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The Ghost at The Three Mariners

Updated: Sep 10

The Ghost at The Three Mariners

© Peter Marshall

On 12 November 2015, I travelled to Lancaster with my girlfriend, to attend the funeral of her late father, a local vicar. Also attending was the Bishop of Blackburn. He came over to express his condolences to her and spoke warmly and at length of her father.

“One thing that always baffled me was that my father would never go near the quay”, she said. “But he would never say why. If you asked him, he would clam up and say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’”

“I think I can shed a bit of light on that for you”, he said. “For he confided in me about it. It was in 1988. He had just taken up the post of local vicar and he was intrigued by the history of the area - the witches and all that. Someone had told him about The Three Mariners pub, which was reputed to be haunted. He was so intrigued that, one day, soon after beginning his post, he decided he'd take a look at the place. He liked a pint of Guinness, did your father, and it was reported to be good there. However, I warned him that the area had a bad reputation and had had for years - centuries even. In the old days, sailors were press-ganged from there and the quayside was worked by harlots. In more recent times, there have been robberies, violence and reports of people having had their drinks spiked. I warned him to be careful; his trusting nature would make him easy picking. Well, he did venture down there and what he found disturbed him very much, as he wrote a long letter to me about it.

I have the letter here with me, as I was aware that someone might raise a question about this aspect of his personality, for many people must have been puzzled by it.” He took an envelope out of his pocket, removed the letter from it and gave it to my girlfriend, to read.

“You read it”, she said, handing it to me and I read the contents aloud.

‘On the day I relocated to Lancaster to take up residence in The Vicarage, I was surprised to see people walking about the city in Georgian dress and speaking in Georgian tongues and I wondered what on earth was going on. It was so strange, I even wondered, for a moment or two, if I was dreaming. I wandered into a pub in the centre and asked what it was all about.

‘It’s the Georgian festival’, replied the landlord. ‘Every year, in this week, people dress up and pretend they are living in Georgian times, to celebrate Lancaster’s Georgian past. It’s led by the Georgian Society’

‘I’ve never known a city, or town to do anything like this’, I said. ‘It’s almost unreal, but quite exciting.’

‘Lancaster’s an unusual place’, he said. ‘I’ve lived here for the past ten years. It has a spooky history. You should visit The Three Mariners pub on the quay; it’s reputed to be haunted.’

‘I’ve heard about that’, I said. ‘But do you believe it?’

‘Well, I don’t know whether there’s anything in it’, he said. ‘I’ve never seen it, but others have sworn that you can see him sitting at a table - a sailor, so the story goes. The quay area has a reputation for drugs and muggings. Be careful if you go there’, he said. ‘You will stand out, as a stranger. Everyone knows everyone around here; the city’s like a village and your accent alone’ll indicate you’re not from here.’

Well, that was enough. I was definitely going to give it a visit now, wasn’t I.

‘How do you get to this place?’ I asked.

‘You go along King Street’, he said. ‘Left out of the door and turn right; that’s King Street. Then, as you’re going down the hill, turn off to the left. There’s a signpost to The Three Mariners. It’ll be closing now though – open again at seven, this evening.'

Well, that evening, I ventured down where he had directed me. I didn’t wear my dog collar, as that would certainly make me stand out. Turning off King Street, I could already see the River Lune and down a steep hill was the quayside. There was a three-bar fence on the right, where I was, with quite a drop on the other side of it, down to the water. The top bar was missing just at that point, making it a bit unsafe to look over. As I followed the road down the steep incline, the quayside became close to the surface of the water, and there, on the left-hand side, was the old building of The Three Mariners, reputedly the oldest pub in Lancaster, dating back many centuries. In fact, I later learned that it goes back as far as the Domesday book; at least a pub stood on the site at that time.

I imagined what the area would have been like, in its early days - rough and dangerous, and the dark and gloomy evening, on which I was making my first venture to this enigmatic place, made me rather wary, especially because of what the landlord had told me about crime in the area. Nevertheless, the pub was a tourist attraction that everyone coming to Lancaster would make a point of visiting. I wondered, for a minute, if I’d see the ghost. I was sure I wouldn’t, because I simply didn’t believe in such things.

I pushed the old, oak door, which creaked, loudly and I went inside. I was surprised to see that the floor was covered in sawdust and there were spittoons by the tables. I wasn’t surprised to see that some of the customers were dressed in Georgian attire and I could clearly hear them speaking in Georgian tongues.

I walked up to the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness. A roughly dressed man was looking at me and I felt a bit uncomfortable. I looked back and he spoke to me in a rough, northern accent

‘You’re new around here’, he said.

‘Yes’, I said. ’I only arrived today.’

‘And I suppose you’ve been told this place is haunted’, he said.

‘Yes, I thought I might come and see if I can see the ghost’, I said, chuckling.

