It’s Halloween and while I know you’re probably madly rushing around putting finishing touches on costumes or exerting massive self-control to keep from eating all that candy you’ve purchased, let’s take a minute for a ghost story – or two! Ghost are always fun, and Banbury has two that I know of.
Seventeenth-century Whately Hall has the usual charm and historic touches you would expect from a building or its age, but it’s also got hidden staircases (found behind a cupboard door during a renovation in 1965) and priest holes (in room 52, also known as known as the ‘Fathers Dyneing Room’ in case you wanted to check it out in person). Another hidden staircase is said to lead from that hole into the room below (Room 20). The priest (it was usually priests using priest holes) could then flee out by means of the Harness Room or go further down into the cellars where they could access a maze of tunnels under the streets of Banbury itself.
If hidden staircases and priest holes weren’t enough, Whatley Hall has a GHOST! Yes, the ghost of Father Bernard. He may or may not have died falling down one of these hidden staircases – it’s hard to say for sure since records are a bit vague. In any case, the manner of his death doesn’t seem to have gotten Father B down at all. Sure, having a ghost pop out at you is no doubt a shock, but Father Bernard is not supposed to be especially scary. He is said to hum, chuckle and smile as he moves briskly about the place, usually on the stairs or in the garden.
He’s not the only ghost in town, however. The Olde Reindeer Inn is said to have one as well. It makes sense. It’s one of the older buildings in Banbury and alleged to have been the Banbury headquarters for Cromwell early in the Civil War (handy for the siege of Banbury Castle as it is was right down the street).
Their ghost is a Cavalier (which fits in nicely with the history of the place). The ghost is reported to appear, complete with plumed hat and lace ruffles (which is how I suppose they know he is a cavalier and not just some random coach driver that somehow got stuck there), both on the upper floors and in the Globe Room. No word on whether he is as jolly as Father Bernard.
If you’re interested in what else I found out about Banbury’s history – though of a less spectral nature – you should check out my piece on Local History Is Awesome called “Banbury’s History of Prudes, Drunkards and Murderers.” It’s not all mayhem though – it also touches up a bit of culinary history of Banbury cakes and cheese.