of the spectators, and several of the females left the ground weeping and wringing their hands, apparently suffering intense agony at the spectacle they had witnessed. Thus ended the mortal career of one of the youngest criminals that ever expiated his guilt upon the public scaffold. After hanging an hour on the scaffold the body was cut down, and in the course of the afternoon was interred within the precincts of the gaol. Calcraft completed his disgusting task amid yells, hisses, and fearful imprecations from the mob. It is supposed that there were between 30,000 and 40,000 persons on the ground. It was remarked that there were only three or four soldiers present to witness the execution.”

The old Officers Mess today. The two murdered officers were walking outside this building when they were shot, and the ghost of Pte McCaffery may or may not haunt one of the ground--floor rooms in the right foreground.

The sympathies of the crowd were clearly with McCaffery, and the presence of so few soldiers can also be taken to be a favourable manifestation. Soon after the crime, an attempt was made to engage popular feeling for the victims [via a song that styled them ‘heroes’]. However, it was the home-made production which found the popular ear amongst the large Catholic Irish population of the North West, to such an extent that it continued to circulate for a century or more afterwards, for most of the time without the assistance of print.

Patrick McCaffery was born in Co. Kildare in October 1842. His father was an asylum governor who, upon being cleared of charges of misconduct, took off alone for America. Mrs. McCaffery was unable to support the boy, so she sent him to England to stay with a friend, Mrs. Murphy of Mossley near Manchester, where, at the age of 12, he started work in the mill. After a while he left the mill and drifted to Liverpool where he seems to have had occasional minor brushes with the police. During this time he befriended a police constable who was to reappear briefly later in his life. Eventually he returned to Mossley and was employed in a Stalybridge cotton mill as a piecer. It was this job that he left on October 10th 1860 to take the Queen’s shilling and enlist in the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry). After enlistment he was sent to Fulwood to train with 11 Depot Battalion and then posted to 12 Coy, the 32nd Regiment.

The melancholy story gave rise to a halfpenny ballad whose mildly subversive lyrics were rumoured to have been ‘banned’ by the military authorities, while the ghost of McCaffery is said to haunt the old Officers’ Mess.


When I was eighteen years of age
Into the army I did engage
I left my home with a good intent
For to join the thirty-second regiment

While I was posted on guard one day
Some soldiers’ children came out to play
From the officers’ quarters my captain came
And he ordered me for to take their names

I took one name instead of three
On neglect of duty they then charged me
I was confined to barracks with loss of pay
For doing my duty the opposite way

A loaded rifle I did prepare
For to shoot my captain in the barracks square
It was my captain I meant to kill
But I shot my colonel against my will

At Liverpool Assizes my trial I stood
And I held my courage as best I could
Then the old judge said, Now, McCaffery
Go prepare your soul for eternity

I had no father to take my part
No loving mother to break her heart
I had one friend and a girl was she
Who’d lay down her life for McCaffery

So come all you officers take advice from me
And go treat your men with some decency
For it’s only lies and a tyranny
That have made a martyr of McCaffery