Ghostly ‘Black Monk’ or Random Tourist?

Kenny Biddle

Several British tabloids and paranormal-themed websites reported that a ghostly black monk appeared in a photograph taken by Jon Wickes during a visit to Eynsford Castle in Kent. Wickes had taken his twelve-year-old son to the castle because he was learning about medieval castles in school. The photo, taken from outside the ruined remains of the castle, shows a dark figure standing in the courtyard. The figure is positioned within an opening between a stone wall and the railing of a stairway leading up to the courtyard.

Photo taken by Jon Wickes allegedly showing a ghostly black monk at Eynsford Castle, Kent. Photo copyright Mercury Press & Media.

According to the Daily Record: “Upon returning from the castle, Wickes noticed an unexplained figure lurking in the background, shrouded in a black cloak.” This statement tells us Wickes had apparently left the castle and was already back home before he looked at the photos and noticed the figure. He no longer had the opportunity to verify if the figure was someone else who wandered into the frame. The figure is also not “lurking” in the background; it’s simply standing there with its back facing the camera.

Wickes is quoted in the article claiming “I was certain that figure hadn’t been there when I took the picture.” This is a common claim made after the discovery of a seeming anomaly well after the photo was taken. However, Wickes gives us no indication he was actually paying any attention to this detail; therefore, his claim that “no one was there” is not particularly convincing. He also states, “We only went to take a few pictures because [my son] wanted to know how a castle was built.” The father and son pair did not go to the castle looking for ghosts or to investigate the location in a controlled environment. They went there as tourists, nothing more. I am curious as to the other photos he had taken, which may offer a look at any other tourists.

It’s odd that when Wickes finally looked at the image, he reportedly went directly to a paranormal investigator for help (Rowney 2018). Another article states Wickes “looked on the web. That’s when I read about a monk being seen in the area” (Joseph 2018) and then contacted the paranormal investigator. In both cases, the figure was associated with a paranormal experience—specifically the ghost of a monk—rather than just another tourist at the castle. That’s a big assumption from a photo taken at a location freely open to visitors.

Close-up of figure. When enhanced (right image), what appears to be a shoulder strap and satchel/purse stands out. Photo copyright Mercury Press & Media.
Original close-up (left) and author’s re-creation (right).
Comparison photograph by author.

The paranormal investigator, Alan Tigwell, is quoted saying, “there is no explanation for the figure in the picture” after spending time in the castle’s grounds. The article goes on to state that the investigator claims it is a “fantastic” image. On the contrary, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation: it could be another tourist standing there and Wickes simply didn’t notice them. The “ghost” is standing in the courtyard of the ruined castle, and from the distance at which Wickes took the photo, he could have easily missed the relatively small figure in the scene. He could have mistaken the person as being part of the structure or a discoloration of the wall, which is not uncommon when looking through a viewfinder or the small display of the camera. From the image we see that the weather was overcast, leaving the area shaded by clouds and therefore in darker lighting. These lighting conditions dull the details of smaller background objects. When looking at a close-up of the available image, we can see that the figure has a strap going from their left shoulder, down across their back, and ending at their right hip/thigh area. This is most likely a satchel or woman’s purse slung over a black coat.

When I did a search on Alan Tigwell, almost all of the returns pointed back to this story. I did find him mentioned on a website called Haunted Hostelries in the Authority of Dover, which listed him as the designated ghost specialist for Dover, Kent. I reached out to Tigwell for comment rather than relying solely on quotes in a tabloid. He explained that his use of the word fantastic was part of a conversation he had with Wickes as part of a longer email trail. By “fantastic image” he meant that the picture would capture the imagination as to what the cause of the figure was (Tigwell 2018).

At the end of the Daily Record article, Tigwell is quoted stating, “The difficulty with looking at things retrospectively is that it’s impossible to say exactly what something is.” This is often true and also applies to Wickes’s original claim that no one was in the scene when he took the photo. Wickes looked at the photo after he had already left and only then decided, retroactively, that no one was there.

In my conversation with Tigwell, I asked about the other photos. He replied, “I haven’t been given any other pictures from Wickes. When I’ve been involved in cases in the past, I find there does need to be a certain degree of faith in what I’m being told, i.e., taking the person at their word. Wickes was adamant [that] although there were some other people at the castle, none were at this location when he was taking the picture.” Although we don’t have the other images to look at, we do know that other people were present, and that makes a stray tourist a more plausible explanation than a ghostly monk. The grounds are not very large or extensive, as seen by aerial views from Google Earth. A handful of tourists could easily get into a photograph, especially when the photographer is outside the castle walls.

