Thornton Abbey nestles grandly like an aging monarch in the North Lincolnshire countryside. At the height of its glory it was a rich Augustinian Abbey that went on to fight for survival during the Suppression of the Monasteries. It did this by becoming a secular college but was closed in 1547. After that, a house was built on its land but that is another story for further in this article. It’s fortified gatehouse still stands today and is probably one of the best remaining ones in Europe. However, what we are interested in in this article is does Thornton Abbey have spooky appeal? To decide whether it is worth a visit from visitors that love the spooky element we investigated the Abbey’s past and then visited for atmosphere. This is what we found.
Lover’s Suicide – 1933
If you can arrive at Thornton Abbey by train I would definitely recommend it. As the train trundled abruptly to its stop I could see the Abbey in the distance. It looks like a small castle from a fairy tale. The train station is a sign and a platform. Interestingly enough, the platform hasn’t been updated since the Victorian era so it means a long drop to get off the train.
If you glance around, the vista is reminiscent of something from “All Creatures Great and Small” as a field of fat sheep separates me from the Abbey. The sun is shining, a songbird is trilling and I can smell the perfume of XXX floating through the air. This is something that is more like Postman Pat than Nightmare on Elm Street except when I look down at my tablet and see the newspaper headlines screaming at me, I know that it is not. “Lover’s Suicide While Insane and Baby Murdered”, it’s hard to believe that this happened on this spot at Thornton Abbey less than one hundred years ago.
During the third week in November 1933, seventeen year old, Nellie Waite and twenty one year old, Harold Mundy listened to gramophone records from 7.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. just like any other young couple. The difference with these young people was that by 8.52 p.m. they were laid out side by side on the railway lines waiting for the Grimsby to New Holland train to finish them off at Thornton Abbey.
Engine driver, William Richardson felt a bump as if the train had run over something. At Thornton Abbey station, he got off the train and examined it with Walter Raby, a station porter. They found blood and flesh on the front left hand bogey wheel. Apparently, it was a clear night but dark, the only lighting that they had was off the front of engine.
They walked a short way back along the tracks where they first of all found a woman’s shoe and then her brown hat. Nothing could have prepared them for what they found next. They stumbled upon the lower portion of a man’s body. As they probably stopped themselves from heaving they found the rest of his body and then, about three feet further on, the remains of a girl’s body. The top portion of the corpses were on the outside of the outside rails. The bottom portions of the bodies were in the four foot way. A newly born child was lying beside the dead girl. This was the reason the couple had done this terrible deed.
The coroner suggested that the impact of the train had caused the baby to be born. What is so dreadful is that because the baby had lived for three minutes it was seen as a separate being. This led to the verdict being that Nellie Waite was guilty of wilful murder towards her dead male child. The other verdict was that the couple had committed suicide due to temporary insanity.
Dead Body Found in a Drain 1909
When Patrick McCabe, known as ‘Old Soldier’, set out for a drink or a walk on the night of December 11th 1909, he would not have known that he would never again return to Mrs Farmer’s at 35 Marsh Row, South Killingholme, the house that he lodged at.
It would have been a cold, dark night as he went on his way. We have no idea what was going through the old man’s mind before he stumbled. Screams were heard but ignored at first. McCabe had fallen into a ditch by the wayside and drowned. The ditch is believed to be near the railway station going towards East Halton. The body was taken to the Black Bull after it had been dragged from the ditch; that place being the most probable venue for the coroner’s inquest.The verdict was accidental death. We have to wonder does the ghost of the old soldier wander those lonely, country lanes on cold December evenings trying to find his way home?
Skinner’s Mansion 1607
After the Abbey became a college and then closed in 1547, there are stories that Sir Vincent Skinner used stone from the abbey church to build a Jacobean Mansion.He was an ally of William Cecil, a staunch protestant and was also the Auditor of the Receipt under James I. However, none of this saved his bacon. Apparently, the manor house just fell down without any reason only a few years after it was erected; that tale was according to Abraham De La Pryme, a Lincolnshire writer of the time. He makes it sound like the house was cursed because it had been built from abbey stone.David Ross, the editor of an article about Thornton Abbey on Britain Express states that Skinner died in poverty in High Holborn Debtor’s Prison in 1616. He further suggests that the house was probably pulled down to pay Skinner’s debts.It is entirely up to you what you believe. However, you will not find anything of the house if you visit Thornton Abbey – the gardens however have recently been discovered. It is believed that the house was built on the west side of the abbey plot within the moat. It is said that it all fell down and all the furniture was broken up. So Skinner took all the stone and had a house built at Thornton town but that did not prosper either.He had some stones left and so built another house which was supposed to stay standing on the east side of the court. It’s not clear where that is. You decide – was Skinner’s building cursed because he used the stone from the Abbey for his own ends or was it simply coincidence?
