The duke of Buckingham haunts Salisbury

The King’s House. (Photograph by Richard Sutcliffe via Geograph)

The duke of Buckingham in the Cathedral Close

For Halloween, the Salisbury Journal told his readers a ‘Ghostly tale of Henry, Duke of Buckingham’. It seems that the ghost of Henry Stafford is haunting the Salisbury Museum in the Cathedral Close, which used to be the Diocesan Training College. The college was established in 1841 to train female teachers for Church of England schools in the diocese of Salisbury.

For his involvement in the 1483 rebellion against King Richard III, Henry Stafford, second duke of Buckingham was beheaded in the Market Square in Salisbury on 2 Nov. 1483.

According to this “Ghostly Tale”, to show the king that the deed was done, Buckingham’s head was conveyed on a platter to the Cathedral Close, where Richard was staying. There things got a bit out of hand and the head rolled off the platter onto the floorboards, leaving a blood stain. In the heat of the moment nobody could be bothered to clean up quickly and the stain became permanent.

Many years later, new buildings were added to the college and the floorboards were to be reused on the landing of a staircase. To hide the unsightly stains, the workmen used them upside down. However, their good intentions did not work out. The stains somehow seeped upwards and could be seen on the top.  

The building is intriguingly called the ‘King’s House”. Though it goes back to the 13th century, its name does not refer to Richard III, but rather to James I, who visited in the 17th century.

The duke of Buckingham in the department store

However, the museum is not the only place in Salisbury said to be haunted by Henry Stafford. I remember reading some years ago, that his ghost was said to frequent the local Debenhams. The shop was on the site of the Blue Boar Inn, where the duke of Buckingham spent his last hours before being executed just outside in the Market Place.

His ghost is said to have been seen in the sportswear department and the ladies changing room. It seems Stafford’s ghost had a thing for the ladies, a women’s college and ladies changing rooms. Another sighting was in the attic where he frightened a telephone engineer.

Some years ago a telephone engineer was working alone in the attic when he felt a cold hand grasp his shoulder, he fled the attic vowing never to return, someone else had to go back to retrieve his tools. Debenhams is Salisbury closed down in 2020.

Where was the duke of Buckingham buried?

The reason for the duke of Buckingham haunting the site is that in 1838, during building work, the workmen found a skeleton, but the head and the right arm were missing. These were quickly declared to be the remains of Henry Stafford, who for reasons unknown would have been buried beneath the inn. An oak box in the museum claims to have been carved out of the wood of the scaffold and was buried together with the head- and armless skeleton.

This identification is highly doubtful though, as it is known that Richard III showed more respect to the executed and arranged for them to be buried in the Grey Friars in Salisbury.   To complicate matters further there is also a tomb in the church of Britford just outside of Salisbury said to be that of Stafford. The coffin is too short, because the head is on the chest of the man who was buried there. If this is the case, at least it shows that the head was not left rolling around in the building in the Cathedral Close. However, the style of the tomb belongs to an earlier period than 1483, though Stafford might have been buried in an older tomb chest. Possibly the tomb was removed from the Grey Friars after the Dissolution and taken to Britford.

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