Tigwell did visit Eynsford Castle to look for possible causes. In an online paranormal group in which the photo was posted, there was much speculation that the ghost was actually an alcove or doorway. Tigwell freely shared his notes with me, and he did a pretty good job of figuring out where all the wall features lined up within the frame of the original photo. Even though he did not find a cause for the alleged ghost during his visit, he at least took the time to go on location and rule out the possibility of doors, alcoves, or any other features that may have caused the anomaly to show up.

I then asked him what his conclusion was, based on what he found. He stated:

I wish there was a clear answer, but without being there at the time and observing the pictures being taken, it’s impossible to say when you retrospectively review a picture such as this. You and I both know there are a number of potential explanations, hence the reason I only confirmed whether anything in the castle itself could cause the figure/shape.

This is a fair answer. There are a few important details missing; therefore, we can’t conclude what the figure is with 100 percent accuracy.

The conclusion Tigwell gave me presents a different impression than what many of the tabloid articles gave us, such as “Jon Wickes said a paranormal investigator couldn’t explain the spooky figure” from News.com.au (Schneider 2018). This gives the impression that the spooky figure is probably a ghost, since a paranormal investigator failed to explain it. Tigwell ruled out what he could and didn’t speculate on what he could not.

After a few discussions with colleagues, the question was brought up whether tourists actually dress in a similar way the figure in the “ghost” picture does; i.e., a long black or dark colored coat and a satchel or purse. Since it was taken in January 2018, it was most likely during cooler weather. In fact, according to TimeAndDate.com, average temperatures in the London area the weekend prior to the story coming out were in the thirties Fahrenheit, and it happened to be overcast like we see in the photo. There were also scattered showers, which may also be a factor, determining whether a tourist had the hood of their coat up or not. A long coat would not be out of place. In addition, my wife graciously volunteered to put on her long, black coat and assist me in trying to recreate the figure. We drove over to Bryn Athyn cathedral where she stood near a stone wall, facing it with her back toward me. She held her forearms up in front of her, as a tourist would be holding a camera. She also had the hood up over her head, which simulates a tourist wearing a hood or the long dark hair of a woman. I set up about a hundred feet away and snapped a few photos. Our re-creation is a good match for the ghostly black monk and shows that the tourist idea is plausible.

In the end, Occam’s Razor suggests this alleged ghost is most likely a tourist wearing a satchel and admiring the large stone wall in front of them. From the close-up image, it appears they are facing the large wall and their back is to the camera. Their arms are bent at the elbows, as when someone is holding a camera in front of them. This is the simplest explanation and makes the fewest assumptions without invoking any supernatural entities.

References

  • Joseph, Anthony. 2018. Ghostly ‘black monk’ appears in picture father-of-two took in grounds of medieval castle which has baffled the experts. DailyMail.com. Available online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5307729/Ghostly-black-monk-appearspicture-castle.html.
  • Rowney, Jo-Anne. 2018. Dad photographs ‘ghost of a monk’ at medieval castle as mysterious figure spotted in picture. Daily Record ( January). Available online at https://www. dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/ dad-photographs-ghost-monk-medieval-11907283.
  • Schneider, Kate. 2018. Tourist snaps mysterious sites at creepy UK castle. News.com.au. Available online at http://www.news.com. au/travel/travel-ideas/weird-and-wacky/ tourist-snaps-mysterious-site-at-creepyuk-castle/news-story/3f31005ed0344e76d2f0359b9b571904.
  • Tigwell, Alan. 2018. Facebook instant messages.

Kenny Biddle

Kenny Biddle is a science enthusiast who investigates claims of paranormal experiences, equipment, photos, and video. He promotes science, critical thinking, and skepticism through his blog I Am Kenny Biddle. He frequently hosts workshops on how to deconstruct and explain paranormal photography. Email – parainvestigator@comcast.net


Several British tabloids and paranormal-themed websites reported that a ghostly black monk appeared in a photograph taken by Jon Wickes during a visit to Eynsford Castle in Kent. Wickes had taken his twelve-year-old son to the castle because he was learning about medieval castles in school. The photo, taken from outside the ruined remains of …

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