Murder of a dwarf or witch at Thornton Abbey – date unknown
Thornton Abbey is also behind a tale of murder and haunting. One is that a dwarf was murdered at Thornton Abbey. He is then supposed to have been taken underground via a secret tunnel from the Abbey to Manor Farm in East Halton. His ashes were allegedly put in a cauldron and buried in the cellar of the farm house. It is not clear whether his body was burned at the Abbey or at the farm. Legend then goes on to tell of folks that have died after touching the cauldron. There was a lot of suspicion surrounding it so much so that it was eventually encased in metal and the cellar was blocked up. There are newspaper reports suggesting this from the 1970s.
Strangely enough, there is a variation on this. Instead of it being a dwarf that is murdered, it is a young girl from Kettlebridge Lane, East Halton. She was believed to be a witch.The girl was taken to Thornton Abbey and kept there while a cauldron which was called a kettle was made. She was then taken through a secret tunnel from the Abbey to Manor Farm at East Halton. Legend has it that she was burnt in the cauldron near a bridge.Her remains in the form of ashes were then left in the cauldron and taken back to Manor Farm and buried in the cellar there. As with the dwarf story, death surrounds the cursed cauldron which we know existed because of newspaper footage, whether it was cursed or not is another story.
Holed Up 14th Century Monk – discovered in 1722
In 1722, diggers were amazed to find the body of Thomas de Gretton blocked up behind a wall in a dungeon. He had only a table, a book and a candlestick.Apparently, he was a monk in the 14th century that indulged in the Black Arts and rather fast lifestyle for the period. Folks didn’t mess about in those days – if they thought you worshipped the Devil you got it in the neck or wherever they thought fit. He was left to starve to death. It has been reported that a mysterious figure has been seen wondering around Thornton Abbey and some have suggested that it is the walking spirit of the blocked up monk.There has also been another contender for who’s body it was and that is of Walter Multon who died in 1443. Whichever chap it was, he must have died in agony and it is not unreasonable to suggest that if spirits walk the earth then he has more reason than most to do so. Perhaps, he’s searching for the swines that blocked him up.
Plague Pit from 1349
During the 14th century Thornton Abbey was used as a monastery hospital. The bodies of 48 Black Death victims were found when the site was investigated by a team of archaeologists from Sheffield University.21 of the bodies are believed to be children.The Black Death was one of the most lethal pandemics in human history. During 1346 to 1353, it is suggested that it killed approximately 75 to 200 million people. Documented evidence reports that it reached Thornton Abbey in the spring of 1349. DNA has been extracted from the teeth and the bacteria, Yersinia Pestis which was responsible for the Black Death has been discovered in the tooth pulp.When you consider that it is believed that half the population of England died during the Black Death and yet only two other sites in London have been found with Yersinia Pestis, the Thornton Abbey plague pit is indeed remarkable.Whether you believe in wondering spirits or not, a plague pit cannot be overlooked when talking spooky.
Medieval Priest - 1317
The skeleton and coffin of a medieval priest was uncovered by archaeologists from Sheffield University in 2017. It is believed that the priest died 700 years ago.The coffin is made of stone and has an image of a priest in robes on the lid. The name on it is
Richard W’Peton. The date is April 17th 1317. It is unknown how he died at this point although the theory that he starved to death during the Great Famine has been put forward. Some people believe that they have seen the figure of a monk or priest walking around the Abbey. It has always been assumed that it was the blocked up monk but that was because Richard W’Peton’s grave hadn’t been discovered. Just the fact that we now have a choice of which monk it could be means that Thornton Abbey is one spooky venue.
Atmospheric or not?
The fortified gatehouse has two floors and lots of passageways to explore. Even on sunny days, it is rather creepy and it is definitely not somewhere that I would like to visit alone or at night. When you reach the second floor you can see through some gaps in the wooden floorboards down to the floor below. This makes it reminiscent of people spying on each other. It has the stench of a single wrong word whispered could mean the difference between life or death. My son practised the Richard III monologue “is this the winter of our discontent” for an exam in that room and the setting truly helped his performance. It made it real.
Has Thornton Abbey Got Spooky Appeal?
In a word, ‘yes’. If you add together the dreadful deaths that have happened over the years on that spot, you really cannot argue that if such things as ghosts exist then they would definitely be in visitation at Thornton Abbey. Add to that, the spooky passageways and rooms in the gatehouse and I would suggest that if you are looking for a venue with spooky appeal to visit this is definitely one to go to. Happy haunting.
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