Friday, 30 December 2011

Crisis Apparitions - a classic example

A quite different type of ghost goes by the name of “crisis apparition” among investigators. A typical example occurred on 7 December 1918 at the Royal Air Force base at Scampton, Lincolnshire. A pilot named David McConnel was ordered to fly an aircraft to the RAF base at Tadcaster as it was wanted there the next day. He left at 11.30am, telling his room mate Lieutenant Larkin that he would return by train and be back in time for supper.

At 3.25pm that afternoon Larkin was sitting in the room he shared with McConnel reading a book. He heard footsteps coming up the corridor, the door opened and McConnel stood in the doorway wearing flying kit, with his flying helmet dangling from his left hand.

“Hello, my boy” said McConnel as was his usual greeting to Larkin.

“Hello,” replied Larkin. “You’re back early.”

“Yes,” agreed McConnel. “I had a good trip. Well, cheerio.” He then shut the door and Larkin heard his footsteps retreating back down the corridor. Larkin assumed his room mate was going to have tea or to file his flight report.

At 3.45pm another lieutenant, Garner Smith, came to Larkin’s room and asked when McConnel would be back as they had tickets to a show that evening. Larkin said that McConnel had already returned, but Smith was convinced that he had not. The two men went off to check and found that McConnel had not yet reported back, nor had the guard on the front gate seen him arrive. Larkin was adamant that he had seen McConnel and a search began. The search ended when a telegram arrived from Tadcaster announcing that McConnel’s aircraft had crashed as it landed. McConnel had been badly injured and he had died at 3.25pm - the exact time that Larkin had seen him arrive back at their room.

Hundreds of similar cases are on file. Most of these are difficult to verify as they involve a phantom being seen by a person who is alone at the time. There is usually only the word of that single person to rely on, but with the McConnel case is valuable because of the search made by Smith and Larkin. Dozens of men saw Smith and Larkin walking about the Scampton base, and knew the reason why, long before news arrived of McConnel’s death. Although there were no other witnesses to the apparition, there were plenty to the fact that Larkin said he had seen it before news of the tragedy arrived.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Reasons to avoid the Fairies

t is fashionable to scoff at tales about fairies and giants, or to consign them to books intended for young children. This is not an error our forefathers would have made. They knew that the little people were very real denizens of Surrey - and that they had to be treated with proper respect.

The real fairies of past centuries were not gossamer-winged sprites engaged in painting flowers pretty colours or prancing about among the dew. They were a powerful tribe of diminutive humans around three feet tall who had the gift of flight and who lived in the wilder areas of rural Surrey. They had the ability to mislead humans, making them see and hear what the fairies wanted them to see and hear. They could steal away babies, ruin crops and turn butter sour. They could help humans or harm them according to their whims and capricious nature. Fairies had the gift of glamour, meaning that they appeared to be handsome, rich and charming even when intent on the most hideous of evil acts.

All in all, they were best avoided, but if that were not possible it was wise to placate them. In Surrey it was considered bad luck to call the fairies by their true name, so they were usually referred to as Farisees, which could be confused with the Pharisees of the Bible by outsiders.

One of the pranks that the farisees like to indulge in was to remove livestock from barns or fields at night and ride them at high speed until they were exhausted and covered in sweat. Then the hapless creature would be returned to the barn or field for the farmer to find it next morning. Whenever a horse, cow or pig was found in a sweat in the morning, the farmer knew that it had been “farisee ridden”. The only cure for this was to hang a flint on a piece of string so that it dangled just over the back of the animal in question. Farisees did not care for flint, so the stone would stop them getting on to the animal.

More practical folk might consider that an animal found to be all sweaty and exhausted in the morning might have been suffering from a fever, but traditional beliefs were slow to die. As late as 1920 a vet based in Guildford was called out to minister to a sick calf and found a flint dangling over its stall. “Best to be safe, you see,” explained the unabashed farmer.

from the book PARANORMAL SURREY by Rupert Matthews

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Mysterious Selby of Rothbury, Northumberland

Of a similar type to Jack of the Syde was the man remembered by the little town of Rothbury. This man was a notorious local moss-trooper by the name of Selby. He is generally held to have been a particularly bloodthirsty and vicious example of the type. His bravery and cunning were legendary, but cannot have made up for his many dreadful crimes. He lived in a cave, still called Selby’s Cove, high on the slopes of the Simonside Hills south of the town. Unfortunately, other than his name, hideout and reputation virtually nothing is known of the man. When he lived, how he died and even his full name are entirely mysterious.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

An Arthurian Punch-up in Bodmin, Cornwall

The mighty King Arthur is a figure familiar to many, be it from television shows, Hollywood movies or story books. These show Arthur as a powerful medieval king surrounded by a band of heroic knights intent on doing chivalrous deeds of various kinds, usually for the benefit of winsomely beautiful ladies. This King Arthur is brought low by the treachery of his half sister Morgana and her son Mordred. It is a dramatic and heroic epic of vast scope and proportions.

These stories are all based on medieval poems and stories that pictured Arthur as being the epitome of the code of chivalry that was then fashionable among the warrior elite of Europe. He was said to rule over Britain from his court at Camelot and was supported by the Knights of the Round Table. It was all a fantasy conjured up by poets and writers seeking to create an imaginary backdrop against which to set their romances and songs. This Arthur was said to have lived at some point in the distant past, ruling over a lost paradise of knightly virtues. It is largely because these stories and the Arthur figure in them was so patently false that some scholars have sought to prove that Arthur himself never existed.

However, the medieval romancers chose Arthur’s court in which to set their stories because he was already widely famous as a powerful and noble ruler from days gone by. Direct evidence as to who Arthur had been and when he had lived was even then scarce, and now is even rarer, but it seems clear that if he lived at all it must have been in the poorly recorded Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire.

The good people of Cornwall have their own distinctive take on the mystery of King Arthur. Nobody found this out more quickly, nor more dramatically, than nine French monks who came to Cornwall in the year 1113. The monks were on a fund-raising tour for the cathedral at Tours. They were carrying a collection of holy relics which they were charging people to see and touch. On their journeys through the southwest of England they had several times heard stories about Arthur and his exploits. When they arrived in Bodmin, the French monks exposed their relics in the parish church. Among those who came to see them was a local man with a crippled arm who was hoping to be cured.

As the crippled man approached the subject of Arthur came up. The man told the monks that Arthur was still alive. The monks laughed at him and assured him that Arthur was dead. The other locals took the side of the cripple and the discussion soon became a dispute that escalated into a fistfight. The local lord sent in his men to restore order, which they did with difficulty. The monks found it wise to move on.

It is clear from this incident both that the Bodmin locals felt strongly about Arthur and that they believed that he was still alive. What is not so often noticed is that the French monks were equally convinced that Arthur was a real person, only differing in their view that he was a ruler who had died many years previously. The incident is important as it predates the more elaborate medieval romances and so gives a clue as to the Arthur that the romancers reworked for their own purposes.

From MYSTERIOUS CORNWALL by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 9 December 2011

The "Lady Combermere" sea monster

In 1820 the merchant ship Lady Combermere came across what the lookout took to be an upturned ship’s hull wallowing in the waves of the Bay of Biscay. The master, George Sandford, steered for the object and later wrote a description of what he saw. “I saw a hump at one extreme resembling the point of a triangular rock. This tapered to a distance I certainly believe 70 or 100 feet, and the water broke over it. I was undetermined in mind what it could be or whether I should tack the ship. It all at once disappeared and, to my great astonishment, a head and neck resembling something of a snake’s made its appearance, erected about six feet above the water. It all at once vanished.”


Sunday, 4 December 2011

Odd Goings On in Nile Street, Sunderland

An odd series of events took place in Nile Street in 1949. Again broken windows were involved and a ghoulish face seen peering through windows. At night some people reported hearing footsteps echoing down the street when nobody else was within sight. It was all very strange, but at least one local man thought he had the answer. Shortly before the touble began he had seen two men climbing on the roofs of the houses and, taking them for burglars, had given chase. These thieves were suspected of staging a fake haunting in revenge, but it seems a touch unlikely and in any case nobody was ever caught perpetrating the haunting.

Nile Street does seem to have had a history of odd goings on. In 1952 workmen found an ancient passageway under the street that ran for many yards, but ended in both directions at what seemed to be cave ins. In the 1970s builders discovered dozens of skeletons in what seemed to be a long-forgotten graveyard. Meanwhile, the Windsor Castle pub hit the headlines in 1997 when a cleaner arriving to open up one morning was startled to see a man already in the room. He looked at the cleaner and said “I’m wanting the foundry”. The startled cleaner stepped out of the door to summon aid, but when she went back in the man had vanished even though there was no way he could have left without the cleaner seeing him go.

It was later discovered that the property had been built on the site of tenements. Back in February 1907 a man living there had been killed in an accident at the foundry where he worked. Had the mysterious intruder been the ghost of this unlucky former resident. We will probably never know.

from HAUNTED SUNDERLAND by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 2 December 2011

A Royal Ghost in Shaftesbury, Dorset

The hill top town of Shaftesbury began as a fortified settlement built by King Alfred the Great as a bastion against the Viking invasions of the 9th century. He later gave the place to a convent which had his own daughter, Ethelgiva, as its first abbess. Thereafter the town kept its royal and sacred connections for centuries and it remained one of the most important places in the county.

The oldest ghosts of Shaftesbury are linked to this era. Walking slowly up the steep cobbled street known as Gold Hill come two phantom men leading a ghostly pack horse on which is slung a human body wrapped in old sacking. These ghosts are more than a thousand years old, so they can perhaps be forgiven for being rather shadowy and insubstantial when seen. They are recreating the arrival in Shaftesbury of the body of King Edward the Martyr in 978. The 18 year old king was murdered on the orders of his stepmother Elfrida at Corfe Castle  – see the entry on Corfe Castle for details of the crime.

Elfrida needed to get rid of the royal body as quickly as possible and with the minimum of fuss, but could not afford to be accused of treating the body with contempt. So she had it carried on horseback to the famous royal convent of Shaftesbury for burial. Edward was later venerated as a martyr and miracles were worked at his tomb in Shaftesbury. The tomb has long gone, but the ghostly re-enactment of his arrival here continues.

From HAUNTED PLACES OF DORSET by Rupert Matthews