THE GHOST OF THE OLD BELL HOTEL
By Rob Hardy
I am a terrible dart player, so why I joined the local darts league beats me. The team would play home and away matches. I loved playing away matches, as it gave me the chance to visit pubs that you might not normally go to. The Star was one such place; a friendly little darts and skittles pub in the centre of Kingswood just outside Wotton Under Edge, about eight miles from Dursley. It was there that I heard the story of the missing treasure of Kingswood.
The village of Kingswood is built on ground where once stood a magnificent Abbey which was destroyed during Henry VIIIs purge on Catholicism. Before the dissolution of Kingswood Abbey, the monks managed to remove all its treasure, and up to the present day the treasure has never been found. The local theory is that its hidden somewhere near the site. The only bit still standing is the ruined Abbey gate, and if their old stones could speak we might have an answer to the mystery. Is it possible that this was the treasure I witnessed in my dreams, passing into the tunnels below the streets of Dursley? If you are into treasure hunting I suggest you have a poke around the Broad Well area of town, at the bottom of Bull Pitch behind St James Church, where you will find that some of the buildings pre-date Henry VIIIS time.
Using my poor dowsing skills and a street map of Dursley I think I know roughly their route, which seemed to take them not only in front of the church but also under the Old Bell Hotel. Now the Old Bell is listed as one of the haunted Pubs of England. Moreover Janet and I used to drink there regularly, and soon became familiar with the story of the ghost of the Old Bell Hotel. Apparently there are two ghosts that haunt the Old Bell. The main ghost, if you like (do ghosts have a pecking order?) was the ghost of a young woman called Mabel, a linen maid at the time when the Old Bell was still a coaching Inn. Her job was to strip the beds then take the sheets away to be washed, replacing them with fresh ones. One day some passing solders on a recruitment drive were buying drinks for the young men in the bar, and Mabel's lover got drunk and took the Kings shilling. He was taken away to fight in some war or other never to be seen again and whether he was killed or not we will never know.
Fortune was to throw Mabel another blow, as she found that she was pregnant. What this meant back in those days heavens only knows, but as a result of her circumstances Mabel committed suicide, hanging herself in room six.
Mabel's spirit did not rest easy, and over the years the Pub got the reputation of being haunted and things would apparently move on their own. One of the waitresses told me that after laying out all the cutlery, napkins, china etc. in the restaurant on the first floor, she left the room for a moment and when she returned she found that every thing on the tables had been moved into a different order. There is only one door in and out of the restaurant, and she swore that no one had entered the room as they would have had to have passed her.
This sort of thing is quite a common event in the Old Bell. Guests that booked in for the night would find their clothes neatly folded at the bottom of their bed, and thinking that someone had been in their room when they were asleep, would complain to the landlord only to be told that the staff were a lazy lot, and if any body was in their room in the dead of night they were was supernatural.
I remember one such incident. It was a New Years eve, and after the usual Auld Lange Syne, the Landlord, Janet and myself, plus a handful of local characters got blind drunk, and the talk turned to the ghostly goings on. We decided that we would make our way up to room six to challenge the ghost. The Landlord picked the keys up off the board behind the bar, and everyone followed him up the winding stairs and corridors of the Old Bell Hotel. Inserting the key into the Yale lock we all shuffled into room six, with all the stealth a bar room of drunks could muster. The only light in the room was that which managed to filter in from the corridor, and in the gloom a grey figure rose up in the bed. There was a stunned silence, then "What the bloody hells going on?" shouted the ghost. We all nearly shit ourselves. The Landlord ushered everyone out of the room, apologising to the guest to whom he had let the room when sober.
We sheepishly returned to the lounge bar only to find that the beer-mats had been mysteriously placed over the beer pumps, and all the remains of the party poppers were piled neatly on one of the tables. Not one shred of paper streamer was left on the floor, and if anyone had tried to clear them up without using a vacuum cleaner, it would have taken ages. The Landlord looked ashen. More of Mabel's work, and no more drinks were served that night.
The Old Bell Hotel is a busy pub and has taken its fair share of knocks, and some of the rooms needed redecorating from time to time, especially the lounge bar, where most of the action took place. I was making a living painting and decorating, and the Landlord asked me if I could paint the lounge bar for him. He was careful to ask me after I had drunk a few pints. Not surprisingly there was a lot of shuffling of feet by yours truly. It's not every day you are asked to spend the night alone in the bar of one of the most haunted pubs in Britain. Being a "lick penny" he did not want to close the bar so we came up with the idea of painting the lounge through out the night, starting after the last of the punters had gone home.
