Monday, 1 January 2018

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.’ With that in mind, do I believe ghosts are just that; the spirit manifestation of dead people - unlikely. 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 as it turned out) when they saw ghosts.

There is a growing weight of evidence which would suggest 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 over the years, 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 re-evaluate 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.


Saturday, 11 January 2014

Memories of Me

Why when I call your name
Do you turn away as if you do not hear me
I leave no footprints where I walk
No fingerprints on all that I touch
No echo to my voice
No fragrance to my garden
No warm summer breeze caresses my face

My photograph brings you only tears
But why weep, I am here beside you my love, just a whisper away

Shapeless faces call to me from the shadows
But I will not follow, for tonight like many others before
I will lay with you as you sleep
Listening to your dreams
Your memories of me


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 noted, ‘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 at 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 one, if not the most famous of all ghost photographs is this one of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall in 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. Provand uncapped his lens and took a single frame.

Nothing was really distinguishable at the time, just an amorphous shape descending the stairs 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 apparition is thought to be that of Lady Dorothy Walpole, sister of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, who died at Raynham Hall of smallpox in 1726.

Prior to this sighting, a famous encounter by Captain Frederick Marryat in 1836, saw the good captain fire a pistol at the apparition as it glided down one of the upper corridors. Just how Lady Walpole fared after this attempt on her 'death' is unknown.

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, whilst others have a distinct shape, many appear quite solid just like you or I. There are even 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 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 before ultimately fading away at the completion of the recording.

If you go along with this theory then imprint 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 at one point did 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 discharging battery, resulting in a once clear and defined apparition reduced to little more than a diluted amorphous shape or just footsteps in the night. This may account for why we don't see ghosts of cavemen; their batteries are long since exhausted. However, it is argued that the explanation for this degradation in definition is actually nothing to do with the passing of time but 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 the same location but at different times of the year and under different atmospheric conditions may well be party to the same apparition but in a diluted state of being. An explanation as to why this should be is still sitting the pending tray.

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 many more. If you were to ask men of science that question I would anticipate their response would likely be that 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 some people when the subject of ghosts is introduced into conversation and just how some exhibit a reticence when asked if they believe in such things. Their response, I have noticed on occasion is to take the guarded route and respond with a nervous chortle and an 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 a 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 with no proof to validate its existence, so why regard ghosts any differently, in fact surely a ghost has more validity than God (that should trigger a few emails). Many millions claim to have seen ghosts throughout history but how many claim to have seen a 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 as the disembodied spirits of dead people, a belief held by many psychic mediums and spiritualists. If pressed, I would have to favour the imprint theory as a possible explanation. Over the years I have investigated many hauntings but have not seen or heard anything 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 may exist. Ghosts have been reported globally in every civilization 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 consider the odds of winning the lottery are around 1 in 14,000,000; being struck by lightening 1 in 600,000 and being murdered in the UK as 1 in 16000, then there is every chance that you and I may well experience a ghost in our lifetime - Bloody 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 Rattlebone Inn Sherston

The Rattlebone Inn Sherston; lies 5 miles west of Malmesbury. Built in the late 17th century, it acquired its name in honour of local hero and Captain of the militia - John Rattlebone who, in 1016 alongside King Eadmund Ironside battled the Danes led by King Canute over a period of 2 days in the hills nearby. Badly wounded, Rattlebone is said to have fought on whilst clutching a stone tile to his stomach to staunch the flow of blood but more gruesomely to prevent his intestines from spilling out. Eventually, King Canute was overpowered and retreated to London to lick his own wounds.

The 17th century antiquary and philosopher John Aubrey wrote of Rattlebone; ‘Rattle Bone, who did much service against the Danes when they infested this part of the countrey…’ He also records the following verse from Sherston;

'Fight well Rattlebone,
Thou shalt have Sherston.
What shall I with Sherston doe?
Without I have all belongings thereto?
Thou shalt have Wych and Wellesley
Easton toune and Pinkerney'

Although Rattlebone suffered a terrible wound, it is said he survived. As a reward for his valour, he was given the manor of Sherston and associated lands by the mayor. So the verse may hold some truth. However, there are those who say Rattlebone died of his wound at the very spot where the Inn now stands. Recent sightings are few but historically there have been many encounters, along with shadowy figures seen in the area of the bar.

The Lost Armour
Legend has it that a suit of battle scared armour belonging to Rattlebone was placed in a chest by the locals and stowed in a room above the east door of the 12th century church of the Holy Cross Sherston. My research led me to said church where I spoke briefly with the vicar. He told me that the chest and armour, if indeed such relics existed, were not in evidence in the church. As to the whereabouts of the chest, he proffered no clue.

The chest, at 5 feet long by 3 feet high, was said to have been carved from oak and at one end embellished with the initials R.B. Could this have been the chest that housed Rattle Bone‘s armour? The only clue as to what happed to the chest appears in a short piece from a 70 year old newspaper that hangs behind a glass frame on a wall in the Inn - It reads; The chest was sold in 1895 to Sackville Cresswell Esq. His nephew H. Pinkney Cresswell Esq gave it back to the church in 1929 where it remained. The chest, reputed to be from the 1300s, was used to house the vestments on its return. As for the armour; well, that mysteriously disappeared too.

There is a curious weather-beaten statue (the only thing that remains of the old Saxon church which originally stood on the site of the Holy Cross) to the right of the east door, which the locals over the centuries believed was that of John Rattlebone clutching a stone tile to his side. However, the church challenged this claim preferring it be the statue of a former Anglican dignitary holding the bible to his chest. At a little over four feet tall the statue does not strike one as being particularly heroic but then is it to actual size...