Ghosts good for business at traditional English pubs

THE Brits love to let you know they've a ghost of two around, and the more macabre the plight of the poor soul whose spirit supposedly haunts their local pub, mansion, castle or monastery, the more they relish sharing - and just occasionally - embellishing their yarn.

We've heard many a ghostly tale over a warm pint or three, and while somewhat sceptical as to their authenticity, there are two we empathise with.

Both involve pubs - coupled with ghoulish "hanging fields," where official gallows were set up in open fields for barbaric public viewing before urban sprawl overtook them.

The first involves the Court Oak pub in Birmingham's Harborne, whose resident ghost has been dubbed Corky - because he's probably the world's only known supernatural wine snob.

Corky earned his reputation by smashing bottles of the pub's cheaper-label house wines apparently not to his liking.

"It isn't so much that things go bump in the night, as things go smash in the night," staffers say.

"He smashes them until they are replaced with others more to his favour: We've heard smashing when we've closed for the night and there is no one working in the cellar, and on the same nights customers have sworn they've seen the apparition of a man about 60 in old-fashioned attire materialising behind the bar, and instantly disappearing …"

And more strangely Corky the wine snob "appears" for only a few nights a year, in the lead-up to Halloween.

"There was a 'hanging field' on this site in the 17th century," a staffer says.

"We believe Corky is the ghost of some well-to-do soul who knew his wines, but fell to the hangman's noose all those years ago on this very spot… he comes back for a drink, but is very particular."

The other English pub ghost whose tale we empathise with is far less charismatic.

The Coach Makers pub.
The Coach Makers pub.

And while never actually having been seen, his (or is it her?) presence has on many occasions been eerily felt in the basement of the Coach Makers of Marylebone pub in London.

And staff believe that presence - they say it's like someone is looking over your shoulder - is that of some poor soul who drowned in the River Tyburn that once ran past the hotel, after flowing from another "hanging field," on the outskirts of Tyburn village.

Tyburn's first hangings were carried out in 1196 and over the next near-600 years thousands were hauled by open cart from Newgate Prison - bizarrely carrying their coffins with them - to meet their fate there, with ghoulish crowds clambering to watch the spectacle.

And in 1571 authorities replaced the several single gallows at Tyburn with the grotesque Tyburn Triple Tree, three tall posts in triangular formation topped with heavy beams, from which numerous nooses could dispatch multiple prisoners at a time ... murderers, thieves, highwaymen, forgers, traitors and religious martyrs, 90% males.

The Tyburn Triple Tree drew even greater crowds for the Monday hangings, with anything up to 60,000 coming to watch. Entrepreneurial villagers built "grandstands" on which they sold seats to cheer on the final death throes of those being hanged, while hawkers sold beer and brandy, home-made cakes and gingerbread.

And hangmen at day's end would sell their ropes by the inch (25mm) as souvenirs.

The biggest crowd gathered on June 23, 1649, when 23 men and one woman were hanged in groups, the 100,000+ mob cheering "good dying, good dying!".

Tyburn's Triple Tree was removed in November 1783 and today three brass plaques on a traffic island at London's Marble Arch mark where the Tree's posts stood.

Some speculate that the ghost of the Coach Makers of Marylebone pub could be that of an intended victim of the Tyburn gallows, grabbed from the hangman by a sympathetic crowd - and who drowned while trying to flee across the adjacent Tyburn River.

If you're in London head for the Coach Makers of Marylebone.

Over a drink, Aussie barman Lachlan Andrews from Brisbane will tell you all about their ghostly basement dweller.


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