WHEN the bulldozers and wrecking balls move in on the old George Hotel in Mitcheldean, in the Forest of Dean they may find resistance from an unexpected quarter.

The pub, which is being knocked down to make way for an old people’s flat complex, is a traditional 17th century coaching inn.

And, though it has lain derelict for seven years, it is still said to be home to the restless spirit of trooper Joseph McGurk of the Eighth Lancers, based at Abergavenny.

Joe, as he was affectionately called by staff and regulars was a familiar presence, re-arranging bottles and glasses on their shelves.

Newcomers to the pub would often gasp in amazement as bottles moved of their own accord, only to told by regulars, long inured to the phenomenon: “Oh, that’s only Old Joe, ‘e’s allus doin’ that.”

For, it was under this roof in 1833 that Trooper McGurk took his own life while being marched under escort from Abergavenny to Gloucester to face a court martial.

It is believed he preferred to die by his own hand rather be sentenced to death by firing squad or transported for life to Australia, as he anticipated.

McGurk’s fall from grace was set in motion, as it was for so many young soldiers, by a bottle of grog, under the influence of which he attempted to kill the sergeant who was arresting him for being drunk.

In 1833 this was a serious offence and he was duly despatched to Gloucester to face a General Court Martial.

The 50-mile journey was undertaken on foot over three days and, on October 13, McGurk, with his escort of a corporal and several troopers, lodged for the night at the George Hotel.

In the morning the prisoner appeared to be in good spirits, although he had earlier stated that he would either be shot by firing squad or transported for life.

He also expressed that he did not care what become of him and, when breakfast was finished. the corporal gave the order to prepare for the final march to Gloucester.

As they were making their final preparations to move out, McGurk suddenly dashed into another room where the soldiers had stored their loaded carbines.

Before he could be stopped, McGurk grabbed a carbine, pointed the muzzle to his chest and pulled the trigger.

A newspaper report at the time said that the ball penetrated his left breast, perforating his lungs and passed out through his back, embedding itself in the wall of the room.

The dying man lingered in agony for about three hours before he expired, admitting that he knew what he had done.

A quickly convened inquest before Coroner J. Cooke, Esq, returned a verdict of ‘felo de se’ - or suicide.

And, for the last 183 years, McGurk has been a constant presence at the pub, moving bottles around on shelves, perhaps regretting the drinking spree that led to his untimely demise.

And, who knows, when the new flats are built, will the shade of Joseph McGurk continue to haunt the site, putting the wind up the new residents.