Needles Old Battery. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams.

A glum-looking ghost in military uniform is often seen carrying a lantern around the Needles gun battery, down to the searchlight station perched precariously on the cliff. Why so miserable? is a fair question.
Photo image of the Needles Old Battery. Isle of Wight.
Needles Old Gun Battery, Alum Bay. Isle of Wight.

Ghost at the End of the Empire

Since the successful sea battles led by Admiral Nelson, in which both the French and Spanish fleets were mostly destroyed, England felt secure from French or Spanish invasion. Until in 1856 France launched the world's first ironclad battleship, La Gloire.

The British government ordered gun batteries to guard the two entrances to the Solent. The Needles Battery bristled with high-tech guns at an elevation beyond any warship's response.

A ghost in military uniform is often seen carrying a lantern around the gun battery buildings and through the tunnel to the old searchlight outpost high above the sea. His costume dates him to relatively recent times, and suggests a category of 'military ghost' if not an identity by way of name, rank and number.

Some ghost-hunters describe his presence as an 'atmospheric photograph' - the product of an intense emotional experience or event so traumatic it imprints into the local environment's electromagnetic field. Like a photograph it replays, though no one knows if something triggers its short broadcast, or it's on endless-play loop.

Those who have encountered him in the spooky tunnels say he seems aware of the living and is not best pleased about it, for he wears a perpetual sour-mouthed frown.

Most Haunted island

The Freshwater Cliffs

The Needles Old Battery is an impressive feat of human engineering. Wind-tormented, rain and storm lashed; weathers everything hurled against it by Mother Nature.

Geologists are more impressed by Mother Nature's engineering to raise those 600 feet high cliffs up off the ocean floor and heave them so high into the sky.

"The fate of these cliffs when seen from the sea at a short distance has a remarkable appearance, from the rows of flints which score the surface of the white rock with fine dark parallel lines, running in an oblique direction from the top to the bottom section," noted geologist Mantell.

The cliffs are '...a succession of mural precipices of chalk from 400 to upwards of 600 feet (122m to 182.8 m) in height. Three miles (4.8 km) in length.

Illustration of Victorian engraved image 'Rounding Sun Corner'. The Needles Rocks circa 1850 by Brannon.
'Rounding Sun Corner'. The Needles Rocks circa 1850 by Brannon.

The Needles Rocks

The great rocks are five in number but only three are conspicuously visible. Originally they formed a portion of the western point of the island, and their present isolated condition is due to decomposition and wearing away of the rock in the direction of the joints or fissures with which the strata are traversed.

'Their angular or wedge-shaped form has resulted from the highly inclined northward dip of the beds of which they are composed,' says Mantell of their geology.

There was formerly another rock - Lot's Wife - the sailors called it, which stood out alone, rising from the waves, like a spire or needle, to the height of 120 feet (36.5 m). Most people believe this rock gave its name to the group; it fell in 1764.

The Lighthouses on Needles Point

The first Needles lighthouse stood at an elevation of 474 feet (144 m). Despite its height its windows were sometimes shattered by stones flung up by the sea.

In dark and stormy nights the lights attracted hundreds of little birds, which dashed themselves against the glass reflectors.

Too often missed in hazy and foggy weather, Trinity House in 1858 ordered a new lighthouse, so bright it could be seen ten miles at sea. Its fog bell sound carried to a distance of five miles.

During World War 2, German bombers attacked the lighthouse, damaging its lantern, lens and lamp.

Exploring the haunted Isle of Wight

Threading the Needles

Before the age of flight, voyagers inbound from the North Atlantic passed below the gun battery, through the Needles passage on route to Southampton docks. American ambassador Rush noted his first sight of England.

"...We approached the Needles. The spectacle was grand in admiration. The very men who swarmed upon the deck made a pause to look upon the giddy height. The most exact steerage seemed necessary to save the ship from the sharp rocks that compress the waters into the narrow straits.
But she passed easily through. There is something imposing in entering England by this access. I afterwards entered at Dover in a packet from Calais, my eye fixed upon the sentinels as they slowly paced the heights. But these cliffs, bold as they are, and immortalised by Shakespeare did not equal the passage through the Needles."

Source: Rush Journal of a Residence.

Photo image of the Needles rocks and gun battery.
The Needles and Gun battery. Isle of Wight.

How High are the Cliffs?

The western portion of these cliffs is the highest, known as the Main Bench, 617 feet (188m) in height.

Their base is all along worn into fantastic caverns and ledges, and arches and pillars - all with fantastic names in the following order: - Neptune's Caves, the larger 200 feet (60.9m) deep, the smaller 90 (27.4m).

Bar Cave, 90 feet (27.4m) deep; Frenchman's Hole, of the same depth, where a fugitive French prisoner hid himself and starved to death; Lord Holmes' Parlour, where it is said that nobleman, when governor of the island, entertained his friends; Lord Holmes' Kitchen, where perhaps he cooled and preserved his wines; Roe Hall, 600 feet (182.8m) in height.

The Daring Egg-people

Some Freshwater paranormalists wonder why a soldier should be so unlucky as to end up haunting these cliffs. More likely to be one of the many brave egg-collectors who ventured over the edge during the pre state-benefits Victorian age.

Artist Thomas Barber took notes of what happened on the Freshwater cliffs when during summer months they were the habitat of colonies of birds.

"...Their eggs and feathers are the plunder of the country people, who resort to a well-known but daring feat of enterprise in order to obtain them. First driving a strong stake, or iron bar into the top of the cliff near its edge, the adventurer secures one end of a rope to it. And the other to a piece of wood placed cross-wise so as to resemble a rude seat. By means of this, he descends the front of the precipice."

The birds spotted were choughs, razor-bills, cormorants, gulls, guillemots, daws and eider ducks.

Victorian engraved image of the Needles Rocks circa 1850 by Thomas Barber
The Needles Rocks circa 1850 by Thomas Barber

The Great Arch

"Rounding Sun Corner the voyager finds himself in Scratchell's Bay, a deep hollow curve of extreme magnificence, terminated northward by the high masses of glittering rock so widely celebrated as the Needles. Behind is the Grand Arch," said island guide-writer Adams.

'...In the face of the cliff from the destruction of the lower beds of the bent strata, a magnificent arch 300 feet (91.4m) high has been produced, and forms an alcove that overhangs the beach 150 feet. (45.7m)' added geologist Mantell.

"Looking out from the Grand Arch," continued Adams. "I am astonished at the sublime aspect of the bay; the surrounding rocks and the vast overhanging arch assume almost a terrible majesty."

Which might be among the reasons why the Needles Old Battery ghost wears such a glum expression. Some ghosts are trapped haunting the most boring windowless spectacularly unpanoramic bog-standard bungalow cupboard rooms. Others like this fortress' ghost was gifted a fantastic stage on which to perform a haunting.

Still didn't please the ghost at the end of the empire.

Thank you for your company on this short tour of Isle of Wight mysteries and haunting. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' investigations in the Needles Old Battery and other royals and rogues, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

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Needles Old Battery

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