Tuesday, January 12, 2016

HGB Podcast, Ep. 96 - Oystermouth Castle

Moment in Oddity - Kashima Reiko

As if public restrooms are not terrifying places in and of themselves, particularly in the dark of night, there is the Japanese legend of Kashima Reiko to make you never want to enter a bathroom alone again, especially in Asia. Kashima Reiko was a young girl who was attacked by a group ofmen in a public restroom. They beat her so badly that she was left to die in the bathroom. Kashima had a strong spirit and she didn't want to die, so she pulled herself along the ground and made her way out of the bathroom. She screamed for help as best she could, but no one came. She continued to pull herself along the ground until she came to the Meishin Expressway. Unfortunately, she collapsed on the train tracks and passed out probably from the loss of blood. When she heard the train coming, it was too late for to move and the train ran over her, cutting her in half at the waist and killing her. This caused Kashima to become a vengeful ghost. She also wanted to know where her legs were. Her choice of spot to haunt is the bathroom. It could be any bathroom according to some tellings of the legend, even your own bathroom. When she appears, she not only is horrific to behold, but she will ask several questions and it is said that if you can't answer her questions, she will tear your legs off. Her favorite questions is to ask where her legs are and the best way to respond to her is to reply, “On the Meishin Expressway." If she asks “Who told you that?”, you should reply “Kashima Reiko told me." Then she will leave you alone and crawl away. Kashima Reiko is one creepy and odd legend!

This Day in History - First X-ray Photos Produced
by: Steven Pappas

On this day, January 12th, in 1896, the first X-ray photographs in the US were produced at Davidson College outside of Charlotte, NC. Dr. Henry Louis Smith, a professor of physics at the college, performed one of the first X-ray experiments in the country and published his work in the Charlotte Observer. The photo showed a bullet lodged into a man's hand and was considered groundbreaking. Three of his students also produced an image, but their production of an image included some illegal activity. On the night of the 12th, the students bribed the janitor at the university to let them into the medical lab. After three hours of experiments, the three finally developed a successful image. The image showed two .22 rifle cartridges,  two rings and a pin inside a pillbox as well as a human finger they had sliced from a cadaver with a pocketknife. Years later, one of the students admitted to their wrong doing, but also pointed out that they had been part of history when he wrote, "We kept our picture and escapade a secret and it was not until later that we realized we were making history for the college instead of just breaking the rules."

Oystermouth Castle (Research Assistant Freya Porter)

Our research assistant and listener favorite Freya Porter joins us on this episode to share the history and hauntings of a location near to where she grew up. Her family is very familiar with the Oystermouth Castle and she shares their personal experiences about this old and wonderful castle.

Mumbles is a small resort town that is a headland overlooking Swansea Bay. It has a pier there that was the end point for the Mumbles Railway, which was the oldest passenger railway in the world at the end of the 1800s. Mumbles is also home to an old castle known as Oystermouth. It was fought over by the Welsh and the Normans for years and today is under restoration. As is the case with so many other castles, this one has some unexplained and haunting activity taking place within its stone walls.

Oystermouth Castle is nestled on a hill overlooking the Swansea Bay in South Wales. Today it's the heart of Mumbles, the small Victorian seaside village where Freya grew up, and a favourite picnic spot for its wide grassy spaces and hills that are perfect for rolling down. We imagine Freya knows from experience. The first Oystermouth Castle was founded by William de Londres following the capture of Gower by the Normans in 1106, but as most "starter pack" castles were in those times it was of the "motte and bailey" design on the hill, and none of the original structure has survived. Mottes were mounds that castle keeps were built upon and these mounds overlooked a lower area that was fenced off. This fenced off area was considered a courtyard and known as the bailey. This design was easy to build and cheap because they were mostly made from earth and wood. This design originates in 950 and was brought to Great Britain by the Normans. The Normans came from Northern France and Normandy is named for them. These motte and bailey castles were key to the Normans' successful capture of the British Isles.

