St. Catherine's Tower. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams.

Ghostly lantern glow in St. Catherine's lighthouse tower signals to a ghost girl at the Clarendon shipwreck graves in Chale churchyard. Is she the drowned homeward-bound passenger Ms Gourlay?
Photo image of St. Catherine's Oratory tower, Blackgang Isle of Wight
St. Catherine's Oratory Tower. Blackgang isle of Wight

The Doomed Lighthouse

Last of Britain's medieval lighthouses, built in 1321 the tower was paid for by wealthy Sir Walter de Godeton whose drunken good fortune on recovering a cargo of wine from the wreck of the St Marie de Bayonne was spoiled when his holiness the pope noticed the hole in his inventory and discovered the beneficiary.

De Godeton's penance for depriving a French monastery of that cargo was the construction of a lighthouse. In addition an adjoining chapel for when the mist was thick and the light failed to shine, a priest could pray for those poor souls lost below in the notorious ship-destroying ‘Bay of Death’.

The chapel now is gone, following King Henry VIII's visit to the Isle of Wight in 1539, he awarded himself its revenue and evicted the monk, and so prayer was silenced.

Ghostly lantern-light sometimes flickers and glows in its high windows, an impossibility because no steps reach that high. Some say it is the ghost of Sir Walter de Godeton, whose punishment didn't end when the construction and his lifetime were complete.

Related: Exploring the Haunted Isle of Wight.

Sir Richard Worsley's Tower Facts

St. Catherine's Tower stands seven hundred and fifty feet (228 m.) above sea level. Sir Richard Worsley noted in 1781 in his History of the Isle of Wight:

"...It is 'thirty five feet six inches high (10.8 m.), octangular without and quadrangular within, each side interior as well as exterior being exactly four feet (1.2 m.).

From this construction the curious have found out some resemblance to the temple of the eight winds at Athens, a building it is more than probable the architect never saw, or ever heard of."

Despite Sir Richard Worsley's opinion that the architect of this tower had seen no such classical design as the old tower temple of the Winds, chances are a structure did in fact stand here even before de Godeton's. A light tower beacon to ships in pre-historic times, even as far back as the Bronze Age and probably before. When Ictis was the Isle of Wight, and when islanders believed in the goddesses and gods of Athens.

Related: Niton. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight

Image of Sketch of St. Catherine's Oratory Tower before last restoration.
Sketch of St. Catherine's Oratory Tower before last restoration.

Chale Village Ghost

Northward of the tower, at the foot of the hill rests the village of Chale. A ghostly girl is sometimes seen drifting along the road toward the old church and then on down to the sea.

Many local people believe her to be a spirit from the Clarendon shipwreck of 1836; a tragedy in which all passengers were lost.

The Clarendon was a 345-ton ship built for trading in the West Indies. She sailed from St. Kitts bound for Portsmouth until the morning of Tuesday 11thOctober when a storm smashed her onto the shore below Blackgang Chine.

Island historian Davenport Adams reported on the tragic event:

"The morning dawned dark, cloudy, deadly; right ahead of her rose the fatal cliffs of Chale bay, and though all sail was crowded upon her; nevertheless the cruel waters bore her swiftly to the beach, - she struck once, twice, heeled over – All were lost, save three."
Illustration of the Wreck of the Clarendon at Blackgang by Arthur Willmore
Wreck of the Clarendon at Blackgang by Arthur Willmore

Clarendon Passenger Ms Gourlay is Missing

Bodies were recovered along the shoreline; the dead crew-members interred in Chale, in St. Andrew's churchyard. Lieutenant Shore, his wife and their four daughters, one an infant, were buried in the cemetery of Newport. Captain Walker; Mister Sheppard, a planter; and Walter Pemberton of St. Kitts, also a planter, and his daughter were all buried at Chale.

But of Ms Gourlay, daughter of Captain Gourlay of Southsea, there was no trace; until weeks later, as Adams noted:

‘...I relate a true but affecting circumstance. The corpse of Miss Gourlay was borne away by the waters, and actually cast ashore at Southsea, opposite her father’s residence.’

Sightings of the Ghost Girl of Chale

Those who have seen the ghost of Chale describe a misty figure of a well-dressed young woman, and so believe it to be the lost spirit of Captain Gourlay’s daughter. There have been attempts to halt her progress to the sea.

Some have tried prayer by which to return her restless spirit to the grave. Others have explained her appearances as a form of social hallucination that will stop when everyone ceases to believe in ghosts.

However, local people treat the ghostly girl with respect due perhaps to the tragedy from which she was borne; and when she appears, simply shake their head in sympathy and let her pass on through to the cliffs above the sea.

No one has tried to ambush her as was attempted with the ghost of Tennyson Down further along the coast.

How & When to Catch a Ghost?

The village of Chale is small, its few buildings cluster half a mile either side of a country road that leads to a junction by the old church of St. Andrew where the graves of those lost from the Clarendon can still be found.

Photo image of St. Andrew's church, Chale
St. Andrew's church, Chale

People sometimes ask me if there is a best time to catch a ghost, perhaps the optimum moment between daylight and dusk, or just before dawn; or maybe on the anniversary of the tragedy in which lives were lost.

This may be true, but it hasn’t ever seemed to matter, in my experience; a haunted location is a haunted location regardless of time of day or night. However, brightness and daylight activity probably bleach out most people’s sensitivity to supernatural activity.

Another time-related question is the nature of its influence on the dead. The ghost of Chale had three clocks by which to gauge the passing of time; the weathered timepieces set into each face of the church tower.

Pairs of golden hands describe their diurnal circle as night passes into day, on into night again; lit brightly once a month by the full moon. Perhaps the moon is better measure for the ghost; as a twelve-hour clock must be frustrating in deathless days and nights.

A more useful measure is to be found in the shadow cast by the lichen-bleached gravestones. Sunrise rays inch higher and shorten as winter passes into spring, as equinox and solstices mark the time of passing years.

Image of gravestones in St Andrew's Church graveyard, Chale
Graveyard, St Andrew's Church, Chale

Into Chale Graveyard

St. Andrews' is an island graveyard worth a visit, in the nicest possible sense, and nearby Wight Mouse Inn, formerly the Clarendon Hotel is a fabulous place to stay for a night or several to explore the wild Back-of-the-Wight and its Jurassic chine beaches.

Its graveyard offers impressive personal markers of lifetimes lost; towering Celtic crosses and obelisks; a guardian angel points finger heavenward, an open book in other hand. Rows of remembered dead, some teeter well beyond vertical, others close nuzzle shoulder-to-shoulder. Names fading, some lost altogether.

Johns and Elizabeths, and beloved George Valentine. Two of the tower clocks offered matching time of everyone’s queued moment in the wait for Resurrection.

2.30pm, but the third clock face read three minutes ahead.

Thank you for your company in this short tour of Isle of Wight mysteries. If you would like to know more of what happened to ghost hunter Margo Williams and the ghosts of St. Catherine's Tower and Chale, and other famous and forgotten ghosts, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

Photo image link of book cover for Ghost Encounters Famous and Forgotten
Now avaialble in print and ebook from Amazon
Related links

Wight Mouse Inn

St. Catherne's Tower. English Heritage