John Hippisley of Canterbury Ghost Tours
One of the things which makes Canterbury so special is the authentic personal stories of the people who live and work here.
The warm hospitality and amazing experiences on offer to visitors across Canterbury’s city, coast and countryside wouldn’t be possible without the passionate individuals who work hard to make it all happen.
One such individual is the charismatic John Hippisley, tour guide and ghost hunter. His Canterbury Ghost Tour has been immersing people in Canterbury’s dark side for more than three decades, and he is one of our city’s most distinctive characters.
We caught up with John to ask him all about his tour, memories and own particular #CanterburyTale, and he had some wonderful stories to tell!
When did you start your tours?
On the 5th April 1991.
What inspired you to start telling ghost stories in Canterbury?
My fascination started whilst I was at School in Goudhurst. In the late 1970s, my friend and I planned to run away from our boarding school, we planned to meet at 9pm and be gone to London.
Not really planning much after that. I waited for my friend at the school gates but he never showed up, and waited until midnight but I was so cold I forgot the running away part and went back to my cold dormitory. As I entered I heard the familiar sound of him snoring and farting, clearly, he hadn’t been too bothered. I slept until he shook me awake at around 4am as I was sleeping so well it took him some time to wake me.
“Come on, let’s go now?” He said, I looked at him half-asleep and said, “I can’t be bothered. I’m too tired plus we’ll never hitch a lift at this time of the morning, you go without me and send me a postcard!” With that he shrugged his shoulder, slung his rucksack over his shoulder and headed out through the dormitory doors grumbling. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Waking early to get a proper breakfast!
As I was queuing up for breakfast the Housemaster saw me and asked “ Have you seen Miles Parker?” I didn’t want to snitch to the Housemaster, so I said “he’s having a lie-in!” The Housemaster shrugged his shoulders and went on his way. Later that day around 4pm Kent Police informed the Headmaster that Miles had been killed on Linton Hill, 10 miles from the school at 4am, precisely the same time he shook me awake!
So had I seen his ghost? It turns out it was a 'Crisis Apparition' - quite common, but not to me. That’s what got me involved in ghosts and the supernatural, and I often talk about Miles on the tour and my school days.
What made you want to run a walking tour in particular?
My previous employer ran tours, but they were very wordy and pretty dull, so I took them off their hands and rewrote the tour to make it more about my experience and the history of the buildings.
What are your favorite ghost stories about Canterbury?
For me, it’s the story of the Cathedral Constables who regularly during their training experience see the “Ghosts of the Scriptorium”.
The scriptorium was destroyed in a fire in 1539, and 14 monks were first seen in the 1930s by a constable locking up the great cloister. One December night, he came across what he described as a party of 14 men dressed in shabby costumes which resembled priests, but he assumed that it was his colleagues playing a trick on him as he was new. When he challenged them as to where they were going, they all chanted together “Scriptorium”. He thought that they were making it up and escorted them towards Christchurch Gate, where a swirling mist had formed on the cold winter night, and they all disappeared into the mist.
The frightened man never forgot the night he guided the ghosts from the cloister. They are still seen by the modern guards, and legend has it the reason they walk that route was because when their brethren perished in the fire, 14 survived as they were in the cloister in prayer and contemplation. They remain in the memory of their perished brethren to walk the cloister for eternity.
Have you seen any ghosts on your tours? Have any of your guests?
Several of my guests have experienced strange drops in temperature and rushes of wind at certain points, many more have felt gentle fingers on their necks in certain areas. Canterbury is a very haunted place, and even skeptics find they too experience a shiver or two down their spines. Oftentimes at the end of the tour clients often say that some of my experiences mirror their own, including crisis apparitions and feeling spirits. I can’t guarantee seeing a ghost but I also can’t guarantee we won’t!
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you on a tour?
Well, soon after I started the tours in the 1990s I took a group of Cubs on a special Halloween tour, I was just doing my introduction when one little chap piped up:
“What are you then?”
“I am the Ghost Hunter”, I replied trying to remain in character!
“Well you must know a lot,” said he.
“I know a bit!” I replied.
He then, bold as brass said “Answer me this, do farts have lumps?”
“No farts do not have lumps” I said.
“In that case is there a loo nearby as I need it now!”
I couldn’t help laughing out loud. Thinking “out of the mouths of babes and children”!
What are your practical tips for running a walking tour? (i.e shoes, waterproof, snacks!)
England is known for its unreliable weather, and although I’ve never advised it as a long walk, comfortable walking shoes and warm clothes are a must. Snacks are not advised as the sound of crunchy crisps is not conducive to a spooky experience. Nor do I like to take drunk people, or Hen Nights, if I can help it. But I always suggest that (when we’re allowed to) having a pre-tour spirit from dear Alberrys is always the best way to get into the swing of things.
What do you love most about Canterbury?
I love that it’s steeped in so much incredible history, most of which is missed by so many visitors, and locals alike. There’s so much to be seen but most is missed by the casual glance, so I created the new Hidden City Tour for the daytime, traveling through the oldest parts of the city and sharing anecdotes of the city along with origins of English Phraseology and Language.
Locals are recommended to make the most of the quiet times to book up a daytime tour but that makes it more fun, as it’s more personal and you have time to answer lots of questions on the way!
Where can people buy tickets for your tours?
I ask all who want to join me to book via my website www.thecanterburytours.com where you can pay online.
What's new for you this year?
2021 is my 30th continuous year in business in the city! And the idea is to offer a 30% discount (meaning the new price will be £10.50 pp for the first 3 months), but will still offer the Local Residents’ Card or postcode holders £9.50 per person. I am also working on a slightly longer route taking in Butchery Lane and Guildhall Street...