Motte and Bailey Model
Oystermouth Castle being replaced as stone structures began  during the 12th century and the structure was constantly remodeled and built upon thanks to the successive Welsh uprisings that kept destroying the buildings. A Welsh uprising burnt the castle down in 1116 and this was lead by Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Tewdr and "William de Londres for fear of him left his castle and all his cattle and all his precious wealth." It was rebuilt as a Welsh fortress, only to be destroyed again when the Normans retook it in 1137. In 1135, a large Norman force was wiped out by the army of Hywel ap Maredudd. Lord Rhys of Deheubarth plundered Gower in 1189 and besieged Swansea for 10 weeks in 1192. In 1215, Llywelyn the Great invaded Gower and reclaimed the castle for the Welsh. There's some controversy on who exactly took (and possibly burnt down) the castle in 1215. A pamphlet states that Rhys Grug and Rhys Ieuanc, allies of Llewelyn ap Iorweth (known in English as Llewelyn the Great, the greatest Prince of Gwynedd), attacked Swansea and then "started for the castle of Ystum Llwynarth (Oystermouth) and encamped around it that night, and the next day [they] took the castle and the town." This seems to have been simplified in history to be attributed just to Llewelyn the Great. It did fall back into Norman hands. Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, prince of Gwynedd,  "laid waste to all of Gower" in 1257, and despite Edward I's defeat of Gwynedd in 1287, Rhys ap Maredudd "attacked and burnt Swansea and took Osytermouth." Between 1403 - 1405 the whole of Gower was probably controlled by Owain Glyndwr, like most of Wales. All accounts still maintain that all the Welsh rebels were supported by the Welsh people of Gower. *Fun fact* King Edward Longshanks, whom many are probably familiar with because of the film "Braveheart," visited the castle in 1284.

In the 13th century, the de Braoses, then Lords of Gower, made Oystermouth Castle their chief residence over Swansea Castle. They rebuilt the castle in stone and most of the structures left today are from that period. One of the standing structures is the chapel, constructed by Lady Alina (sometimes referred to as Aledora) de Mowbray. She had a tumultuous life. She was the daughter of William de Braose, Lord of Gower. William de Braose was apparently extremely unpopular with his tenants, and in 1203, one of them complained to the king himself. He was kidnapped by the steward of Oystermouth Castle, John Iweyn, in March and imprisoned in the castle until he withdrew the complaints! Alina married her first husband, John de Mowbray, in 1298. He was twelve at the time and she was seven. John de Mowbray is properly named as a Yorkist in the War of the Roses. After her husband's execution for his participation in the 1322 insurrection with Thomas of Lancaster, Alina fled by boat from Gower to Devon, but she was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. On her release she obtained confirmation of ownership of Gower for her and her heirs from King Edward III, and was Lady of Gower in Oystermouth Castle with her second husband Richard de Peshale whom she met while the two were prisoners in the Tower of London, until her death in 1331. Her cause of death is factually unknown. The use of her chapel was short-lived, because the chief residence of the Gower lords was moved elsewhere after her death.

The castle fell into disrepair over the centuries, but in the 1840s George Grant Francis attempted to restore it while it was under the ownership of the Duke of Beaufort. In 1927, the Duke gave the castle to the Swansea Corporation and today it falls under the responsibility of the Swansea City Council and the local organisation Friends of Oystermouth Castle. In 2010, a £3.1 million conservation project was launched to preserve what remains of the castle. The restoration works have uncovered many new murals, staircases and various artifacts, while opening up new areas of the castle for the public and constructing a 30 foot high glass viewing bridge. The site was reopened to the public in June 2012, but unfortunately Freya hasn't been able to explore it fully because it's only open from April to September and she only goes home during the Christmas season, which is the longest school holiday for Australian schools. The site also runs various events throughout the year, including a "Halloween Spooktacular" in October.

The main ghost story surrounding the castle, and one that has many reported sightings, is the ghost of the eternal White Lady (yes, another one!). The ghost is of a young woman wearing a white robe or dress, usually seen around the exterior of the castle. She always seems to be crying, and the back of her clothing is torn open, revealing large, bloody gashes. It has been suggested that she was the victim of whipping, and there is a whipping post located in the castle's dungeon. Several theories as to her identity have been put forward, including that she was simply a prisoner or a servant, but the most popular is that she is the spirit of Alina de Mowbray herself. The lack of information surrounding her death only adds to the credibility of this claim.

