Saturday, 3 January 2015

Ghost Hunting 101

So you’ve got the tickets for your very first ghost hunt.  Now what?

1, Transport.
Make sure you have the ‘SAT NAV’ code and address for where you are going especially if you are the driver!  Also check your car, make sure it has enough of all those precious fluids it needs to function properly; petrol/diesel – not all venues are in the middle of populated areas or where there is a petrol station conveniently close at hand.
2, Equipment.
All you really need is a working torch and spare batteries.  Many ghost hunting teams have kit that they are wiling to lend and explain what they are for and how they work.  A camera perhaps, but if you are going to use flash photography, please warn the people in your group before you press the button to take that shot.  The flash of a camera flash is blindingly bright in the dark.   It’s simple; say “flash” aloud before you flash!
Oh, and if you do borrow kit, please give it back.  Quite often it belongs to a team member.
 3, Clothing.
It may have been sunny all day on the date of your ghost hunt, but many hunts start at 21.00hrs and go on until 02 – 03.00hrs the next day, while it may seem obvious remember, it gets cold at night!  Not all venues are heated, tunnels and caves most certainly are not and they stay cold all year round.  I have known people to turn up to a ghost hunt wearing a thin summer t-shirt, shorts and strappy sandals, and by midnight be wanting to go home because they were freezing.  Yet Ghost Encounters have been on a ghost hunt where it registered minus 12 inside – Tatton Old Hall, 4th December, the year with all the snow – but we’re still here.  
The answer is appropriate clothing!  Trousers, socks (may be several pairs worn at once), jumper, coat, jacket, hat, scarf, gloves – layers: that you can take off or put on as needed.   And proper footwear; sturdy trainers are good, spare boots if you are going outside.  I wouldn’t suggest really heavy boots, unless you have to tramp across open fields or rough ground to get there, as indoors they can be clompy, which can be annoying on wooden floors in old echoic buildings.  Whatever you decide to put on your feet consider, ghost hunting involves quite a bit of walking and standing around; opt for warmth and comfort.
4, Food.
Many ghost hunting teams provide hot drinks but it might not always be possible as some venues do not have electric power – check if you need to take a flask.  Food, or snack, wise; unless it is stated on your ticket that food is provided don’t count on it being.  To help keep the costs down many ghost hunting teams do not provide food.  Take you own, even a squashed cheese buttie tastes marvellous at 02.00hrs!  You’d be surprised how hungry you can get while ghost hunting; Ghost Encounters has an open biscuit box by the urn, and on a busy night we can go through four packets of chocolate biscuits, not counting other varieties.   
5, When there;
Don’t turn up drunk or smelling of drink; you will not get in.  The Public Liability insurance, which all good teams will have, will not cover you if you are drunk or if you smell or are under the influence of illegal drugs.  You will not get your ticket money back either.
Sign in – it’s a fire regulation.  During the night you will work in small teams, possibly on your own at times, and should for some reason the building have to be evacuated, you will want someone to know you are out safely.  Likewise, sign out.  Especially if you are going home before the end of the ghost hunt, it saves people having to go and look for you possibly at the risk of their own lives.  We like to hunt for ghosts, not make new ones.
Only smoke in the designated area or face being asked to leave with no refund of money and possibly having to pay the fine for a false call out if the Fire brigade are involved. 
A good team will have a health and safety talk before the start of a ghost hunt; listen to it and comply with it; it is after all for your safety.  Always put your torch on before walking if the lights are off, and never run off screaming no matter what happens.  We would prefer it if you didn’t scream, leave that to the Most Haunted crew; in real life it means someone has to come and see what the matter is. 
For most of the night you will work in small teams with a Team Leader who is a member of, in our case, Ghost Encounters and Alone In The Dark Entertainment North West.  If you are feeling scared, or ill, etc., tell your Team Leader.  Ghost Encounters’ Team Leaders have radios on which they can call for first aid assistance, yes we also have trained First Aiders. 
Team Leaders for Ghost Encounters and Alone In The Dark Entertainment will never insist you take part in a particular activity but I would suggest you give it a go, then, should you decide it isn’t for you, drop out of the activity and just watch.  Some people don’t like using Talking/spirit/Ouija Boards but will happily do glass work; there is actually very little difference between the two!  If you are worried that ‘something might come through’ say so.  But isn’t that the whole point of what you go on a ghost hunt for?
If it does bother you most of the Talking Boards, (Ouija is a trademark registered to Hasbro – the makers of My Little Pony etc.,), that Ghost Encounters and Alone In The Dark Entertainment North West use  have been manufactured by either John Lysons or myself, and to my knowledge neither of us have been possessed!  Furthermore all Ghost Encounters and Alone In The Dark Entertainment North West Team Leaders know how to open Boards and close them down properly and will show you how to if you ask.
“But something might follow me home”.  This is highly unlikely.   Most ghosts are attached or attracted to the buildings and venues we visit not to us personally.  They have no reason to follow you home as they already are home.  I only know of two occasions when members of Ghost Encounters and Alone In The Dark Entertainment North West have been 'followed home' from ghost hunts, I’ll tell you about them another time. 
It is possible of course that you have brought a ghost with you, probably a former family member who either wishes to make contact if they can or just keep an eye on you, or even your Guardian Angel (if you believe in them).  Now they will follow you home because that’s how they got to the venue!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Did you see that?

Have you caught sight of someone in the corner of your eye, turned to speak to them, only to find there is no one there?  Or perhaps you have seen them walk from one room to another only for the room to be empty with no other way out of the room?  It is even possible that you could describe the clothes they were wearing, the style of their hair or the smell of their perfume or tobacco. 
Not all such sightings are solid; some can be fuzzy, out of focus, wispy or seen as streaks or patches of light.  They can come and go at will, appear and disappear quickly or just fade away.  They can even walk through, what to us is a solid object.   These sorts of things are called apparitions.
Some researchers consider apparitions to be hallucinations or a state of mind that has no true reality.  Others believe they could be a form of telepathy passing from the dead to the living.  However, while most sightings occur to a single percipient around eight percent are collective.  

Apparitions are classed as collective when more than one person sees the same thing either independently or simultaneously, under conditions where collaboration is not possible.  In a group situation, if one person sees an apparition, there is about forty percent likelihood that others will share the perception.
One famous collective apparition occurred on the 2nd of July 1863 during the fierce Battle of Gettysburg between Union and Confederate forces.  As both sides were taking heavy casualties a single Union soldier suddenly appeared on a horse.  He rode through the battle field while being repeatedly shot at and although he seemed to be hit many times, he never fell.  This untouchable soldier eventually disappeared. 
Later that same day the Union forces made a final charge on Little Round Top Hill.  As soon as the charge began the same bulletproof soldier reappeared and rode through the battlefield before disappearing again.  
Union soldiers reported their experiences to Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, these eventually ended up at the War Department from where Colonel Pittenger was sent to investigate upon the orders of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. 
It appears that an official report was never produced but Colonel Pittenger did document his many interviews with people who collectively witnessed the ghostly apparition including General Oliver O. Howard of Maine. 
Collective apparitions can also occur in peaceful times; only a few years ago a small team of ghost hunters reported seeing a group of four headstones against the outside wall of a ruined Welsh chapel.  The headstones were of different heights, one appeared to be a double or at least two stones standing so close at to touch and in a neat row.  They also appeared to have writing on them; when one member of the team stepped forward to move the brambles aside so that the words could be studied in the hope of finding a name, the headstones are said to have simply vanished. 
It is possible that a small group could conspire to deceive but what about a large group, or people in different places?  For instance there is the strange case of George Roberts. 
It was about 09.45hrs while getting ready to go to church that his mother heard a voice cry out, ‘mother!  Mother!’ His father was already at church ringing the bells when he was positive that there was someone standing behind him, watching him.  When he turned around, no one was there.  Meanwhile around 1,500 miles away in Louisiana, Port Hudson was being attacked by confederate troops.  It is reported that George Roberts died in that battle at around 10am on June 14th, 1863.  It was some time later that his parents were informed that he had died around the time they had had their experiences. 

No other teams visiting that ruined Welsh chapel have reported seeing such an apparition, and no records of graves have been found for that chapel so what did they see?  If it was a trick of light and shadow why did they all report the same thing when they would be viewing it from different angles due to the undulation of the ground, the narrowness of the track and differences in their own heights?  Was it a case of group hallucination? 
These are just a few examples of collective apparitions, the last can also be classed as a Crisis Apparition; an apparition that occurs when one person is experiencing a crisis or life-threatening situation and are perceived by another person usually someone who has an emotional connection to them. 

One thing is for certain; reports of such apparitions will continue to capture the interest of paranormal investigators.  

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Erasmus Darwin House 13th April 2013

In the shadow of Lichfield Cathedral, the only sandstone  built medieval English cathedral with three spires, stands Erasmus Darwin House.  This Grade 1 listed building was the home of Erasmus Darwin between the years of 1758 and 1781.  Grandfather to Charles, Erasmus was a poet, scientist, inventor and physician.  It was a family home, the base for his medical practice, scientific experiments, and meetings of the Lunar Society.
Erasmus Darwin bought the medieval half-timbered building in 1758 and converted it into a large red brick Georgian town house. Originally the front of the house was separated from Beacon Street by a narrow, deep ditch which once formed the moat of the Cathedral Close.  Darwin built a bridge from his fall door to the street across this overgrown ditch and created a two-tier terrace on the bank.  The ditch he planted with lilacs and rose bushes to screen the house from passers-by.
Erasmus Darwin with his back to the Cathedral
Erasmus Darwin developed the theory of evolution through natural selection, a belief that led to him having a falling out with the Church.  It was his grandson, Charles, working from his notes whom eventually proved the biology of evolution some years later.  Erasmus Darwin also had a great interest in anatomy; the cellar is said to be where he carried out public dissections and his anatomy experiments. Not normally open to the public this area of the house is only accessible by lift.
Even before we had finished setting up the cameras the fund and games began.  All the doors were held open by large wooden blocks and are fitted with anti slam devices but as one member of our team walked into the Library to set up a camera the door was slammed into him, hitting him quite hard on the chest.  Experiments ruled out movement of floorboards, the door did not reach the floor and no matter how many or how often people walked through that doorway afterwards, the door did not move again.
With everyone seated in a first floor room we began a séance.  There was possibly a few taps and bangs but the road was still reasonably busy and not all that far from the front of the house so no definite conclusions can be drawn from them.  As usual during the séance we asked if any spirit(s) could move the table or touch one of us. one gentleman became aware that he was swaying against his will.  When we asked for the table to be moved faster his swaying sped up.  Saying that he was beginning to feel none too good the gentleman left the circle and immediately began to feel better.
Another peculiar thing occurred when we were all on the first floor.  Without warning or anyone summoning it the lift suddenly descended to basement.  The only way this could happen was for someone to be in the lift or to press the button calling it to the basement. 
While in the Library one of our customers received personal messages over the talking board.   After this it was as if there was a long queue of ‘spirits’ wanting to pop in to say ‘hello’, then, while there was four people on the glass the table itself began moving but quite often in the opposite direction to that of the glass.  Still with a single finger each upon the glass, and while they were taking it in turn to lift said finger, the four-legged table would balance on two legs.  To make sure there was no ‘monkey-business’ with feet being used to move the table we had a sceptic constantly watching the underside of the table, he confirmed that no-one was moving their feet or making contact with the table other than through the glass.

Other ghost hunting teams have also reported doors that open or close without explanation; the sounds of people moving around in empty rooms, disembodied voices, children laughing and a disturbing moan.   Strange EMF (electromagnetic field) spikes, the intermittent odour of tobacco smoke, rapid fluctuations in temperature and, inexplicable flashes of lights have all been experienced at Erasmus Darwin House as well as strange knocks and raps.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The pendulum and ghost hunting.

 The use of a pendulum is a form of dowsing and can be traced to the ancient times; it is possible that pictoglyphs on the walls of the Tassili Caves in southern Algeria in Africa are the earliest evidence to date.  The Chinese emperor Yu went on a dowsing expedition over 2,000 years BC and the art has been used by kings and psychics from then, though the middle ages to present times. 
This form of dowsing is a popular method of attempting to communicate with spirits when on a ghost hunting investigation.  This is possibly because being a small piece of equipment a pendulum does not take up much room in a bag and is light in weight; it has no moving parts to jam nor requires any batteries that can flatten.  Likewise it does not need any great technical skills or psychic powers to operate it and yet the fact that this lump of rock, metal, wood, glass or even plastic dangling from a length of a chain or piece of string can seemingly answer questions is rather mysterious
Is the pendulum made to move by the person holding it?  That is always a possibility, every living person breaths and has a pulse making absolute stillness impossible.  The possibility that the subconscious thoughts and desires of the dowser could also be affecting the pendulum has to be taken into account.  And there are people who, for whatever reason, will deliberately make the pendulum move.  Of course questions have to be worded so a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer will fit, which, when put together with the many ways of indicating answers, can leave much to individual interpretation.
Is there a right way to hold the pendulum?  Some say the end of the chain should be gripped between forefinger and thumb others that the chain should be looped over the middle finger and yet others go as far to say the gem at the end of the chain should be on the thumb side on the finger, but does it really matter.  Surely it is a question of personal taste, of which way is the most comfortable, and depends on the weight of the pendulum and the size of the gem, or whatever marks the end of the chain, provided the dowser is able to keep their arm and hand as still as possible.
Another point of contention between dowsers is how the pendulum displays its ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers.  Again, no one seems to be able to agree.  Some say ‘yes’ should be a clockwise movement others a back and forth movement like nodding your head, that ‘no’ should be a counter clockwise movement while their counterparts say ‘no’ is a side-to-side movement like a shake of the head as, to them, a clockwise circular moment means ‘I don’t know’, and a counter clockwise movement means ‘I won’t tell’.  Some say the word ‘stop’ should be used to ensure that the pendulum settles before answering the next question.  Yet others believe the pendulum, or the spirit in attendance, should dictate their own ‘yes’ and ‘no’ movements.  This, to me, makes more sense; what if you get a spirit who does not understand ‘clockwise’.  It is, after all, only in the past 100 years that clocks have become common place household item for common folk, hence the now fading practise of gifting a clock to a retiring worker.  The evidence is found in places like Worsley, where the workers used the Bridgewater clock in Worsley yard, which had been set to strike 13 at 1.00pm on purpose, to mark the end of their lunch breaks.  Again, I feel, it comes down to personal preferences. Likewise, just how much you believe the information gained through the answers to be real is down to how you interpret them.
It is fascinating to watch a pendulum begin to swing in the desired direction or in an apparent answer to a question, and then to stop moving again on demand.  I have seen pendulums make very clear movements, then at other times indistinct or even no movement at all.  Is this because some ‘ghosts’ are more willing to communicate or are stronger than others or is it down to one dowser being more anxious to ‘put on a good performance’ for their audience than another?  Holding your arm as still as possible gets tiring, does this contribute to the pendulum’s movements?  Are lighter pendulums more likely to give answers, or would that be because they are more susceptible to autonomic movements?  Would two people using pendulums in the same place at the same time get the same answer to the same question?  
For now, I seem to have more question than answers.  Perhaps that is part of the mystery attached to using a pendulum.  Perhaps I’ll find more answers the more I experiment.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Ryecroft Hall

Ryecroft Hall was built on land bought from the Earl of Stamford and Warrington by James Smith Buckley in 1849.  James, and his brother Able, owned a pair of mills in Ashton-under-Lyne.  The Hall is a large L shaped two storey stone built house with basement and attic levels and a slate roof.  The entrance porch passes beneath a Tudor arch while most of the windows have two or three lights with double chamfered mullions and transoms and hoodmoulds.  The Hall was built to be a declaration of the family's wealth. 
In 1851 the unfinished Hall passed to James Smith Buckley's son James.  It stayed in the Buckley family until February 1913.  The new owner Austin Hopkinson was an engineer who built built the delta works in Audenshaw where he invented and developed a coal cutting machine. 