I duly turned up a few nights later with all my painting gear, had a few drinks with the locals and waited for the bar to clear. The landlord helped by closing the bar on time and as he escorted the last person through the door, apologising for throwing him out on time, he came back in and locked the till, and said to me, "You can help yourself to anything out of the pumps, but don't touch the top shop." (The top shop refers to the bottles of spirits that line the upper shelf). Then he said good night and went to bed.
I moved the tables to the centre of the bar, and sheeted them up. I
opened a couple of gallon tins, flicked about a bit with my trusty dusting brush, then began painting. It wasn't long before I had the eeriest feeling that I was not alone. Behind the bar the wall is mirrored, a feature used in many old hotels and Inns to make the room look bigger. In addition, when customers are standing at the bar, instead of looking straight at a wall some six feet in front of them, they will be looking at all the atmosphere of the bar captured in the magic of the old smoke-kissed glass.
The lighting in the lounge bar was provided by wall lights; two upward branching brass tubes supporting little red lamp shades, like upturned flower pots, which were stained with nicotine and dust, and threw very little light. Every time I moved across the floor I caught my own reflection in the mirror out of the corner of my eye, which made me jump until I got used to it. This put the wind up me a bit and as a result the story of Mabel and her ghostly goings-on kept pushing its way to the front of my thoughts. As you can imagine that's the last thing I wished to be thinking of all alone in the middle of the night in a building listed as haunted.
As the night grew older things started to get really creepy. I could swear something, or should I say someone, kept lightly brushing my hair with unseen fingers each time I turned my back to the mirror. I thought, right, I know it must be Mabel, keep calm, youre a big boy now and a witch to boot... So standing up straight I looked long and hard into the heart of the mirror. To my relief my own reflection gazed back at me from the gloom of the room, then the hair on the back of my neck stood up as the shadow of a figure materialised behind me.
The image behind me was of a woman dressed in an apron of red and white stripes, and a cream blouse. Her hair appeared to be tied back behind her ears and her garments were not of this period. Well, this put the wind up me good and proper. I instinctively threw a banishing Pentagram at the apparition as I tried to focus on the figure behind me in the mirror, and it faded as it moved to the left and then disappeared.
Calming down a little with a few deep breaths, I regretted using a banishing Pentagram on poor Mabel and thought to myself, why not try and communicate with Mabel? As it happened it was a lot easier to communicate with Mabel than I thought it would be. After all, I was in her domain; she was one with the fabric of the Old Bell Hotel. Therefore, as I carried on painting a bit of the wall, I could quite easily ask Mabel questions and she would answer. It appears that Mabel like to be called May bell, and she was unhappy that the man she loved did not return to her, so that she just had to be patient and wait. She said she had strange dreams and consequently thought she may have gone mad. In one dream she thought she was dead.
One more question I asked myself about this strange business was that if she was pregnant when she hung herself, would the spirit of the unborn child also haunt the Old Bell Hotel? Maybe a child's spirit in these dire circumstances would just return to the spirit world, or perhaps it would cling to its mother, thus sharing her fate to haunt the Old Bell Hotel for generations to come. As the night wore on I thanked Mabel for her company and blessed her in the name of the Goddess of the night who looks after witches, ghosts and fairies,and bid her depart, which thankfully she did.
I personally believe that the tunnels have something to do with the psychic goings-on in the Old Bell Hotel. Lots of other old Inns and Pubs had cases of death and suicide and so forth, and are not necessarily haunted as a result, or if they are, not to the extent that the Old Bell Hotel is troubled. From dowsing the maps of Dursley town theres a strong possibility that the tunnel runs directly under the Old Bell Hotel. If so, they would be the perfect environment for the storage of psychic energy. The Priory tunnel would have been used for more than one purpose: as an escape route in times of trouble, catacombs for the laying out of deceased Monks and local worthies, and the main part for storage of wine, food stuffs and even maybe hiding that monastery treasure after the sacking of the monasteries and abbeys by Henry VIII.
One of the strange things about the above story was the way the mirror in the bar acted as a medium between the every day world that we inhabit, and the world of the supernatural, forming a bridge allowing either side to cross. Its through the medium of that mirror that I had the privilege to see Mabel. Mirrors have always been a useful tool in the hands of a witch and their use in magic goes back thousands of years. In one of the ruined villas of Pompeii you can see on the wall a mural showing a ritual in progress. Someone is holding a mask over a young woman's shoulder, and she in turn is regarding it in a hand mirror. I have a feeling this is an initiation of some kind (see illustration). Coming more up to date Walt Disneys celebrated film Snow White had an memorable scene in it, when the evil Queen said the immortal words, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" Now that's what you call a magic mirror.
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