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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Phenomena X Things Strange And Sinister –Ghosts

It is one of the oldest questions Man has asked: is there life after death?  Oddly, you might think it a bit morbid as a subject for a dinner party conversation but it does crop up.

It tends to shock many when you quote the Church dictum on the subject –“de occultis non judicat ecclesia” or, if you don’t read Latin; “The Church has not decided about ghosts and the ghostly.” After more than two thousand years you might think they would have –particularly since there are an endless number of the clergy who have, over the centuries, seen and even claimed to have spoken with the departed.

Over the years there have been many famous ghost incidents such as the Samford Ghost of 1810 which attracted a lot of publicity but eventually was proven a hoax. But what of others such as the Cock lane Poltergeist in 1762.  Cock Lane was near to Smithfield Market and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  After the death of a William Kent’s wife, Elizabeth, during childbirth, he became romantically involved with her sister, Fanny. However, ecclesiastical laws prevented the couple marrying so eventually they moved to London and took the apartment in a three storey house in Cock Lane, owned by Richard Parsons –his daughter, Elizabeth also lived in the property.

There are several accounts of ghostly apparitions and loud and “strange” knocking sounds.  The couple moved out and things “went quiet.”  Kent was not very lucky in marriage and, like many others of the time, Fanny contracted smallpox and died. Kent did, however, get lucky in his legal action against Parsons over a small debt. Now the haunting began again and Parsons claimed that Fanny was haunting his property. There were regular séances to discover what “Scratching Fanny” wanted and these no doubt pulled in a few shillings.  At times Cock Lane was blocked by the curious wanting to “take a peek.”

It seemed that “Fanny” claimed in séances that her husband had killed her using arsenic and so Kent was publicly suspected of murder. Someone smelt a rat. A commission, including the famous Samuel Johnson, looked into the matter and declared the haunting a hoax: Elizabeth Parsons admitted that it was a scam she had been forced into by her father –resulting in Richard Parsons being pilloried and serving two years in prison.

There was money to be made in hauntings. But the motives for the poltergeist events at the Lamb Inn, Bristol between 1761-1762 are a bit vague.  Investigators held out fingers in their pockets so that they could not be seen by the two young girls at the centre of events.  Raps and voices told how many fingers were extended.  Objects were also seen to rise into the air in front of investigators –all in a small room which excluded a hoax using string, etc..  Also, the two poorly educated daughters of the inn-keeper responded to questions in Greek and Latin –understood by the investigators but not the girls.

And the inn-keeper himself died after observing a “evil old witch” appear close to him one day. Even today, you can argue both for and against the case being genuine for hours.  Was a fraud involved?  Certainly the educated investigators could find none.
Historical accounts are full of people seeing loved ones who are many miles away (some times hundreds of miles) appearing before them before vanishing.  Those who note the times of such events are later shocked to learn that their loved ones died at around the same time.

And then there are the ghosts who help living relatives recover documents or hidden treasures.  Such is the case of  the Reverend Dr. Blomberg, who was rector at Shepton Mallet and later a Canon at St. Paul’s.   Blomberg’s father, a major serving in the army during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), died of a violent fever in Martinique. Not unusual in those days but what followed was. Resplendent in his “Regimentals”, the late Major appeared before a Colonel Stewart and Captain Mounsey and asked them to take care of his “little boy” back in England. Blomberg told the duo about his estate in England and said that the papers necessary for his son to inherit the estate were in a certain old chest in Yorkshire.

Mounsey Stewart could hardly refuse such a request from beyond the grave.  The papers were located and, after legal action, Blomberg’s son won the estate. But there was an extra “gift” due to this curious ghost story because, when it reached the ears of Queen Charlotte, she “became interested in the youth and took him into the Royal household,where he was ‘educated in intimate association with the children of George the Third.’ 

All Saints Church in Bristol is situated right next to the St. Nicholas covered market just off the city centre and there are thousands of others who also pass it on the way to work or while on shopping trips.  Surrounded by businesses and narrow streets it looks rather “snug”.  Snug but with “a history”.

    All Saints dates from the 12th  Century with enlargements and alterations such as the 15th Century aisles and East nave and in 1716 the NE tower was designed by William Paul and eventually completed by George Townsend,  The Chancel was rebuilt in the mid-19th Century.

    The church contains memorials and graves to a number of 18th Century businessmen and merchants not to mention the tomb of Edward Colston (1636-1721); Colston helped to fund the restoration of the All Saints Church's tower in 1716.

