Chillingham Castle



Situated in Northumberland, 10 miles from the coast and about 70 miles each of Newcastle and Edinburgh sits Chillingham Castle. You would never believe from simply looking at it, that it contains such a horrendous past that included many forms of torture.

Chillingham was once used as a stronghold against the Scots and was the home of Sir Humphrey Wakefield. In 1297, William Wallace had forged an attack on the area that ended in woman and children being burned alive in the local abbey.

In addition to the many sieges that have taken place here, Chillingham Castle has also played host to several of the Kings of England, starting with King Henry III and moving up through to the members of the Royal family today. It is now considered as a holiday stop with rooms providing all of the modern comforts.

In addition to this being a prime holiday location, it is also reputed to be the most haunted location in England. The Earl Grey family which lived there for many years had at least 8 well documented executions to take place on the land. Some were hanged, drawn and quartered with their heads displayed to remind people of what could happen if you went against the King. Others family members were much luckier. They were simply beheaded.

As you can imagine, all of the death at the former stronghold has led to many reports of spirits residing here. With the exception of a few, the families that lived in the castle had lives of excitement and romance. They may have served Kings, but as history clearly shows – they were known to rebel, also.

To this day, the castle still has the dungeon and torture chambers completely intact and they are on the tour. People describe these areas as the “creepiest” places in Chillingham. Of course, there was unbearable pain inflicted upon people here through torture and death was a frequent visitor.

In the center of the dungeon is a 20 foot deep pit that is covered by a grate. Men, women and children were thrown into this pit, some of them simply for being Scots. Their arms and legs were broken and some were even cut off before they were tossed into this pit of death. The lucky ones died quickly. Those that were not so lucky survived by eating chunks of flesh from the dead. Of course, in time they all died. When the pit was full, the bodies were removed and more bodies could then pile up. If you look down through the grate to this day, you can still see the last victim of the pit – the skeletal remains of a young girl. Scraping sounds and banging noises can still be heard here at night.

Even with the history of the dungeon, the torture chamber is still the most horrific place in the castle. There are still a many of the torture devices displayed here and most of them are still in perfect working order. These include a stretching rack, a bed of nails, a spiked chair, an Iron Maiden, thumb screws, chains, leg irons, cages, man traps and branding irons. All of these instruments still bring to mind the unimaginable horrors that were suffered by their victims. The floor of the torture chamber is even built on a slant so that the blood of the victims could drain to the other end of the room. This was unfortunately the last memory that thousands of Scots were allowed.

The man that was so cruel as to carry out these horrendous acts of torture was John Sage. Sage had been King Edward’s best man on the battlefield until he was wounded and lost his leg in battle. This left him unable to fight on the field, so he begged the King to find a position for him. King Edward bestowed the title of Torture Master of Chillingham Castle on Sage.

Even though there have been many reports of spiritual activity over the years at Chillingham, including the Blue Boy and Lady Mary Berkeley, there is one that I wish to focus on the most. That is the ghost of John Sage, who was the torture expert for Chillingham, during the reign of King Edward.

Sage hated the Scots with such a venomous passion that he even created his own methods of torture for them. He implemented the use of a boiling pot, came up with devices to gouge the eyes out and other unspeakable ways to torture his victims. However, his most prized idea was the rat cage. A rat would be starved. Then a cage was tied to the stomach of the intended victim and the starved rat was place in the cage. The only way for the rat to escape was to eat their way through the victim.

John Sage spent 3 years torturing more than 50 victims per week. But in a strange turn of events, that only be called karma, Sage died because of one of the devices that he loved to inflict pain through. One fateful night, Sage and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Charlton decided to engage in rough sex in the torture chamber. They were on the rack when he decided to start strangling Elizabeth. What was supposed to be a moment of pleasure, ended with him strangling her to death.

Elizabeth’s father was a member of a group called the Border Reivers, which turned out to be very unfortunate for Sage. This group of men raided both sides of the English and Scottish border. The Border Reivers contacted King Edward and demanded that Sage be killed, in addition to all of the Scots that were being held, to be released. If the King did not comply with this order, they would team up with the Scots and attack Chillingham Castle. The King ordered the immediate release of the Scots on a Thursday. However, Sage refused to do this until the following Saturday. During those few days he went on a murderous rampage killing any man, woman or child that was a Scots. The men, women and older children were brought into the enclosed courtyard and thrown on a bon fire. The younger children were held in the Edward I room, where they could no doubt see their families being burned to death, as well as hearing their screams and smelling their burning flesh.

Sage took a small axe to the Edward I room and proceeded to hack all of these children to death. The very axe that was used in this horrendous act can still be seen today. It is hanging in the stairwell outside the Edward I room.

Sage then went to many of the villages surrounding the castle killing more Scots before they were able to escape. Not a single man, woman or child that was supposed to be released survived the rampage of John Sage. The bodies were never moved and anyone coming into Chillingham was forced to either walk or drive their carts over them. Even to this very day, bones seem to creep up through the road to be crushed. An entire finger bone was recently found. It seems as if the last victims of John Sage are asking that they not be forgotten.

King Edward ordered that Sage be hanged. As soon as his body started swinging from the tree a collective cheer went up from the crowd gathered to watch. Before he was even dead, people rushed forward to cut off his nose, fingers, toes and testicles for keepsakes. The reports are that he was buried in front of Chillingham at the crossroads. It was said that this was done so that his ghost wouldn’t know the way to Heaven and would instead choose the road to Hell.

If reports are correct, John Sage seems to have decided to stay right where he killed so many innocent victims. There have been reports of people seeing him wandering around on the grounds. Some have reported hearing the sounds of heavy footsteps followed by the sound of something being dragged behind. Could it be that John is walking around and dragging his missing leg behind him?

As you can see, there is a reason that Chillingham Castle has been called the most haunted location in England. It seems that they have ghosts to spare. If you are interested in hauntings and history – Chillingham Castle seems to be the place to find it, since it seems as if it’s main purpose has been to force torture and death on so many unwilling souls.

Deb Daniel Jansons

Deb Daniel Jansons

Assistant Director / Haunted Locations at National Paranormal Society
I am Deb Daniel Jansons. I was born and raised in the Huntsville, Al area, but lived in Ontario, Canada for 12 years, before coming back home to be with my grandson. I have had an interest in the paranormal since I was a small child and had my first experience. I love going out to places that are known to have strange things happen, but I always look for an explanation of anything that might happen when I am there and take nothing at face value. I also love to read anything that I can get my hands on concerning the paranormal and other people’s experiences. One of my hopes is that the day will come, during my lifetime that we will have absolute proof that there are spirits, aliens, etc out there. Until then, all we can do is investigate and hope.
Deb Daniel Jansons

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