St Mary’s Naval Barracks, Chatham
The fortification of Chatham started in 1756 and was further improved between 1805 and 1812 in the face of French aggression and the Napoleonic War. Demolished in the 1960’s, St. Mary’s Barracks dated from between 1779 and 1782 and was built to house the prisoners who were used to build fort. This of course included French prisoners. St Mary’s Barracks were later converted to a large powder magazine and then into a store for the Royal Engineers before becoming a barracks to house infantry between 1844 and 1881. Between 1881 and 1941 when it was taken over by the Royal Navy, it was occupied by various units of the Royal Engineers.
It is while St Mary’s Barracks was being used by the Royal Navy that reports of a ghost were made. According to Daily Mirror 31 May 1946 in an article entitled ‘Navy log ghost on crutches at midnight’.
“The Royal Navy has officially logged a complaint ratings have made about a ghost on crutches that walks at midnight.
“The ratings, sentries on night watch at a naval barracks, say that the ghost follows them around during the middle watch (midnight to 4am) and they have protested against doing solitary duty on that watch.
“The ghost that has been officially recognised by the Navy haunts St Mary’s Barracks, Chatham, Kent.
“Sentries doing duty on the ramparts overlooking the moat around the barracks say that when they are doing their rounds footsteps they cannot account for and a tapping, as of someone walking with crutches, are heard.
“One young sentry who felt that the ghost was near him panicked and ran to the guardroom for protection.
“Another rating claims to have seen the ghost. He described it as dressed in naval uniform of Nelson’s days, and said it was hobbling along the ramparts on crutches …”
In ‘Phantoms Legends, Customs and Superstitions Of The Sea’ (1972) Raymond Lamont Brown says ‘In the log book at Chatham Naval Barracks this simple entry can be read: ‘Ghost reported seen during middle watch’. This refers to the ghost of a peg-legged sailor of Admiral Lord Nelson’s time. This ghost hobbles around with a crutch and has been seen twice, in 1947 and 1949 in Room 34 of the Cumberland block, the oldest part of St Mary’s Barracks. This apparition is thought to be the ghost of a sentry murdered by escaping French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars. The unfortunate sentry was apparently beaten to death as he was making for Room 34 to wake his relief, who was late for duty.’