What better way to start October than by getting into the spirit of Halloween with a nightlong ghost hunt at a creepy disused prison in Shropshire with the Most Haunted team.
HMP Shrewsbury closed in 2013, but with more than 130 years of incarceration, murder, suicide and execution, it's no surprise that the imposing building is said to be haunted by plenty of the ghosts of its grim and miserable past. For most people the thought of being locked up in this place over night is the stuff of nightmares, but for those interested in the paranormal it's a dream location to spend the night.
I booked on a ghost hunting event with Most Haunted Experience
that gives fans of the long-running ghost hunting television show the chance to investigate some of the UK's most notoriously haunted locations with the show's team. Of all of the public ghost hunting events I've done, this was probably the best value for money. Not only do guests get access to a vast property to explore, they're also given a tour first by a former prison guard and once the team-led investigation ends you can set up camp in a deserted prison cell to try to get some sleep, or carry on hunting for spooks until sunrise.
The night started at around 7pm as we passed through the gatehouse, the huge gates would have seen thousands of prisoners come and go over the years. The first task was to find a place to sleep. We were led through into A-Wing to find a cell - there was plenty of room for 60 or so people on the event everyone as the prison held more 300 inmates when it closed.
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After dumping our over night bags in a cell on the second landing and disposing of a rogue spider that was living in there, we gathered in a large room that was once where inmates would have been taken to visitations. Here we were divided into teams and sent off on our tour of the prison. Our guide, Stacey, who knew the inner workings of the prison intimately, gave us a fascinating yet terrifying insight into prison life and told us about the history of the prison and its grisly past of judicial executions.
While in the hanging room, that was used until 1961, we were told that in 1885 five prisoners were hanged in a single day. The room, which was later used as a group session room, is said to be a very active area, possibly due to its location next to the condemned cell.
After returning to the base room for the usual health and safety and welcome video, we were introduced to Most Haunted
team members Karl Beattie and Stuart Torevell who gave us a brief introduction to the night. There was a chance to have photographs taken with Karl and Stuart.
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With the time coming up to 10pm and the rain now lashing down outside, we headed out into the pitch black prison to start our investigation in A Wing. The part of the prison that is said to be the most haunted, perhaps due to its dark history of suicides resulting in sad, angry souls being trapped between this world and the next. Most of those who took their own lives did so on A Wing, at one point there was one a week.
This first vigil was led by Hayley and Thomas who gave us an overview of the ghost hunting gadgets that would be available to us throughout the evening. Then we got stuck in proper and started to call out. As Thomas asked for any spirits with us to make themselves known, we heard a series of bangs above us that some guests thought sounded like someone running.
After 10 minutes or so, Karl came to join our investigation and began to callout, several of the guests took the opportunity to call out with the TV ghost hunter
. One guest asked "do you mean us harm?" Two knocks in response indicated "yes". Another guest asked "how many of you are here with us?" We counted 16 clear knocks in response to this question.
The knocking continued for a good 10 to 15 minutes and appeared to answer various questions, including confirm they were a former inmate and giving details on the nature of their crime.
I've experienced this kind of responsive knocking on a couple of events now and it's genuinely fascinating. I tend to stand in silence just listening and trying to workout what rational explanation there could be for it. In some of the locations I've witnessed it in, different teams have been fairly close together, and as we know sound travels, it could have been nothing more than another team saying "copy this" before banging twice, which we heard as two dull thuds and took to mean yes.
At Shrewsbury however, the other two teams were in different buildings and the sounds were coming from above us. This ruled out the possibility of it being someone the other side of the wall knocking. On the other side of the wall is the exercise yard, anyone knocking would have to be floating in mid-air. On top of this, it's unlikely they'd be able to hear our questions through the thick prison walls clear enough to give a suitable response - the knocks didn't sound random.
Therefore, I would class these knocks as unexplained.
We then split into smaller groups to conduct some table tipping and Ouija board experiments. I was in the group gathered around the table with a Ouija, but the board proved to be inactive. However, we did hear several odd metallic tapping sounds coming from around us.
After about half an hour, Stuart appeared. He announced that he was going to go up to the top landing to wander around and asked me and my girlfriend who I was attending the event with if we wanted to go up. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but this meant that the two of us got to go off and have a little mini-investigation with Stuart - this also proved to be quite interesting.
With the rain now loudly hammering down on the glass roof of the wing, Stuart started calling out with a ghost hunting
gadget called a K-II meter. This device detects electromagnetic fields. Weirdly the five lights on the K-II meter began to flash wildly on the landing and in the two cells we went in.
What was odd about it is that the device didn't trigger when near light switches or power cable trunking, suggesting it was something else causing the reaction. The device was in mid-air in the middle of the room, away from anything that should interfere with it, but it lit up. We all took turns holding the device to be sure it wasn't anything we were holding setting it off. We even left the gizmo on the bunk at the other end of the cell and it continued to flash.
While weird, it's hard to know what this might mean. The flashing of the lights wasn't responsive and there were no other indications that a spirit was with us in this part of the prison. But something was making the lights flash and behave in a way that it wouldn't in most locations.
We were so intrigued by the cause of this EM spike that we overran into our break slightly, but still had time for a Wagon Wheel (jammy) and then we were back out to investigate.
For our second vigil we were taken to C Wing where Mike and Jo guided us through the next hour or so of ghost hunting and my hopes were high for this part of the prison. The wing has the creepiest vibe when we walked through it in the tour earlier in the night.
Apparently, when the prison was in operation, some officers refused to work in C Wing alone at night, they've reported being pushed down stairs, hearing doors slamming, noises like moving all around them, and disembodied footsteps. The wing originally house female inmates and it's believed that one of the female prisoners has refused to leave, she has been seen dressed in a grey uniform many times walking the upper levels. She walks from cell 3 towards the execution room.
Our investigation here initially proved to be much quieter, apart from the constant sound of dripping from the wing's leaky roof. But then, after about half an hour of calling out, just as we were about to move on to something else, there was a loud bang.
We quickly realised that the door of cell 2 had slammed closed. Although no one saw it close, every other cell door on the wing was open. Apparently the door slams frequently in this cell. I went to check out the door and it was obvious to see why this door slams so frequently. It has to be fully open or it will swing closed. When it is fully open the lightest touch can start it moving and send it slamming.
This doesn't completely rule out a paranormal
explanation, because although the door slams easily, something had to have started the movement off. It could have been a ghost, it could have been vibration, it could have been a draught. We'll never know.
The rest of the vigil was fairly quiet and soon the supervised part of the event came to an end and we were left to explore and investigate the prison for the rest of the night. After a complimentary chicken Cup A Soup and a bread roll to restore my energy levels, we headed back out into the prison.
Because we pretty much had free run of the whole location, we went to investigate in a couple of areas we hadn't visited on the tour or in the group vigils - the health centre, an area that houses medical rooms, dental surgeries and more. This was probably the quietest part of the building we'd been to, as in it was isolated from the other guests in the main wing and sheltered from the rain and external sounds.
It also proved to be a little quiet in terms of paranormal activity, so we moved on to some other back rooms and service areas, including the laundry.
By this point we'd been wandering around HMP Shrewsbury for the best part of eight hours as it had gone 3am. So, we decided to make our way back to our cell.
It goes without saying that this wasn't five-star accommodation. We made a bed with a duvet on the floor and a large double sleeping bag. The cells were cold, damp and uncomfortable - but this isn't what keeps you awake. It's the unfamiliar knocks, bangs and sounds of other guests moving around which might just have you wondering if you're sharing your cell with the ghost of a former inmate.
This was the second time I've been on a ghost hunt in a prison and was by far the most active and is a fascinating location. To get the chance to wander around it all night is quite a treat. The highlight of the night was getting the opportunity to go off on a private investigation with Stuart, and the knocks we experienced with Karl raised some interesting questions.
It was a long night, just the tour, introduction and the chance to have your photo taken with the stars of the show took three hours. For those who just want to get stuck into their investigation, MHE do offer "non-celeb" events and most ghost hunts don't include a tour first. However a tour and a ghost hunt makes the event much better value for money.
I really enjoyed my first night in prison and would highly recommend HMP Shrewsbury with MHE for those looking to embark on their first ever ghost hunt. Because it's such a large location, it can accommodate groups of first-timers without affecting other guests.