Sunday, 12 January 2014

Haunted Wiltshire - an introduction

The Concise Oxford Dictionary for the 1990s defines a ghost as ‘the supposed apparition of a dead person or animal; a disembodied spirit.’ So, with the latter in mind, do I believe ghosts are just that, the spirit manifestation of dead people? No. Do I consider the possibility that ghosts are recordings of past events indelibly etched into the fabric of their immediate surroundings? Possibly. Do I believe you need to be psychically aware or sensitive or mediumistic to see ghosts? Most certainly not. 

I have met with many people over the years who claim to have seen ghosts, the majority of whom do not consider themselves remotely psychic, sensitive or possess any mediumistic abilities, they just happened to be in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time depending on how you look at it. In nearly all cases, these individuals were busying themselves with their day-to-day lives (more often than not in broad daylight I may add) when for no reason other than that just mentioned they saw ghosts.

There is a growing weight of evidence which would suggest that ghosts do not appear to those individuals who claim to possess certain 'abilities' as some would have you believe. On the contrary, the ghost phenomena is spontaneous by its very nature and has a habit of manifesting itself in the presence of folk who you would lease expect to see them, specifically those who have not actively gone out of their way looking for them. By their own admission, many of the individuals I have spoken to were of the opinion that ghosts were nothing more than figments of an overactive imagination, a trick of the light, etcetera, that was until their brief and sudden episode of frisson caused them to reevaluate their scepticism.

This blog catalogues locations I have visited which are reputedly haunted. Where possible I have selected locations accessible to the public. I have included first hand accounts from people who claim to have encountered ghosts plus anecdotal tales passed down over the years.

I hope you enjoy the blog. Please feel free to contact me with your opinions and stories via the email link in the side bar.

I remain as always, an open-minded sceptic.


Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring

Harry Price (1881-1948) magician, conjuror, paranormal investigator, ghost hunter and infamous debunker of fraudulent spiritualists and mediums; a practice which, on occasion would often lead to a lucrative livelihood reduced to ruins. He is probably best known for his extensive investigations of the alleged hauntings at Borley Rectory, a bleak Victorian mansion which once stood in a small hamlet on the Sussex/ Essex border.

Price’s investigations at Borley Rectory between 1929 and 1948, were well publicised. Indeed he wrote several books about Borley’s ghosts, poltergeists and its terrifying black-robed nun, his most famous ‘The Most Haunted House in England,‘ gained him much notoriety along with the unofficial title of Britain’s foremost authority on ghosts and hauntings. As time passed his claims for Borley’s hauntings became, shall we say, a little “colourful” and were considered by many as somewhat dubious, so much so that he was eventually exposed as a hoaxer, ironic when you consider how much time he devoted to exposing fake mediums etcetera. Although he admitted to fabricating some of Borley's “paranormal incidents” he was adamant that not all were of his doing.

Neil Spring’s debut novel, The Ghost Hunters centres around Harry Price’s investigation of Borley Rectory, a story narrated by his fictional assistant Sarah Grey. Spring’s story brilliantly brings together fact and fiction in an enthralling ghost story of revenge, deception, love and hope.

Friday, 23 August 2013

What is a Ghost?

The Brown Lady
Probably the most famous of all ghost photographs is this one of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall Norfolk, which was taken by Captain Provand and Indre Shira (two notable London photographers) on the 19th September 1936. Provand and Shira had been commissioned to take photographs of the interior of the Hall for Country Life Magazine. It was as they were finishing up the days shoot that Shira noticed a shape descending the stairs and urged Provand to take photographs.

Nothing was really distinguishable at the time, just an amorphous shape but when the pair were developing the plates later, they noticed the image you see above. The photograph was published in Country Life Magazine on 26th December 1936 and in the December issue of Life Magazine. Attempts to prove it a fake have failed, it remains one of the most intriguing ghost photographs ever taken.

The eminent author - Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, ‘behind every man there stands 30 ghosts, that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.‘ The Earth's population is approximately 7 billion, so there is potential for 210 billion ghosts happily, or unhappily haunting the planet. If Mr. Clarke’s statistics are to be believed, then you would think that we would be falling over phantoms at every turn. The explanation offered by mediums and spiritualists as to why this is not so, is evidently quite simple, we, the uninitiated are not ’tuned-in’ to the spirit plain.

