Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Enfield Poltergeist begins

In terms of poltergeist effects,  a visitation that began in 1977 in the north London suburb of Enfield remains one of the most spectacular on record.

The household affected belonged to the Harper family, which at the time consisted of Mrs Harper, who was divorced, with her four children: Rose aged 13, Janet aged 11, Pete aged ten and Jimmy who was seven. Mrs Harper’s brother, John Burcome, lived in the next street. The family got on well with their immediate neighbours, Vic and Peggy Nottingham and their son Gary. The case would prove to be enormously newsworthy, would attract leading researchers and would see accusations of trickery as well as evidence of genuine phenomena.

The visitation began as the children went to bed on the evening of 30 August. Pete and Janet shared a bedroom, and only minutes after Mrs Harper had switched the light off the pair came downstairs. They said that both their beds had been shaking and shuddering. Mrs Harper went up with them, found nothing amiss and ordered them back to bed. The next evening the same two called down to their mother that they could hear a funny noise. Mrs Harper went up, switched the light on and listened. She could hear nothing and assumed the children were playing a trick on her. She switched the light off and at once heard a sound that she later likened to a man shuffling over a wooden floor when wearing slippers. Then there came four distinct knocks as if a person were rapping their knuckles on a wooden board. She switched the light back on and was astonished to see the chest of drawers sliding across the floor. It moved about 18 inches before it stopped. Mrs Harper went over to push it back into position, but it would not move. It was as if some invisible being was pushing it from the other side.

“Right,” Mrs Harper announced. “Everybody downstairs”.

Mrs Harper shepherded the children next door and explained to the Nottingham family what had happened. At this stage they all assumed that there was some intruder in the house. Vic and Gary went back to the Harper household. They searched the place thoroughly and found nothing. As the pair were preparing to leave, the knocking noises began again. They seemed to be coming from inside the walls. Vic searched the gardens, while Gary stayed indoors, following the noises from room to room.

from POLTERGEISTS by Rupert Matthews
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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Weeping Tomb of Wonersh, Surrey

A liquid of a very different kind formerly oozed from a tomb at Wonersh. The church, dedicated to St John the Baptist is a pretty medieval church, parts of which date back to the 11th century, standing beside the river, but the bizarre liquid has nothing to do with the stream. The so-called “weeping tomb” is a table top structure decorated with brass shields that stands beside the screen to the chancel. It is made of marble and dates to the 16th century.

Nobody knows when it began to weep, but the mysterious manifestation was certainly in place by the later 18th century. Each year in early October a sticky brown liquid would begin to seep out of a crack near the base of the tomb. The viscous fluid would flow for a couple of weeks, then cease - until the following October.

Theories have long abounded as to what this was. Some suggested that it was cassia - a type of embalming fluid containing cinnamon that was used in former centuries. Why it should flow and dry up so regularly was never explained, though perhaps it had something to do with the chill weather and wet atmosphere of autumn. Others suggested that it was caused by some hidden water source under the church that intermittently raised the water table, initiating the flow when the autumn rains came. Others said it was the tomb weeping on the anniversary of the death of its occupant.

In truth nobody knows what the liquid was nor why the tomb wept so regularly. It is unlikely that we shall ever find out. In the 1950s the church was the subject of various repairs and modernisations, in the course of which the crack in the marble of the weeping tomb was cemented closed. The tomb weeps no more.

from PARANORMAL SURREY by Rupert Matthews.
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Friday, 22 June 2012

Mysterious Murder at Alnmouth, Northumberland

Always considered mysterious was the murder of John Nisbet on 18 March 1910. A man was convicted and hanged for this crime, but mystery remains as to whether he was actually guilty. Every Friday John Nisbet left Newcastle for Widdrington by train, carrying with him a bag containing the wages for the miners of Stobswood Colliery: £370 9/6d. Other bank employees went about similar tasks on Fridays and there was nothing then at all unusual in the habit of carrying cash around like this.

On this particular Friday, Nisbet went to Newcastle Station along with three other clerks. They then split up to catch different trains. As they did so one clerk, Charles Raven, saw Nisbet meet another man. Nisbet obviously knew the newcomer and greeted him as a friend. Raven had seen the man with Nisbet before and recognised him, but did not know his name. Nisbet and the unknown man were seen at Heaton Station sitting in the carriage. But when the train reached Alnmouth, Nisbet was found shot dead on the floor of the carriage by a porter. The bag and the money were gone.

The police were called and began investigations, while Nisbet’s employers put up a reward of £100 for information on the killer. A description of the man seen with Nisbet was produced and publicised through the newspapers. People known to have been on the train were interviewed by the police. It was quickly established that the murder had taken place between Stannington, where Nisbet and his companion had been seen, and Morpeth by which time the compartment in which they had been travelling and where the body had been found was seen to be empty by a man walking past on the platform. It was assumed the murderer had got off at Morpeth with the money. The bag, minus the money, was later found hidden in countryside a short walk from Morpeth.

