Pubs don’t get much spookier than Cornwall’s Jamaica Inn. The old coaching house and smugglers’ hangout in the heart of wild and windswept Bodmin Moor has a welcoming but eerie air about it and regularly appears in the top ten of the UK’s most haunted lists.
People have been reporting ghostly goings-on in and around the 18th century hostelry for more than 100 years, and the list of otherworldly sightings, weird atmospheres, unexplained noises and creepy incidents keeps on growing.
A wealth of myths and legends surrounds this historic site where author Daphne du Maurier came for help after getting lost on the misty moors on horseback. Her experience inspired her dark 1936 novel Jamaica Inn, and the Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation three years later, putting the remote hamlet of Bolventor and its pub firmly on the visitors’ map.
Stories of ghosts and poltergeist activity have blossomed ever since and Jamaica Inn is now a prime destination for ghost hunters from all over the world. Sightings have been made all over the property, especially the oldest upstairs bedrooms, but also in new buildings constructed on site in the 1980s.
In 2004 the inn was featured in a gripping episode of TV’s Most Haunted, and interest boomed. Keeping track of people’s reported experiences and testing them out is the domain of the Jamaica Inn paranormal investigation team who lead regular ghost hunting events in the name of serious research, using electromagnetic field detectors and recording devices.
Team leader Colin Symonds explains that they are open-minded sceptics: “There’s folklore that goes back through the years and we are testing that and trying to uncover the most common sightings.”
Karin Beasant, who has been studying Jamaica Inn alongside Colin for nearly seven years adds: “Sometimes nothing happens at all, and sometimes the level of activity even surprises us.
“As investigators what we are interested in is real hauntings. We are tearing apart the legends and the history, bit by bit, to try and get to the truth. When there’s a sighting, we check out all the real stories of people who lived here. It’s about connecting and understanding the human being that once walked on this earth.
“It isn’t entertainment, and we don’t want people running around and being silly, but we are very approachable and we do have a laugh.”
While many of the supernatural characters make their presence known time after time, just like the pub’s regulars, others seem to be slowly fading, leaving the creaky doors open for fresh phantoms to join the hair-raising line-up. Colin and Karin reckon there are about four or five mainstays, with others making the occasional guest appearance.
Here’s a snapshot of the top ghost sightings and spooky happenings on the paranormal investigation team’s list that have passed their authenticity test, starting with the most recent arrival:
The lone American airman
A 16-year-old girl recently saw a young man wearing a US airman’s uniform coming through the kitchen door and entering the bar before vanishing. He’s also been spotted twice in the stable block.
It’s not as unlikely as it sounds. Thousands of American troops were stationed in the Bodmin and Launceston areas of Cornwall during the Second World War, and they were known to frequent pubs and hotels around the county. There are also speculative reports of secret meetings being held at Jamaica Inn between US Generals George Patten and Dwight Eisenhower when they came to inspect their troops in the run-up to D-Day in 1944.
The flying phone
Four years ago, at around 10.50pm on Sunday, October 23, 2017, intriguing CCTV camera footage captured the moment when a wall phone hanging between the main bar and the utility area appeared to lift up and then drop to the floor by itself, startling staff member April who was standing nearby facing the opposite direction. About 20 minutes earlier she heard the bar door open, but nobody entered. See the YouTube footage here.
Colin and the team tested out every alternative explanation and concluded that there was no way the phone could have released itself and it had to be paranormal activity.
The blacksmith who plays with fire
About three years ago Colin was leading an investigation in the stable block of the inn when he suddenly felt as if his whole body was on fire.
“I was burning up and had prickly heat all over. My colleague got me outside quickly and in the cold air I felt completely normal again. We put that down to the one we call the blacksmith,” he explains. “A blacksmith named John Cock is listed as living on the premises in the 1861 and 1881 census records and had a son of the same name.
