Margam Castle has it all: murder, history and ghosts.
A murder so gruesome that it would grip Wales in the summer of 1898 and continue to intrigue visitors and staff who regularly feel the presence of the murder victim here. This castle has lots to share.... step back in time to discover the events of 1898 and explore this gothic castle for all it has to tell.
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Video extracts from Margam Park: a history and also from Margam Park itself. Both give a really good view of the castle and grounds with some snippets of the history:
Online library to newspaper articles on the murder at Margam: https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3276741/3276743/17/Mrs%20j%20l%20Rees
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Hi everyone and welcome back to another episode of Haunted History Chronicles. Today’s podcast is one that was actually picked out as part of a vote that went out on our social media pages. They picked wanting to find out about a haunted castle. So, with that vote being cast, I couldn’t help resist choosing the castle that I have for today’s episode. It’s one set in beautiful Wales surrounded by forested mountains. The castle itself is like something straight out of the pages of a gothic horror novel. It’s beautiful, it’s foreboding, it’s dark, it’s isolated. It has a long sweeping drive and an eery quietness and despite its large and impressive grounds at night when all the lights are out and you are in complete darkness- not even any lights remotely near you- you have a real feeling of claustrophobia. So I’m sure you’re wondering what is the actual castle called- what’s it’s about, where is it? Well let’s find out a little bit about it....
History of Margam (1.32)
Margam Castle was built in Port Talbot in Wales in 1830 built in the style of a Tudor gothic castle. The site the castle had been built on had been occupied for 4000 years and could be traced back to prehistoric times. Bronze and Iron Age relics abound in the area and evidence exists of Roman and extensive Celtic occupation. The deer herd on the ground probably introduced by the Romans. From the 11th century until the dissolution of monasteries under King Henry VIII the site would house an abbey remains of which can still be seen on the grounds today- and it's a beautiful feature so, if you ever go there you’re going to really enjoy exploring those ruins. Margam Castle is part of an 850 acre estate and set on the slopes of Margam Mountain which is mostly forested and rises 349 metres. This castle has some dark moments in it's history and one particularly grizzly, murderous story to tell. It’s this story that we are going to begin with followed by exploring many of the ghostly apparitions and phenomena that the castle purports to have- some of which are directly related to the story that we are about to hear. So, if you’re ready and comfortable, let’s begin.
Murder at Margam Castle (3.22)
On the morning of Friday June 10th 1898, the body of a gamekeeper was found on Margam Mountain. He had been shot in the face with a shotgun. Robert Scott worked on the Talbot family’s Margam estate, part of a small team of staff whose job it was to tackle poaching which was an extensive problem on their lands. When his gruesome murder hit the newspapers later that day it would cause quite a stir and the subsequent police hunt and trial would grip Wales over the summer months. The evening before, on Thursday June 9th Mr Scott, who was 39 years old at the time and who had worked at Margam for some five years, went out on patrol with another gamekeeper by the name of Robert Kidd. Also with them that day was P.C. Hawtin, a private constable employed by the estate. Whilst out that evening, they would spot a man looking suspicious in the area of woodlands close by to them. The men would lose contact with each other as they tried to go around him - encircling him, trapping him. Mr Scott disappeared from their site. Then, a gunshot rang out. Concerned about what may have happened, Mr Kidd and the constable searched for their colleague but they could not find Robert Scott. As darkness fell they came off the mountain and went to Mr Scott’s home next to Margam Village Post Office in the hope he’d simply returned to his wife and family after becoming separated from them. He had not. The following morning the gamekeeper’s body was found in a gully. Part of his jaw had been shot away and there was also gunshot wounds to his body. Police began a murder investigation. Later that same day, an arrest was made. A Henry Jones, described as being around six feet tall, thin and with a light coloured moustache. Some two years earlier he had been caught stealing rabbits and setting snares on the Margam estate.
