Book Review by Steve Matthews.
The English Heritage Book of new Ghost Stories: Eight Ghosts edited by Rowan Routh. £12.99
Is there any better, more appropriate place for a ghost than Carlisle Castle? Those red sandstone walls have stood there at the head of the city for almost a thousand years. It must have witnessed many an untimely death. The castle was seized by King David of Scotland. He died in there in 1135.
In succeeding years the castle was twice besieged by the Scots. The Scots attacked again during the reign of King John and the castle gatehouse was “cracked from top to bottom”. They attacked yet in 1315 under the leadership of Robert the Bruce. Andrew de Harclay defended stoutly and negotiated a truce without the permission of his own king. He was arrested for treason. He was hanged, drawn and quartered outside the city walls and one of his quarters was displayed on the castle keep for five years.
During the following centuries Carlisle was the military heart of the troubled Borderlands.
In the Civil War, the Parliamentary troops besieged the city for nine months. The city eventually surrendered after the citizens had been reduced to eating rats.
After the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, rebels were imprisoned in the castle. In 1745 the city was besieged first by the Highland army of Bonnie Prince Charlie and than a few months later, as the Jacobites fled north, it was re-taken by the Duke of Cumberland. In 1746 the rebels were brought to trial in Carlisle. Most of them were transported, but thirty-seven were sent to the gallows.
Carlisle Castle is, indeed, a place of perturbation, a place where one might well expect to encounter a ghost.
Andrew Michael Hurley, who lives in Lancashire, won the Costa Book of the Year in 2016, with his first novel, The Loney. He sets his story, Mr Lanyard's Last Case, in Carlisle Castle in “that unsettled summer” of 1746, during the time of the Jacobite rebels. At the trials, James Lanyard had been overcome by a “nervous illness” which “brought to an end what had been a long and formidable career at the Bar”.
The real story of what happened, of what deprived this able and brilliant man of his energy and strength, was only known to those who were in the court at the time. “There was talk of ghosts and spirits (and that Mr Lanyard had, in fact, been haunted until the day he died in his house on the edge of the Heath)”.
The city was overrun and few lodgings were available. Lanyard boarded with an army surgeon, Doctor McEwan. Prisoners were being sent to the city from all over the Borders. “And with all these prisoners, would come a long procession of lawyers, clerks, underwriters, physicians, men called to the grand Jury and the Petty Jury, witnesses, families of the accused, bailiffs and a great many other servants and necessaries further down the train.”
McEwan kept a capuchin monkey, his payment for curing a sailor of the pox. “It was a wrinkled, emaciated creature and clattered about in a small cage with its withered right hand dangling like a bracelet.”
And so, Andrew Michael Hurley sets his scene in the foetid, febrile Carlisle of 1746, a troubled and uneasy city.
Hurley's excellent story is one of eight by a group of distinguished authors. Each is set in an English Heritage property. Jeanette Winterson tells an eerie story of Pendennis Castle. Kate Clanchy sets her tale in Housesteads Roman Fort and Sarah Perry imagines events at Audley End.
If any Government organization is responsible for preserving English ghosts then that organization is English Heritage. With this fine collection of spooky stories, English Heritage is shouldering its responsibilities with style.