Between the years 1914 to 1918 Ryecroft Hall served as a voluntary Red Cross Hosptial with over 100 beds.  The Hall was also a communications centre; evidence of this remains on cellar doors and the existence of the map table.

When the Hall and grounds were given to Audenshaw in 1922 it became a social centre for the urban district and so it remained until the formation of Tameside MBC in 1974.  It is still used by small groups and as a venue for dance and exercise classes and as a venue for the solmisation of marriages.  

Ryecroft Hall, now grade 2 listed building, is the site of two Blue Plaques; one for Austin Hopkinson, MP for Mossley between 1918 and 1945, the other to commemorate Harry Norton Schofield, the son of a local chemist who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the Boer War. 

The Ryecroft Séance
The room was set up with three big trestle tables, the sort where six people can easily sit to down each side, two side by side and the other across the end of the two.  Spanning the two side by side tables there was a movement sensor.  At the head of the table was a skull, a crystal ball a black candle and a white candle. There was also a circle of tea lights on the tables.  It looked really spooky once the lights were turned out.
Everyone sat around the tables, little fingers touching the little fingers of the people on either side of us.  We were instructed not to break the circle no matter what happened.  The spirits were asked to come forward and to let us know of their presence by knocking or tapping somewhere in the room. At first nothing happened, then we weren’t sure if some shadows were moving and if we could hear footsteps as if someone was walking along one side of the room. 
Then suddenly the movement sensor flashed.  Then flashed again.  While everyone was watching the sensor the crosswise table began to rock.  It was only a little movement, from one side to the other then from one end to the other.  The movement sensor flashed crazily for a few moments then the crosswise table moved, really moved.  Many of the people it moved toward screamed as the table shot a good twelve inches in their direction.  I thought some one had pushed it but no one had broken the circle of hands but the movement was smooth as if the table was gliding.  The table then moved back to its original position without juddering or scraping along the floor.  A few moments later the table moved again, this time in the opposite direction, toward me, again there was no juddering or scraping sounds and no one had broken the circle before returning to its original position.
After the séance was over several of us tried to move the table by resting our hands on top of it and pushing with our fingers as anyone on that table in the circle would have to have done; we couldn’t make the table move without really pushing down so hard that other people would have been aware of it being a deliberate push.  We certainly could not move the table anywhere near as smoothly or soundlessly as it moved by itself. 
Furthermore, for the table to move in both directions it would have required more than one person at different ends of the table working at a team to get it to move like it did and I know I knew no one at the other end of the table.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Black Gate, Newcastle, 31st October 2012

Architecture and history
Built in  A.D. 1247 this barbican is a 34 feet long by 11 feet 6" wide covered passage with guard rooms on either side and drawbridges at both ends.    While the original height of the medieval building is unknown it still bares the telltale marks of a portcullis and of the great castle gate itself in its brickwork. 
Between 1227 and 1258 the occupier is recorded as Tomes Herron, (also called William Heron), the Sheriff of Northumberland.  It is known that he liked to decorate the walls of the Gate with the mutilated bodies of the many people he hung drew and quartered along with corpses hung on the gallows and displayed in iron cages and human heads on sticks.
By 1618 the castle was no longer as important and parts of it were leased to Alexander Stephenson, a courtier of King James I.  Stephenson substantially altered the gatehouse, rebuilding the upper floors, and possibly added the brick house over the top of the original, fortified gate.  He, in turn, let it as accommodation; one tenant was merchant Patrick Black who it is believed gave his name to The Black Gate.
Carved into a stone high up on the south side of the building is the date 1636 and the name John Pickell, it is known that he used the Black Gate as a tavern at this time.  In 1883 the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne leased the property and spent over sixteen hundred pounds repairing and improving it, including adding the top floor and pitched roof, to use as a museum until 1959, meeting place and library  right up until 2009.
In the 1930s soldiers were billeted within the Black Gate; the names and dates they scratched into a pair of wooden pillars in the first floor room are still visible.  Up until the 1970s a caretaker lived in the top floor.