So what is a ghost? I suppose if you were to ask most people, they would probably describe a ghost as a disembodied spirit, cursed for eternity to wonder aimlessly through dark and musty corridors of some spooky old mansion or the like. This may indeed be true, in fact many sightings have been reported in such places.

Ghosts take on many different forms, some are seen as amorphous shapes, like the Brown Lady, whilst others have a distinct shape, whether it be human or animal and some even appear as solid as you or I, indeed there have been many stories where people claim to have engaged ghosts in conversation believing them to be quite real, only to be told later that they have in fact been happily chatting to the dead.

Sceptics are only too quick to dismiss ghosts as figments of an overactive imagination. Many encounters are probably just that but surely it is better to attempt to understand this phenomena rather than just dismiss it as fanciful rubbish, a trick of the light or a vivid dream etcetera.

The Imprint Theory
Many parapsychologists theorize that powerful emotional or psychological scars can be retained in inanimate objects such as wood or stone and when conditions are suitable (whatever suitable conditions may be) are some how triggered and played back. This theory may well account for 'cyclic hauntings,' where an apparition appears to go through a repetitive program or sequence of actions, before ultimately fading away at the completion of the recording.

If you go along with this theory then cyclic hauntings start to make a little more sense. For example; people often report seeing a ghostly figure walk through a wall. Other reports tell of only seeing a ghost from the waist up. On closer inspection of these two examples, is it quite conceivable to conclude that the wall in question used to have a door which is now bricked up and no longer in use. So it follows, that a vision of a ghost with the lower part of the body obscured, could have something to do with the topography of the ground in the past compared with the present.

Some researchers theorize imprint hauntings diminish over time, a little like a battery, resulting in a once clear and defined apparition reduced to little more than a diluted amorphous shape, or just footsteps in the night, or nothing at all, the latter may account for why we don't see ghosts of cavemen; their battery is all but exhausted. However, it is argued that the explanation for this degradation in definition is actually nothing to do with the passing of time but as a result in variants in atmospheric conditions. It is further speculated that a combination of air temperature, humidity, daylight or night time could have a bearing on the strength and therefore definition of an imprint haunting. Many ghosts are reported during the cold winter months, few during warmer weather; why should this be? In light of this, two people witnessing a ghostly encounter at different times and under different atmospheric conditions may well be party to a diluted version of the same apparition.

Do Ghosts Exist?
The question as to whether ghosts exist is as contentious as a belief in a God. Both issues have fuelled many debates over several millennia and will I’m sure fuel a many more. If you were to ask men of science that question I would anticipate their response to be science deals in facts, specifics, things have to be measured and quantified, experiments have to be carried out again and again and anything that defies the laws of physics, e.g. passing through solid objects can’t possibly be entertained. They may have a point.

To some, the ghost debate can be awkward and is often met with mixed responses. It is interesting to observe the reaction of people when the subject of ghosts is introduced into conversation and just how some folk exhibit a reticence when asked if they believe in such things. Their retort is often to take the guarded route and respond with a nervous chortle and a off-the-cuff and somewhat dismissive, “Lord no, all in the mind; another drink darling?” I can only assume this reluctance to engage any further in the subject, is to avoid appearing foolish in front of one’s peers. I can’t help wondering, if you were to ask of those same people, do you believe in the existence of God, I’m fairly sure, those that do or don't would happily and without any compunction or fear of ridicule answer yes or no, which to be honest confounds me. Just how do you differentiate between the two anomalies, after all, is not God also a supernatural entity, so why regard ghosts any differently, in fact surely a ghost has more validity than God (that should start a few tongues wagging.)  Many millions claim to have seen ghosts throughout history but how many claim to have seen God?

