Date of Publication: 25 October 2019
This Halloween, we’re taking a look at some of the famous spirits who are believed to haunt the University of Oxford’s colleges. So, if you’re set to trick-or-treat around Oxford, take note of our ghoulish guide so there’s no unexpected spooky sightings...
King Charles I
During the English Civil War, Oxford was home to King Charles I, a city where there was a Royalist stronghold during much of the battle. With its strategic location and wealth (from the colleges), it seemed an obvious place for him to reside. Whilst here, he turned the Christ Church College Deanery into his palace and held sessions of counter-Parliament in its Great Hall.
After seven years of fighting between Charles’s supporters and Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians in the Civil War, Charles was eventually defeated an imprisoned in 1646 in Hampton Court Palace.
When he was finally convicted of treason in 1649, he was given the death penalty and was executed outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall.
It is now believed that King Charles rests his spirit in the city he loved – Oxford – and more specifically, at Christ Church College. However, there have also been noted sightings of him in the Bodleian Library. This is a rather fitting location as, whilst in Oxford, the King was denied leave to borrow books from the library in 1645. In an act of rebellion, people say he now torments the library, sometimes with, and sometimes without his head, and has been seen running around the upper reading room at night, pulling books from shelves, reading one line and placing them back in a never-ending game.
Colonel Frances Windebank
It is believed that the library in Merton College is home to the ghost of Colonel Francis Windebank, another Royalist who was executed in 1645, during the English Civil War.
Windebank was a young and newly married colonel in the Royalist army who was appointed governor of Bletchingdon Park, Oxfordshire in 1645.
In April of that year, he decided to host a ball at his estate to raise his, his wife’s and his friend’s spirits during the English Civil War. However, it is believed that a Parliamentarian spy snuck in as, during the ball, Bletchingdon House came under attack by Oliver Cromwell’s army.
In a brave and noble stance to protect the lives of his wife and his friends, Windebank immediately surrendered when troops arrived. He was then later marched to King Charles’s headquarters in Oxford where his excuses were refused and he was tried by a Royalist court-martial for failing to protect Bletchingdon Park from Cromwell.
As punishment, he was then tragically executed against the town wall which is adjoined to Merton College, where his famous last words were said to have been; ‘God Save the King.’
It is now believed that Windebank haunts the site of his execution, known as Dead Man’s Walk, and also the college library. Those who believe in his spirit believe he lingers due to feelings of injustice at being executed for what he considered to be an act of chivalry.
St John’s College is home to the long distinguished ghost, Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who was a religious adviser to King Charles I during his residency in Oxford.
Laud, who was born in Oxford and educated in St John’s College, spent much of his career devoting himself to imposing unity on the Church of England by implementing a series of reforms that persecuted and attacked the Protestant practices of English puritans.
In 1644, during the midst of the Civil War, William Laud was formally tried for popery, tyranny and treason. Those charging him fought the case that Laud had been one of the key figures who was causing conflict between the monarchy and Parliament, which eventually led to the English Civil War. On January 10th 1645, Laud was then taken to the Tower of London where he was beheaded.
Laud was later taken back to his home city of Oxford and buried under the altar of the chapel at St John’s College. Students today believe they have seen him in the college’s Library, where he has been known to pull his head from his neck and kick it along the floor.
Obadiah Walker was an English academic and the Catholic Master of University College during the 17th century.
It is said that Walker tried to follow James II when he exiled to France, but was captured and imprisoned for his attempts. Despite being released for the last 10 years of his life, Obadiah left prison as a broken man, and it is now believed that his solemn spirit haunts Staircase VIII at University College, where his residence used to be.
Wadham College’s Priest
There is little information on Wadham College’s spirit. Those who have seen it, believe the figure is of a male figure, dressed in white robes, who they believe was once the College priest.
Those who have seen him say that he walks from the Chapel doors, across the First Quad and into the Dining Hall, where he then vanishes just in front of the High Table.
Over the years, the ghost has been observed by various members of the college. In particular, the former Head-Steward, Mr Maurice Howes, would regularly complain about hearing footsteps late at night whilst in his office. He said the footsteps would walk into the hall, but then never leave…
And don’t forget if you’re planning to be in Oxford this Halloween and want to learn more about these spirits to check out Bill Spectre’s Ghost Tours for a frightfully good scare!