Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Facchini UFO sighting of 1950

Although occupants were being seen in, beside and close to UFOs all over the world in the later 1940s, there was still little clue as to what the ufonauts were actually doing. They came and went, but nobody seemed to have much idea about why. The best that researchers could say was that the ufonauts must have some purpose to their visits and, perhaps, might one day tell us about it.

Then the ufonauts began to interract with humans and their behaviour began to offer some clues about thier intentions. Unfortunately those clues tended to be inconsistent and often contradictory. But then it was rapidly becoming clear that there was more than one type of ufonaut.

The Italians were early starters when it came to interracting with humanoids linked to UFOs. At about 10pm on 24 April 1950 Bruno Facchini saw what he thought was lightning through the windows of his farmhouse, though no thunder was to be heard. Going out to investigate, Facchini saw a disc-shaped object resting on the ground near a telegraph pole. It was emitting a low, but persistent buzzing sound.

Standing around the object were four figures, each about five feet tall. The figures were dressed in tight grey outfits rather like overalls and each wore a transparent face mask which had a tube running from it. One of the figures was holding a tube-like device from which came the lightning like flashes. Facchini thought the figure was using the device to do some repairs or other work on the object.

Facchini watched for some time. The thought then occurred to him that he ought to offer to help, so he stepped forward and called out. The humanoids seemed to see him for the first time and held a hurried conversation in a gutteral language. One of the figures then pointed a tube at Facchini. A flash of light blasted out, knocking Facchini off his feet to land a yard or two away on his back. While Facchini scrambled upright and fled, the figures vanished into the object which took off quickly and accelerated out of sight.

Next day Facchini ventured back to the site of his encounter. The ground was marked by scorching and there were indentations apparently made by landing legs.

This is an extract from Alien Encounters by Rupert Matthews.

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Aztec UFO Crash Mystery

Several of the reports about crashed “flying saucers”, as they were then termed, go back to the later 1940s, so it is important to bear in mind that this was a time when people’s attitudes were rather different from those of today. For a start the whole subject of UFOs, or flying saucers as they were then called, was new. Although the early reports were creating a sensation in some areas and among some sections of society, others had not heard of the phenomenon or if they had took no interest. Even those who were interested were not yet thinking in terms of aliens. The strange craft might be Soviet missiles, secretive experiments by reclusive billionaires or some bizarre natural phenomenon. Nobody knew, few had any clear ideas. The saucers were a weird and unexplained puzzle - nothing more.

One early case that was written off as a hoax and subsequently largely lost to UFO researchers was the Aztec Crash. As with the Maury Island Incident, there has recently been renewed interest in the Aztec Crash by researchers less willing to accept statements from official sources than were researchers at the time.

The story first became public in March 1950 when a man named Silas Newton gave a lecture at the University of Denver. Newton was in the oil business and claimed to have got his information from a man he called “Dr Gee” (a pseudonym), a scientist who had been called in by the USAF to help them study a crashed flying saucer.

The report was picked up by Frank Scully, a well respected newspaper columnist. Scully spent some time interviewing Newton, “Gee” and other witnesses to produce a book entitled “Behind the Flying Saucers”, published later that year. Scully later claimed that he had interviewed eight of the men who had been involved in the recovery of the crashed saucer, and had used the cover name of “Dr Gee” to hide their identities. The fact that he chose not to divulge the names of his sources devalued Scully’s story in the eyes of some. Others thought that the need to keep secret the names of the witnesses merely emphasised the likely hostile reaction of the US government to the facts being published.

According to Scully’s version of events, the crash had taken place at Hart Canyon, near Aztec in New Mexico in March 1948. The saucer was tracked on military radar as it came streaking down from the sky to impact in a remote area of near desert. At this point, the military did not know what had come down and sent out a squad to have a look. They reported back that the downed object was a silver-coloured disc of great size that was lying intact. The military then sealed off the area from the public and put together a team of scientists and technicians who were sent out to Hart Canyon.

The initial examination of the saucer showed it to be 99.99 feet in diameter. The skin of the saucer was composed of a completely smooth sheet of silvery metal with no signs of any rivets, welding or other joints. Set into the hull were a number of transparent portholes, which fused directly into the silver metal without any sign of a join. There was no sign of a door, so technicians tried drilling into the metal with diamond tipped industrial drills. They had no effect. Nor did blow torches or other tools.

Then one of the investigatory team spotted a tiny hole in one of the portholes. A thin rod was worked through the hole and used to prod a number of levers and buttons that could be seen inside. When one lever was pushed it caused a previously hidden hatchway to spring open.

Warily the team clambered into the saucer. They found that the craft was entirely undamaged, apart from that small hole in the window, but that the crew of 16 humanoids were all dead. The three feet tall figures all appeared to have been charred or burned. It was theorised that some object had perforated the window, and that this had somehow killed the crew. Whether the hole had been created in airless space or within the Earth’s atmosphere was unclear. The bodies were taken away for further study.

There then followed a detailed study of the craft. It turned out to have a central section about 18 feet in diameter which contained the crew’s control rooms, sleeping quarters and other chambers. The outer areas of the saucer could not be accessed at first, though it seemed that they were free to rotate around the central section. After some days of fiddling and prodding, the investigators managed to dismantle the outer ring of the saucer, which transpired to be composed of a number of sections that fitted closely together.

