Chillingham Castle Torture, Sadism, Mass Murders, and Ghosts

Cullingham Castle
Torture Chamber
Photo 3104208 / Torture Wheel © Laura Rossi | Dreamstime.com
Photo 97440598 / Iron Maiden © Romannerud | Dreamstime.com
Thomas Quine via flickr CC BY-2.0
Photo 51997114 / Torture © Everett Collection Inc. | Dreamstime.com
Photo 51997114 / Torture © Everett Collection Inc. | Dreamstime.com
The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ancient oaks – Thomas Quine via flickr CC BY-2.0
Tea Room (torture chambers underneath) – Ellen Thompson via flickr CC BY-2.0

Chillingham is a fitting name for England’s most haunted castle. With more than 100 ghosts, I’m sure the air is more than chilly! Not afraid of ghosts? Do not worry; there’s enough horror to satisfy everyone.

Originally a monastery built prior to 1246 on the land below Rose Hill, the castle’s grisly affairs began in 1297, with the beginning of the Scottish War of Independence. Of course, if Sean Connery, the greatest James Bond ever, had been in charge, the British would have laid down their weapons immediately! Kudos Sean. The castle was turned into a fortress by the Grey family, descendants of the Croys, Kinsmen of William the Conqueror. They constructed its dungeons, torture chamber, and battlements. I’d hate to have them as next-door neighbors!

The same year the war broke out, the forces of William Wallace raided Chillingham. Expletive, expletive, expletive burned local women and children alive in a church. The following year, Edward I, who became known as “the Hammer of Scots,” made the castle his base of operations against Scotland. Scottish women and children, so-called enemy prisoners (Really?), as well as soldiers and spies, began filling the castle’s dungeon. An evil expletive, expletive, so-called man, John Sage, was, according to legend, personally appointed to deal with them. I warned you this wasn’t just another ghost story!

John Sage was given the nickname John Dragfoot after he was injured in battle and left with a limp. Don’t you feel sorry for the poor man? Hell no!! Since he could no longer fight, he needed a new job and was given one, head torturer of Chillingham Castle, by King Edward I. He persuaded the king to hire a production crew and began filming the horror movie, The Epic Feats of John Sage, the World’s Greatest Sadist.  

King Edward had a lofty plan, face William Wallace in one major battle. The wily Scots outsmarted him and began using guerilla warfare against the English. Having lost face, Edward wanted revenge and in an attempt to find Wallace, the English army started to capture Scottish prisoners and send them to Chillingham for interrogation. According to the stories, as many as 50 Scots arrived at the castle every week and they all had to meet John “Dragfoot” Sage. Sage’s torture devices included “The Wheel:” a large wooden wagon wheel that consisted of several radial spokes. A condemned person was lashed to the wheel and a club or iron cudgel was used to beat their limbs. The condemned on the Wheel could face prolonged torture, and in some cases, victims lived for several days. Alternatively, the torture victim could face a quick death through the blows delivered to his chest and stomach by the executioner. These blows were known as the “coups de grace” and resulted in the quick death of the condemned. 

“The Iron Maiden:” The mechanism of operating it was quite simple. It had two doors that could be opened and shut. The victim was forced to get inside which was more like a standing coffin with the difference that it had sharp spikes on the inside. Once inside, the doors were shut on the victim and the spikes would pierce several organs of the body. However, in order to make sure that the victim would not die instantaneously, the spikes were not made too long. This meant that they would only result in relatively small wounds and the victim would bleed to death over the course of several hours. The positioning of the spikes inside the Iron Maiden was crucial to the torture. The spikes were so placed as to cause damage to various bodily organs, although never as much damage as to cause instant death. For instance, two spikes were placed specifically to penetrate the eyes. Similarly, other spikes were placed for the chest, genitals, and other organs of the body. The number of spikes inside the Iron Maiden varied from device to device and it was carefully ensured that the spikes would not pierce very deep inside the organs in order to prolong the torture.

“The Iron Chair:” There are many variants of the chair. They all have one thing in common: spikes cover the back, arm-rests, seat, leg-rests and foot-rests. The number of spikes in one of these chairs ranges from 500 to 1,500.