    The Church itself is said to be haunted by a “black monk” of the Kalendars Order, who supposedly hid the treasures of the place from Henry VIII.  How the monk died, whether killed by Henry’s men or having committed suicide is uncertain.  However, at that period the act of suicide was to damn oneself so it’s rather unlikely a religious man would resort to this.  As for the treasure….never been found.

In 1846 the local talk was of poltergeist activity in the house associated with the church.  Strange lights crossed the room of the servant-maid whose honesty was strongly attested to.  She had the unenvied honour of seeing this restless night visitor;
she declared she had repeatedly had her bedroom door unbolted at night, “between the hours of 12 and 2 o’clock” by something in human semblance. This was a whiskered man whose clothing was that of the Kalendars –something the maid knew nothing about.

My personal experience on so called “ghostly matters” are not very spectacular.  Back in 1966/1967,I was living in Dalborn,Germany.  One overcast,slightly drizzly but very oppressive thundery day,along with two of my cousins,I headed for a stream that had become flooded –we had much fun crossing the stream using the trunk of an old tree placed there by someone months before.  We watched as soldiers in trucks drove by and waved but the horrible,smokey brown low cloud made little difference –we were having fun! 

Not far from the stream, in easy view, was an upward sloping path near to a reputedly haunted mill [though we never knew that at the time].  The entire length of the path was covered in an arch of tree branches with the far end allowing in light.  At one point, all three of us turned to look up this path. At the very end of  the path stood a tall, misty grey figure devoid [seemingly] of any facial or clothing features.  The figure moved forward.

Three kids ran like Hell!

Of course, in the prevailing weather conditions it is possible any normal person might have seemed grey and featureless.  That would explain it away to my satisfaction.  But why did all three of us turn at the same time and run without speaking to each other?

In my grandparents home in St Werburgh’s, Bristol, we had a typical terraced house situation for the mid-1960s.  The old tin bath has on a hook outside the back door for bath nights and the toilet was outside the house.  The row of houses looked out onto Mina Road Park and there was a stream, an off-shoot of the River Frome which ran under houses.  On more than one occasion, while seated in “the throne room” I heard voices quite distinctly, though what exactly was being said I couldn’t tell you.  I was not the only person to hear these voices –my mother dreaded having to use the outside toilet but just said, in a thick German accent “it’s spooky”.

There was a small back bedroom that over-looking the garden, privy and park and there was definitely something “odd” about it.  The room had been given over to my mother and father on returning from Germany.  Within the week my mother would not even venture into the room alone and rooms were swapped around.  It is odd but, thinking about it years later, I recall my grand mother never ventured into the room by herself either and never used it for a bedroom.  Two later lodgers did complain about “something wrong” with the room.


There are many thousands of such accounts and even a few photographs.  Some of these photographs are proven hoaxes or even misidentifications –optical effects caused by shadow and light.  There are some interesting images, though, but not having looked into those cases personally it is hard to say “genuine.”  It was the advent of digital video recorders and cameras that brought us the “orb” phenomena.

Unlike old cameras, digital ones pick up every small detail and the big thing back in the 1990s were “ghost orbs” –the alleged manifestations of the departed.  Orbs were everywhere and said to be the “final evidence” that ghosts existed.  In fact, particles of dust, hair and even insects were being picked up by the digital camera.  Even today, when this has been proven, orbs are still cited as evidence –as are camera flashes reflected off camera straps, cobwebs and even the photographers thumb!

But with increased use of infra red and night vision cameras some interesting things have been filmed and photographed.

EVP –Electronic Voice Phenomena- are recordings of, allegedly, the departed at haunting sites.  In the old days investigators used reel-to-reel tape recorders or dictaphones but today, again, digital sound recorders and other pieces of equipment are recording odd sounds but in many cases you really do have to use your imagination to accept that some of the EVPs are not just noises that “sound like” words.

Maybe the Church knows what it is doing by sitting on the fence but to those having items move around the house, sees strange figures and are some times chased out of their dream homes, the ghostly undoubtedly exist.

© 2012 T. Hooper

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After more than 30 years as an investigator and more than forty as a naturalist,the author has opened some of the many files he has accumulated dealing with such things as.. The Terrifying EventsAt The Lamb Inn,The Ghosts Of All Saints Church,Dead Aquatic Creatures of Canvey Island,captured bigfoot like creatures in India -all exclusively presented for the first time and with new added research previously unseen. 
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Follow-up to the hugely successful Some Things Strange & Sinister. For those interested in Ufology,cryptozoology,hominology,unusual natural history,ghosts and mysteries in general. The secret history of gorillas -before they were 'discovered'.

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