The ghost of George Villiers prefers to appear to naked women, said Edward Readicker-Henderson in National Geographic Traveler. Since I knew only one woman in all of England, I naturally asked her to help me look for the ghost. My friend refused, so I was on my own. Villiers, the licentious 2nd Duke of Buckingham, inspired the nursery rhyme “Georgie Porgie, puddin’ and pie,” and his ghost has been known to haunt the Cock and Bottle Pub in York. Located near the border with Scotland, this may be “the most haunted city in Europe, maybe even the world.” Scholars who study ghosts claim that York has been the scene of more than 500 known sightings.
York certainly looks the part of “ghost central,” with its “medieval spires shadowing cobblestone streets” that twist around leaning buildings that seem to be whispering. The city was founded by the Romans in A.D. 71, grew to become England’s second largest city during the Middle Ages, and after 1660 blossomed as a cultural center. Before embarking on my solo search for ghosts, I took in a few non-ghostly attractions. I sampled the famed local cheese at Newgate Market; visited the riverside Guildhall, “where politicians perfected drinking out of pewter under high-beamed ceilings”; and admired York Minster, “the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.”
The cathedral has its resident ghosts, of course, including “a deceased parishioner who has been seen attending services.” The city’s most famous haunting occurred in 1953 when a workman saw “a patrol of Roman soldiers” march through the basement of the Treasurer’s House. But the “saddest haunt” in York occurs about 10 times every year, in the window of a small house behind the cathedral. The ghost is that of a young girl whose parents locked her into a room when the Black Plague swept across England in 1665, and then fled. “She’s still there, hoping they’ll come back.” Though I myself saw no ghosts on my trip to York, I did come away with the increased feeling that “the miraculous is always possible. I’ll just have to keep my eyes open.”