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Strange Days: Ghostwatch

 

Haunted Happenings

Former chairman of the Ghost Club Alan Murdie presents the first of a new series, in which he presents a regular round-up of hauntings, apparitions and ghostly goings-on.

Haunted With the start of spring, a spate of ghost stories appeared in the UK national media. The first – headlined “Diana Ghost has the Royals by the Ghoulies” – appeared in the Daily Star (22 March 2006), and seemed to suggest that the shade of Diana, Princess of Wales, was haunting Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, claiming the “dead princess’s spirit is spooking their every step on a trip to Egypt”. Closer examination revealed this to be journalistic whimsy and a rare foray into metaphor by the tabloid. Nowhere in the article was a spontaneous manifestation actually mentioned as having taken place.

A more promising story of a ghost troubling the famous appeared in an article on the supposed haunting of the £1.5 million mansion of Domaine St Vincent in Provence, France (above). (D.Mail 6 May 2006) The house and its extensive 250 acres (100ha) of forest and parkland were reported as being haunted by the white-bearded apparition of its former owner, ex-European Union Diplomat Leslie Duck, who had committed suicide on the property.

What had fired the Mail’s interest was the fact that in 2003 the house was bought by David and Victoria Beckham, who allegedly have yet to actually spend a night there.1 It was claimed that their reluctance was a result of the alleged haunting. If so, it would not be the first time that a celebrity couple have acquired a mansion only to discover its haunted reputation. For instance, Claudia Schiffer and Matthew Vaughan purchased Coldham Hall near Stanningfield, Suffolk, for their wedding in June 2003 and subsequently learned their nuptial home reputedly harboured a phantom nun called Penelope and two cursed paintings. East Anglian Daily Times, 24 June 2003.

In contrast, it has been the more traditional types of haunted premises that have provided the most plausible accounts of manifestations so far this year. An account of a disturbing phantom seen in the Low Valley Arms pub in Barnsley was widely reported.

These mysteriously flushing toilets may strike the reader as an unusual detail, but although not as common as anomalous electrical phenomena, disturbances with water and sanitary systems are not unknown in ghost literature. For instance, Ward D3 at Manchester’s Crumpsall Hospital was reported to suffer the unexplained banging of lavatory seats and the pulling of chains in August 1972 (Daily Mail, 30 Aug 1972) and a ghost was blamed for flushing lavatories at the now demolished Automobile Association building at Guildford in the 1970s (see Philip Hitchinson, Haunted Guildford, Tempus, 2006).

More significantly, Mr Froggatt’s experience of a faceless ghost is consistent with both tales from folklore and a considerable number of well-attested apparition reports. Examples include the ghost of an old lady in a bonnet repeatedly seen by the Classics scholar Margaret Verrall (1859- 1916) in a house in Vernon Terrace, Brighton, in September 1879; she later saw the same form in a house in Cambridge. She was able to see the clothing of the fi gure in great detail, down to a brooch it was wearing, yet on no occasion was the old lady’s face visible, only “a blank within the cap”. Otherwise, the fi gure seemed wholly life-like and to fi t in perfectly with its surroundings (see “Report on the Census of Hallucinations”, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 1894, Chapter IV, pp120-121).

Other apparitions showing a comparable shyness about their facial features include the famous Cheltenham or Morton ghost seen in the 1880s, who always obscured her face with a handkerchief (see B Adby Collins, The Cheltenham Ghost, Psychic Press, 1948).

Also at the end of April came the report of a haunted BAE shipyard in Barrow, Cumbria. According to BBC Online, unexplained banging noises and a shadowy figure had terrified many of the workers there. BAE employee Alan Worsley stated that manifestations over the past eight months had taken many forms, the most recent being a crane moving by itself. It was suggested that the ghost was a former worker who had committed suicide “many years ago” or a workaholic storeman who had died of cancer. Visits from an industrial chaplain and a local vicar (some reports also mentioned a paranormal investigator) were being contemplated in an attempt to calm employees. (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/England/ Cumbria/4953552.stm; North- West Evening Mail, 28 April 2006) Although some might baulk at the description of a haunting in a factory or industrial premises as ‘traditional’, from the late 1940s to the early 1970s a wide range of industrial buildings generated reports of ghostly manifestations. Examples include one block of a car factory in Luton in 1961 (D.Sketch 12 June 1961), a textile factory at Standish, Wigan, in 1963 (D.Sketch 14 Oct 1963) and a Lowestoft Bird’s Eye food processing plant (Andrew Green, Our Haunted Kingdom, Wolfe, 1973). In recent years, haunted factories have dwindled – not because of any reduction in ghosts but as a result of the decline in the UK manufacturing industry.

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The old chapel in the grounds of St Vincent, now owned by the Beckhams.
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