To avoid movement, the victim’s wrists were tied to the chair or, in one version, two bars pushed the arms against arm-rests for the spikes to penetrate the flesh even further. In some versions, there were holes under the chair’s bottom where the torturer placed coal to cause severe burns while the victim still remained conscious.

This instrument’s strength lied primarily in the psychological fear caused on the victims. It was a common practice to extract a confession by forcing the victim to watch someone else be tortured with this instrument.

The time of death greatly varied ranging from a few hours to a day or more. No spike penetrated any vital organ and the wound was closed by the spike itself which delayed blood loss greatly.

“The Rack:”

An ordinary torture rack consisted of a rectangular frame slightly raised from the ground. Various materials could be used to make the frame, although wood was the most common one. Additionally, there was a roller at one or both ends. A handle was attached at the top of the roller and pulleys and levers were used to operate the roller.

The mechanism of torture on a torture rack was to fasten the ankles of the victim to one roller and chain the wrists to the other. The handle was then used to enhance the pressure on the attached chains. The roller could also be rotated on its axis using the pulleys and levers to strain the ropes and stretch the joints of the victim.

The joints would eventually be dislocated and even separated, with the muscles torn apart. It was also common to use various other tortures in conjunction with the torture rack. For instance, burning with hot torches or candles could also be applied for increased pain.

Additionally, pincers were sometimes used to tear out the finger and toenails of the victim. Various phrases were used for someone who was tortured in this way, including being “broken on the rack”, “stretched on the rack”, or simply, “racked.”

Sage also liked to impale, boil and starve his victims to death. He even invented a torture device: a barrel filled with iron nails inside. The victim would be placed inside and rolled all the way down to the other side of the Torture Chambers. The victim was skinned alive that way. Every sick bastard that invented these devices should have been slowly tortured and died a merciless death!

The Courtyard

When the war ended three later, Sage burnt the remaining adult prisoners alive in the grounds of the castle while their children watched from what is known as the Edward Room or Killing Room. Sage later hacked these children to death with an ax still displayed in the castle.

In all, 7500 Scottish prisoners reputedly died at Chillington; their bodies dumped into its lake. John Sage also met his end at Chillington. One evening, Sage killed his lover Elizabeth Charlton, strangling her during a sex game on the rack in Chillington’s torture chamber. Unfortunately for Sage, Elizabeth’s father was a leader of the powerful border reivers, outlaw gangs who plagued the borderlands but were vital to the fight against the Scots. To avoid losing the Reivers to the enemy, Edward I handed Sage over to justice. He was sentenced to hang at Chillington but was torn apart while he still lived. Others would soon join Sage’s ghost and those of his victims

There are plenty of ghostly auras felt around Chillingham Castle, and their most famed occupants have unsettling stories. Major spirits include the ghost of a lady in a classic white dress, a blue-colored boy levitating from a bed, and the ghost of a man who used to be a torturer.

The descendants of the Grey family have been the longest landlords of the castle but not always happily. In the late 1600s, Lady Mary Berkeley had the unfortunate pleasure of marrying Lord Ford Grey of Warke and Chillingham. It turns out Lord Grey was a bit of an adulterer. To make matters worse, Lord Grey not only had an affair, but he did so with Lady Mary Berkeley’s younger sister, Lady Henrietta Berkeley. Her sister was still a minor. Lord Grey stood on trial for his crime but fled with her sister. This spineless man is also notorious for his treasonous desertion of the Duke of Monmouth. But what of poor Lady Mary Berkeley? After she was abandoned with her child by her cowardly husband, she remarried many years later. It’s said that her spirit never left Chillingham Castle.

When midnight strikes, the Blue Boy (also known as the Radiant Boy) haunts. It’s said that a thundering wail echoes through the halls of the castle at exactly midnight. This haunting moan would accompany an eerie blue light around a four-post bed while a child’s spirit would appear. According to some sources, in the 1920s the room was renovated, and the bones of a child was discovered surrounded by blue cloth. But in the book, Historic Houses of the United Kingdom, published in 1891, the Radiant Boy is described, “[The ghost] was spoken of throughout the country-side. Who it was supposed to be, and why it appeared, is not now known; but the bones of a child, discovered in one of the walls of a bedroom, were buried with proper ceremonies in the churchyard, and then the Radiant Boy was seen no more.”