In the days after the discovery of the gamekeeper’s body, large numbers of people would flock to the mountainside to see the crime scene. The blood spatters on an enclosure wall at the location apparently proved to be particularly interesting to the Victorian voyeurs. On the Sunday after the death, it was estimated some thousands visited the mountain. A Post reporter was with a policeman at the scene that day and it was said they sent the crowd into a ferment of excitement with the intelligence that another arrest had been made. That man was a 32 year old Joseph Lewis who also went by the name Joe Harries. He was a lodger with the man currently in custody for the crime. It was said that in the days prior to his arrest he’d been making remarks about the correctness of theories in the newspapers and he’d also apparently told his landlady he’d killed the gamekeeper during a confrontation on the mountain. Joseph Lewis was charged with murder. Jones, the first man arrested, charged with being an accomplice (though this charge would later be dismissed) leaving Lewis to stand trial alone. Mr Justice Wills presided over the trial. During the trial, the defendant was often described as making regular strange signs and pantomime gestures to the Post reporter in court depending on if he thought the evidence was going in his favour or not. In total some 34 witnesses were called to testify. Key among them was William Maddox, who said he was standing at the gate on Brombil Farm on the evening in question and had spoken to Lewis as he passed by on the way down off the mountain. Mr Jones, the man originally arrested for the murder also gave evidence, he told the jury that while they had been in custody together, Lewis had told him where he had hidden the shotgun he had used. A gun had indeed been found at the location described by the defendant with both barrels empty. Another important witness was John Griffiths, a haulier, he told the court that two days after the murder Lewis had said to him that his landlady, Mrs Jones, shouldn’t worry about her husband who’d been arrested because, “twas I shot the keeper.”
The defence would present no evidence of its own. The jury was out considering its verdict for more than two hours. Guilty he would be found. Where a modern jury trial may take two or three weeks Lewis’s trial was over in a mere couple of days. From there he was taken to Swansea Prison to await his fate. On Monday August 29th, Mr Billington from Bolton arrived. Later that day he would test the equipment and stay the night in the quarters inside the prison. Having found the hangman’s equipment satisfactory I’m sure he slept peacefully.
The day of Lewis’s execution duly dawned. Once inside the treadmill house Lewis was positioned over the trapdoor in the floor. The noose put around his neck and a white silk hood placed over his head. Mr Billington pulled a lever, the trapdoor opened and Lewis was hanged. At 8am a black flag was hoisted in the prison flagpole to mark the event. Telling the world that Joseph Lewis had paid the extreme penalty for his crime. At 9am the flag would be taken down at the same time that Lewis’s body was removed from the gallows and prepared for burial. As for the defendant, he’d given several accounts of his movements on the evening in question. At first he denied being on the estate. He then said he’d been on the estate along with other poachers and run off when he heard gunfire. Letters though he wrote from prison to his parents and the victim's family would give another story. Lewis maintained he had shot the gamekeeper in self defence. He told a friend, “I never dreamt of injuring Scott but simply went out to get a rabbit or two. Times were so bad. I told Scott three times to stand back and had he done so nothing of this would have happened. But he rushed me with his stick and what I did was self defence.” He said he fired the second shot to ‘put him out of his misery.’
The hauntings is Margam Castle (11.40)
The exact details of what happened on Margam Mountain that evening would go to the grave with Lewis. Given such a grizzly murder it’s no surprise that Robert Scott the gamekeeper has often been seen purposefully ascending the gothic staircase. His presence has come forward regularly with psychic investigators all of whom have insisted his spirit is consumed with rage over his unjust killing and resentful of people inside the castle- wanting them out. The sound of giggling children is often frequently heard here too. There have been reports of children in Victorian dress seen drifting in and out of doorways mischievously moving objects. Their laughter and giggles echoing through the long corridors. Another familiar vision to many at Margam Castle is that of a large figure of a blacksmith. Also at night the castle security guards have reported the noise of running footsteps and chattering voices with no sign of anyone else in the building. Reports of cold spots and rocks being thrown are common. The most violent and angry spirit though is certainly Robert Scott, who is known for much of the poltergeist activity that takes place there. He’s reported to slam doors and throw objects. He certainly has a foreboding presence over what was the home he once worked for. In the next segment we are going to explore some of the paranormal activity a little further but this time from my own personal experience.
