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  • Writer's pictureGreg Stewart

Dean W T Linskill

St Andrews is renowned worldwide as one of the most haunted towns in the UK, yet there is one man who, in my opinion, played a crucial role in establishing the town’s reputation. Born in 1855, William T. Linskill relocated to St Andrews in the 1870s and swiftly emerged as a prominent figure in the town. He actively participated in the Royal and Ancient Golf Club as it grew to become the global authority for golf. He also contributed significantly to town improvements, such as the enhancement of street lighting and the provision of summer attractions and entertainment for visitors and townspeople. Furthermore, he served as a town councillor and Dean of Guild. However, it is his passion for the town's history that he is best remembered for.

Dean Linskill lived during a captivating era in St Andrews. The significance of the cathedral and castle as potential attractions for the increasing number of visitors coming to the town had been acknowledged. Preparing these sites, particularly the cathedral, proved to be an immense undertaking. After centuries of quarrying the site for stone and using it as a dumping ground, tons of rubbish and debris had to be cleared.

Yet, for Dean Linskill, this presented an opportunity. He had long held the belief that there existed a series of tunnels and secret chambers beneath the cathedral and the wider town. The clearance of the cathedral grounds was expected to reveal any evidence of this underground network. Nonetheless, his enthusiasm eventually turned to frustration. Although potential chambers were indeed unearthed, they were filled in before he had the chance to explore them, causing any potential secrets to be lost.

By 1879, Dean Linskill's prospects were looking up. He founded the St Andrews Antiquarian Society, and during the demolition of the old keeper's cottage within the castle grounds, a tunnel was uncovered when the ground gave way beneath a workman pushing a heavy barrow. This discovery was later confirmed to be a siege tunnel, further validating his belief in the existence of an underground network beneath the town's streets.

However, an event on Sunday, 28th December, seems to have deeply affected him. While returning to St Andrews by train during a severe storm, he contemplated continuing to Dundee due to the delay of the horse-drawn carriage that was supposed to take him the final few miles from Leuchars station to his home. Just as the train was about to depart, the carriage arrived. As he journeyed back to St Andrews, the train proceeded to Dundee, where tragedy struck as the Tay Bridge collapsed under the weight of the train during the storm, resulting in the loss of all lives on board.

Linskill immersed himself once again in his quest to uncover the secret underground of St Andrews. In 1888, he finally gained access to a concealed burial chamber, situated in what became known as the Haunted Tower. Although the chamber had been discovered decades earlier, it had been resealed with the bodies still inside. In his later years, Dean Linskill shifted his focus from his personal explorations of the town to ghost lore.

In 1911, he published his book, "St Andrews Ghost Stories," which became the definitive guide to the town's hauntings for several decades, even after his passing in 1929. This book was the first ghost story collection I read during my youth in the town in the 1980s. While it is now largely regarded as fiction, Dean Linskill must have had some foundation for beginning to pen these stories.

While conducting my own research into the town's ghosts, I obtained permission to peruse Dean Linskill's personal research materials, which are compiled in a number of scrapbooks. The information contained within is captivating, featuring drawings of the cathedral's "wee stairway" and accounts of discoveries made by cathedral workmen. His enthusiasm for the history of St Andrews is evident, as are his moments of frustration. Whatever drove him to write his ghost stories, Dean W. T. Linskill, in my view, remains the Father of St Andrews Ghost Lore and a significant source of inspiration for me.

Wee Stair photograph courtesy of the St Andrews University Special Collections unit.

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