Ladywell Street in Preston is renowned for a very grisly haunting indeed. The spectral figure has been known to shape-shift as her residual energy has the ability to take on various forms. Sometimes her existence is only marked by eerie tripping footsteps or the sight of sinister peg-a-lanterns, others have witnessed a small child or black dog, but by far the most terrifying form encountered is that of the Bannister Doll herself, a once beautiful young woman, until she was brutally whipped to death.
Some controversy surrounds this tale as passed through the generations the validity of the story was compromised. Her father was mentioned as The Mayor of Preston or at the very least a wealthy mill owner residing at a private dwelling atop Snow Hill in Preston, Lancashire. After perusing historic records of Preston it was noted no such gentleman was ever recorded.
However, it has come to light there was a John Bannister who became governor of a House of Correction, located at the former Greyfriars Convent between Lower Pitt Street and Ladywell street. Not only were whippings of course commonplace at such an institution it also transpired John had a daughter called Dorothy Bannister ( affectionately known as ‘Dolly’ for short) so we may have found some truth behind the legend!
As Dolly was such attractive young lady she found she had many admirers and a number of potential suitors, that said, no one was actually aware of her having a sweetheart. That is until the day she was forced to confess to her widowed father she had found herself ‘with child’. This being sometime in the 18th century her father was apoplectic with rage! An unmarried daughter was damning and dishonourable, bringing shame on her mother’s memory and besmirching her fathers good standing in the community.
With his beloved daughter defiled and his own reputation seemingly in tatters the fury he felt overwhelmed him.
In a fit of temper he dragged poor Dolly by her hair out into the street, where he tethered her to a post and proceeded to violently whip her with such vitriol and ferocity her blood began to flow in rivulets down the road, forming crimson puddles in the gutter. As his dreadful temper abated somewhat he ordered his miscreant daughter be cut down and taken inside. Alas, it was too late for Dolly, her injuries were unsurvivable. John Bannister had murdered his child.
Later Mr. Bannister was to learn his innocent daughter had in fact been raped, her pregnancy being the result of a forcible violation and not the romantic liaison he had so feared.
It is thought the trauma of such a harrowing and brutal death can leave a psychic imprint on a place. Such an impression is not dissimilar to a video recording and may be the explanation for the apparition of a pale and bloodstained figure which has been known to manifest itself in the area.
Her bruised and battered body was interred at the Holy Trinity churchyard, an area which still causes ghostly disquietude to this day!
Not long after Dorothy’s demise the crushed corpse of a young chap was discovered in the town centre, his rib cage and skull had been mashed to a pulp and no explanation could be found for how he’d met with such a grisly fate. Just a fortnight after another was found in similarly unexplainable circumstances. When the cadaver of a third young bloke turned up the local menfolk were terrified – had the ghost of Dolly Bannister started a vengeful murder spree?! The mysterious deaths stopped there, but the sightings of Dolly intensified, in the half light of dusk a spectral form was seen ascending Snow Hill from the direction of Ladywell Street most evenings, the vision so strange and frightening the good people of Preston gave the area a wide birth.
To this day the Bannister Doll still returns through the dark veil to terrorise locals and visitors alike. Following lone travellers along the dark, deserted streets and sometimes attempting to converse with them. Upon realising the young woman behind them is a bloodied phantasm most folk flee in absolute terror!
A victim of the most horrific crimes is it any wonder the Bannister Doll has never been truly laid to rest, instead spending all eternity on a quest for retribution.