Investigating Margam Castle (13.41)
I have explored many castles but Margam feels different and unique to anywhere I have ever been in. It’s a place that swamps you with its high ceilings and staircases that endlessly reach upward. It’s so eerily quiet. No noise from cars and no nearby roads. No streetlights. It’s hidden and yet stands out to be noticed too. You see it in the distance as you are driving to the location. It’s grand. It’s rich red carpets, interior stone walls and cold stone slabs and walls that make you feel almost in a tomb. I knew nothing of its history, nor was it discussed that night. I knew nothing of the murderous tale we have spoken of earlier. I was just going to explore an amazing castle that had a reputation of being haunted. The evening started quietly. So much so that I actually took a break from the main group and instead sat with a couple of people partway up the central staircase. I’ll do my best to describe that staircase to you. I would advise people to go and look at the pictures I’ll post on social media. The stairs dominate. From that position in the castle you can look up the uppermost parts of the castle. The stairs themselves ascend, level, and level off, so you have a small miniature landing before it extends again to the first floor. From here it branches out either side with other sets of stairs that take you up to the next level. Each level has what is a gallery that wraps around each side of the staircase. A balcony if you like that extends either side. From each of these you can can look up and down over the sides. You can hear a pin drop from this area. It’s just so open. We found ourselves sitting partway up the first floor. We sat and gossiped and giggled in the dark for a while. Honestly, just enjoying the evening. Almost forgetting that we were sat in the pitch dark in a haunted castle. It started off as a sensation of being watched. Not wanting to look. Feeling a tightness in my chest. Somewhere from the balcony above someone was watching us. Now, we were the only ones in this location. Everyone else was so very far away and accounted for. And yet, something was there and watching us. The people I was with would carry on chatting and I found myself going quiet and just listening. One by one we would all start to feel something and all become quiet until there was no more conversation and no more giggling. If you’ve ever had to walk down a dark alley at night or walk to your lone car, it’s a similar feeling, just being hyper aware. For that reason, when we all distinctly heard the sound of something small striking the stone ground floor and it’s sound echoing, we would all stop and look. This would continue for about twenty minutes-no pattern, sometimes a shorter interval and sometimes longer between the next something landing on the floor. Each time not in the same area. A sceptic might say it was something falling from the building itself above. This felt more controlled because gradually over those minutes they would land closer and closer to our location and then the sound would change as now it was striking the carpeted stairs. If you’ve ever held your breath for a long time under the ocean it’s that kind of sensation, that feeling, almost suffocating. I wasn’t scared- this was something else. It was a feeling of just being affected and all the while that sensation of feeling as if I was being watched growing stronger as whatever was being thrown from above got closer to us. Sometimes hitting one of us and then other times landing slightly further away. Was this Robert Scott the gamekeeper? Possibly. It certainly fits the stories that often accompany him and these very particular stairs. The night wouldn’t end there though and nor be the end of any activity on this particular set of stairs. As quietly and as suddenly as whatever had first appeared above us, it would stop just as suddenly. That feeling of being watched just ended. That feeling of being under water lifted. The air and the atmosphere was just very light again. What happened next is something captured on camera and again I’ll put this up for you to see on social media pages if you’re interested. An apparition at the bottom of the stairs would ascend. It appeared to be a woman in a long dress and it just carried on past us all the way to the top of the stairs where it would then disappear. A couple of us would try and take pictures to capture this moment and what was caught on camera was something moving up the stairs towards us. Maybe it was the Lady of the castle and her presence had made Robert Scott move away. It was quiet after this and almost time for the ghost hunt to end. It was a great night and one I have certainly never forgotten.
Well we’ve made it to the end of another podcast. Thank you so much for joining and listening today. One way that you can support our channel is to come and join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To spread the word, share this podcast with friends and family or anyone that’s interested. Share the episodes themselves, write a review, come and join those different sites. In the description box below there is also access to a Patreon link where you can come and support the channel to grow, gain access to some extra goodies. Your support in help spreading the word of this channel is really very, very much appreciated. I really couldn’t do it without any of you and more importantly the support and encouragement and the feedback that I’ve had from people really has been heartwarming and I really appreciate it. Special thank you today for those that voted for this episode on social media - I think you made a great choice. If you ever get the chance to go to Margam and you’re close by I really do recommend it. It’s a fantastic site with something for everyone. The grounds are amazing places to explore- you’ve got what remains of the abbey there - they’re stunning- and the castle really is intriguing and beautiful. On that note I’m going to say goodbye and I will see you next time. Stay tuned though for a very special teaser that is about to come up. Bye everyone
Michelle: So I’m joined by a very special friend who’s going to say hello to you.
Courtney: Hi, I’m Courtney The Ghoul Guide on Instagram.
Michelle: And Courtney is going to be joining us next week for a special episode telling us about her favourite location- or one of them. Can you give us a clue, a teaser for it?
Courtney: I’ll give you a hint- it was featured on Buzzfeed Unsolved.
Michelle: Fantastic. Well I can’t wait for that one so I’m going to say goodbye and hopefully everyone comes back to hear this episode next week. Bye everyone