One of the men on the train also said that he had seen a friend, John Dickman, on the train but that Dickman had ignored him, which he thought odd. The police called on Dickman who confirmed that he had been on the train. Dickman said that he had been reading a newspaper and so had missed his stop, Stannington, and had got off at Morpeth where he waited for the next train back to Stannington. Dickman resembled the description of the wanted man and had admitted getting off at Morpeth. He was arrested.

It soon transpired that Dickman was heavily in debt, had owned a revolver in the past and blood was found on his gloves. On the other hand, none of the stolen money was found on Dickman, he had sold his gun some time earlier and the bloodstains might be his own from a cut that he had suffered. When the people who had seen Nisbet with the stranger were brought forwards they were not entirely certain that Dickman was the right man. He looked like the man with Nisbet, but none of them could state that they were absolutely sure.

Despite the flimsy evidence, Dickman was found guilty. He was hanged on 10 August 1910. That leaves the question of whether or not Dickman was guilty. At the time opinions were sharply divided in Northumberland on the matter. It is quite clear that, today, it is unlikely that a jury would convict Dickman on the evidence available, and if it did the Court of Appeal would probably overturn the conviction.

On the other hand, it has since been revealed that Dickman’s record was not entirely unblemished. He had never been convicted of any crime, but he had been arrested three times. The first arrest was for fraud, but the two other arrests were both for murder. And both of those murders had involved the theft of considerable sums of money. Dickman had not been convicted of any of these crimes, and even if he were guilty of them that would not prove that he had killed Nisbet.

The mystery remains.


from MYSTERIOUS NORTHUMBERLAND by Rupert Matthews.
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Monday, 18 June 2012

Close Encounter of the Third Kind in West Virginia


On 12 September 1952 three boys saw what they thought was a meteor crash into woods near their homes in Flatwoods, West Virginia. They went to investigate with an adult neighbour, Mrs Kathleen May. They found a glowing ball about the size of a house hovering in a clearing in the woods. Nearby stood a figure about 15 feet tall that was wrapped in a billowing black cloak. When the figure began moving toward them, the witnesses fled. Next day strange marks were found in the ground of the clearing and a terrible stench filled the air.

from A LITTLE BOOK OF THE PARANORMAL by Rupert Matthews
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Friday, 15 June 2012

Sunderland Miners

The monument at Wingate
Another story I found in Sunderland Library that day sent me off to Wingate in search of a vague story of spectral miners, but I came away with a much more substantial story, though one just as intriguing.

Back in October 1906 a devastating explosion tore through the Wingate Grange Mine. The blast took place in the Lower Main Seam, a place where coal dust was known to gather as a result of being blown off the loaded carts by the strong downdraft in the shaft. The area was cleaned regularly, but dust always gathered again. It is likely that a small blasting to remove a rock fall sparked off the coal dust and triggered the explosion. Four men were killed in the initial blast and 22 more died from inhaling fumes, burns and other causes. Over 50 pit ponies also died. Dozens of men were trapped in seams below the site of the explosion, but they were extracted safely the following day. We must all feel thankful that so many men were saved and deep sympathy for those who were not so fortunate.

After the blast a full inquiry was held and the tight knit mining community of Wingate held a collection for a memorial. The money raised was enough to pay for a fine stone monument designed by the architect Douglas Crawford and erected by the stonemasons Borrowdale Brothers of Sunderland.

It is this monument that I had heard was haunted. Apparently a grey figure has been seen drifting in the area nearby. The figure seems to be that of a man who stands beside the monument, then wafts slowly away and fades from view. Whether this might be the phantom of one of the victims of the explosion, or of a grieving relative, was unclear. I came to Wingate to investigate.

Beside the monument stands the Top House pub. Where better, I thought, to begin the investigations. The bar maid knew nothing of any ghosts, neither did anyone else. Oh well, sometimes ghosts do stop appearing.






from HAUNTED SUNDERLAND by Rupert Matthews.
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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Achtung Panzer

Gateguard at the museum
The Tank Museum at Bovington is one of Dorset’s premier tourist attractions and with good reason. It has an unequalled collection of military fighting vehicles from the past hundred years. On the days when the tanks are started up, mock battles are fought across the open heathland with realistic explosions, gunfire and smoke. It is an event not to be missed.

Missing none of it is the ghost known lightheartedly as Herman the German. He appears dressed in the smart black uniform of a panzer officer from the Second World War. The ghost is generally thought to be linked to the museum’s Tiger Tank. This superb fighting vehicle was officially known as the Panzer VI, but was soon dubbed the Tiger by its crews.

This massive tank weighed 57 tons, but could still manage a top speed of 24mph and could travel 1409 miles without refueling. Its great strength lay in its armour and armament. The powerful 88mm gun could knock out any tank in the world at long range when the Tiger entered combat towards the end of 1942 and remained supreme on the battlefield to the end of the war. Meanwhile the superbly engineered 100mm armour made the Tiger impervious to the guns of other tanks and anti-tank weapons unless attacked at close range from behind.

These supreme killing machines ruled the battlefields of the Second World War, being vulnerable only to close combat, air attack or a lack of fuel. It was the lack of fuel that eventually drove these monsters to defeat, but quite a few were damaged in combat. The Tiger at Bovington Tank Museum was one such and it is generally thought that the ghostly Herman the German was a crew member killed in battle who cannot bear to leave his beloved Tiger.

from Haunted Places of Dorset by Rupert Matthews
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Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Horror in York

Church Passage is but one of many narrow alleys and passages that link the main streets of the city. All of them are so narrow that only pedestrians may pass through them, and not a few are wide enough only for one person to pass at a time. They are known collectively as snickleways and together form a network of mazelike complexity running through the ancient city. They are generally thought to be of medieval origin, but probably date back to at least the Viking period.

It is in these narrow thoroughfares that the horrendous Barguest is said to lurk. This supernatural beast is generally said to be ill disposed toward humans, and some think that it is downright evil. It usually takes the form of a huge black dog, more like a donkey in size, that has a coat of shaggy black hair. It eyes are the worst aspect of the fearful hound, being as big and round as saucers and glowing red as hot coals as if with a deep inner fire. It is these eyes that are the mark of the Barguest and by which he may be recognised. Although it is usually said to take the form of a great black hound, the creature may appear in a variety of guises. It has been seen as a calf, as a horse and as a shapeless, shifting, slithering thing.

These days the snickleways are lit by electric light, but in years gone by they had no illumination at all except for that provided by the moon, stars or the travellers lantern. They must have been dark, eerie places at night - just the sort of area where a supernatural beast might roam. There are numerous stories told about the Barguest and its malevolent actions. It is generally held that if the Barguest pushes past you, then you are safe. But if it stops to look at you with its terrible, fear-inducing eyes then it has fixed upon you as a victim. Death, or at least serious misfortune, will not be far away.

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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Phantom Squire of Beckbury, Shropshire


Beckbury lies in the valley of the River Worfe on the far eastern edge of Shropshire. It is one of those villages that is on the way to nowhere in particular and so is found only by those who are going there.

For many years, until 1896, the manor and estates here were in the hands of the Stubbs family. It was Squire Walter Stubbs, born here in 1671, who was to be the most noteworthy of the family. His generosity, sense of humour and extrovert character combined to make his as well known as he was well liked and admired.

For some reason the phantom horseman who rides through the village, past the ancient church and on to Lower Hall is always said to be Squire Stubbs. The identification is odd as the horseman is never seen, only heard. The sounds of passing hoofbeats, jingling harness and a spirited whinnying are heard often enough, but as the rider is not seen it is difficult to know how he can be identified. However, some ghosts are known to fade with age.

Perhaps Squire Stubbs once appeared in all his finery so that locals were able to recognise him, but now only the sounds of his passing are heard.

from HAUNTED PLACES OF SHROPSHIRE by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE


Friday, 1 June 2012

The Ghostly Procession of Seend, Wiltshire

The village of Seend straggles along the A361 between Devizes and Trowbridge. It is a busy road which carries cars, vans and trucks that thunder through the village day and night. it is not a road conducive to ghosts, which might be why the ghosts that process through the village have not been seen on the main road much in recent years.

The phantom procession always used to and still does make its way to the parish church and although the traffic on the main road seems to have blocked its appearances there the last section of its route is still haunted by the rustic parade. The lane that runs from the A361 to the church is some 200 yards long and is flanked on both sides by high stone walls that cut it off from the grounds of neighbouring grand houses. This is a secluded, almost lonely spot. The lane ends in a pair of tall, ornate gates and an arch of wrought iron. It is here that the ghosts vanish.

One old book records that the ghostly procession is a funeral making its way to the church. A witness who saw the ghosts one evening recently disagrees. “There were about 20 people coming down the lane towards me”, the witness said. “I was leaving the church to go home. It was early evening. I thought it odd that so many people would be coming to the church at that time. They were dressed in old-fashioned clothes, which is why I noticed them, but otherwise they looked perfectly normal. I looked down to get something from my handbag, and when I looked up they had gone. There was nowhere along that lane they could have gone to, so they were the ghosts for certain.” Had there been a hearse or coffin? “No nothing like that. They all seemed quite cheerful in fact. Chatting to each other and stuff, you know. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, they were too far away for that. In fact, now I come to think about it, I’m not sure I heard anything at all.”

Just how ancient the old fashioned clothing might be is another feature of the hauntings that seems rather obscure. Descriptions say that the ghosts are dressed in the smocks, loose gowns and wide-brimmed hats that characterised rural day dress for some centuries before modern, mass-produced clothing put fashion in the purchasing range of almost everyone. Perhaps the phantoms are a century old, perhaps three centuries.

But however old the ghosts of Seend might be they are most certainly persistent.


from HAUNTED PLACES OF WILTSHIRE by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE