THE ANCIENT RAM INN – A GHOST STORY FOR OUR TIMES
Posted July 20, 2011on:
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For several years now, the Ancient Ram Inn, at Wotton-Under-Edge in Gloucestershire, has been a magnet for ghost-hunters. It has seemed to be that very rare thing in the world of the paranormal: a place where you are almost guaranteed that something supernatural will happen. If all this makes it sound too good … well bear with me for a moment and see what you think.
The Inn dates back to the 12th century, and is said to have been built over a 5000-year-old Pagan burial ground. It first housed masons and other workers who were constructing St Mary’s Church. It also sits on an intersection of 2 ley lines. This in itself is a debatable subject. Some believe ley lines are a vital source of energy from which ghosts draw strength. They have been called Ghosts’ Highways, (or even UFO Runways). Others will argue that ley lines occur everywhere, not just at places like the Ancient Ram Inn, but at some bog-standard completely unremarkable places as well. Some also believe that the redirecting of a stream from the Church to the Inn opened up “a portal for dark energy”.
When the team from the cult TV show ‘Most Haunted’ visited the Ram in the summer of 2004, historian Richard Felix enthused that the Ram should be regarded as “a national treasure”. Personally, I feel this would only be the case if we had an extreme shortage of Medieval buildings in Britain, but we don’t. I feel it is very hard to regard the Ram as “a treasure” of any kind. It is a squat, dark building which, in the words of one visitor, looks as if it’s about to fall into the ground. It is cold and unheated, because central heating cannot be installed in case it warps the old beams. It’s roof needs fixing, but the current owner can’t afford to have it done. The rooms are choc full of unsightly old rubbish, including some horrific red nylon bedspreads straight out of the 1970s (which the ghosts have sensibly tried to tear up), and there is an open grave in the living-room. It is more accurately described on ‘The Paranormal Database’ as having a “heavy, oppressive atmosphere”.
It hasn’t been a licensed pub since the 1960s, when ex-train driver John Humphries bought it from the brewery in 1968, for the enviable sum (by today’s standards) of £2,600, after he had heard that it was to be knocked down. He says that he knew nothing about any haunting prior to buying it. John claims that on his very first night in his new abode he felt a pair of cold, hairy hands pulling him out of bed. His daughters regularly saw a catlike creature, and visitors reported being thrown out of chairs.
None of this seems to have deterred John from staying there. Over 40 years on and he’s still in-situ, a frail man in his eighties, who has the look of an old roadie about him. It is fair to say that John has sacrificed a substantial part of his life to caring for the building and its spiritual welfare. He even at one point brought in the Rev. John Yates, Bishop of Gloucester, to try and exorcise the place, but with no apparent success.
When I first began writing about ghosts 20 years ago, the Ancient Ram didn’t seem to be very much in evidence. It was nearby Newark Park that was more well-known in the area for being haunted. The only times I ever came across the Ancient Ram, was occasionally it would be referred to in books about the history of British witchcraft.
It is in the past 10 years that it has really come into its own. Many visits have been made by ghost-hunting groups from all over the country, and many claim to have had good results, mainly centring on equipment malfunctioning on site. Others have also reported feeling headache-y and nauseous in the barn area. There tends to be a heavy reliance on mediums on these visits though, which personally I’m not too keen on. Although the whole field of mediumship is interesting, and I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, I still feel there is too much of a You’ll Just Have To Take My Word For It about it, as well as a hefty dollop of power of suggestion. If you’re in a place like the Ancient Ram, which is very old, very ugly, and reputed to be very haunted, stuffed full of malevolent spirits, then it is going to play havoc with even the most hardened sceptic. As Stephen King once wrote many years ago, even a cynic will get nervous if you ask him to spend all night alone in a reputedly haunted house.
The haunting really came to prominence with the visit of the ’Most Haunted’ crew in 2004. It ranks as one of their more memorable investigations. Psychic artist (and human sleeping-pill) Bryan Shepherd drew a picture of a witch, which John Humphries later said bore a resemblance to his daughter when she was younger (!). The sound of a cat was recorded on a tape left running in an upstairs room, and in the barn occurred an incident which has been debated ever since, when crew member Stuart Torevell was seemingly punched in the stomach by an invisible force.
Of course there are two clear sides to every story. Sceptics believe this incident was pre-arranged, and in the footage (the relevant clip of this can be found on YouTube), they say you can see him exchanging meaningful nods with the producer, Karl Beattie, just before it took place. On the other side of the argument Stuart’s distress does seem very real, and in the ’Most Haunted’ book he claims the incident was so traumatic that he felt like jacking in the show for good. Of course, you can argue that such remarks are all good publicity. I personally am completely and utterly on the fence with this one. Many believe (with some justification it has to be said) that ’Most Haunted’ has a dodgy history of fraudulent stuff behind it, and Stuart Torevell’s involvement has long been controversial to say the least. He and producer Karl Beattie are often referred to (not flatteringly) as the Chuckle Brothers on Internet forums about the show, because of their tiresome non-stop pranks, which are usually only hilariously funny to them, and have done NOTHING to add any credibility, not just to the show, but to ghost-hunting generally
Well all I can say is that I’ve watched this particular bit of footage until I thought my eyes would drop out, and all I see is Stuart casually glancing up at the ceiling just before the “attack” took place. It seemed to genuinely take him by surprise. But I am not nailing my colours to any mast where ’Most Haunted’ are concerned. Having had the sheer misfortune to catch such a cynical television “gem” as ‘Ghost-Hunting With Katie, Alex And Friends’, (which Yvette Fielding was responsible for), I wouldn’t put anything past her. Here’s one I made earlier ….
’Most Haunted’ can have a profound effect on the locations it visits. Some places have been dining out on it ever since, and the Ram is no exception. Rumour has it that John Humphries bumped up his prices after the ’Most Haunted’ show was aired. This didn’t (initially) deter dedicated ghost-hunters.
But then in 2006 came shock news (or what I assume Mr Humphries was intending to be shock news). He announced that he was closing the Inn to the ghost-hunting public, as temperatures inside the building had reached an all-time “demonic low” (well it was January I suppose). Some have pointed out that John does this on periodic basis, and it’s simply a publicity gimmick. They may well have a point, as the Inn never stays closed for very long, and in recent years the controversy around the Ram has scaled new heights (or lows, whichever way you want to look at it).
There is a rather grubby little tale from an anonymous poster on Ghosts-UK who said that John had tried to con a second nights rental out of their East Anglian ghost-hunting group, which they could ill-afford. This visitor also voiced strong reservations about the orbs many people claim to have photographed at the Inn, saying that John makes a ritual out of banging on the door and the furniture with his walking-stick, presumably in order to create dust. John was filmed doing this in a 2009 BBC3 show, when Joe Swash spent a night in the haunted bedroom. Unexplained noises-off were picked up on the locked-off camera which was in the room all night.
Also in this show John made the extraordinary claim that he is visited nightly by a demonic Incubus (an Incubus is a male demon), who tries to sexually assault him, and John has to protect himself by reading aloud snippets from the Holy Bible.
It should be loud and clear to one and all by now that John is quite a character. The aforementioned anonymous poster on Ghost-UK has also said that John claimed he had a photograph in his possession of the grandfather clock showing a human face. Well it did. But it was crudely obvious that it was a picture stuck inside the clock. Another visitor said that John wanted him to photograph him in the barn, with John jumping around claiming he had angels dancing round his head!
Ghost-hunters are a gregarious, gossipy lot on the whole, eager to share their experiences with like-minded souls, and pitiful stories like this soon get around. Bad news travels fast. People began to think twice about visiting the Ram, and some even nicknamed it The Scam Inn. Another visitor said that the only truly scary things about the Ram were the toilet facilities and the electrical wiring! Even the legendary ghostly cat often heard in the building doesn’t get off lightly either. A member of the Hampshire Ghost Club found a tape-recorder playing this self-same noise in the Witch’s Room.