‘Don’t laugh about it’, said the barmaid. ‘Every regular here has seen ‘im. He just sits at that table over there.’ She pointed to a table.

‘Well, he’s not there now’, I said.

‘He’s not there all the time’, she said. ‘He just appears now and again; but if you come ‘ere, often, you’ll see ‘im.’

The rough looking man had moved closer and took out a hip flask from his pocket. I couldn’t help looking at his action.

‘Hip flask’, he said. ‘I like a nip o’ whisky in me Guinness and I’m not payin’ their prices for it.’ He indicated with his eyes what he meant. I moved away, anyway, to be on the safe side.

‘Be careful with ‘im’, said the barmaid, under her breath. ‘He’s a known thief, and a pickpocket. He’s even been suspected of spikin’ someone’s drink, in the past.’

Well, following the advice you gave me, I decided to put some space between this man and myself and I moved over to a bench beside the window.

‘What brings you here, me lovely’, a woman sitting close by asked, and I couldn’t help getting the feeling that she was trying to pick me up. Maybe she was supposed to be a Georgian harlot.

‘I’ve come to see this ghost’, I said, with a chuckle.

‘Don’t laugh about it though’, she said. ‘This place ‘is’ haunted. Every one o’ the regulars has seen ‘im. He appears, sittin’ at that table over there an’ he’ll be there fer quite a while, before ‘e suddenly disappears again.’

A Man was standing by the window, close by. He had clearly overheard our conversation, because he came over.

‘I couldn’t help overhearing what you were saying’, he said, to the woman. ‘About a ghost. Do you really believe that?’ He had an American accent.

‘I’ve seen it with me own eyes, many times’, she said. ‘I’ve been landlady here for ten years and I can assure you it’s true.’

‘Were you frightened?’ I asked.

‘I was, at first’, she said. ‘But he’s never done me any harm. He doesn’t seem to know I’m there, or that anyone else is, either, so it no longer bothers me at all. I just find it amusin’, the same as everyone else who’s seen it.’

‘Where are you from’? I asked the man. He had a peculiar white patch in his otherwise pitch-black hair.

‘America’, he said.

‘Well, I guessed that’, I said. ‘But where, in America?’

‘New York’, he replied.

‘And what brings you here?’ I asked. The woman was studying his face noticeably.

‘I’ve been tracing my ancestry’, he said. ‘And my ancestors were here, in Lancaster, in Georgian times. My great, great grandfather worked on the quay. Then he left for America. Why, I don’t know, and the family line continued, from then on, over there. So, I thought the best time to visit this place is when the Georgian Festival is on.’ The landlady was still studying his face, with great concentration.

‘People have told me you have to be careful in this part of the city’, I said.

‘Oh yes’, said the landlady. ‘People have had their drink spiked, got robbed and even worse.’

‘That doesn’t scare me’, said the American. ‘I can take care of myself.’

‘Well, I’ll certainly be careful’, I said. ‘There’s little moonlight out there and a mist is hanging in the air. As I was walking here, I was being spooked by shadows.’

‘Have you ever been attacked?’ I asked the landlady.

‘Yes, my lover, I ‘ave’, she replied.

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘It was on exactly this day of this month’, she said. ‘A tall sailor was watching me all evening, in the bar. He tried to strike up a conversation, but I didn’t like the look of ‘im. He ‘ad a brutish look, a long, straggly beard, one of his front teeth was missin’ an’ the rest were discoloured. His upper lip was stained wi’ snuff from ‘is nose and ‘e ‘ad a patch o’ white hair ‘bout an inch wide, in ‘is otherwise thick, black hair, a most unusual feature, wouldn’t yuh say?’

The American touched his own hair, self-consciously, as he, coincidently, also had a patch of white in his black hair.

‘Well, I ‘ad tuh go into the city one evenin’’,she said. ‘An’ this man followed me outside and all the way along the quayside, keepin’ a good distance behind me. Every time I stopped, ‘e stopped. I didn’t like it at all.’

My glass was empty and I decided to get a refill.

‘Can I get you to a drink?’ I asked.

‘Not for me, me lover’, she’s replied.

‘You?’ I asked the American.

‘I buy my own drink’s, he said, bluntly, in a way I felt was rude, but I guess he didn’t mean to be so. ‘That way I know I won’t get spiked and robbed’, he said, with a smile and a chuckle, clearly meant to correct the unintended impression given by his earlier, blunt statement.

I caught the barmaid‘s attention and ordered another pint. She was not the same one who had served me earlier. This one was older, middle-aged, I would say. Then I caught sight of the American beside me. He had come to refill his glass too.

‘So, have you seen the ghost here?’ I asked her.

‘Yes, every regular here has seen him’, she said. ‘I’ve been landlady here for the past six years and I’ve seen him many times.’ There was no spooky emotion showing in her eyes and I got the feeling that it was blarney - but landlady?

‘You say you’re the landlady’, I said. ‘But I’ve just been speaking to the landlady, at that table over there.’ I looked around and pointed. There was nobody at the table.