The various pieces of the saucer were then transported by road to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for further study. Wright-Patterson, near Dayton in Ohio, was and remains a top security military base where new equipment is tested under conditions of the utmost secrecy. It is also the base where captured Soviet weaponry and equipment was taken to be studied during the Cold War, so it would have been the natural place for a crashed saucer to be studied.

One of the scientists handed over to Scully a few pieces of metal recovered from the saucer. Scully had them subjected to a string of scientific tests, but apart from revealing that the pieces were composed of a complex alloy of metals, some of which could not be identified, the tests revealed nothing.

Scully’s claims caused something of a sensation. Even those researchers, such as Donald Keyhoe, who were inclined to dismiss the story as a hoax began to take an interest. The book based on the Aztec crash was selling well, when suddenly the story fell apart.

A man named Leo Gebauer was arrested for fraud. Gebauer had set up a company to explore for oil and had persuaded several wealthy men to invested thousands of dollars each. The company claimed to have device that could detect oil and other minerals through thousands of feet of solid rock. The device, it was said, had been stolen from the saucer crash at Aztec by one of the scientists who had been called in to investigate the alien technology.

Police were called in when one of the investors became suspicious. Investigations soon proved that the “alien technology” was nothing more than perfectly normal mining gear put together in unusual ways. It was quite incapable of detecting oil in an oilcan, never mind through miles of rock. Police then discovered links from Gebauer to Newton, who was also arrested for his part in the swindle. At the trial, Gebauer was named as “Dr Gee”. Both men were convicted of fraud.

Scully and all other UFO researchers rushed to distance themselves from the two fraudsters. Sceptics used the case to undermine the whole subject of flying saucers, claiming that Gebauer and Newton were the tip of the iceberg and that while they had been caught out the other saucer hoaxers had merely been luckier. The attacks by sceptics drawing on the alleged Aztec Crash did much to discredit the early UFO researchers and the other incidents that they sought to highlight.

Scully, however, continued to maintain that he had interviewed eight scientists involved in the study of the saucer, none of whom had been Gebauer. Moreover, it is worth noting that Gebauer and Newton had been convicted of perpetrating a fraud based on a false claim to have obtained equipment from the crashed saucer. Whether or not the saucer had ever existed played no part in the trial nor their crime.

Some 40 years later, investigators William Stinman and Scott Ramsey independently decided to go back to Scully’s original claims to see if they could find any corroborating evidence. Between them they have turned up some interesting facts and witnesses.

Over 100 people who had been living in the area at the time of the alleged crash were interviewed. Most could not recall anything of any interest, but four could. One man remembered that he had seen a UFO flying low overhead, but could not recall which date or even the year when it had occurred. His description of a large silver disc with a few windows matched that given by Scully. Intriguingly the witness said that the craft appeared to be in trouble, wobbling in flight and sending out sparks. He last saw it diving down in the direction of Hart Canyon. The man said that he phoned a nearby USAF base to report an aircraft in trouble, but never heard any more about it.

Two other witnesses recalled being sent out to fight a brushfire north of Aztec, near Hart Canyon, in the spring of 1948 - subsequent investigations revealed that this major fire took place on 25 March. Both men recalled that the gangs of men fighting the fire reported seeing what looked like an unusual crashed aircraft on the ground, again in the direction of Hart Canyon. One of the witnesses, Doug Nolan, said that he had walked toward the object and was convinced that it was disc-shaped.

A final witness was Fred Reed, a retired operative for the OSS, later the CIA. He said that he had been sent out to a site near Aztec sometime in 1948 in charge of a team with orders to clear up a site. He had orders to remove any metal fragments, remove any tyre tracks that remained and to do his best to make the site look undisturbed. He said the site had been accessed by way of a newly laid gravel track and that a large concrete pad had stood nearby. The track and pad are both still there, though much overgrown.

Several people recalled a story about a flying saucer appearing in the local newspaper, the Aztec Hustler, at about the time of the alleged crash, but memories varied as to what the story had said. A contemporary account from the Aztec area printed before Newman delivered his lecture would have proved invaluable. However the Aztec Hustler was bought out by a larger newspaper a few years after the alleged crash and all archive copies were burned.

It is difficult to know what to make of the Aztec Crash. Were it not for the witnesses who came forward in the 1990s, the evidence would point to the fact that the entire story had been invented by the two conmen and fed to Scully as a way to provide useful background to their claims to have obtained alien technology. On the other hand, Gebauer may have invented the supposed oil locater to take dishonest advantage of the genuine story of a crashed saucer.

The stories told by the witnesses would seem to indicate that something large and unusual crashed in the approximate area of the alleged saucer crash. However, the statements were made more than 40 years after the event. Most witnesses could not recall the year to which their recollections dated. Perhaps they were all talking about 25 March 1948, perhaps not. At this distance in time it is impossible to say.

This is an extract from UFOs  Rupert Matthews.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Roswell UFO Crash - The newsmen arrive to investigate

The platoon of men sent out by Blanchard were not the only ones looking for the Debris Field that day. When the press release announcing the crash of a flying saucer went out on the Associated Press (AP) wire it provoked a massive response. Among the first to move was the AP itself. It advised its many media clients that it was chasing the story, and turned to its nearest staff reporter to do the job. That man was Jason Kellahin who was based in Albuquerque to cover New Mexico for the AP. Kellahin was instructed to drive down to Roswell to find out everything he could about the story. He was also told to take photos and send them back to the AP by wire. Kellahin knew that sending photos over telephone wires required some complex equipment and was not certain that he was competent to deal with the technical issues involved in sending photos from a small town like Roswell. He therefore took with him a technician named Robin Adair.

