Graveyards and grey ladies: Girton

It was on the Taylor Knob staircase in Old Wing that the Grey Lady haunting was reported in the late 19th century. The Grey Lady, rumoured to be a certain Miss Taylor, was a young woman who died under mysterious circumstances before starting at Girton. What’s more, in 1881 it emerged that Girton had been built on a purported sacred burial ground, when a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered on the College site.  The ensuing excavation unearthed more than seventy skeletons and two second-century Roman graves. Such discoveries might help to explain the slightly bizarre rumour that the College was home to a Roman centurion when first built. Strangely, Girton does remain home to an Egyptian mummy: dating from the first century AD, the mummified woman was discovered in 1911 near Cairo by archaeologist William Flinders Petrie. Bearing the inscription ‘Hermionê Grammatikê’ – which can be translated as either ‘Hermione the language teacher’ or ‘Hermione the literary lady’ she was clearly distinguished for her learning and it was felt appropriate that she take up residence in a women’s college. In fact, Hermione is an established member of College, remembered fondly by Classics students in the post-war years for paying silent audience to their language supervisions. ANISHA SHARMA

Home of the spooks: Corpus

Reputedly the most haunted Oxbridge college, Corpus has been troubled by ghosts for centuries. The most terrifying of its residents is former University Vice-Chancellor Henry Butts, who committed suicide in a room above the kitchens in 1632. In the 1880s, Butts grew so angry (hopefully not from the food) that no cook dared enter the kitchens alone at night. Around this time, the Fellow Charles Walter Moule became so traumatised by sounds coming from Butts’ room that he was reduced to crawling onto the roof on his hands and knees.

The other Corpus wraith is former Master’s daughter Elizabeth Spencer. In 1667, she invited an admirer for tea when her father unexpectedly returned home early. Elizabeth used her initiative and quickly flung her tea-things, along with suitor James Betts, into a nearby cupboard. Being a perfect gentleman, Betts made no sign of protest and waited patiently in the cupboard for her to unlock it.

Regrettably, Elizabeth’s initiative was superior to her memory, and she forgot about Betts for a fortnight. When she opened the cupboard door fourteen days later, she was so distraught by the spectacle she collapsed and died. It is said that on Christmas Eve the ghosts of the two young lovers run helplessly around Old Court, searching for each other, until they are reunited in a spectral  embrace. Isobel Greenlees

Dead frequencies: BBC Radio

It’s not just the dreaming spires of the old Colleges that house spectral enigmas. BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s Studio 1A is rumoured to be haunted by an elderly ghost sitting in the presenter’s chair. Shadowy figures in doorways and orbs of light flying across the room have also been sighted, and a visit from the Cambridge Paranormal Society in 2003 revealed some spooky home truths – sensing that someone had killed themselves in the building, the station was contacted a couple of nights afterwards by an anonymous caller to confirm that someone had hanged themselves on the site.

Not everyone at the station is so sure (the first person Varsity asks about the spectre replies, “Oh, you mean the ghost that’s an air-conditioning unit?”), though Sue Marchant, a presenter at the station, is convinced: “One morning I walked into the studio and there was this bloke sat there. Literally I thought I was seeing things, I was like ‘aargh!’. Then he faded away, but I’ve still got him in my mind’s eye – he was grey-haired with a slight beard, dressed in sort of pastel colours.”

Intriguingly, describes the ghost as a womaniser (his presence more felt than seen, apparently), but this is unconfirmed. BBC Cambridgeshire is due to be moving soon anyway, leaving the present site, and any phantoms within, free. So, if you’re interested, potential office space with one permanent resident on Hills Road should be on the market soon. LAURIE TUFFREY

King’s and Queens’

Queens’ College was opened for Margaret of Anjou, Queen to King’s College’s Henry VI. It turns out that simply having his ‘n’ her Colleges was not enough for these two lovers. So both Colleges are endowed with a “she and he” musical ghost.

Several sources report that, every seven weeks or so, a lady ghost may be heard faintly tinkling away at the piano in the music room of Queens’ President’s lodge. We are assured that she is perfectly friendly.

As for King’s, if you’re lucky enough to find the fabled secret tunnel built between the college and town of Grantchester (apparently constructed to secret away King’s students should Cambridge become infected by the plague), you may also discover that you hear the eerie notes of a fiddle. Hundreds of years ago, after finding this hidden tunnel one man decided to follow it to see if it did lead to Grantchester. Playing his fiddle all the way, his pals reported hearing his music grow fainter and fainter until it disappeared altogether. He was never seen again. However, throughout the centuries there have been reports of people hearing unearthly music echoing out from where the tunnel is thought to lie… HELEN BRANNIGAN

The Eagle on fire

These days, The Eagle pub’s story of how Crick and Watson announced their discovery of DNA within its walls often eclipses other tales from a far darker past. Sources say that some three hundred years ago, a fire ravaged the upstairs chambers of the public house. All were saved except for one young barmaid. Trapped in an upstairs bedroom and unable to open the window to escape, she burnt to death. From that day on, that very same window has remained open. Current employees say that if anybody ever tries to close it, they experience a strong feeling of suffocation in their chests.