The investigation

The evening began with a séance.  During this time the heavy tread of footsteps could be felt vibrating through the wooden floor as though someone was pacing one at end of the room even though no one visible was moving.  A few possible taps and knocks were heard but with it being All Hollow’s Eve there was a lot of competition from the bells of the close by Cathedral of St Nicholas. 
After splitting up the teams spread out over the four floors.  Talking boards were used to communicate across the veil with some success; one team reported that they received messages for one of their number in both the flat and the first floor ‘hub’ room.  While the investigator was not making contact with the board the answers to his verification questions were proved to be correct.   Short messages received for members of other teams throughout the night.
Activity on the lower floor ‘stone room’ was very slight, with only the possibility of a stone being thrown.  Unfortunately the makeup of this room makes verification difficult. 
‘Daniel’ did his best to communicate through a crystal in the small glass doored section of the library; another group reported the occasional unexplained tap.   ‘Daniel’ again came through on a talking board in the hub room, he seemed to remember talking to me on my previous visit there and recalled the less than polite word he used to describe me! 
‘Daniel’ has come through on many other occasions and it is known that a “Daniel Fenie”, was active in the area in the 1880s.  He reportedly cut the throats of at least five women and three children.  Is it possible that this Daniel and the one who tried to communicate with us are one and the same?
Pam’s group had great success with table tipping in the flat; the table walked and span around in the back room, before shuffling along and slamming into the wall.  It made quite a racket; I was on the floor below!  Later when my group tried we got a bit of activity but nothing like as much.
On the whole it was somewhat quieter than previous visits to Newcastle; in fact we were beginning to think that perhaps all the spirits had gone out to celebrate Hallowe’en, yet the people who received personal messages, and those accompanying them, appeared pleased with the results.,_Newcastle

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Penrhyn Old Hall - Saturday 27th October 2012

This was the first time we had started an evening’s ghost hunt with a séance.  Guests and Team Members alike we gathered around the table in the Fireplace Room, this had been the bake house for the Hall the evidence for this is the large fireplace where renovations in 1910 revealed a hive-shaped oven.  The table looked fantastic with its circle of tea-lights headed by the skull (aka Fred), a crystal ball, small jar of cleansing salts and its black and white candles.  The impact of walking into a room that with lights out has to be seen to be understood. 
The séance began quite normal enough, with everyone seated, feet flat on the floor little fingers touching the little fingers of the person on either side of them, but hardly had we begun when the table started to move, just a little bit, but move.  Mark did not even finish asking for a whistle before he got one and we could hear footsteps moving around the room as we sat not moving.
Explaining how the K2 works.
Awaiting the start of the seance. 
Later one of our old friends, Ian, came through on the talking board; unfortunately he was still queuing at the bar for a drink but he did manage to inform us that he died of a nosebleed.  This is the same information that he provided us with last time we ‘spoke’ when there were different people of the board and none of our new guests had been previously informed about Ian.  The table tipping once again had the table bouncing from side to side and spinning around, it even tried to balance while leaning over at 45os.  All this with just the very tips of our fingers just resting on the top of the table.     
The weather prevented us visiting the chapel this time but Penrhyn itself did not let us down; with keenly felt cold draughts that cannot be explained in a windowless door free space, shadows that move of their own accord when everyone else is motionless, the sounds of footsteps and whispering voices, the taps and bangs that come upon request and being followed around from the moment I walked into the Old Hall.  Even Yvonne said that she’d seen something following me at one point. 

We will be visiting Penrhyn again, are you brave enough to join us?