Chillingham Castle is widely regarded as one of, if not the, most haunted places in the country. Dating back over 800 years this castle was built for one purpose and one purpose alone, killing. In the heart of Northumberland the castle was the first line of defense, preventing the Scots getting over the border to invade England back in the days of William Wallace when the castle was ruled over by King Edward I (17 June 1239 to 7 July 1307, a.k.a. – Edward Long-shanks). It has a truly amazing, yet horrific history which is precisely why it has earned the reputation of being called one of the most haunted places on Earth.
The Dungeon is quite small with markings scratched into the mortar by the prisoners that had been keeping count of how many days they had left to live. The prisoners knew from the rumors and sounds they heard while in the dungeon that they could expect to have had their both arms and legs broken before being thrown 20 feet down a hole into an Oubliette (a secret dungeon with an opening only in the ceiling with no means of escape) and left there to die, either from starvation or their injuries. Prisoners were also known to eat chunks of flesh from others who had died and at times even from their own bodies in a vain attempt to prolong their life. It has been reported by several people who when they looked through the iron grate covering the Oubliette’s hole, they could see a dying girl looking back up at them.
Chillingham Castle has been owned by the family of the Earls Grey since the 1200’s, and is purportedly quite haunted, with some however refusing to go unheard…as cries of terror and pain can be heard emanating from a passage in the wall. When those cries fade, it is said that a halo of blue light has been known appear. A figure of a boy in blue was seen as it approached a guests bed during a refurbishing of the castle, after which the bones of a boy along with fragments of a blue dress were found in a wall of the room.
One of the most famous of Chillingham Castle”s wandering spirits is also said to be a haunting by the infamous torturer of John Sage: “The castle in his day is said to have been the home of the notorious torturer. 97% of every person who went into the castle…didn’t come out…said to have been killed by this horrible killing machine of a man.”
When night falls around Chillingham Castle, one of the most feared sounds to be heard on occasions is that of ‘something’ slowly dragging its foot as it wanders the corridors. It is believed to be the spirit of former Lieutenant, John Sage who earned the nickname ‘dragfoot’, when in life, his leg was injured by a spear during his last battle in the ongoing wars with his Scottish neighbors.
After an injury during a battle with the Scots, John Sage was desperate for work and honored to have been given the title of Chillingham Castle’s torturer by the castle owner King Edward I of England. John Sage quickly became an expert monster of a man as he perfected his gruesome work. Work that gave him an immense sense of accomplishment in his art, for over the next 3 years, at times torturing up to 50 of his Scottish enemies a week and many of them simultaneously.
Sage would taunt the captured Scots as he tossed them into the castle dungeons. That they would wish they had perished on the battlefield. Sage has become renowned as one of the most hideous torturers in history. One torture device he invented became known as one of the most feared–the cage. This apparatus would trap its victim and then placed over a blazing fire – basically roasting the victim for hours, whilst Sage sat studied his enemy as they writhed and screamed before their death.
As the war was coming to an end with the Scots, John Sage wanted rid of the Scottish prisoners being held in the castle so he rounded up the men, women and older children took them to the courtyard and put them all onto a huge bonfire. The younger children were kept in the Edward room and could probably see their parents being burned alive, they will have heard the screams and will have been able to smell the burning flesh. Sage knew that if he released the younger children they would return when they were older to seek revenge, so he took a small axe and went to the Edward room and hacked the children, some as young as one year old, to pieces. The axe can be seen today on the stair well. The Edward room is one of the most active rooms in the castle and people often say they see the chandelier hanging from the ceiling swinging without it being moved. The room has a foul smell and a strange atmosphere.
It was this insatiable thirst for torture that eventually lead to his downfall. One day his lover, Elizabeth Charlton, paid him a visit, and during their sexual liaison, Sage decided to place Elizabeth into one of his torture devices known as ‘the rack.’ He then began to strangle her during their height of sexual passion, going too far , he accidentally killed her.
Elizabeth’s father, a Border Reiver, clan leader and outlaw, was outraged upon hearing of his daughter’s death, warned the nearly penniless Longshanks, that if he did not have Sage killed he would join in an allied attack with the Scots against the Chillingham Castle. Longshanks’ dwindling resources due to the war and the Border Reiver’s were a powerful force that gave him no choice but to agree in putting Sage to death.
Sage was captured and hanged on the grounds of the castle on ‘Devil’s Mile’ (aka, Devil’s Walk) before a crowd of jeering onlookers, and as Sage’s body still twitched with life, the crowd gathered around him and started to take souvenirs by cutting off his toes, fingers, testicles and nose while he was still alive. A rather ‘cutting’ fate some would say for one who’s greatest rapture was the sight of ungodly ends. Its not known how long Sage continued to hang there well mutilated nor how long it took him to die.
The ghost of John Sage has been seen frequently wandering the castle by many visitors and staff over the years. As many have claimed when night falls around Chillingham Castle, one of the most feared sounds they’ve heard on occasions is that of ‘something’ slowly dragging its foot as it wanders the corridors. Believing it to be the spirit of former Lieutenant John Sage who earned the nickname ‘dragfoot,’ when in life, his leg having been injured by a spear during his last battle in the ongoing Scottish wars.
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