‘There was a lady sitting at that table’, I said.

‘Yeah, there was’, said the American. ‘And she did say she was the landlady.’

‘Well, I’ve been the landlady for the past six years’, she said. ‘So she was lying, wasn’t she.’

The American and I looked at each other in perplexity. Neither of us seemed inclined to return to the table; we were more interested in finding out about this place and who better to find out from than the real landlady.

‘So this is the oldest pub in Lancaster’, I said. It was a question, really.

‘Yes, it is’, she said. ‘And it’s full of history. In fact, I’ve been investigating its history in the museum. Sailors were press-ganged from here and captured for service in the Navy. Harlots roamed the quayside and people were frequently robbed. It wasn’t a safe place to be at all, especially after a skinful. It’s even had a murder.’

‘And when was that’? asked the American.

‘Way back in Georgian times’, she said. ‘The landlady, at the time, was last seen taking a walk one evening, along the quayside, in the direction of the city. Why she would’ve been doing that in the dark, I don’t know. Maybe she was soliciting or trying to drum up trade. Anyway, she was found floating in the river, up at the end of the quay.’

The landlady showed us what she had read from the notes in the museum, about the place being walked by prostitutes in Georgian times and about the murder of a landlady. Ladies of the night had told the police about a man with a white patch in his thick, black hair, following her that night. The police had hunted for a man answering that description, but with no success; he seemed to have just disappeared into thin air. They concluded that he must have stowed away on a ship and gone abroad and the hunt was called off. The American and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing.

‘No, surely not!’ he said.

We wandered over to where she had been sitting. I opened the door and looked out. It was dark and a mist was hanging in the air.

‘I don’t really fancy walking back to the city centre’, I said. ‘Not after hearing the things that we have heard tonight.’

‘Come on’, he said. ‘We’ll go together.’

That made it less scary, but it still gave me the creeps and I was jumping at every shadow. We reached the end of the quayside, where the records in the museum had said the body of the landlady was discovered, floating in the river. It was at the part of the three-bar fence, where the top bar was missing. We couldn’t resist looking over, into the river, far below.

‘Look, there! That looks like a body!’ he said.

I tried to focus my eyes, to see what he was seeing. The moon was slipping behind the clouds, as if ashamed to be witnessing a most unholy event. My skin was prickling. A cold, damp feeling was around my shoulders and I could feel the hairs on my neck standing up. The American was leaning over the fence, trying to direct my eyes. Then, I saw it. The lady with whom we had been sitting and speaking, in the pub.

‘It's her!’ ,exclaimed the American.

It was all taking place in a strange, dark light that didn’t seem of this world. Suddenly, a very dramatic thing happened. The woman seemed to rise up and pull at the American’s head, toppling him down, into the river, far below. On the way down, his head came into contact with a concrete post, making a splitting sound, and he sank into the water, leaving a pool of blood in his wake. I stood there frozen in shock, before his body floated up again, face upright, eyes wide open and blood coming out of his mouth. He was, undoubtedly, dead.

I alerted the police, from a nearby callbox, but when they arrived, there was no sign of any bodies – the woman’s or the man’s.

‘The current is fast’, said one officer.

‘There are no bodies here’, said his colleague. ‘In fact, there’s no sign of any incident at all.’

‘They were here’, I insisted and I described the scene to them again.

‘Are you sure you’ve not taken any drugs, vicar?’ the more cynical of the two officers asked, looking at me dubiously.

‘No, of course not’, I said.

‘Or your drink been spiked, maybe’? he suggested. ‘

'Absolutely certain about that’, I said. I knew I’d been particularly careful.’

“The incident disturbed him for the rest of his life”, said the Bishop. “He was certain about what happened and he was not a man given to imagination – a truthful man too, if ever there was one. The only explanation that I could think of was that some strange, unholy score seemed to have been settled . The American’s ancestor must have been that man that followed her. The revenge had waited many generations, before the landlady’s ghost could wreak revenge on a descendent of his, when, just by chance, he had visited the very site, where his ancestor had committed the horrific crime. The ghost the pub owners and customers talked about was probably a fiction, but it seemed clear to your father that this one wasn’t.”

Author’s Note: This short story is a work of pure fiction and none of the characters referred to represent real people. Nor is there any suggestion that the real reputation of the area of the city, or the pub referred to bears any relation to that represented or, by association, may appear to be implied in the story. Whatever the reputation the pub and the area may or may not have had in times gone by, over centuries, to the best of the author's knowledge the pub is now a respectable, well managed and safe environment which attracts tourists through the quality of the food and drinks it sells, the quality of its service and its history. Nor is there any suggestion that the area of the city is unsafe. This particular pub was chosen because of it's well known haunted reputation and the poetic licence used with the facts has been purely for the purpose of creating a work of fiction for the purpose of entertainment.

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