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31 Days of Hallowe’en Tales: Day 4 – Smuggling, Drowned Nuns and Fallen Acrobats at Raikes Hall

On Day four of her 31 days of Hallowe’en Tales, dealing into local folklore and ghostly happenings, Zowie Sawn explains why a visit to the Raikes Hall pub might spell an encounter with a spirit of a different kind

The Raikes pub is a firm Blackpool favourite, located just off Whitegate Drive in a once grand part of town. Today most of us would find nothing more sinister there than a mixed grill and a pub quiz, but it has a very interesting and sometimes disturbing past.

The impressive and palatial Raikes Hall was originally built in 1760 by William Boucher. According to Victorian Historian William Thornber, Boucher was a bit of a dubious character, who inexplicably became a very rich man seemingly overnight, although he had been seen allegedly making regular trips to the beach to the site of a recent shipwreck. By whatever means he made his fortune, whether wrecker, smuggler, or just a savvy entrepreneur looked down upon by Victorian snobbery, Boucher built Raikes Hall to show off his remarkable wealth.

Interestingly, amongst the plush parlours, well-equipped kitchens, and servants’ quarters, it is said that there was once a tunnel that connected the cellars to what is now the No.3 pub. Something that would indeed have been handy if one had a proclivity for smuggling goods, but again, nothing substantial has ever been found to verify this. Raikes Hall was certainly still a remarkable building and the grounds even more so, with extensive gardens, orchards, stables, and outbuildings.

For ten years, between 1860 to 1870, the hall was home to a convent owned by the Sisters of Holy Child. Two strange occurrences are recorded during the sisters’ occupation of the hall, both concerning tragic deaths by drowning.

Firstly, one of the nuns is said to have purposefully drowned herself in a lake near where Stanley Park is today. Her ghost went on to haunt the area, walking through the park and the hall late at night. Her apparition went on to be known as the Blue Nun, with many eyewitnesses apparently seeing her spirit.

Secondly, is the incredibly sad discovery by the nuns of a stillborn baby found in a pond on the grounds of the hall. A report of this incident was listed in The Preston Guardian on Saturday 12th June 1869. In their short tenure, tragedy and misfortune seemed to plague the sisters, so one year later, they left Raikes Hall altogether.

After the nuns departed, the mansion and its grounds were purchased by the Raikes Hall, Park, Gardens, and Aquarium Company. They turned the land into an exciting new attraction for the growing resort of Blackpool. Before the Winter Gardens existed, before the mighty tower was built, the Raikes Hall pleasure gardens and aquarium was THE place to visit in the newly birthed Blackpool. The company extended the house and built a theatre, a lake, an ice rink, and an aviary. It was a resounding success and was incredibly popular with the new crowds flocking to the town.

At this time, the Raikes Hall also was renowned for its gargantuan tented circuses, which covered 40 acres and were bordered by Hornby Road and Whitegate Drive. The Blackpool Circus School website records the following history:

“Circuses at Raikes were huge affairs holding 5,000 people at a time. Byers Hippodrome in 1880 boasted 90 horses, 40 ponies, and chariot races. At one time 60 horses were driven by one man and the show had 100 performers. A cast today would be around 30. In 1881 Henglers Circus was the main attraction featured in the ‘Monstre! Hippodrome’ at Raikes. They advertised the best troupe of artistes in the world, Riders, Gymnasts, Leapers and Clowns, Horses Ponies and Grand Cavalcades and spectacles.

“Outdoor displays were common at Raikes, the most famous of all was Blondin the Tightrope walker, he was a great attraction and featured there for a number of years, eventually he fell and was nursed by the landlady of the Station Hotel. He did not perform very much after this and soon died.”

From 1888-1901 the grounds of Raikes Hall housed Blackpool Football Club before it found its current home at Bloomfield Road. The pitch extended under what is now Leicester Road and Longton Road and was also used for cricket.

Eventually, the attraction fell out of favour, with the newer, more exciting sideshows on the promenade drawing the holidaymakers away. The land was sold off and developed into housing and the hall became the Raikes Public House.

So, with a history of potential smuggling, drowned nuns, and fatal circus accidents, it is no wonder that the Raikes today is known for strange goings on, ghost sightings, and sudden cold spots. Next time you’re enjoying a drink there, watch out for spirits of a different kind.

Read our previous Hallowe’en Tales
Day 1 – The Curse of Carleton Crematorium.
Day 2 – The Witch Ducking Stools of Poulton-Le-Fylde.
Day 3 – The Ghost-Seer of Weeton.

Take a look at Zowie Swan’s debut novel, Chingle Hall here.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
  • Zowie Swan is a local writer of fiction and folklaw. Her debut novel, Chingle Hall, is out now with Safety Pin Publishing. She's also bassist for Blackpool band Dischord.

  • Show Comments (1)

  • Ruth jackson

    Absolutely loving these little stories. Thank you so much🖤👻

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