HAS the ghost of a tragic trooper had a hand in developers losing an appeal to build homes on his old stomping ground?

Trooper Joe McGurk of the Eighth Lancers shot himself dead in Mitcheldean’s George Hotel enroute from Abergavenny to Gloucester to face a court martial in Gloucester 190 years ago.

And his restless spirit was said to haunt the historic inn for decades to come, moving glasses and bottles around the bar, until the 400-year-old building burnt down in 2019.

Developers then applied to build homes on the conservation zone site, but a planning appeal has now been turned down, leaving Joe in ‘soul’ possession’ again.

Its the latest of several failed bids to develop the site, since the inn called last orders in 2009.

A 28-apartment care home scheme floundered, and now the plan for the demolition of a remaining building and its replacement by eight new homes from Hellier Homes of Lee-on-Solent has been scuppered, prompting thoughts that Joe may be holding things up.

The site sits opposite the village’s Grade I-listed church and near other protected 15th to 19th century buildings, and the Forest of Dean Council turned down the scheme last year saying it “fails to enhance the Conservation Area and preserve the setting of the listed buildings”.

The appeal against the decision said the council had refused to consider a revised scheme.

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

But planning inspector Helen Davies has now backed the council, saying it would “cause unacceptable harm to the character and appearance of the surrounding area”.

She also said that the case had not been made to demolish an L-shaped barn protected by the council’s housing allocation plan to make way for the homes.

Accepting that the bulk of the area once covered by the George Hotel was now unsightly and overgrown, she added that while “a suitable development would improve the situation (it) needs to be in keeping with the surroundings”.

Trooper Joe’s spirit can rest in peace for now, nearly two centuries on from the dramatic event in October 1833 that saw him take his own life.

He had been charged with a drunken attack on a sergeant who tried to wrestle ‘a bottle of grog’ off him, and having travelled to Monmouth on foot from Abergavenny, the detail moved on next day to Mitcheldean in the Forest of Dean and stayed at the George that night.

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

For the next 170 years, visitors to the bar would gasp as bottles moved of their own accord, only to be told by regulars: “Oh, that’s only Old Joe, ‘e’s allus doin’ that.”

Originally built as a private house, the distinctive four-storey gabled building was a coaching inn by the mid-1700s.

The top floor was removed and roof flattened in 1947, and it finally closed 14 years ago, falling into disrepair.

Villagers then woke to see flames and smoke billowing from the building around 3am on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, but nothing could be done to save it. The cause of the fire was never firmly established, and although the building’s walls were left standing, the bulldozers levelled it several weeks later.