HISTORY and hauntings certainly seem to go hand in hand. And Prestwich’s oldest pub has got both by the barrel load.

The Church Inn has been providing a bed and a pint of ale to the slake the thirst of drinkers and travellers for at least three-and-a-half centuries.

Over that time the pub has built up a reputation as one of the finest drinking establishments in the North West. But far beyond its welcoming and homely aspect the inn is also reputed to be perhaps the most haunted in the borough.

Shrieks in the night, furniture moving inexplicably, phantasmal lights, and the shifting spirits of infants have all been reported by patrons, proprietors and ghost hunters alike.

However, by far the most famous of the otherworldly residents of the Church Inn is Old Tom, who is said to haunt the pub cellar and move barrels around in the gloom.

The apparition’s activities have been reported from at least the mid 20th century, and Tom has been described as a phantom monk, occasionally crying out “Hello” in a bid to gain attention.

Footage has been reportedly captured at the pub of four floating orbs which has led to speculation of a possible link to Old Tom.

The neighbouring graveyard of Prestwich Parish Church houses a stone for the family of 17th century innkeeper, Thomas Collier, whose children perished from a plague in 1641.

It has been suggested that the four orbs could relate to his sons Richard and John and daughters Martha and Mary.

Bury Times: The Church Inn in Church Lane, PrestwichThe Church Inn in Church Lane, Prestwich

Some customers claim to have seen a little girl and heard the voices of children ­— rumoured to belong to the ghosts of infants who fell from an upstairs window.

A spectral Victorian lady in a purple dress has also been seen by at least one patron.

In the 1990s, then landlady Camden Blomerley said she was convinced the pub had a ‘tidy ghost’.

Not only did the phantom possess a penchant for doing a spot of nocturnal rearranging but he was also apparently a bit of a beer snob.

Camden told the Prestwich and Whitefield Guide that she had two candlesticks on her bedroom mantlepiece, which were always together when she went to sleep, but at either end of of the ledge when she awoke.

“He’s also a bit of a real ale champion,” she said.

“All our bitters are hand pumped but the lager uses gas and sometimes at the end of the night the gas cuts off for no reason.”

However, Camden had no fear of her spectral regular and like others theorised that he may have been a monk, or even a former landlord.

“He is very protective and friendly,” she said. “ A lot of the staff are sceptical about him but I often feel he is looking after me when I am alone.”

That the ghostly apparition should have something of an ecclesiastical aspect is hardly surprising given that Prestwich takes its name from the Old English for a “priest’s retreat”.

Bury Times: A 19th century image of the Church Inn and Church Lane, PrestwichA 19th century image of the Church Inn and Church Lane, Prestwich

The parish church of St Mary the Virgin, in whose shadow the Church Inn sits, dates back to at least the 13th century.

The pub itself originates from around 1629 ­— although it is rumoured that it may date to as early as the 14th century­ ­— and was originally known as The Ostrich.

It sits in the oldest street in the town, Church Lane, boasting three fine Georgian houses, and the smallest house in the land once stood right next to the inn.

During the Cromwellian era subterranean tunnels were said to run between the inn and Kersal Cell ­— a Tudor religious house on the site of the 12th century Cluniac Lenton Priory ­— and perhaps even all the way to Manchester.

The original inn was behind the present edifice and during restoration work in 1986 a workman operating heavy machinery fell through the cobbles at the back and into a perfectly preserved tunnel.

Deep enough to stand up in, the passage headed off in the direction of Manchester and a sealed-off section of it is believed to pass through the inn’s cellar, which bears marks of sandblasted rock.

A dig by Prestwich Archaeological Group carried out behind the pub some years previously uncovered a treasure trove of historical artefacts.

Among them were clay pipes, bottles and a beautiful Victorian shoe.

Another peculiar item of interest belonging to the pub is an ancient Magistrate’s Chair from where the justice of the peace dispensed the law upon offenders in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Over the decades The Church Inn served as a hub of the community and played host to local festivals.

Ancient ‘rushcart’ processions traditionally ended in front of the inn until they were stopped in 1840, because, according to historians Paul Hindle and Harry Wilkinson, they often ended in drunkenness.