Upon a visit to the inner pantry, you may encounter the White Pantry Ghost. The story dates to when a foot soldier was guarding the family silver. The solider who was locked into the room on guard was awoken by a pale woman in white asking for water. Unthinking he turned to retrieve some before remembering no one could have entered. When he turned back, she was gone. This frail spirit is thought to have died of poisoning.

The Chapel

The Chapel is a highly active room. Three human skeletons were found here. Two of them were found under the glass stained window and one was found in the back corner underneath the floorboards. The latter skeleton belonged to a little girl. No one can tell who she was or what happened to her, but her spirit likes to interact with people. She likes to communicate (to female visitors, sorry gentlemen) and she’s known for playing with a person’s hair. People feel with overcome with sadness when they sit on top of the place where she was found.

The Still Room and the Dungeon

One of the rooms where you can spend the night is the Still Room. It is connected to the Dungeon, and thus a very interesting place. The Still Room was used to keep the castle’s treasures. Each night, a guard was locked in here to guard them. One night, a guard who was locked in, was alarmed by an old, frail looking woman who was inside the Still Room with him. She asked him for water. When the guard went to get it, he was confused: he was supposed to be there all by himself! When he returned with the water, the old woman was gone. She is now known as the Pantry Ghost. She was most likely poisoned inside the Still Room and still haunts it, asking for water.

A Spanish witch was also killed in the room. Right before she died, she cursed the castle. Anyone who would take anything from the castle would experience bad luck. The room contains numerous taken objects that have been sent back by visitors. The Dungeon is a very tight space. There’s two cells in it. It’s pitch black in there and really cold. One of the cells contains a murder pit. Injured prisoners were thrown inside and left to die. A door from the gardens gives access to the pit. The castle’s dogs would have indulced the flesh of the dead. If you take a close look, you’ll still see human remains inside the pit.

The garden and the lake

Chillingham Castle Gardens 

The garden of Chillingham Castle is a beautiful and peaceful place, but looks can be deceiving. Through the archway, there used to be three “hanging trees”. Two of these massive trees have fallen, but they are still in the garden. When someone was hanged at Chillingham Castle, the corpse would remain up in the tree until the decayed bodies would fall off. The bones were just left there. Sometimes, human remains are found in the ground. They surface when it gets really cold. The hanged weren’t given a proper Christian burial because that disabled the soul to move on. 

Ancient oaks – 

The lake in the garden looks very peaceful, but underneath the surface are the bones of hundreds of murdered Scotsmen. Their tormented souls will pull you under water and drown you if you stick your hands in it. And then there is the so-called Devil’s Walk. It’s actually the main entry driveway now, but it was used for hangings as well. Here, human remains are still found as well. When you walk the Devil’s Walk at night, there is a chance you’ll hear footsteps right behind you. The gardens are also haunted by monks. The monks from the nearby monastery took pity on the people who were hanged (from their feet, so death would occur later) so they took them down. Soldiers who caught them doing so hanged them as well. 


During the Second World War the castle was used as a barrack. The beautiful forest was then burned down. After the war the castle deteriorated. All the lead was taken out of the roof so it started to leak heavily everywhere. In 1982, the castle was bought by Sir. Humphrey Wakefield. His wife is a descendant of the Grey’s. They renovated the castle completely and created holiday apartments in it. You can stay here, but do you have the guts? 


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chillingham_Castle https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/01/11/chillingham-castle/?chrome=1 https://historycollection.com/the-chilling-history-of-chillingham-castle/3/  https://great-castles.com/chillinghamghost.html https://www.pastchronicles.com/a-brief-history-of-the-chillingham-castle/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw9ZGYBhCEARIsAEUXITWIQr6aGgMzBYbH5oFmOFj4mLCKIMPISRBlNaCOn4dN5THdJ5n4_CwaAou5EALw_wcB https://chillingham-castle.com/inside-the-castle/

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