Interviewed in the 1980s, Kellahin said that he and Adair drove down the main road toward Roswell, stopping at Vaughn for a break. In Vaughn Kellahin asked around for information about Brazel and his ranch. He was given directions on how to reach the ranch house by driving down the Highway 285, then turning off along dirt roads. Kellahin followed the directions, but before he actually reached the ranch he saw a group of military vehicles parked in open country with some men standing around them. Assuming that this military activity marked the location where Brazel had found the Debris Field, Kellahin stopped his car and with Adair walked over the rough ground to join the men. It is generally believed that these men encountered by Kellahin were the squad sent out by Blanchard to clear the Debris Field.

This part of Kellahin’s statement has caused some controversy since. The site that is generally recognised as being the pasture where the Debris Field was located lies about 2 miles from the nearest dirt road, and yet Kellahin says that he and Adair walked to the Debris Field in just a couple of minutes.

Some have suggested that the military had deliberately constructed a false “debris field” close to the road to mislead any snooping journalists - such as Kellahin. Others have sought to use the discrepancy to discredit Kellahin as a witness, implying that if he was mistaken about this point then his memory cannot be trusted on other matters. Of course, it may be that after 40 years, Kellahin’s memory was slightly at fault at this point. Perhaps he saw the military vehicles parked at the side of the road, but the Debris Field was some distance away. Perhaps the vehicles were a mile or more off the road, but he was able to drive his road car some distance over the pasture so that his walk was as short as he believed.

Whatever the truth about the location of the military vehicles, Kellahin says that he and Adair reached them on foot to find a handful of officers, a larger number of enlisted men and a civilian. The civilian turned out to be Mac Brazel, one of the men the AP had instructed Kellahin to interview. Whipping out his notebook, Kellahin got on with the job unhindered by the military men. So far as Kellahin could recall, Brazel repeated the facts about finding the debris, reporting it to Sheriff Wilcox and assisting the military in the retrieval operation.

While the interview was going on, Adair was photographing the enlisted men at work. They were collecting up pieces of debris and loading it on to trucks. Kellahin recalled that the pieces were all fairly small. He said that they were of two types, first a silver-coloured foil material and second what looked like narrow wooden sticks. One officer asked Kellahin not to touch the debris, so he did not. He thought that the debris covered a fairly small area, he estimated it as about 100 yards square or so. Asked what he thought the debris had come from, Kellahin said “It looked more like a kite than anything else”.

When Kellahin finished speaking to Brazel he tried to interview a couple of the officers. They refused to talk to him, saying that they knew very little about the affair except that they had been ordered to collect up the pieces of debris lying about. Then one officer announced that they were finished on the ranch and had to head into Roswell.

Kellahin recalls staying behind on the site for a while after Brazel and the military men had gone. There was, he said, not much to see. The bits and pieces of debris had all been collected up leaving behind just grass and scrub. Adair recalled it differently. Also speaking some 40 years after the event, Adair said that “You could tell something had been there”. These signs included scorched shrubs and burned grass. There were also a number of marks in the ground as if something large and heavy had touched down briefly. Perhaps a flying object had come down at speed, then glanced off the ground to bounce back into the air. Whatever the state of the ground Kellahin and Adair did not stay long but headed into Roswell to continue their assignment.

This is an extract from Roswell: Uncovering the  secrets of Area 51 and the fatal UFO crash by Rupert Mathews

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Battersea Mystery House

On 29 November 1935 Mr Frederick Robinson was in the kitchen of his modest terraced house in Eland Road, in the London suburb of Battersea, when he heard a strange pattering noise coming from the conservatory at the back of his house. It did not sound quite like rain, so Mr Robinson went through to the conservatory to see what was causing the noise.

Looking up through the glass panels, Mr Robinson saw a number of small pieces of coal, three pennies and a few lumps of soda on the roof of the conservatory. As he watched another tiny piece of coal fell on to the glass roof and rolled down to lodge against a metal beam. Then silence fell. Mr Robinson thought that some practical joker in the area was having a jape. When nothing further happened, he went back to the kitchen. Later that day he went up a ladder to clear the roof, adding the pieces of coal to the family coal scuttle and pocketing the pennies.

On 2 December Mr Robinson heard the noise again. This time he did not bother going into the conservatory, but rushed straight out into the garden hoping to catch the prankster. As soon as he got into the garden, the rain of small objects stopped. Mr Robinson peered over his back wall and into the neighbouring gardens, but there was nobody in sight.

Next day the mysterious rain of objects came again. This time Mr Robinson’s nephew Peter Perkins was at home. The two men raced into the back garden and without pausing to look at the conservatory, vaulted over the back wall to catch the culprit. There was nobody there. Returning to the garden, the two men were suddenly startled by a terrific crash that sent broken glass flying. Going into the conservatory, the men saw a very large lump of coal that had come crashing down, apparently vertically, to smash a panel in the glass roof.

That was too much for Mr Robinson. Peter was sent to run out into the street to find a policeman. This was in the days before a working class family like the Robinson would not have had a phone and at a time when policemen could be relied upon to be out and about in the community rather than sat in offices filling in paperwork. Peter soon found a policeman out on his beat and brought him back to the house. The policeman surveyed the damage, asked questions and made notes. Then he went into the back garden to look for a place where a coal-thrower might have been hiding out of sight of the two Robinson men. Mr Robinson followed, Peter stayed indoors to clear up the mess.

