The Daily Telegraph

Ghosts of Tele­graph read­ers past

A life­long ag­nos­tic, Richard Sugg found chill­ing tales of the un­ex­pected in the Tele­graph archives

- Richard Sugg is the au­thor of 10 books, in­clud­ing A Cen­tury of Ghost Sto­ries London · England · Cheltenham · Cambridge · United Kingdom · Royal Albert Hall · Glasgow · Paranormal · Church Stretton · Stretton · Society for Psychical Research · Cambridge University · Timothy Spall · Rutherglen · Rutherglen

All Hal­lows’ Eve al­lows us to in­dulge in a par­tic­u­lar kind of fright; largely, the an­tic­i­pated kind, where we know that a se­ries of spooks and star­tles lie in wait. Yet six years ago, I stum­bled across some­thing al­to­gether more alarm­ing: poltergeis­ts who, in airy de­fi­ance of the laws of physics, would hurl objects in a house, make a ham­mer­ing racket, or pro­duce show­ers of stones from nowhere. I was re­search­ing the mat­ter for my book and, as a life­long ag­nos­tic, I found the ac­counts I came across hard to swal­low. Th­ese tales, span­ning hun­dreds of years, were given di­rectly by ev­ery pos­si­ble kind of wit­ness; the per­sonal, un­pub­lished anec­dotes I went on to col­lect would eas­ily fill sev­eral vol­umes.

I lo­cated the ma­jor­ity of the his­toric ac­counts of ghosts and poltergeis­ts in The Daily Tele­graph – one no­table sighting in the au­tumn of 1881, recorded by its let­ters’ pages, de­tailed a ghostly ap­pari­tion in Church Stret­ton. This then prompted sev­eral read­ers to share other para­nor­mal ex­pe­ri­ences; the au­thors in­cluded two MAS, a lieu­tenant colonel lament­ing the ghost in his friend’s house, the ser­vant of a haunted Lon­don club, and a woman trou­bled by the ghost of her hus­band’s first wife. An­other writer (tellingly sign­ing him­self “A Scep­tic”) de­scribed the mis­ery caused to his friend in the west of Eng­land by “the shad­owy form of a woman hold­ing a child in her arms”. This ap­pari­tion had ter­ri­fied two sep­a­rate wives, and chil­dren and ser­vants, and prompted the use of a pri­vate de­tec­tive. “The vic­tim of th­ese mys­ter­ies,” our cor­re­spon­dent in­sisted, “is as in­tel­li­gent as he is coura­geous and calm-tem­pered.”

The same seemed to hold for one “WM”, who stressed that “pre­vi­ous to Nov 7 1869, I al­ways laughed at the bare idea” of ghosts. On that night, he was walk­ing along the Brighton Es­planade by moon­light when a two-horse car­riage pulled up be­side him. He recog­nised its oc­cu­pant as his grand­mother. Won­der­ing why she should sud­denly ap­pear at this hour from her home in Chel­tenham, he vaulted the rail­ings to ap­proach the car­riage, when “to my hor­ror the whole thing van­ished”. The next day he learned that his grand­mother had been found dead in her bed at 7.30 that same morn­ing. This kind of ed­u­cated in­ter­est in the para­nor­mal crys­tallised, in 1882, into the for­ma­tion of the So­ci­ety for Psy­chi­cal Re­search at Cam­bridge Univer­sity. Through­out the 19th cen­tury, Bri­tain was deeply di­vided on the ques­tion of ghosts and poltergeis­ts, with many writ­ers treat­ing them with con­tempt. But a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple died of ter­ror of ghosts, some­times as the re­sult of a sim­ple hoax. In Au­gust 1934 The Tele­graph re­counted how “a man who is re­ported to have said that he had seen the ghost of Feodor­ovna, Lady Aling­ton, who died a lit­tle more than a month ago, was found dead on Satur­day in the house in which Lady Aling­ton had lived in Port­man Square”. Frank Wal­lace, re­cently care­taker at the res­i­dence, “was found hang­ing in the boiler house in the base­ment”. A sub­se­quent in­quest learned, how­ever, that he had not died from hang­ing. It was con­cluded that he had died from the shock which pro­voked his sui­cide at­tempt. In re­al­ity, it may have been that Wal­lace, like so many be­fore him, died from ter­ror of see­ing a ghost.

Fifty years later, The Tele­graph recorded that John Baker, the Bishop of Sal­is­bury, had be­lieved in ghosts since his grand­mother ap­peared to him just after she died when he was four years old. “I was awake. She came in and kissed me good night… This was not the ghost story of the grey lady in the long gallery. It was per­sonal; it had a pur­pose,” he wrote.

While there is good ev­i­dence ghosts with a pur­pose ex­ist, there is much to show that some sight­ings in­volve purely pas­sive, un­con­scious im­prints of a dead per­son, mov­ing au­to­mat­i­cally, and with no aware­ness of the liv­ing. An­drew Green, Eng­land’s premier ghost-hunter of the late 20th cen­tury, be­lieved that ap­pari­tions were “bursts of elec­tro­mag­netic en­ergy” rather than con­scious spir­its from the after­life. Green was called in by Ian Black­burn in spring 1996 to look for ghosts in the Royal Al­bert Hall. Sighted and sensed here since the Thir­ties, th­ese tended to reap­pear when­ever build­ing work was go­ing on, and with this due again, Black­burn wanted to be ready, telling The Tele­graph’s re­porter that, “When peo­ple keep say­ing the same things to you, you have to take no­tice and try to get to the bot­tom of it.”

In 1999, The Tele­graph in­ter­viewed Daniel and Diana Hod­son about para­nor­mal ex­pe­ri­ences in their Ge­or­gian house in Sus­sex – teddy bears, or­na­ments and vases tum­bling from shelves and win­dowsills looked like the work of a pol­ter­geist. But aged two, their first daugh­ter, Su­san­nah, was al­ready talk­ing about imag­i­nary friends, Ge­orge and Ab­bie. Presently a vis­it­ing boy was found crazed with ter­ror after see­ing an old woman and a man with a bad leg, “telling him he should not be there”. A medium iden­ti­fied Ge­orge and Ab­bie with­out be­ing prompted, and re­ported im­ages of a man “wield­ing a pick­axe” – an ex­or­cism suc­ceeded in clear­ing the house. Years later an old lady who had lived there as a girl told the Hod­sons sto­ries of pol­ter­geist ac­tiv­ity. Even­tu­ally, she added, her fam­ily “had been forced to move out: be­cause she had been tor­mented by a man called Ge­orge who used to chase her wield­ing a pick­axe”. Daniel ul­ti­mately ac­cepted “that there was some kind of malev­o­lent meta­phys­i­cal pres­ence as­so­ci­ated with the house that their daugh­ters were par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to”.

The rise of the in­ter­net has al­lowed a greater ex­change of cases among vic­tims and com­men­ta­tors. But it has also seen book-length first-hand ac­counts of poltergeis­ts or ghosts, such as En­field in 1977-78, which was later the sub­ject of a Sky drama fea­tur­ing Ti­mothy Spall.

For what­ever rea­son, in an age keen to break old taboos, poltergeis­ts have be­come a new one. When po­lice were called to the home of Catherine Shree­nan and her teenage son in Ruther­glen near Glas­gow, in Au­gust 2016, “the of­fi­cers at­tended ex­pect­ing it to be a men­tal health is­sue”. Two sets of po­lice of­fi­cers had wit­nessed clothes fly­ing around, oven doors open­ing and clos­ing, and a pet chi­huahua moved from the lawn on to a 7ft hedge. What­ever the ul­ti­mate cause, the vic­tims soon fled their home, and were plagued with abuse for their ap­par­ent “imag­in­ings”.

Such at­tacks are the prod­uct of be­lief systems in tur­moil, re­mind­ing us the great­est vi­o­lence in­flicted by a pol­ter­geist is that un­leashed upon the hu­man mind.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Ghost sto­ries: ap­pari­tions have mys­ti­fied read­ers, in­clud­ing the ghost of Lady Aling­ton, be­low Ghost-hunter: An­drew Green, be­low, was brought in by the Al­bert Hall to in­ves­ti­gate para­nor­mal ac­tiv­ity. Ti­mothy Spall in The En­field Haunt­ing, right
Ghost sto­ries: ap­pari­tions have mys­ti­fied read­ers, in­clud­ing the ghost of Lady Aling­ton, be­low Ghost-hunter: An­drew Green, be­low, was brought in by the Al­bert Hall to in­ves­ti­gate para­nor­mal ac­tiv­ity. Ti­mothy Spall in The En­field Haunt­ing, right
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK