Cambridge Colleges: Most Haunted

Let RUTH MARINER guide you around the most haunted spots of Cambridge.

charles dickens Clare Corpus Corpus Christi ghosts ghoul hauted King's Magdalen most hauted ruth mariner Sidney Sussex Siegfried Sassoon Trinity

Screw the fact that it’s the best university in the world; the real reason most of us chose Cambridge was to fulfil a Harry Potter-inspired fantasy of feasting in the ‘great hall’ and creeping around old buildings at night pretending your gown is a cloak.

But why consign the fun to the realm of fantasy? As it’s Christmas, let’s have a nice little break from essays, and indulge in some history that makes each college into its very own Hogwarts.

Corpus Christi (The Old Master’s Lodge, Old Court)

The darkest, most gruesome college in Cambridge. Not only are all new students matriculated by drinking from the horn of an animal which has been extinct for 1000 years; the college is symbolised by a particularly selfless pelican, biting the fluff off its own tummy to drip its blood into the mouths of its little pelican babies.

Head to the Old Master’s Lodge in Old Court to catch sight of the ghost of Henry Butts, who was unfortunate enough to be master of the college in 1632 when there was a nasty outbreak of plague. Like the selfless pelican, Butts risked his life to stay and help care for the sick, whilst other villagers evacuated. It turned out no one was very grateful, and unpopularity due to superstition led Butts to take his life, hanging himself from the door of the Master’s Lodge.

Rumours of the ghost haunted the college until 1904 when two curious students, Arthur Wade and Shane Leslie, cousin of Winston Churchill, carried out an exorcism. To their surprise they evoked the spirit of a man wearing a 17th century costume with a ruff collar and lace cuffs, hanging from the doorframe…

Sidney Sussex (H staircase, Chapel Court)

The ’60s saw a set of hauntings at Sidney Sussex, remembered for their aroma as well as their aura. So watch out if you live close to H staircase in the Chapel Court.

Legend has it that in 1967, an undergraduate called John Emslie visited his friend Peter Knox-Shaw, but found the room empty. John sat and waited for Peter, but instead felt a different presence in the room. It went cold, his neck became stiff and breathing became difficult. A large mouth then began to materialise in the middle of the room, a pale, yellow emaciated head, floating in mid-air, accompanied by the putrid smell of rotting flesh.

Subsequent sightings by students living around the area include a tale of a purple eye hovering around their room, normally accompanied by a drop in temperature, and a weird smell which has been described as ‘musty’, ‘earthy’, like ‘oxo’ or ‘spam’.


In 1851, students from Trinity College formed The Ghost Club, which described itself as a: ‘a society for the investigation of ghosts and all supernatural appearances and superstitions,’ and the Society for Physical Research, which tried to confront the paranormal with scientific measures.Charles Dickens and Siegfried Sassoon were both supposedly involved. Members believed that by joining they remained a ghost in this life and the afterlife; they even addressed one another as ‘brother ghost’.

The early club archives were deposited in the British Museum Library, where they were kept secret and barred access for many years. However, unlike many of the geniuses to pass through Trinity’s walls, there don’t seem to be any findings that have been met with peer-approval.

Bizarrely, both clubs are still in operation, and a quick Google search allows you to download The Ghost Club’s latest investigation, which is much like Most Haunted goes ‘technical’.

One report says: ‘While in Room 1, Stephanie had the strong feeling of someone who had lost his or her reason. (Derek had same feelings two months previous on the reccy. There was no conferring between them).’ Definitely the work of ghosts…

King’s (The Gibbs Building)

The Gibbs Building, which stands southwest of the chapel facing The Cam, is supposedly haunted by the ghost of an old and morbid academic called Mr. Barratt, who was found dead in a coffin after a night of screaming.

Magdalene (Dog Cemetery, Fellows’ Garden)

As late as 2008, reports were made of ‘a thinnish male figure, seemingly pale or dressed in white,’ to have appeared in the dog cemetery in the Fellows’ Garden (yes, the fellows actually did order a cemetery to be built for their dogs, presumably because none had girlfriends).


Supposedly haunted by the ghost of Dr. Green, whose legacy to Clare was that he would donate money to the college if his body to be dissected and his skeleton displayed in the library beside the books. Apparently, either Clare didn’t display the skeleton, or they did and all the students took the bones away as souvenirs. Either way, Dr. Green is still pissed off and still haunting.

Illustrations by Claudia Stocker