No sooner were the policeman and Mr Robinson in the back garden than an object fell on to the conservatory roof with a tinkle. Peter called out that it was a penny. The policeman looked toward the conservatory just as a second penny came falling down to hit the roof. He was as baffled as Mr Robinson had been. The penny seemed to have fallen straight down, not arced over as it would have done if thrown from a neighbouring garden. The policeman looked upward to try to find the source of the falling coin.

That was when the policeman was hit forcibly on the back of the helmet by a large lump of coal. He spun around, but there was nobody there. He climbed the back wall, as Mr Robinson had done before him, but again no coal-thrower was to be seen. The policeman was more thorough than Mr Robinson and spent some time looking about. He even exercised the authority of his uniform and climbed into neighbouring gardens to search for a likely culprit. He found nothing.

Mr Robinson invited the policeman into the kitchen for a cup of tea so that they could discuss the situation. Mrs Robinson put the kettle on while the three men sat down at the table. The policeman had barely got out his notebook to begin asking for more details when a large potato hit the table with a thud and rolled toward him. Like the other objects, the potato seemed to have fallen down vertically, rather than having come in at an angle was would be normal if it had been thrown.

All three men looked up to see if there was a hole in the ceiling through which a potato could have fallen. They saw a second potato materialise in mid air and fall down to the table. There was a rush to get out of the room. The policeman tucked his notebook into his pocket, said that he was totally baffled and would report the incident to his superiors. Then he left, hurriedly.

The events of December 1935 in the Robinson household proved to be merely the opening salvo in a reign of terror that would last for weeks. Furniture was smashed, ornaments and crockery danced around the house by themselves and threatening messages were written on sheets of paper by unseen hands. Unsurprisingly, one member of the family would be so traumatised that he had to be hospitalised.

The police were baffled and sent for private investigators. The Press arrived, along with psychics, mediums and others professing an expertise in the supernatural. Each new arrival had a new theory about what was going on and a new suggestion for how it should be tackled. Nothing worked, and the disturbances continued unabated.

Then one day, the unexplained events stopped. They never started again and the Robinson household returned to normal.

The Battersea Mystery House, as the events became known, had made the headlines across London for weeks. They were thoroughly investigated at the time and witnessed by a range of entirely respectable people whose testimony must be considered reliable. The disturbances were by turns annoying, terrifying and spiteful. They were and they remain unexplained.

These days we recognise the disturbances at Battersea as being a poltergeist visitation. Every poltergeist is different in its own way, but they share a number of features that make them a clearly defined type of event. In this book I shall be looking at the poltergeist phenomenon, seeking to build up a clear picture of what happens during a visitation and attempting to find some answers to the great mystery of the most terrifying and bizarre of all paranormal events.

This is an extract from Poltergeists and Other Hauntings by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Long Pack of Bellingham, Northumberland

When peace came to the border between England and Scotland with the accession of King James VI of Scotland to become King James I of England, and therefore of a united Great Britain, the violence slowly came to a close. But not all mystery vanished from Northumberland. There is, for instance, a most peculiar grave in the churchyard at Bellingham. The tomb takes the form of a long, rounded stone lying flat on the ground and covered in mosses and lichens. It is known as the Long Pack. In the right conditions, it can almost seem to move.

The tale behind the Long Pack begins in the autumn of 1723 when Colonel Ridley of Lee Hall took his family south to London for the winter, as was his habit. Ridley had made a fortune in India serving with the East India Company, and was living out a comfortable retirement surrounded by his family and wealth. He left at Lee Hall his plate and much treasure, together with three servants: Alice the housekeeper, Richard an old houseman and Edward a young estate worker.

One chill winter’s afternoon a pedlar called at Lee Hall. In those days, pedlars were welcome guests. They not only brought useful objects to be purchased, but also carried news and gossip around the countryside. As was traditional, Alice invited the pedlar in to the kitchen for a drink and something to eat. The pedlar gratefully dumped his rather huge, long pack on the kitchen floor and settled down to yarn about local families. He pulled out a few trinkets from his pack for Alice to inspect, and she bought a couple of pieces. But when the charming pedlar asked if he could stay the night in Lee Hall, Alice refused and told him he had to go on into Bellingham to find lodgings. The pedlar wheedled, but getting nowhere agreed to move on. He asked if he could leave his long pack behind as it was so heavy, and promised to pick it up in the morning. Alice agreed.

The pedlar left, Edward and Richard came home from their duties and the three servants busied themselves about the house. Alice was alone in the kitchen preparing supper when she thought she saw the long pack move. She screamed out loud in shock, bringing the two men running. While Richard calmed Alice down, young Edward went over to the long pack and gave it a hefty kick. Nothing happened, but Alice insisted that she had seen it move. Edward kicked the long pack again, with no result. The two men told Alice she must have imagined it, but she insisted that she was right and refused to stay in the kitchen alone. The two men had jobs to do, but did not want their supper delayed, so Edward picked up the old shotgun he used to scare away birds and fired it into the long pack. The pack twitched convulsively and blood poured out.

The two men hurriedly ripped the long pack open to find a mortally wounded man, complete with a musket, sword and a whistle. Immediately guessing that the man’s whistle is to summon his comrades, the servants began barricading the windows and doors. They were only just in time for a gang of men appeared out of the darkness and tried to rush the house. A furious gun battle ensued, the noise of which brought the men from nearby farms hurrying to the rescue. The gang fled, but left behind the man in the long pack. He seemed to be their leader and as he lay dying the man volubly cursed the name of Colonel Ridley and demanded revenge for what Ridley had done in India many years earlier.

