Derby city centre’s pubs have a rich and fascinating history – but with such colourful backstories tend to come a few things that go bump in the night. That’s if you believe in ghosts and ghouls, of course.
But if you are a believer in the paranormal, it makes sense that our pubs would be home to spooky goings-on. Think of the thousands of lives who have passed through their doors in search of warmth, conversation and refuge.
And spare a thought for the staff who work at these haunted spots. Even to this day, some workers at the pubs below refuse to go to certain parts alone. And who could blame them? Flying bookcases, shattering pint glasses and disembodied human groans don’t exactly create a sense of well-being in the workplace.
The stories below were taken from the book Ghosts of Derby by Wayne Anthony and Richard Felix. Once you’ve finished here, take a look at how poltergeist activity at the Eagle Market was so severe that the council had to issue leaflets.
Situated as it is next to St Werburgh’s Chuch and a graveyard, it may be no surprise to learn that this pub is haunted. An old lady dressed in grey is said to appear on the upper floors of Seymour’s. Curiously, many of the sightings of this lady are reported to be preceded by a smell of lavender which one witness described as “stinging the nostrils”.
A former manager of the pub reported that on several occasions cutlery had been moved around, while other items would disappear before later reappearing somewhere other than where they were left. One worker said that he had seen the figure of a man walk from the graveyard and through the exterior wall, into the pub, more than once.
The Silk Mill, Full Street
A figure of a Cavalier, complete with a feathered hat and sword, has been seen several times in the pub’s bar area. One punter said he arrived during the summertime to be passed by a man wearing just such clothing, which he presumed was fancy dress. When he mentioned it to the barmaid, she was confused, telling him she had not seen a customer matching that description. Local legend says a Cavalier was killed in a duel near the pub.
The Dolphin, Full Street
It wouldn’t be a list of Derby’s public house hauntings without mentioning the Dolphin, would it? It is the city centre’s oldest pub, believed to date back to around 1530, and as such, it is full of ghouls. In addition to its long history, another factor increases its spooky potential. The 18th-century extension to the pub was originally a doctor’s house, and its cellar was where the bodies of those sentenced to death would be dissected.
It is said that a poltergeist – perhaps the soul of one of those dissected prisoners – turns off the taps of the beer kegs in part of the cellar. A blue lady has been seen walking through the old lath and plaster walls, and even to this day, some staff are unwilling to venture into certain parts of the building alone.
The Bless, Chapel Street
The ghostly figure of a depressed-looking woman has been seen wandering through this pub on at least two occasions. It is thought that the Bless, which was converted from two 19th-century cottages, may have been used at one time as a funeral parlour.
Heavy footsteps have been heard coming from the function room, glasses have flung themselves off hooks and – on one occasion – a bookcase appeared to send itself flying across the bar. Another time, the cellar door was slammed and an unseen force seemed to hold it shut. When the bar staff managed to get inside, they found it empty.
The Old Bell Hotel, Sadler Gate
Like the Dolphin, a Victorian lady in blue is said to appear in the downstairs bar, in front of staff and customers, before disappearing again. A poltergeist is also rumoured to haunt the ground floor, and on one occasion a barmaid was hit on the back of the head with a wooden coat hanger, despite no one else being in the room at the time.
A story that a serving girl at the Old Bell was murdered by the Jacobites in 1745 has nothing to substantiate it, but a female ghost, wearing 18th-century clothing and a white mob cap, has been seen in connection with children on two occasions upstairs. In the 1930s, the landlord rushed to the aid of his coughing and asthmatic son in his bedroom to find the ghostly woman patting the child on his back. In the 1950s, the landlady and a mum were changing a baby. They turned around to get some nappy pins and cotton wool, and when they turned back they saw the same figure stooping over the little one. In both cases, the apparition quickly disappeared before their eyes.
Jorrocks, Iron Gate
A female human skull was famously discovered in a pit beneath the cellar floor of this pub, previously known as the George, in 1994. In 1693, when the pub was built, it was still customary to bury a human skull, a pair of shoes and a dead cat to ward off evil spirits. If that’s how the spooky remains came to be there, they didn’t do a very good job.
Again, in what appears to be the colour of choice for Derby’s ghouls, a long-haired man in a blue coat has been spotted walking along the landing in the middle of the night. On one occasion he was followed downstairs, where he disappeared – but oddly there was nowhere for him to escape as the pub was locked up. Elsewhere, steel buckets have hurtled towards staff members, plastic beer keg taps have been witnessed flying at workers, and a disembodied human groan has been heard in the cellar room.
Have you spotted something spooky at one of Derby city centre’s pubs, or do you think it’s all a load of rubbish? Let us know in the comments below.