Apr 15, 2021 I Brent Swancer

The Phantom Bear of Worcester and Other Ghostly Animal Hauntings in England

There are many hauntings out there, with entities that come in all shapes and sizes. All manner of entities have purportedly haunted locations, ranging from the innocuous to the downright demonic, but there seem to be relatively few that actually take the form of animals. Yet, such reports do exist, and England seems to be a treasure trove of strange tales of extremely bizarre hauntings carried out by seemingly the most likely of animals.

Lying out in the countryside of Worcester, England, perched upon a bank overlooking the River Severn, is the Worcester Cathedral, also known by the more unwieldy name of the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin, of Worcester. The cathedral as it stands today was originally built between 1084 and 1504 and it is known for its use of varying architectural styles, Norman crypt, ornate woodwork, the tomb of John, King of England, and its unique central tower and chapter house. The cathedral has a long history, serving in many capacities over the centuries, including as a religious institution, a cathedral for various clerical orders, a crypt, a monastery, a monastic library, and for storing arms during the English Civil War from 1642 to 1651. The cathedral was extensively restored from 1857 to 1874 and todays stands just as majestic as ever. As well-known as the cathedral is for its architecture and history, it is also known for its hauntings, including that of a spectral bear.

Worcester Cathedral
Worcester Cathedral

Many ancient buildings in England have their share of ghostly lore surrounding them, and Worchester Cathedral is no different. The most commonly reported phenomenon is that of the apparitions of ghostly monks appearing throughout the grounds, as well as orbs of light and shadow figures, which is all pretty standard fare for such a place. Yet, this place also has the distinction of holding one of the weirder hauntings there is, involving a spectral bear. For this story we have to go back to the English Civil War, in particular the Battle of Worcester, on September 3, 1651. It was the final battle of the English Civil war, and at the time Royalist forces loyal to King Charles II were taking up defensive positions in and around the city of Worcester as a final stand against Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarian New Model Army. A key part of this defensive was Worcester Cathedral, which was being used to store weapons and as a base of operations. At the time, sentries were stationed about, and one of these was allegedly a man named Simon Jones, who was doing his duty at the cathedral’s college green and is the first known person to see the apparition that would go on to be called the “Ghost Bear of Worcester." The report would be mentioned in Richard Baxter's 1691 book The Certainty of the World of Spirits, in which it is written:

Simon Jones, a strong and healthful man of Kederminster (Kidderminster), in no way inclined to melancholy or any fancies, hath oft told me thyat being a souldier for the King in the war against The Parliament, in a clear moonshine night, as he stood sentinel in the College Green at Worcester, something like a headless bear appeared to him and so effrighted him, that he laid down his arms soon after and lived honestly, religiously and without blame.

After this initial encounter, other soldiers began reporting seeing the headless phantom bear as well, with one allegedly even firing at it to no effect, and it is hard to know what to think of this. Why a ghost bear and why here? Was this perhaps an escaped captive live bear, and if so why would it be reported without a head? It is hard to know what to make of it, which has secured its place as one of the weirder encounters with a supposedly ghostly animal. If you think a ghostly bear roaming around a cathedral in England is odd, then how about a ghostly cow? Dunsmore Heath, an area west of Dunchurch, near Rugby in Warwickshire, has long been said to be roamed by just such a beast. The origins of this tale go back to old tales of a giant cow that was kept by a giant who lived in Shropshire. This cow could apparently give a nearly limitless supply of milk, but one day it went rogue when a witch got greedy, and escaped to terrorize Dunsmore Heath, its reign only ended when it was slain by the legendary English hero Guy of Warwick. After this its rib bone was put on display and the countryside was safe once more, but in the years after the cow would reappear in a ghostly form, often in the vicinity of Warwick Castle and usually just before a family member dies. The story of the “Dun Cow of Warwick” is a popular tale in the area, and there are even people who swear they have actually seen the spectral cow.

Another strange animal haunting takes us to the area of Dartmoor, on a remote road through the moors leading to a place called Cator Gate. Here there is said to be a ghost pig and its piglets, which roam about the road on especially foggy nights. One tale of encountering this bizarre sight came from a traveler who claimed that one night he was walking along the road as mist swirled around him, when he heard a “loud shuffling” coming from out in the misty moor as he passed Merritt Hill, the sound seeming to be headed right towards him. As the anomalous sound drew nearer it was accompanied by a low grunting noise, and the man was startled when he then heard high pitched voices saying “Starvin! starvin!,” followed by a deeper voice that replied, “Cator Gate! Cator Gate; Dead hoss, dead hoss.” The man could then feel a sudden cold chill in the air, and there appeared from the mist an old sow and her litter of piglets, all of them apparently semi-transparent and bathed in an eerie greenish glow. The spectral pigs ignored the startled man, continuing on their way to saunter off into the mist-shrouded moor on the other side of the road. The man got to town and told of what he had seen to a villager, who told him:

The ghost pigs of Merripit Hill, thems bin a ‘aunting that moor fur twu ‘udred years. Tell ee summit else, if ee ‘ad a followed um to Cator gate ee ‘ud have ‘erd the rest of the tale. The reason they be gawin to Cator Gate is that there be a dead hoss on the roadside and them little pigs be a starvin’. But when ‘um gets to Cator Gate them pigs finds that the crows have picked ‘un clean and all be left is a pile of bones. Those who have witness the ghost pigs at Cator Gate swears blind that them little pigs squeals out “skin an’ bones, skin an’ bones,” to which mother sow answers “let ‘un lie, let ‘un lie.” Then the pigs gaws a traipsin’ back off across the moor. An that tis Gods ‘onest truth.

Bizarre to say the least. Ghostly bears, cows, and pigs are also joined by spectral birds, specifically chickens and a goose. In Highgate, London, there is supposedly a ghost chicken that has been seen in the area of Pond Square since the 17th century. The tale goes that Sir Francis Bacon and his friend Dr. Witherbone bought a chicken from a farm for the purpose of killing it, plucking it, and stuffing it with snow in order to test out their idea that it could aid in food preservation. Bacon would apparently soon after die of pneumonia, but rather bizarrely, the chicken has remained in a sense. Its ghost appears as a plucked, gutted chicken that typically runs around in circles in the square before vanishing into thin air. Sightings were apparently very frequent during World War II, during which time air raid wardens actually tried to catch it on several occasions, but it would always evaporate into thin air, and it has been occasionally spotted to this day. There is also a spectral headless chicken that purportedly lurks about the Layer Marney Churchyard, in Essex. Joining their ranks is a ghostly goose that haunts Berry Well and the nearby churchyard in Melsonby, in North Yorkshire, which supposedly will waddle next to people on horses, or in modern days cars, and match their speed. Like with the Highgate Chicken, people have tried to catch the phantom goose only to have it vanish right before they can get their hands on it.

These are all very bizarre cases, to say the least and we are left to wonder. Are any of these entities even real at all, or are they just folklore and urban legend? If they are real, then what draws them here and what are they really? Whatever the case may be, they are a strange feature on the landscape of the paranormal, diverging from what many might consider traditional hauntings, and are deeply weird at the very least.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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