Ridley was hurriedly summoned back from London, but declared that he did not recognise the man nor could he recall any incident in India that might explain the attack. Whether he was telling the truth or not is another matter. Clearly the man who organised the attack thought that he had reason enough to hire a gang of cut throats and plan the assault.

As with so many other incidents and events from Northumberland’s past, the affair of the Long Pack remains a mystery.
This is an extract from Mysterious Northumberland by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Mermaid of Zennor, Cornwall

The mermaids of Cornwall are very different from those of popular imagination. The general image that most people have of a mermaid is of a beautiful if idle creature who sits about combing her hair and singing. She might seek to lure ships to dangerous rocks, but on the whole is fairly benign and more interested in looking pretty than much else. And in most illustrations or animated cartoons she has the body of a woman and the tail of a fish, and is often shown with a comb and mirror.

Not so the mermaids of Cornwall. These are enormously powerful water spirits who can - and do - interact with humans in a number of rather surprising ways.

By far the most famous of all the Cornish mermaids is the mermaid of Zennor. Many years ago the people of Zennor were surprised to see a stranger slip into their church dedicated to St Senara to sit right at the back. She was a pretty young lady dressed in a fine, long gown of exquisite workmanship. Just before the service ended the lady got up and left. When the parishioners emerged she was nowhere to be seen. For a while gossip was rife as to who the lady had been, but gradually interest waned. Those who thought of her at all assumed she had been passing on that Sunday morning and had stopped for the religious service before travelling on.

Then a month or so later she returned. Again she entered quietly, sat at the back and left as mysteriously as she had arrived. Over the coming months she came several times to attend the services at St Senara’s. It became clear that she was entranced by the singing of the choir, and in particular by the voice of Matthew Trewhella. Young Trewhella was the churchwarden’s son. He was a strapping young farmer who had good looks to match his fine voice.

One Sunday, after the service ended, the villagers saw Matthew Trewhella talking to the mysterious stranger on the banks of the stream that runs through the village. Not wanting to intrude on the youngsters in the early stages of what might have been a romance, the villagers kept their distance. Matthew and the stranger were seen walking along the stream, heading for Pendour Cove where it runs into the sea. They were never seen again.

For weeks the villagers wondered what had happened to their young chorister. The Trewhella family sent messages far and wide, but no sign of their son could be found. It was the talk of Cornwall.

Five months later, a fisherman came running from St Ives. He asked for the Trewhella household, then demanded to have a description of the pretty stranger who had lured young Trewhella away. He then poured out his tale. He had been fishing off the coast of Pendour Cove and had thrown out the anchor to keep his boat steady while he worked. A short while later a woman’s head had bobbed to the surface beside his boat. Obviously the pretty girl was a mermaid, and the fisherman grew nervous as he knew that to offend the merfolk was dangerous. But the girl smiled pleasantly enough.

“Sir,” she called out. “Would you please lift your anchor. It is blocking the entrance to my cave and I want to get home to my dear Matty and my children.”

The description of the mermaid matched that of the mysterious stranger. Clearly Matthew Trewhella had fallen in love with a mermaid and had gone to live with her beneath the waves.

The legend is commemorated by a carved pewend in the church. The carving is thought to be around 600 years old. It shows a mermaid looking out toward the viewer while holding up her mirror and her comb. It has got a bit battered over the years, and is now placed in the side chapel, but it remains clear enough.

Interestingly, St Senara had a rather watery life. She was a devout Christian who was married to King Goello of Brittany sometime around the year 450, just as the Roman Empire was breaking up. Goello’s mother was a pagan who deeply resented the influence that the beautiful and virtuous young Christian had on her son. When Senara became pregnant, her angry mother in law fabricated evidence of infidelity and had Senara nailed in a barrel and thrown into  the sea. An angel appeared who cared for Senara as she gave birth, providing her with food and drink. The barrel was washed up in Ireland where the mother and child were taken in by a fisherman and his wife. When she recovered, Senara and her son, named Budoc, set out to found churches and convert the local pagans to Christianity. After various adventures in Ireland the pair came to Cornwall where they founded the church of St Senara among others. King Goello heard of his wife’s survival and her good works. He sent men to bring her back to Brittany where she was reinstated as queen and Budoc was recognised as his heir.

So it ended happily for all concerned, except the wicked stepmother. The church of St Senera gave its name to the village, now corrupted to Zennor. The original church is thought to have stood rather closer to the sea than the one that stands today in a field where 7th century ruins have been excavated. The current church was begun around 1125, extended in 1451 and restored in 1890. A stained glass window of St Senara is to be found in the chancel.

This is an extract from Mysterious Cornwall by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The phantom of Holy Trinity Churchyard, Sunderland

Ghosts can be fairly unnerving things to encounter. Not many are actually frightening as such, but they can give you a start. So I have much sympathy for an 18 year old Sunderland seaman by the name of John Cairns who got mixed up in one of the most dramatic hauntings in the city’s history.

It was back in February 1848 when the haunting began. Young Cairns was at sea on the brig Myrtle. The ship plied the coastal trade and Cairns had been working for some years, lads began young back then, and had gained a reputation as a reliable and hard working young man. That evening, however, he was in for a shock.

As the brig slipped along the coast before a fresh wind, Cairns was on deck. Suddenly, the boy was shocked to see the phantom of his elder sister appear in front of him. The spray seemed not to bother the phantom one bit as she slowly materialised. As the shocked Cairns stared the ghostly apparition informed him that time was short, but that she had an important message for him. Then it seemed as if some invisible companion was calling the girl away. She told her brother to be at her graveside on the evening of the following Thursday, 23rd February.

Understandably shocked, Cairns hurried home as soon as the Myrtle docked and refused to join the next voyage declaring he had to be in Holy Trinity Churchyard on the evening of the 23rd February. Inevitably, word leaked out from the Cairns family about what was going on. Come the appointed evening and young Cairns arrived at the churchyard to find a crowd of several hundred people gathered around to see what would happen.

Cairns made his way to the grave of his sister, while members of the family kept the crowd back at a respectful distance. Dusk fell. The chill of a February evening settled over the churchyard. Time passed. Finally midnight came.

As the final note of the twelve bell chimes boomed out from Holy Trinity Church, the sound of strange music drifted over the churchyard. Those who heard it, described it as being something like an organ, but fainter and more eerie. Suddenly there was a blinding flash that bathed the whole churchyard in a searing white light. The light lasted several seconds then, just as abruptly, it was gone.

Silence and darkness returned to the churchyard.

For a few seconds everything was still. Then young Cairns slowly stood up. He turned round and called for his brother in law, husband to the dead sister. “I need to talk to you,” said Cairns. He glared round at the crowd. “Alone.” Together the two men pushed their way past the crowd and went home. Apparently the ghost had appeared again to give her brother a message for her husband. What that message was, neither man ever revealed.

Gradually the crowd dispersed. Over the following few days, the events in Holy Trinity churchyard were the talk of Sunderland. Some people thought they had seen a visitation from ‘the other side’. Some people thought it had all been a gigantic hoax, carried out by a hidden accordionist and some special fireworks.

I came to Holy Trinity Churchyard, just north of the modern bridge that carries the A1231 across the Wear, on a warm afternoon. Despite the weather, the whole area was deserted. Nobody was walking their dogs, nobody was on their way anywhere. There was just the hum of traffic passing along the A1231 into and out of Sunderland. Even the neighbouring North Star pub was closed. Whatever had happened here so long ago, there were no clues to be found that day. 

This is an extract from Haunted Sunderland by Rupert Matthews

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Ghosts of Athelampton Hall, Dorset

It was in 1485 that Sir William Martyn, Lord Mayor of London and fabulously wealthy merchant, decided that the time had come to find a rural retreat for himself and his family. He found Athelhampton and set about building himself a home of impressive design.

The Wars of the Roses had just come to a bloody end at Bosworth Field where King Richard III was killed fighting and the crown seized by Henry Tudor. Henry energetically imposed peace on England, crushing any nobleman who showed signs of causing trouble and keeping the country free of booty-hungry brigands. Thus it was that Martyn was able to abandon the fortifications that had been necessary on earlier houses. Instead of stout walls and tall towers, Martyn’s house boasted large windows and carved decorations. He included a few battlements for the sake of show, but they were just decoration.

Martyn’s family emblem was a monkey looking into a mirror, a motif that is repeated in stone and stained glass at several points around the house. He also had a pet monkey, and subsequent generations of the family continued the tradition. In 1595 the last male descendant of the family lay dying. His pet monkey came into the room as if to view its master on his deathbed. As the man breathed his last, the monkey let out a scream and bolted from the room. It was never seen again, but ever since the sound of scratching has been heard coming from behind the panelling in the Great Hall. It is generally reckoned to be the phantom sound of the monkey.

The scratching monkey is not the only ghost in the Great Hall. This chamber was built to impress, with its linenfold panelling, massive wooden ceiling and heraldic motifs. It was here that successive owners have welcomed guests and entertained in grand fashion. It was here, also, that a local gentleman of royalist persuasions got into an argument with a fellow who preferred the cause of Parliament in the tense months that led up to the English Civil War of the 1640s. The men drew their swords and fought a dramatic battle around the room. The duel ended in wounds, not death, but it has left is ghostly mark. The two men have been seen, though not often, thrusting and hacking with their swords around the room. The fight continues until one inflicts on the other a slashing wound down the right arm, at which point the duellists fade from view.

Seen almost as rarely is the ghostly cooper who works down in the cellars. Hammering away at a barrel with a mallet, the man is clearly intent on his task and pays no attention to the humans who wander into his domain.

A rather more active ghost frequents the State Bedroom. This impressive, yet rather cosy room is kept in splendid 16th century fashion. The ghost who strides through walking towards the Yellow Room must feel quite at home. Although nobody knows whose ghost this is, her clothes are clearly of 16th century date. Dressed in a dark grey gown, the lady moves with silent, but determined pace.

Once, some 80 years ago, a housemaid was doing some cleaning in the State Bedroom when she saw a figure enter the room from the corner of her eye. Thinking it to be a fellow servant, the maid called out “I am cleaning in here. You can make yourself useful elsewhere.” Imagine her surprise when the newcomer promptly vanished into thin air. Only then did she realise that she had been talking to the ghost.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Dorset by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Roman Ghosts of York

The Treasurer’s House takes its name from the fact that it was built to be the home and office complex belonging to the Treasurer of York Minster. It is appropriate, therefore, that it lies in the shadow of the Minster. The house stands in Minster Yard at the northern end of College Street, just east of the Minster. It is now owned by the National Trust and is open most days of the year.

In the 13th century when the house was first built, the minster was no mere cathedral but a monastery owning vast estates as well as the mother church for all of northern England. Vast sums of money poured in from the farms, mills and weirs that the Minster owned, then flowed out again to give relief to the poor, educate churchmen and as tribute to Rome. The Treasurer’s House was a hive of activity as teams of monks, clerks and support staff pored over the accounts, counted the money and kept meticulous records. The house has been much altered since those days, and today almost nothing of the medieval structure can be seen above ground. Below ground level, however, the 13th century house is almost intact. The foundations and cellars are pretty much as they were when the monks worked here.

And it is in the cellars that the ghosts lurk.

Among those who lived or worked in the Treasurer’s House, the cellars had always had something of an odd reputation. Nobody was ever willing to talk to outsiders about what went on down there, but many people knew that it was not a place to linger alone. One person who did not know this was a young apprentice plumber by the name of Harry Martindale. It was 1953, and the Treasurer’s House was having modern central heating installed. Harry was tasked with checking over the joints of pipes installed by his more experienced colleagues, which was why he went down into the cellar - alone.

Harry was intent on his work when the incident began. He was up a short ladder so that he could check piping that was running along just below the cellar ceiling. He heard a muffled trumpet blast, but took no notice. He thought perhaps a band was nearby practising. The trumpet came again, nearer this time. Again Harry ignored it. Then a horse stepped out of the solid wall right in front of Harry’s eyes. Thunderstruck and terrified in equal measure, Harry fell off his ladder and tumbled to the floor. As he scrambled to get away from the figure of the horse, Harry could not tear his eyes from the apparition.

The horse continued to emerge from the wall into the cellar. On its back was a man in a long cloak and a helmet with a feather crest on it. Behind the horseman came a dozen or more men on foot. As Harry gradually recovered from his shock, he was deeply relieved to see that the ghosts paid him not the slightest bit of attention but marched on as if he were not there. The men on foot carried large, round shields with long spears slung over their shoulders and short swords hanging from their belts. They had what looked like kilts, dyed a dark green colour, and mail shirts. One of them carried a trumpet that was long, straight and battered as if from long years of hard use.

As the men marched across the cellar, Harry realised that he could not see them from the knees downward. Then the horsemen came to a spot where a hole had been dug into the floor. Harry could now see the horse’s legs almost down to the hooves. They carried shaggy hair around the fetlocks, similar to those on a modern shire horse. As the men on foot passed the hole, Harry could see their legs down to the ankles. They were wearing leather sandals attached by straps that ran criss-cross fashion up to the knees. The men marched on, giving out an aura of dejection and despondency, until they vanished into the wall opposite.

As soon as they were gone, Harry leaped to his feet and bolted up the stairs to the ground floor. Running desperately to find his foreman, Harry bumped into the curator of the museum that occupies the house. The curator took one look at Harry’s pale face and said “Oh. You’ve seen the Romans then.” He took Harry aside, calmed him down and then asked him to dictate a detailed description of what he had seen. The curator then showed Harry other accounts of the ghosts in the cellar.

Most of these other reports match the experience of young Harry Martindale almost precisely. One that is slightly different was recounted by a young lady attending a fancy dress party back in the days when the house was a private residence. During the party the guests were given time to explore the house. The lady chose to venture down the stairs to the cellar. She went to enter one of the various rooms, but suddenly a man stepped out from the shadows to bar the open doorway. He was dressed in a mail shirt and had on his head a plumed helmet, just like those seen by Harry and others. The figure said nothing, but glared at the girl and held his spear out to make it clear that she was not welcome. After hesitating for a few seconds, the woman retreated back up the stairs. She asked her host who the curmudgeonly guest in Roman armour might be, but there was no guest wearing Roman armour. The incident is usually put down as a sighting of the ghosts, thought on this occasion the spectre did not behave as usual.

The description of the figures given by Harry was rather more detailed than those recounted by other witnesses and has led to some detailed investigations. Excavations have shown that a Roman road runs underneath the Treasurer’s House leading from what had been a gate in the fortress walls to the east toward the headquarters building that stood where the Minster nave is now. The ghosts follow the route of this former road precisely. Even more interestingly, the surface of the road is about 18 inches below the cellar floor, and some three inches lower than the bottom of the hole that was there in Harry’s day. The ghosts are, of course, seen only from the knees up so it would seem that they are marching along the surface of the old road that existed when they were alive.

The description given by Harry of men in mail shirts with round shields does not match that of Roman soldiers shown in most books. However, the armour thought of as typical for Romans - with large oblong shields and armour made up of strips of metal - was used only by the legionnaries who formed the backbone of the Roman army. Rather more numerous were the auxiliaries recruited from tribes within the Empire and, in later times, the mercenaries recruited from tribes outside the Empire.

The description given by Harry seems to match most closely auxiliaries of the later 3rd or 4th centuries. This was a time when the Roman Empire was in decline with a falling population, collapsing economy and reducing population. The climate, which had been rather warmer than it is today for around 300 years or so, was cooling making it more difficult to grow crops, especially in Britain. And the barbarians were becoming older and more aggressive. The collapse of Roman power in Britain was not far off.

No wonder the ghosts seem so dejected.