At the farmhouse across the road there is still the original forge and the old bellows are now kept in the pub. They have also had people picking up on the shadow of a big built man with an aggressive presence that is seen around the stable block and the museum. Two women recently reported the feeling of someone putting their hand up their skirts in the same area. Was that the blacksmith? Or could it have been…
Brooding landlord’s son James Broad
There’s another large, grumpy presence that regularly makes his way around and about the inn. Through Karin’s historical research and the team’s public and private ghost hunting sessions they have recorded an increase in activity when they talk about James, whose father, John Broad, opened the inn in 1750.
“As a man of that period he doesn’t seem to like modern strong women. In those times women would have been subservient and without the rights they have now. Asking if there’s a woman he likes, I’ve gone round the room and touched each one on the shoulder and when I reach one that’s a bit more buxom, the equipment will go mental.
Jack, the solitary stranger
This apparition was first reported in 1911 when several of the inn’s locals noticed a man wearing old fashioned clothes sitting or leaning on the front wall. They tried to converse with him but he would neither look at them nor reply. Then he faded away as quickly as he’d appeared. Other people have seen a similar figure in the original bar area sitting at what’s now known as Jack’s Table. One woman saw him looking at her curiously with his head resting on one hand.
Legend has it that a stranger was drinking ale at the inn one evening when he was summoned outside, leaving his half full tankard on the bar. His dead body was found on the moors the next day and his murderer was never caught. Does he perhaps return to finish his beer?
Karin says: “I interviewed a lady who in 1977 was in the back of her parents’ car as they drove past the inn. She asked them who that strangely dressed man sitting on the wall outside was, but when they looked he had disappeared. She certainly didn’t know the history, so that had to be a real sighting.”
Hannah, the child with wet feet
She’s the most famous of Jamaica Inn’s juvenile ghosts. One guest staying in Room 5 woke up to see her wet footprints on the carpet leading across to the wardrobe where a bathroom used to be. Footsteps can be heard running around the bedroom at night and people have seen a child’s figure by the side of the bed and even had their legs touched. A serviceman staying in the room was so disturbed that he got up and slept in his car. Hannah has a growing fanbase who write letters and send her toys, some of which appear to move location on their own.
“She’s a Victorian girl with long blonde curly hair and she’s quite playful,” says Karin. “I’ve seen her in the museum and one of the staff often catches sight of her in the corridor between the gift shop and the ladies toilet.”
She’s sometimes heard giggling with a friend in the gift shop where books have been thrown about and teenage girls with ponytails have had their hair pulled.
Smuggler in the tricorn hat
Typical Poldark-style attire for the 18th century, the tricorn hat is the standout feature of the man with black curly hair and breeches who is thought to be a smuggler like the one on the Jamaica Inn sign. He has often been seen walking through bedroom walls, lurking in corridors and watching people in their beds. It’s thought he could be responsible for the heavy-booted footsteps persistently heard through the ceiling below.
A mother and her crying baby
Many people have heard a baby crying at the inn, particularly around rooms 3 and 7, even when there are no babies staying at the time. Karin and Colin think this could be linked to the story of Mary Downing, a young single woman who in 1834 sued the inn’s married landlord Thomas Dunn to force him to recognise their illegitimate son. The child was christened Thomas Downing Dunn at Altarnun Church, the cathedral of the moors featured in Daphne du Maurier’s novel Jamaica Inn.
On a recent investigation, Colin and another man were playing back an electronic voice recorder in room 7. “We were sitting quite close together listening and there were no noises recorded at all. Suddenly we both heard a woman’s voice say: “Quiet, there’s a baby in here.” We thought it must have been on the recording, but when we played it back again there was nothing there, so we must have heard it in real time.”
A Victorian lady in Room 27
A few weeks ago Colin was staying in Room 27 when an apparition took him by surprise. He explains: “ I went to bed around 2am after an investigation and I was just drifting off when I looked down to the luggage rack at the bottom of the bed and noticed a patch that was darker than everywhere else in the room. Right in front of my eyes the blackness turned into a form like a woman with her hair in a bun and her hands in her lap. The duvet and pillow went straight over my head!”
To join a ghost hunt with the Jamaica Inn Paranormal Investigation Team, contact Jamaica Inn, or visit the team’s Facebook page where they post their most recent findings and activities. Happy hunting!
Read more: Ten of the most haunted places in Cornwall you can visit this October