Cambridge’s top haunts
A Christmas Carol, brought to you by The Bubble’s own poltergeists
As December draws closer, Cantabs have many things to reflect upon. How many times will Cindies manage to play "All I Want for Christmas is You" before the end of term? It is actually acceptable to have a full Bridgemas dinner on 25th November? Is life really worth living if you aren’t going on the Varsity trip?
These are all crucial questions as we drag ourselves – burnt-out and full of faux Christmas spirit – through the remnants of Week 7.
Fret not, however, as an event of outstanding significance rests just on the horizon. Yes, it’s true. The 21st anniversary of Peterhouse’s exorcism is almost upon us!
I can only apologise for the fact that this is, unequivocally, the weirdest anniversary anyone has ever commemorated (ever). Still, it’s probably the closest Cambridge will get to having an in-house ghost of Christmas past, present or future – assuming that the ghost of Life doesn’t count.
It may have dispossessed the word "college", but Peterhouse apparently makes up for its deprivations through its numerable poltergeists.
The most infamous is the eighteenth century bursar, Mr Dawes, who allegedly hanged himself in 1789 after his involvement in the controversial election of Francis Barnes as Master. After six sightings of Dawes' apparition in 1997, the college dons concluded the sightings "were impairing the smooth functioning of the institution", and resorted to an exorcism to rid the college of its unwelcome guest.
(NB: The only appropriate response to this chronicle is "that’s so Peterhouse").
Whilst the Peterhouse dons' financial investment in an exorcist requiem mass is probably (read: definitely) the most eccentric example of Cambridge's interactions with ghosts, it isn't the only one. Corpus Christi students led an exorcism in 1904 to purge the college of the spectre of their former Master and university Vice Chancellor, who hanged himself in 1632. Similar incidents have been reported at St Catharine’s, Trinity, Sidney Sussex and even Girton.
To be fair to them, if Cambridge's ghosts can hack the 15 minute cycle up Huntingdon Road to Girton, they deserve to do as much haunting as they like.
Ghost-purges aside, Peterhouse actually seems to have been relatively tolerant of Mr Dawes’ residence. The college's bursar in 1997 charmingly described the exorcism as "a load of old mumbo jumbo" on the grounds that the ghost was "not causing anyone any harm". Had The Tab (and I) existed in 1997, I’m sure there’s every chance I would have written an article entitled "In defence of the Peterhouse ghost". By all accounts, Mr Dawes seems a decent guy. Maybe we'll even get an interview next time he's spotted!!!
As Dawes seems to have been in hiding for a little while, the most recent paranormal activity in Cambridge was reported in 2012: a floating, 1940s police officer allegedly seen on Chesterton Street (featuring a gas mark to complete the spooky set!).
So, as Bridgemas approaches, there’s definite cause to begin the campaign for finding our own local ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – although I think we can probably forget the first one, as Week 5 proved traumatising enough without any supernatural additions.
If we can justify having a Duckbridge Facebook page, it’s definitely time for some social media entrepreneur to strike up Ghostbridge.