Perhaps the most notorious haunting in the history of Penzance was that of a house in Chapel Street, near the parish church. The house, as William Bottrell tells us in 1880, was occupied by an elderly lady called Mrs Baines, who, going into the garden one night to make sure that her manservant John was keeping guard in her orchard, found him asleep and shook down some apples in order to pretend that they had been stolen and he was remiss in his duties. But waking, he mistook her for a thief and shot her, and a short time later she died.

Her ghost returned, and was often seen under the tree where she was shot:

Everybody knew the old lady by her upturned and powdered grey hair under a lace cap of antique pattern; by the long lace ruffles hanging from her elbows; her short silk mantle, gold-headed cane, and other trappings of old-fashioned pomp.

Her walking in the garden might have been put up with, but she started haunting the house, ‘tramping about from room to room, slamming the doors, rattling the furniture, and often making a fearful crash amongst glass and crockery’. Finally a parson famed in the neighbourhood as a ‘ghostlayer’ (Bottrell thought his name was Singleton) was brought in ‘and he succeeded … in getting her away to the sand-banks on the Western Green … where the waves now roll’. Here he singlehandedly bound her to spin ropes of sand for a thousand years, unless she could weave one to reach from St Michael’s Mount to St Clement’s Isle.

In 1890, Margaret Courtney adds to Bottrell’s story that the whirring of Mrs Baines’s spinningwheel was often heard long after her ghost stopped appearing, but eventually it was discovered that the sound was made by the wind whistling through loose pieces of leather nailed around a door to stop draughts.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008