Oxford’s most haunted

Has your college made our list of cursed quads?
It’s 4.30am. In a stupor of post-essay-writing delirium you plod through college to hand in your work at the lodge. It’s quiet. Too quiet. The darkness preys on the frail state of your overworked mind and tired eyes, and your thoughts begin to race. Is there someone standing in the shadows of that doorway? Why does that tree look so much like a face? Was that gargoyle really always there? You tell yourself to calm down, you tell yourself it’s nothing – after all, ghosts aren’t real. Are they?
Oxford’s imposing stone architecture and rich history certainly make it a natural hotspot for ghost sightings. The city boasts a dedicated ‘Ghost Trail’ walking tour, as well as the UK’s most seen ghost, known as Matilda, who allegedly haunts the steps of Oxford Castle. However as you scurry back across the dark quad in the early hours only one question matters: is my college haunted? If it’s on this list, then maybe you need to consider the possibility that the figure you thought you saw in your bedroom wasn’t just your dressing gown, or that the moaning noise you heard was more than just fornicating freshers.
Two undergraduates talking at night in a room overlooking the first quad caught sight of their tutor, one Mr Jenner, walking up and down by the chapel, and decided to surprise him by going down and following behind him as he walked. They got a shock when, instead of noticing their presence, their tutor continued walking until he reached the stone wall of the dining hall, which he proceeded to walk straight through, vanishing without a trace. The two undergraduates were so unsettled by the event that one of them could not face the prospect of walking back to his room alone, and had to sleep on his friend’s sofa. Whilst one might raise suspicions about the veracity of their account, one of the two was interviewed about the incident some years later and maintained that “to this day no rational explanation has ever occurred to me.”
Perhaps the reports of potentially drunk, potentially lying undergraduates seem too unreliable to be given serious credence. Wadham’s ghost,however, has been observed over the years by no less than one head porter and two scouts. They agree that it takes the form of a white figure in robes – possibly a priest – and haunts the route from the chapel door, across first quad and into the hall, where it traverses the hall before vanishing just in front of High Table. This is incidentally the area of the college that was built over the site of an old Augustinian Priory. There is also the testimony of Maurice Howes, one-time Head Steward, who complained on a regular basis of the footsteps that he heard late at night from his office, saying that they seemed to enter the hall, but not to leave it. Wadhamites keep your eyes peeled; you could be the next on this list of witnesses.
Another credible witness comes in the form of Dr David Lumsden, who, as a fellow of music at New College and a prominent organist, should have felt more than comfortable in old and eerie buildings. However, one night in 1962, having cleared up after a late rehearsal in New College Chapel by himself, he had just turned off the lights when he turned to see a white face in the warden’s stall, a mere five feet from where he was standing. The face appeared to be disembodied or floating, although Lumsden commented that this could have been due to the darkness in the chapel, and that the apparition could have been wearing dark clothes. Needless to say, Dr Lumsden took pains to avoid ever being left alone in the chapel after dark again.
Rumours concerning a supernatural presence in Trinity College Chapel have been in circulation for decades. They were given new life in 1966 when the chapel organist, having just finished the first hymn in a service held in honour of a newly built organ, collapsed dead on this brand new instrument. The official cause of death was said to be a heart attack, but naturally stories arose of a hostile spirit. The only spirit to have been sighted in the chapel, however, seems to at least have had the appearance of benevolence.


This was seen by Trinity’s verger when he unlocked the chapel doors at ten in the morning. As he began to dust the pews, he became aware of a woman in the chapel with him, dressed all in black and looking at him. He recounted how “we both stood quite still and I looked at her for about a minute and all the time she smiled. I started to move a pace or two nearer and looked down at the first step up to the pews, taking my eyes off her for a second. When I looked up again there was nothing but the empty chapel.”

Magdalen’s most haunted area is apparently its Colonnade. This is where a dark, robed figure was observed coming across the grass and up the steps into the Colonnade, by two separate witnesses on different occasions. One observed the headless apparition emerging from the mist on an early morning, while the other sighting was late at night. Both witnesses agreed on the figure’s dark robes, its silent footsteps and the route that it took, as well as reporting that it vanished suddenly and inexplicably in roughly the same spot, near to the entrance to staircase three on the Colonnade. The level of corroboration between these two unconnected accounts makes this another hard one to explain...


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