I like to refer to myself as an open minded sceptic, I know that sounds somewhat contradictory. I will be the first to admit that I have my doubts about the existence of ghosts, especially when I am told they are the disembodied spirits of dead people, a belief held by many psychic mediums and spiritualists. Over the years I have investigated many hauntings but as yet seen or heard nothing that I would describe as supernatural, but then I never expected to. Whether this means I am not ‘in tune’ or ‘psychically aware’ as some might suggest, remains an issue for debate. What I will say is, there have been far too many sightings to just ignore the possibility that such phenomena exists. Ghosts have been reported globally in every civilisation since the beginning of recorded history. Everyone knows someone who has seen a ghost, in fact it is believed that as many as 1 in 7 Britons claim to have witnessed ghostly activity in one shape or another and the chances of seeing a ghost has been calculated as little as 1 in 10. When you think the odds of winning the lottery are in excess of 1 in 14,000,000, being struck by lightening 1 in 600,000 and being murdered 1 in 18000, then there is every chance that you and I may well experience a ghost in our lifetime, I sure hope so.

Sleep well.

‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy‘.

- William Shakespeare -

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Red Lion Avebury

The Red Lion started life as a 17th century farmhouse until it was granted a licensed to serve ale in 1802. Over the years it has gained a reputation for being one of the most haunted hostelries in Britain. It is unique in as much as it is the only public house in the world to stand at the centre of a huge Neolithic ring of standing stones. There have been many reports of ghostly goings on at The Red Lion, they include: a horse drawn carriage which has been heard to draw up on the cobblestones immediately outside the pub. The ghostly carriage is said to start its journey from the original south gate of a 16th century Manor house in the village. Those who have witnessed it, tell of seeing a huge, dark shape emerge from a swirling mist as it thunders through the village before pulling up outside the pub where it disappears.

In the restaurant, there is a table set close to a large bay window, above which hangs a chandelier, which on occasion has been seen to swing from side to side of its own accord. It is believed this is a sign that Flori (a young lady from the 17th century who is thought to have been murdered by her jealous husband) is in close proximity.  More about Flori and swaying chandeliers later.

Still in the restaurant, staff have noticed some rather unpleasant odours akin to rotting eggs. The lights in the bar have a habit of spontaneously switching on and off, the CD player will occasionally start up at full volume, cutlery has been known to mysteriously rearranged itself after tables have been laid. There are even stories of a ghostly waiter who never asks for your order but instead stands motionless at your table until spoken to, at which point he abruptly disappears.

Upstairs there are two reputedly haunted bedrooms, one is the Private Bedroom, where several guests have asked to be moved to another room complaining of feeling uneasy. The Private Bedroom has three ghosts; a woman called Beth, who stands gazing out of the window and two children who have be seen holding hands and cowering in a corner as if in fear of their lives.

The second of the two haunted bedrooms is the Avenue Room, which has two adult ghosts, one male  one female.  These two have an unpleasant habit of popping up beside the bed, or rising up through the bed, doubtless a residue from a time when no bed was in evidence on that spot. There have also been occasions where guests have had to fight to keep their bedclothes from being pulled off by unseen hands in the dead of night. Other witnesses to this phenomena have just watched in abject horror as said bedclothes are ripped from them and thrown to the floor, whilst others have checked out the same night vowing never to return.

A previous landlord is said to have been murdered here in the early 18th century by a band of outlaws who forced him to keep them hidden in the cellar to avoid detection by the authorities. He complied with their demands but unfortunately for him, he had obviously seen and heard far too much for the gang to allow him to live, so they stabbed him to death. The spectre of what is thought to be the dead landlord now haunts the cellar and by all accounts he is a pretty fearsome sight; drenched in blood and brandishing a knife (not too sure why it should be he that is brandishing the knife) causing horrified staff to flee the cellar in fear of their lives.

The Lady in Black
Probably the most famous of the Red Lion's ghosts is Flori. Those who claim to have seen her described her as solid in appearance, in her early twenties with shoulder length hair and dressed in a long dark skirt, matching bodice and puffed sleeves at the wrists. Flori is said to have perished at the hands of her jealous husband who had returned home unexpectedly from serving in the English Civil Wars. Eager to surprise her, he crept quietly into the farmhouse and up the narrow stairs. At their bedroom door he gently lifted the latch and stepped in to the room only to discover Flori in the arms of another man. A scuffle broke out between the two men, whereupon her lover fled leaving Flori to her fate. Consumed with rage, her husband put his hands about her throat and squeezed the life from her. He then carried her lifeless corpse down the stairs and out into the night where he dispatched her body down a well.

