It was All Hallow’s Eve in the year of our Lord 1859 and the Plough and Harrow Public House at 145-146 St Pancras, Chichester stood cold under the pale crescent of a new moon.
The patrons had all staggered back to their homes and the landlord, William Farr, began to make ready his pub for the following day.
He always knew that this was no ordinary establishment, its strange history had intrigued him so that he had felt compelled to make it his, but nonetheless, his relationship with the building was a strange mix of both awe and fear in equal measure.
The pub was built on the site of a leper’s burial ground, local legend told of at least three bodies buried at the foot of its coach yard which bordered the banks of the river Lavant, but William strongly suspected from the chills that travelled down his back each time he crossed the yard that there were many more besides.
At night, in the silence of its emptiness, the building itself spoke to him of spirits with unfinished business. Downstairs one would hear knocks and bangs, as though there were a mason hard at work on the walls of the upstairs rooms. The cellar, dank and damp though it naturally was, held on to the cold shock of a suicide by hanging in its steep trap-doored stairway. And the main stairwell itself harboured some malevolent entity which on every passage up or down, willed you to trip and fall to the extent that one could almost feel a hand upon one’s back.
But on this night when the dead could walk among the living, the spirits of the Plough and Harrow gave Mr William Farr a night that would stay with him to his deathbed.
As William gathered spent glasses and arranged them on the bar top, they one by one slid towards the edge and smashed to the floor. William tried to scoop them up with his outstretched arms to stop them from inexplicably sliding across the bar, but the spirits fought against him and instead the glasses were picked up and thrown angrily against the wall by an invisible force.
Shaken by this display of supernatural aggression, William lunged for the nearest refuge – the cellar – and flung himself wildly down the steps, slipping on the damp treads and falling in an undignified heap at the bottom. Above him, the trap door of the cellar swung slowly over head and slammed shut, plunging him into darkness in the mausoleum-esque, subterranean hole. The only sound was now his own rapid breathing as he gasped for air in the enveloping blackness.
As William stumbled around the cellar, searching wildly for some sense of his bearings, he began to shiver. The temperature in the cellar had plummeted, and together with the shock of his ordeal, he shook uncontrollably. Stopping to wrap his arms around himself in an attempt to stave off the sudden chill, he became acutely aware that the rasping sound of breathing was no longer just his own.
He was rigid with fear, his legs rooted to the spot, hampering his overwhelming desire to run. But William’s eyes were slowly adjusting to the darkness and a faint chink of light was cast on floor in front of him from the trap door above. He summoned all his strength and whirled round and grabbed the steep wooden staircase, scrambling up it and hammering on the trap door with all his strength. As the door finally gave way, he dragged himself up and out and fell to the floor of the bar sweating and panting. Suddenly aware of shuffling steps coming from the cellar floor he jumped up and swung the trap door over right at the moment a pale and twisted face rushed up the cellar steps towards him. With an almighty bang, the door closed and agonizing shrieks rose up from behind it.
This was more than William could take and he ran screaming from the building, howling and crying he crossed New Park and was met by the comforting sight of a local police constable. He gibbered his wild tale through gasps and tears to the astonished officer of the law who felt that perhaps a little sedation might be called for and gently walked William the short distance to the Insane Asylum at Graylingwell, where he was eventually calmed with a good dose of Potassium Bromide. Upon regaining his right mind a few days later in the confines of the asylum, he felt it prudent to recant his tale for fear of being made a permanent resident, blaming his experience on too much whiskey and returning to his haunted public house.
Although he heard and saw many more odd things over his years as landlord, never again did he experience anything quite so terrifying as that Halloween night. The spirits had had their fun with him.
Now number 145-146 St Pancras is no longer a public house, but a buzzing branding agency, however the story you read is not entirely a work of fiction.
In 1859, William Farr was the landlord of the Plough and Harrow. There are said to be bodies under our car park, believed to be those of lepers. The cellar was the site of a suicide by hanging.
The building still unnerves its occupants with nocturnal happenings, peculiar perturbances and a feeling of foreboding that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and send chills through your body… Happy Hallowe’en!
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