OF THE MANY GHOSTS reputed to haunt modern Hampshire, perhaps none holds as much interest as the ‘mysterious nocturnal figure’ that has been seen in the ruins of Netley Abbey, some five miles from Southampton.
This ancient Cistercian abbey, laid in 1239 by Henry III and a thriving religious community until its dissolution in 1536, has long been reputed to house buried treasure, jealously guarded by the ghost of a ‘hooded monk’.
Nothing much is known about the origins of this phantom figure, (known by some as ‘Blind Peter’) although he has been witnessed on many occasions over the years around full moon and at Halloween, sometimes ‘hovering menacingly’ at the Abbey sacristy (the place where the sacred vessels and vestments were kept), but more often, choosing to manifest by means of a ‘hostile presence’ that confronts any foolish enough to wander into the ruins at night. To this end, the ghost is well known locally, although accounts and descriptions of its appearances vary.
However, tales of a ‘hostile presence’ are by no means confined to the present day, or for that matter, applicable only to the ghost of a monk. Indeed, since the Abbey’s dissolution in 1536, many stories have been handed down, one of which involves the existence of a ‘secret chamber’, or vault – the spot where the treasure supposedly lies and where a ‘renegade nun’ was bricked up alive.
The poet and romantic, Thomas Gray, seemed to be in little doubt about some ‘supernatural power’ that guarded the sanctity of Netley Abbey. Following a visit there in 1764 he remarked that the ferryman who had conveyed him across Southampton Water had said he “would not for all the world” go near the abbey at night for “there were things seen near it”, and a “power of money was hidden there”.
It should perhaps be remembered, that at this time the abbey had been standing derelict and overgrown for over 200 years and was situated in the midst of dense woodland, so from the point of view of stimulating the imagination, it must have looked an eerie sight indeed.
A tale with perhaps a more plausible basis, dates back to the 18th century and involves not only a phantom guardian of the abbey’s treasure, but a curse that befalls any who might be inclined the abbey ruins.
Someone who seemingly chose to ignore this ‘portent of doom’ was a certain Walter Taylor who then brought the land-rights to Netley and proceeded with the demolition of the abbey on the promise of a handsome profit. Taylor abandoned the project prematurely, however, when one of his workmen was critically injured by a piece of falling masonry that lodged itself precariously close to his brain. He died under surgery, although there was little doubt to all concerned that his death was due to the abbey’s ‘deadly curse’.
Yet more recently, events have occurred that would appear to confirm the presence of some ‘lurking supernatural’ at the abbey.
In 1981, two people who had cause to camp out in the abbey ruins one night with their dog, were awakened in the early hours by a ‘sinister force’ that drastically reduced the temperature and appeared to linger around their tent. The dog growled incessantly and, when enticed to seek out the unwanted visitor, made a hasty retreat.
similar experience befell two nuns who had occasion to visit the abbey during this period – in this instance by day. Both sensed what appeared to be a ‘distinct presence’ in the vicinity of the sacristy and the area turned unaccountably cold. Again, the presence seemed decidedly hostile.
It would seem from these comparatively recent accounts, that the ghostly monk of Netley Abbey (or ghostly ‘some-thing’ that haunts the ruins) is still active. But an even more vital report comes from a local resident who, in 1970, actually claims to have seen the hooded monk in person …
Mrs Neal, of Netley, was conducting a dowsing experiment with a friend in the grounds of Abbey House, just adjacent to the abbey, one summer’s day in 1970.
After a while, the dowsing stick reacted violently and followed a given course for several yards before abruptly point-ing to the right. Ahead, Mrs Neal saw the tall lean figure of a monk dressed in a dark brown cloak with a loose-fitting hood which shaded the face.
The figure beckoned twice using its right hand with a slow and deliberate movement, then pointed in the direction of the abbey.
Mrs Neal was unable to tell exactly how long this confrontation lasted; it seemed like several minutes, although she later thought it was probably in the region of fifteen to twenty seconds. What she does recall vividly, is that throughout the duration of her experience, it seemed that she’d temporarily become ‘entrapped’ in some other dimension where time and tenable reality ceased to matter.
Interestingly enough, Mrs Neal did not pick up any sense of evil from the figure; rather, that it was trying to convey some message about the abbey. Her friend, whilst not actually seeing the figure herself, did sense the ‘potent atmosphere’.
All these stories and sightings, of course, could well comprise a mixture of imagination based upon outdated legend and superstition, but it is hard to doubt that some common cause – whether supernatural or otherwise – has not given rise to them, as such accounts today seem just as commonplace as the stories and legends that plague the abbey’s history.
It could be that the existence of the ‘treasure’ is a feasible possibility; at least, that the abbey’s accumulated wealth was possibly hidden or disposed of rapidly at the time of the Dissolution, despite Netley Abbey officially declared its total revenue to be less than one hundred pounds in its final year in 1536, a considerable sum then.
Hidden treasure aside, for over two hundred years, Netley Abbey has had more than its fair share of ghostly tales, some of which would seem to give some credence to the ‘hooded monk’s’ authenticity. END
(c) David Farrant
The above case was first published in David Farrant’s book : ‘Dark Journey – True cases of ghostly phenomena from the files of the British Psychic and Occult Society’