The story does not end there though. As the weeks and months rolled by, inquisitive village folk grew more and more suspicious of Flori’s absence. Awkward questions were mounting, questions aimed at Flori’s husband, questions enquiring as to her whereabouts, questions that became more difficult to answer and the truth more difficult to conceal. Eventually, filled with guilt and remorse, Flori’s husband confessed to his crimes, he was later found guilty and hanged.

Flori ghost is most frequently sighted in the ladies toilets (most inconvenient) or occasionally standing close to the well, or gliding silently across the upper floors from room to room. It is said that you have a better chance of encountering Flori if you have beard. Apparently she is not too keen on men with facial hair and will set the chandelier swaying in the restaurant immediately above the table where the bearded gentleman is seated.

An investigation was launched by a team of divers in the early 1990's to try and establish if any human remains could be found at the bottom of the well. Although a thorough search was undertaken  nothing was ever found. It is fair to point out though, that the investigation was hampered by several large boulders which obscured the very bottom of the well. The investigation was deemed inconclusive and the whereabouts of Flori’s body remains a mystery. Could her remains lie beneath the boulders I wonder ?

The well, now inside the pub in the aptly named Well Room, is a focal point. The top is covered by tempered glass and the 86ft shaft is bathed in an eerie green glow.

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Bridge Inn - Horton

The Bridge Inn at Horton (Horton - an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘wet place’) and its namesake, the adjacent 'bridge' which spans the Kennet and Avon canal, are both early 19th century Grade II listed. The inn lies within the Parish of Bishops Cannings on the edge of the Vale of Pewsey, an area of outstanding beauty. A large beer garden with dove coop overlooks the picturesque canal. It is likely the property was once owned by one of the affluent wool traders who prospered during the Wiltshire wool boom of the early 19th century.

The inn has always had a reputation for being haunted, so when chatting with former bartender -  Stuart some time back, the subject of its ghosts inevitably came up. What follows are a few of his spooky encounters told in his own words.

"The majority of my ‘experiences’ have occurred in the lower of the two bars and in the vicinity of what was once the front door but is now sealed and acts as a specials board. I had several experiences during my time at The Bridge, I am not saying any of them were paranormal but they were certainly odd. I recall one time retrieving something from a cupboard behind the bar, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed what I thought was the mother-in-law’s golden retriever. I peered over the bar to check where the hound was making for as he had no business being in the bar in the first place. You can imagine my surprise to find no dog."

"A few days later, I was chatting to one of the locals and tentatively recounted my dog story. I was surprised to learn that a dog matching my description had lived and died at the pub many years previous. Spooky I thought, although I was not altogether convinced, locals do like to spin a yarn, especially my lot but having said that he did seem quite sincere."

"On another occasion but in a different part of the pub, Sarah, one of the kitchen staff, was working at the sink with her back to the kitchen. All of a sudden she claimed she felt what she described, as a presence behind her and the sensation as if someone were blowing in her ear. Thinking it was the chef messing about, she turned around expecting to see him but she was quite alone."

A feeling of being watched, especially in the kitchen, has been reported by many of the staff.

"Another experience I had happened one morning whilst getting ready to open up. The cleaner was about her normal duties mopping the floor in the upper bar this time, when suddenly she felt a presence behind her. Thinking it was me (I had been in the bar only moments earlier) she asked what I was doing. At the time I had been in the bottle store getting stock. When I appeared moments later, she told me she was convinced there was someone else in the room with her."

"There have been several less memorable occurrences, but one that sticks in my mind took place on the 26th of November 2009. It was near closing time and I was in the upper bar chatting with a couple of customers. I just happened to glance to my right to check on the CD player when all of a sudden I saw the figure of a girl, probably early twenties with curly mid-length hair, looking in my direction from the lower bar. This would not have been unusual had the lower bar been occupied but I had checked it only moments earlier and it was empty. Doing a double take the way you do, I looked straight at her but she was gone as suddenly as she had appeared. I immediately went through to where she had been standing, from there I could see into the lower bar and restaurant, there was no sign of her. At the very same moment, one of my customers who I'd been chatting to, claimed he had seen a light in the same area momentarily shimmer, as if someone had walked past it."