This is an extract from Haunted York  by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Ghosts at Whittingdon, Salop

The village of Whittington stands astride what is now the B5009, but was for many centuries the main road from London to North Wales and Holyhead, from where ferries plied to Ireland. The rich agricultural lands around the River Perry made this a prosperous place as well as one with strategic transport links.

It was, therefore, with some delight that a Norman knight by the name of Fulk Fitzwarin gained the castle and estates of Whittington from his father in law, the powerful baron Jocas de Dinan. The fortress and lands came as part of the dowry for Fulk’s new bride Hawise de Dinan. In 1198 Fulk died, leaving his lands to his son, the third member of the Fitzwarin family to bear the name of Fulk. This Fulk III was a colourful character, but he at once had a problem. The Dinan family declared that Whittington had been granted to Fulk II for his lifetime only and could not be inherited by Fulk III.

For two years, young Fulk pursued his claim to Whittington through the courts. But in the year 1200 he got bored with the delays and procrastinations imposed by King John. Fulk picked up his sword, rode to Whittington with a band of supporters and grabbed the castle by force. At the time King John was busy on the Continent fighting against King Philip of France and various rebels. Even so, it is unlikely that rash young Sir Fulk could have held the castle against royal troops. But the Dinan family had sided with the King of France, so John was quite happy to deprive them of a key fortress on the Welsh marches. In 1204, Whittington was officially given to Fulk, on condition that he modernise the defences and hold the castle against any Welsh raids into England.

Sir Fulk was, naturally, delighted. He set about rebuilding the castle with gusto. Until then, Whittington had been a timber fortress with extensive earthworks and a central stone tower. Despite much later alteration, it is the fortifications of Sir Fulk III that make up the ruins of Whittington Castle today. The mighty twin towers that face out across the moat to the main road were the gatehouse of the outer bailey. These buildings served as a village court and a farmhouse for many years, so they have survived in better condition than the much stouter and stronger defences of the inner bailey to the south.

The rebuilding of the castle was completed in around 1233. Sir Fulk fought the Welsh several times, holding his lands and castle stoutly for the King of England. He died in around 1255 at the age of 80. Given the trouble he went to in order to secure Whittington and the money and care he lavished on the castle, there can be little surprise that the phantom of Sir Fulk III Fitzwarin returns so often to his old home. Clad in armour of the early 13th century, Sir Fulk has been seen riding about Whittington and nearby lands – usually on wild tempestuous days when winds blow in from Wales and rain clouds scud the sky. It seems his ghost is as tempestuous as was Sir Fulk himself.

Within 20 years of his death, Sir Fulk had become the subject of a lengthy medieval epic poem, of which only parts have been preserved. He is said to have undertaken fantastic adventures in his home territories and further afield.

He is not, however, linked directly to the other ghosts of Whittington. These are the pale-faced phantoms of two children who stare out of the windows of the surviving gatehouse. They are never seen from inside the structure, only by passersby glancing up at the grim walls. It is not entirely clear who these two youngsters might be, but it is said that they are linked to the great Glyndwr rebellion of the early 1400s. Owain Glyndwr was leading an uprising of the Welsh against the imposition of English law and English taxes in Wales by King Henry IV. The children may have been hostages taken by Sir Fulk X Fitzwarin for the good behaviour of nearby Welshmen. If so, their fate is unknown. Only the sad faces of their ghosts stare out from their prison.

The castle of Whittington remained in the Fitzwarin family until the death of Fulk XI  in 1420, when it passed to his sister who married into the Hankeford family. It is still owned by her descendants, though the care of the castle is in the hands of a Trust dedicated to its repair and maintenance.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Shropshire by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Devil comes to Cley Hill, Wiltshire

The looming bulk of Cley Hill dominates a large area of Wiltshire. Its summit is topped by ancient earthworks and is now in the care of the National Trust. As befits such a prominent landmark and ancient site, Cley Hill has attracted a fair share of legends.

It is said that many years ago the Devil himself came to Wiltshire. Striding across the landscape from Somerset the Devil was heading for Devizes. The people there had turned their back on the evil one and embraced Christianity, and now the Devil was out for revenge. He carried over his shoulder a huge sack of earth with every intention of dumping this on the town that had so angered him.

As he walked the Devil met an old man coming the other way. The Devil asked the man how far it was to Devizes. Suspecting the Devil was up to no good, the elderly farmer replied “Why, it is a great distance. I left there when I was a young man and look at me now.” The Devil looked. Deciding he did not dislike Devizes enough to travel for years to get there, he dumped the soil where he stood. And so Cley Hill was formed.

The link with the Devil may indicate that this hill was a stronghold of the old pagan religion. The obvious conflict with Christianity in the tale makes this supposition more likely.

Lying on the side of the hill is a great sarsen stone, the same sort of stone used to build Stonehenge and Avebury. Local legend has it that the face of the Devil is carved on the underside of the stone and that great misfortune awaits who ever turns the stone and reveals the evil one. Perhaps sensibly, nobody has turned the stone.

A final legend is less laden with doom. This concerns the ancient burial mound which stands on top of the hill. This barrow is said to be the home of the guardian spirit of local livestock. It is this spirit which presides over the nearby Hog’s Well, water from which is said to be a sure cure for sick pigs and will also ease sore eyes in humans.

The spirit itself has been seen on occasion. He takes the form of a dwarf who lurks on the summit of Cley Hill around dusk. If you encounter such a phantom it is probably best to check it out for horns and cloven hooves before speaking to it. Cley Hill is not the sort of place on which to make a mistake.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Wiltshire by Rupert Matthews.