Paranormal History of Jedburgh Castle Jail, Scotland

Growing up with the likes of Amityville Horror and the Omen I was hopeful of perhaps my name being scrawled in blood over some walls or a cell door or two slamming behind me…I’d have even settled for a raven shadowing me around all night.

But the harsh realism of the paranormal doesn’t present anything quite so obvious, and that perhaps is the appeal.

By hanging around a dark Victorian reform prison in the middle of the night with a group of fanatics and experts, I learned that ghost hunting delivers a lot more questions than answers.

The jail was built in the early 1820s on the site of the town’s former castle.

Three separate blocks – debtors and females, Bridewell for correction, and an additional one for other prisoners – make up this imposing prison.

Our all-night vigil was broken up between cells in two of the blocks.

Jedburgh Castle Jail had a short life, opening in 1823 and closing 63 years later in 1886 as conditions were regarded as too dated.

In those days, when prisons were routinely brutal, Jedburgh was seen as too brutal.

The horrors and cruelty, including five executions, that went on during those six decades have gained the immaculately preserved prison a reputation for being haunted ever since the last cell door was pulled shut.

And on Saturday night at 9 around 20 of us were about to find out, just how haunted.

We were told to dress warmly as there’s no heating. Girlfriend Aileen made me wear a jumper, cardigan and fleece on top of my thermal vest, and by the time I’d climbed up to the jail’s perched position above the town I looked like I’d just run Jedburgh’s half marathon.

Exorcist Ian Lawman came as the lead singer of crusty band The Levellers while Edinburgh-based medium Brian Boyle went for a throwback to the 80s look.

The paying guests were an eclectic bunch – ranging from mid-teens up to and beyond retirement. Most were from around the Scottish Borders although one family had come all the way from Preston and another mum-and-daughter had shot up from Winchester.

We all made brief introductions although I was still too out of breath to say much as I tried to discreetly hide my gloves, scarf and hat.

Word soon got round that I was a non-believing journalist, and every time the word sceptic was mentioned around 20 sets of eyes turned to my shadow in the corner.

Ian Lawman is a former champion fighter, karate expert and model, and he trained with the Church for three years to become one of the world’s leading exorcists. He is among a growing number of celebrity ghost-hunters who are quickly deposing chefs from the top of the TV rankings.

Brian Boyle is more low-key although he’s reputed to be a very accurate medium. He told me how he made his girlfriend cry when he told her about her dead father. I told him I made mine cry by going to Dublin with Gala Fairydean.

I was also going to tell Ian Lawman how he was lucky to be a medium as I trained three times a week and was still wobbling between a large and extra large. He only ever lost two of his 28 fights so I didn’t bother.

Jedburgh Castle Jail does possess a certain eeriness - its bare stone walls and heavy cell doors allow a glimpse into Victorian prison life. But it would take the hard work and all of our ghost hunters’ gifts to paint the full picture.

During out initial lights-on tour one lady felt as though she was being strangled while another felt physically sick when we all wandered into the women’s wing.

It seemed a bit theatrical, although they did set the tone for the evening.

As the lights were switched off we split into groups and headed for the cells armed with every gadget you could imagine to find whatever, or rather whoever, was lurking.

The Preston Four volunteered to be the fingers on the Planchette, which is a simple little machine made of wood, castor wheels and a pen. It allows the spirits to draw stuff.

Now I always thought Ally McGilvray was a slow writer, but after 20 minutes some man called McGregor, who apparently wore breaches and had a pipe, could only muster a scribbled circle or two.

It was enough to make the Preston Four enthralled and Brian got really excited too.

Brian also took us to a cell for a séance, where around eight or nine of us held hands in a circle.

He told us about some young girls, McGregor again, and a couple of other spirits that were hanging around - one literally, as he was seemingly punished from the gallows.

One lady revealed her face was freezing while her hands were roasting – the fact that it was cold and we were all grasping each other’s hands may have been to blame but I didn’t want to ruin the moment.

I couldn’t help thinking ‘I could make this stuff up’ as Brian went into detail about the spirits who were with us.

During our refreshment break a Selkirk lady from the other group told me how Ian had just made contact with her dead husband.

Details of a lost child, his dog and various secrets that only she would have known had convinced her of the encounter’s authenticity.

And her conviction was almost turning me.

I joined their group for a jaunt to another part of the jail. And that is where I met James Stuart.

A skinhead girl, a giggling one, me and a blonde mature lady had the pleasure in placing our fingers on top of a glass which sat on a tray on the cell floor.

Before too long it was whizzing all over the place answering our questions.

Now, I wasn’t pushing it and I’m certain giggler and skinhead weren’t the culprits as their fingers kept falling off the moving glass. It only left blonde mature. Was she a pusher? Or were we really talking to someone called James Stuart?

They asked things like, if he liked being here and why was he here. I asked if It’s a Wonderful Life was his best film.

There were screams from other cells as the Planchette was apparently writing screeds of scribbles but we still managed to establish that old Jimmy was in fact a prisoner of war here for 10 years.

Not sure if that was during the prison times or the castle times, as the commotion down the corridor drew my glass gang away before the conversation ended.

I’m rubbish at taking photographs – even more rubbish when it is pitch dark.

But my snaps during the ghost hunt did become the focus of attention for a while as the group crowded round my little digital screen to view what I’d captured.

All my photographs outside of the cell blocks were clear and free of any distortion, but once the ghost hunt started I had little circles, called Orbs, on every picture.

According to our entire excited party Orbs are spirits.

Is it dust reflecting the flashlight? I really don’t know.

As we séanced and searched through the Midnight hour and into depths of Sunday there were a few surprises still in store.

My dowsing rods went spinning mad in one cell while they sat quietly in my hands in every other room – again and again I wandered back to the end cell and again and again they went for a spin. I couldn’t even blame blonde mature for this one.

The young gun from Winchester was convinced she’d just witnessed a rape in one of the cells, while her mum met an old man in the corridor, and the dad from the Preston Four captured a floating spirit on video camera.

Everyone had their tales to tell as we ended the night with Ian reciting a prayer about cloaks of protection for us each to take home.

With half of my wardrobe on already I didn’t really need their cloak, but I took it any way since Ian had still lost only two of his 28 fights.

It would be easy to mock the mediums from North West Spirit Seekers and everyone who took part in the search of Jedburgh Castle Jail – but as I wandered home with my cloak I felt they were maybe onto something.

What that something is? Well, even under the lights of Jedburgh High Street I was still in the dark.

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