Penwortham High School: A Benedictine Priory & The Ghost Of A Monk - Preston, England

Two schoolgirls recalled how they had both witnessed what appeared to be the apparition of a monk in their classroom. Their claims gained credibility when it was uncovered that their high school was built on the grounds of a Benedictine priory.

The sightings were reported in the same classroom at Penwortham High School
The sightings were reported in the same classroom at Penwortham High School

Penwortham Secondary School is one of those ubiquitous raw-brick-and-glass buildings that mushroomed in the 1950s and 1960s to provide the new education that would enable the new generations to cope with the technology and leisure that their parents in the bad old days had never dreamed of. But despite the revolution in accommodation and academic method, little had changed basically, and so it was in the winter of 1968 14-year-old Valerie Sandham was sitting passively in classroom C11, a rarely used room at the end of one of those endless corridors. The lesson was religious knowledge, a subject which did not hold her enthralled but at which she worked hard because she invariably did well in examinations on it: there was little apart from the teaching to distract her attention - three blank, cream-painted walls without windows to her front, rear and right, and on her left an expanse of glass which gave a view across the playing fields that after four years was so familiar that even the blackboard was a more interesting prospect.

Halfway through the lesson, Valerie's attention was suddenly caught by a vague movement to the right of the teacher, between the blackboard and the door. She turned slightly to look more closely and was dumbfounded to see what appeared to be the profile of a monk - or at least, a hooded man - seated at a writing desk. There was no question from the start that it was real because the apparition was a two-dimensional white shadow, seemingly imprinted on the cream wall about two feet from the floor. "Try to imagine", said Valerie, "a life-size moving cardboard cutout, mistily filled in..." and with that strange quirk in human observation that tends to fasten on completely irrelevant details, she remembers vividly the long nose of the elderly man, and the quill which from time to time he dipped in an inkwell at the side of the desk.

For some moments she sat staring with incredulity, and then with the practicality that is supposed to be traditional in Lancashire, she began to doubt her own senses and to look for a logical situation. She checked that the light from the window was not causing a shadow from the teacher, but in any case, the figure was lighter, not darker than the wall, and had a life and movement quite independent of the master taking the lesson. Having exhausted all natural possibilities, she was forced back to her original and spontaneous explanation - the supernatural - and nudged her companion to look. But as her friend turned, rather cautiously as they were at the front desk immediately beneath the teacher's eye, the apparition faded.

Valerie was bursting with the story when she arrived home but her mother, who had had a very strange experience in Lancaster some years earlier, was well aware of how people treated such reports and advised her not to mention it to anyone. Valerie said nothing, but although she looked intently every time she went into the classroom again, she saw nothing. Nevertheless, every detail remained very clear in her mind.

Four years later Valerie was working as a dental nurse in Preston and was joined at the surgery by another girl, Hazel Coulton, from Penwortham. Discussing school days in a nostalgic way, Hazel one day mentioned a strange apparition she had seen one afternoon on the wall of classroom C11: as she listened, without saying a word, Valerie heard her own story in precise detail, even to the desk in which she had been sitting. Neither girl could remember the slightest reference to monasticism in any previous lesson and tried to relate the apparition to the place. It was not a profitable line: the site of the school, as far as they could discover, had never been anything but farmland, though the ruins of an old farmhouse were very close to the wing which terminated in the haunted classroom.

Upon investigation, it was discovered that the land on which the school was built was initially the place of a Benedictine Priory dedicated to St. Mary until its land was sold to the Fleetwood family. The Fleetwood family constructed a mansion in its place which became known as Penwortham Priory. The building was demolished in 1925 and the high school was constructed in 1953.

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