Of course there are two sides to every story. John is an old man, and if he can make some extra money out of people being willing to spend the night in his dilapidated old house, then so be it. And life’s certainly not easy for him. On top of the nightly Incubus, he also has to contend with gormless idiots ringing him up and demanding free boozy nights in the haunted inn. One woman even demanded she hand over the use of it to her for her birthday party, and became abusive when he refused. Idiots like that one are the bane of life everywhere these days, and the paranormal world is no exception. I totally lost interest in visiting the Edinburgh Vaults for instance when most message board forums I read concerning the place seemed to be stuffed with morons relating their boring anecdotes about being drunk there.
The Ram is a ghost story for our time because it seems to have gained fresh life from the Internet, and popular ghost-hunting shows like ’Most Haunted’, which have all, in a few short years, elevated it from an obscure, defunct old pub with old witchcraft associations to being regularly listed as one of the Top 10 haunted sites in Britain. Ghost-hunting is a money-spinner. But that can also be a double-edged sword. For countless years Chingle Hall in Lancashire was regarded as one (if not THE) most haunted houses in England. In the 1990s a couple bought it hoping to capitalise on this, and soon found out that ghosts are annoyingly perverse creatures, they don’t turn up on demand. They sued the previous owners, claiming they had been misled, that the house wasn’t as haunted as they’d supposed it to be. They lost the case, and were branded “gullible” and “naïve” by the judge. In recent years Chingle has completed closed its doors to the public. Nowadays not even charity ghost-hunting events are held there. From being one of the most haunted houses in Britain, Chingle has slipped completely off the radar. Interestingly, one local medium claimed that Chingle Hall has had an adverse effect on all its owners.
It can be said that living in a very haunted house is certainly not a healthy thing to do, either mentally or physically. John Humphries seems to have become more and more eccentric, and obsessed with the place. He wants to keep visitors coming, but MAY POSSIBLY have been resorting to unethical means to do so. It’s not a wise thing to do if this is so. Nobody likes being conned.
A long time ago I once wrote about Borley Rectory in Essex that the haunting may have started out as genuine, but had grown so many layers of truth, utter fabrication, allegation and counter-allegation, that it was now virtually impossible to say for certain what was true and what was not. The Ancient Ram Inn seems to have gone the same way.
John has said that when he dies he wants to leave the Inn to the Bristol Museum. It’s hard to see what they would do with it. And it’s difficult to see at the moment what will happen to the sick and sad Inn when John is no longer there to be its caretaker.
In June 2010 I went and patrolled up and down outside the Inn to try and get a feel of what it was all about. I had no real wish to ask to go inside, partly because I’m quite attached to my money, but also from what I saw of it from the outside it wasn’t an alluring prospect. The Inn does indeed look in a very sad state. It has deteriorated considerably since Most Haunted’s visit in 2004. The exterior needs a good going-over all round, but I suspect John hasn’t the money or the energy to spend on such a big job. The dark windows are plastered with very old newspaper cuttings (usually concerning John asking for money), and some rather pathetic notices along the lines of Most Haunted Visited Here With Derek Acorah. Another was one claiming that some ghost-hunters left in the mornings without paying him, and that’s why he asks for the money up-front.
One sign said ’A NATIONAL TREASURE BUT NOT TO THE PEOPLE OF WOTTON’, which possibly speaks volumes about the alleged antagonism I’ve heard exists between John and the rest of the townsfolk. Most telling of all for me though was the not-so-subtle alteration to the sign on the side of the Inn, which you face as you come down the hill towards the Inn from the town centre. The Inn dates back to around 1145, which makes it 12th century. Someone has whitewashed out the 2 and replaced it with a 0, making it 10th century, which seems to be a rather clumsy attempt to try and make out that the Inn is the oldest in the country (to the best of my knowledge we have no pubs, or ex-pubs, going back quite that far. The accepted oldest pub in England, the Ferry Boat in Holywell, Cambridgeshire, goes back to about the 12th century).
There may well be genuine ghosts at the Ancient Ram Inn. Some people do sincerely seem to have had credible experiences of the paranormal there, and I did find the Most Haunted footage intriguing, BUT I’m afraid for me personally I came away feeling that the Ram was just a broken-down, neglected-looking old place, rather like a sort of ancient students’ squat. It does have a very depressing aura to it though, and one that can stay with you if you’re not careful. But whether this is anything paranormal, or more psychological, I wouldn’t like to say.