So next time you find yourself wandering down Bene’t Street (on a cold and moonlit night, perhaps), walk in to the courtyard to the right of the pub. Then take a look at the little window on the first floor and check if it’s been left open… HELEN BRANNIGAN

Murderers and mothers: Christ’s

Despite having passed away more than four hundred years ago, the College’s foundress Lady Margaret Beaufort is still said to walk the halls of First Court, pale faced and darkly gowned. Staff report of a spectral figure lurking in the Master’s Lodge, appearing from behind doors or kneeling at fireplaces, hands raised as if in prayer. The mother of Henry VII has also been spotted standing at the Oriel Window, looking down onto the Chapel, a place which in itself has led porters, usually the most unshakeable of men, to experience ‘shivery moments’.

Many students tell of a mysterious figure seen crossing the Fellow’s Garden by night, leaving behind a trail of footprints that inexplicably disappear with daybreak. The ghoul is said to be Christopher Round, an academic who was in love with the same girl as another student. When the two studied chloroform, a recent medical discovery, the other man became inebriated from the fumes and fell into the Fellow’s pool. Round, seeing his chance, let the man drown. He is now said to haunt the old mulberry tree in regret. EMMIE HODGES

Where the wild things are: John’s

1996 was famous for a number of things: The Spice Girls, Dolly the cloned sheep... but what the world, or at least Cambridge, should have been looking out for was the mysterious appearance of a panther on the St John’s playing fields. On 18th November, Mr Williams, the Head Groundsman saw this panther roaming the grounds. Although his first admission that he was ‘not drunk’ may not give the story a huge amount of weight, the authorities seemed to think otherwise. The army soon arrived to trap this cat by hanging chunks of meat from the trees. Children were forbidden from setting foot on the grounds, yet this was not the case for the John’s rugby team (it was assumed that the Red Boys were capable of taking on such an animal). The RSPCA were quoted in saying that such a sighting was ‘unlikely to be true but not impossible’ and this small possibility has allowed for a number of rumours as to the panther’s origins; such as a circus, a zoo or even having escaped from a particularly eccentric fellow’s garden.

The John’s sighting is Cambridge’s contribution to the common urban legend of big cats roaming the British isles. However, as panthers are known to live up to twenty years, it may still be at large ready to return on its ‘unlucky’ thirteenth anniversary this November. Chloe jayne

Skulduggery and suicide: Peterhouse

Rumour has it that Cambridge’s oldest College is home to an 18th century bursar, Frances Dawes, who oversaw the controversial election of Francis Barnes as Master of Peterhouse. Blaming himself for the dodgy election and unpopular result, Dawes hung himself from a bellrope in 1789.

On April 17th 1997, two of the College staff saw a white figure materialise by a fireplace in the Combination Room, accompanied by knocking and rattling, attracting widespread media attention. An exorcist was hired and since then, Peterhouse has been notoriously cagey about letting people into the room. Some members of staff still refuse to enter the room, with one kitchen worker commenting, “Well, what do you expect being right next to a graveyard?”

Peterhouse is no stranger to exorcisms. For decades, a dark figure was seen crouching on top of the stone gate by the cemetery wall. Ten students who witnessed it killed themselves soon after. In the 60s, the then Dean conducted an exorcism, and no more sightings have been reported since.  Connie scozzaro and zing tsjeng

Degrees in practical magic: John’s and Trinity

Not many know that two of England’s most famous occultists graduated from Cambridge. The towering figure of John Dee (above) is best-known for being an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, but also arguably inspired the literary characters of Prospero in The Tempest. At 15, Dee was admitted to John’s and quickly built a reputation as mathematician, philosopher and astrologer. Dee also explored the worlds of magic, alchemy and divination. This included trying to commune with angels through a scryer (better known as a crystal ball), and culminated in the publication of the Liber Logaeth, a book that apparently contains the language of angels. Dee’s son claimed that Dee unlocked the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone (no, it’s not just for Harry Potter) and transmuted base metal into gold, although he took this secret to the grave. To this day, Dee’s scrying mirror can still be seen at the British Museum.

Aleister Crowley (left), described by the press as ‘the wickedest man in the world’, claimed to be a black magician and ‘the Beast 666’. In 1895, he started his degree in English at Trinity, where he began an interest in sexual magic. He details picking up prostitutes at local pubs and cigar shops for this purpose, but developed a lasting relationship with student Herbert Pollitt. Biographer Lawrence Sutin describes Crowley’s first homoerotic experience at Cambridge as one that brought ‘an encounter with an immanent deity’.

Upon leaving Cambridge, he was initiated into the Golden Dawn, an occult society, but grew disillusioned with their lack of ambition and delved into black magic. One ceremony (conducted in between intense sex sessions, of course) saw his then-wife possessed by a deity called Aiwass. Crowley’s transcription of Aiwass’ words form The Book of Laws, in which Crowley declares the death of Christianity and founds a new religion based on the doctrine ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’. Press hysteria about the cult’s depravity (where many members addicted to opium and cocaine) reached a head when one of his disciples died after drinking the blood of a cat. Crowley himself died a penniless heroin addict in 1947.  zing tsjeng