COULD it be that the ghost of a tragic Abergavenny soldier is holding up attempts to develop the historic hotel site where he shot himself dead?

Trooper Joe McGurk of the Eighth Lancers, based in the town, was being escorted 50 miles to Gloucester in October 1833 to face a court martial for a drunken attack on a sergeant who had tried to wrestle ‘a bottle of grog’ off him.

Having travelled to Monmouth on foot, the armed guard moved on next day to Mitcheldean and stayed at the George Hotel that night.

But next morning, as they prepared to move out, the trooper - fearing the death sentence or transportation to Australia - grabbed a carbine, pointed it at his chest and pulled the trigger, dying some three hours later of his injuries.

His restless sprit was then said to stalk the historic inn until the 400-year-old building burnt down in 2019, rearranging glasses and bottles.

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

And attempts to develop the site with firstly a care home and now eight houses have so far failed, prompting thoughts that Joe may be standing in the way.

A developer has now launched an appeal after the plan to build new homes on the site of the 17th century inn, which was totally demolished weeks after the blaze, were turned down by Forest of Dean Council planners.

Villagers raised the alarm after waking to see flames and smoke billowing from the three-storey building around 3am on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, but nothing could be done to stop the blaze destroying it.

The cause of the fire was never firmly established. And although the building’s walls were left standing, it was deemed too unsafe and the bulldozers moved in several weeks later.

The site had been approved in outline for a 28-apartment retirement home in 2015, but the development never took place.

Hellier Homes of Lee-on-Solent now want to build three three-bedroom and five four-bedroom homes on the site, which is opposite a Grade I listed church and near other listed buildings in the Mitcheldean conservation zone.

But the Forest of Dean council rejected the scheme last June, partly because it “fails to enhance the Conservation Area and preserve the setting of the listed buildings”.

Appealing against the decision, a report on behalf of the applicant says the council refused to consider a revised scheme which would have met some of the concerns.

“This premature refusal in the midst of the applicant working to overcome the various barriers to an appropriate development is very disappointing,” it adds.