From the Explore Gower website:
"A man, letting his dog off its lead to have a run around the castle's spacious grounds, was surprised to see his pet suddenly race towards him from behind a tree in obvious terror. Curious as to what had caused the animal's fright, the man walked over to the tree where he saw what he at first figured to be a large white sheet resting on the grass near the trunk of the tree. As he approached the sheet, however, it suddenly emerged from the ground and took the form of a woman wearing a white robe. She then faded from sight like dissolving mist.

On another occasion the young children of a family picnicking on the castle grounds appeared from behind a tree screaming. When asked what had frightened them, they explained they had seen a scary lady dressed in a long white robe with a cord fastened around her waist. She appeared to the children as if she had been sobbing, although she had made no sound whatsoever. When the children's father went to the tree to see the woman in white for himself, the figure turned her back to the man to reveal her back bleeding profusely from open lacerations."
From the site Pure Spirit:
"In May 2011, a construction worker was tapped on the shoulder while trying to re-open a murder hole. Murder holes [window-like slits in the sides of the walls] were used by defenders to pour boiling oil, water or even burning tarred sand down on attacking soliders – the scene of many horrific deaths. The incident made the local press and the worker, Mike Smith, told reporters: “I don’t usually believe in the paranormal but it was a strange experience and I know other staff have experienced some odd goings-on at the castle too. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before but there are also stories of people walking dogs close to the castle and seeing their dogs barking hysterically at absolutely nothing at all.”
In October 2012 PROOF, a paranormal investigation team, was called in as part of the Halloween Spooktacular celebrations at the castle. In a video on the PROOFTV YouTube channel, the investigators try to communicate with the spirits at the castle using a mix of Welsh and English (Freya has seen videos of Welsh castle investigations before, and some teams specifically want a Welsh language speaker on the team for this reason. It's very hard to communicate if you and the spirit don't speak the same language!). The camerawork is pretty bad and she's not altogether convinced on the effectiveness of these devices, but they seem to have possibly made contact with the White Lady's spirit. The video supports the theory that the White Lady may be Lady Alina de Mowbray, or possibly a mistress of Lord John Mowbray keeping with the prisoner/servant theory.

Freya revealed her experience:
"I may have seen the White Lady myself when I was little, maybe five or six years old. I remember playing at the bottom of the castle hill and looking up to see a woman in white standing on the top of the hill. I remember her wearing a long white dress (which I thought was weird because at the time, the only long white dresses I'd seen were on brides) and looking sad. Even though I couldn't see her face very well, I could feel that she was unhappy. I must have looked away to tell whoever was with me about the Lady (although I don't remember what I said) and looked back to point her out only to find that she was gone. That might not have been a ghost - maybe a sad lady in a white dress happened to be walking there at the time - but I like to think it was! At the time it didn't even cross my mind that she could have been a ghost. I just shrugged it off and kept playing!"
Strange things have occurred at the Oystermouth Castle. Is this castle haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
http://www.castlewales.com/oyster.html - A history of the castle, dated 1992 so not very recent, but includes some gorgeous dated photos of the site
http://www.castlewales.com/motte.html - The "motte and bailey" castle design
http://www.swansea.gov.uk/oystermouthcastle - The Swansea government website for the castle. The history tab is all about the reconstruction work, not the actual history!
http://www.visitswanseabay.com/listings/oystermouth-castle/ - Not much information but lots of recent photos of the castle, including the glass bridge
http://www.explore-gower.co.uk/explore/gower-history/castles-and-forts/oystermouth-castle - Some information on the White Lady, but does record some dates incorrectly

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/paranormal-investigators-called-over-ghosts-2020410 - A news report on the paranormal investigation of the site
http://inpurespirit.com/3574/the-murder-hole-ghost-of-oystermouth-castle/ - The murder hole experience
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-28080212 - The information on Lady Alina and a stone carving of her found in 2014
http://www.welsh-american-bookstore.com/Interviews/alina-white-lady-oystermouth.html - An interview with the author of Alina: The White Lady of Oystermouth.

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