In search of things that go bump in the night

Ghosts are probably more deeply embedded in the history and traditions of England than probably every other nation on the planet.

Almost ever city, town, village or tiny hamlet in England has its own ghostly apparitions and spooky tales to tell.

And there's the surprising statistic that an incredible 70% of all of the world's ghost stories are written by English authors.

But why are the English so fascinated by ghosts? It could be something to do with the fact that England is the only European nation bordered solely by Celtic nations (Scotland and Wales) and that England's Germanic/Nordic culture, with the Celtic influence of its neighbours, may play its part in the obsession of the English about things which go bump - and scratch, and bang, and tap, and whisper - in the night.

England itself, and probably the whole of the UK, is often said to be the most haunted country on the planet.

Now a spooky new book goes in search of England's most famous, and perhaps not-so-famous, ghosties and ghoulies.

Written by English novelist Peter Ackroyd, amongst its stories are the famous strange-goings-on at a house in Enfield, north London in the late 1970s, when a mischievous poltergeist made strange rappings, bangings and scrapings and even flung objects across the room. Members of the family were even levitated by the poltergeist, and the levitation of young Janet in her bedroom was even captured on camera (shown below). It is probably the most famous poltergeist haunting in the world.

Then there's the creepy haunting of a road which passes through a place called Blue Bell Hill in Kent. Over the years, on this stretch of road, many people have reported seeing a young woman standing in the middle of the road. They swerve to avoid her but still hit her nevertheless. But when they get out the car to see how she is she is often nowhere to be seen.

Ghoul Britannia: Things that go bump in the night have always fascinated us. Now a spooky new book goes in search of them...

By Peter Ackroyd

17th September 2010
Daily Mail

The setting was ordinary enough - a council house in an unremarkable suburban street in Enfield, north London. But the events that unfolded one summer in the home of Mrs Peggy Harper and her four children were, some would say, almost beyond belief.

It all began one night in August 1977, when two of the Harper children, Janet and Peter, came downstairs to complain to their mother that their beds had been moving.

The family had been living in the house for a couple of years without incident up to this point and, on going into their room, Mrs Harper found nothing out of order.

Spooky: The ghost story is a quintessentially English art form, with 70% of all the world's ghost stories being written by English authors

The next night, however, the children complained again - this time of a scraping noise, as if a chair were being moved. Peggy removed the chair from the room, but when she turned the light off, she herself heard the noise. She turned on the light - and the sound stopped. She turned it off, and the noise began again.

The phenomena soon increased in intensity. Loud knocks on the walls were heard, not only by the Harpers but also by the neighbours. Then Peggy found a chest of drawers standing 18in away from the wall, and pushed it back to its original position - only to find it moved again when she turned her back. Then the drawers came out and also could not be returned.

Now thoroughly alarmed, Peggy and the children took refuge at a neighbour's house, calling in police to investigate matters. The officers also heard a knocking on the walls and saw a chair move of its own accord across the floor. The next day the family returned home, only to be subjected to a rain of flying objects.

There are also reports of Janet being dragged across the floor, and two witnesses saw her levitating above her bed. Of course, Janet came under suspicion for manufacturing the evidence. And it soon became clear that, in her absence, the phenomena ceased.

This would not be the first occasion a human subject - generally a young girl - has had some connection, whether wilful or otherwise, with what is considered to be poltergeist activity. In fact, in a TV programme, made in 2007, Janet said, 'I'm not sure the poltergeist was truly "evil". It was almost as if he wanted to be part of our family.

It didn't want to hurt us.'

This striking account is one of many reports made about poltergeists and ghosts in England over the centuries, which I studied while researching my latest book, The English Ghost: Spectres Through Time, a compilation of some of the most fascinating contemporary testimonies of supernatural encounters.

The more material I pored over, the more I was struck by how deeply embedded in English history and traditions ghosts are. There is scarcely a town, village or city that does not possess its own spectre.

The ghost story is a quintessentially English art form, with around 70 per cent of them written by English authors. These days, too, our TV screens are filled with programmes devoted to the subject of haunting and ghost-hunting.

Enfield poltergeist: Janet Harper appears to levitate in 1977

It seems to me that one of the reasons the English are so fascinated by ghosts lies in our geography, England being the only European country bordered solely by Celtic nations. The popularity of the English ghost tradition is rooted in a unique mingling of Germanic, Nordic and British superstitions.

During my research I encountered thousands of ghosts in various forms. I also found more than 200 different words for spectre: dobbies, wraiths, spooks, boggarts, hobs and endless other regional variations besides.

While the accounts and details of the ghostly encounters varied, there were also notable similarities. Noises - tappings, footsteps, cries - were often the first inklings of a haunting. Sometimes, the sounds of ancient occupations are also heard centuries later - such as in one farmhouse overlooking the Lamorna Valley in Cornwall, which had a small chamber from which came the sound of an old spinning wheel.

But one of my favourite stories involves the renowned haunted house, Borley Rectory, near Sudbury in Suffolk, which has plagued a series of inhabitants with strange noises, including odd footsteps and slamming doors and unexplained happenings over the years.

The whole house was finally destroyed in a fire in 1939 and demolished in 1944 - yet, even then, the charred remains provided an echo chamber for the sounds of footsteps and doors slamming.

And despite the perception of spirits as noisy, many are, in fact, reported to be silent - though some, like the apparition of Blue Bell Hill, in Kent, can seem physically substantial.

The whole house was destroyed in a fire - yet even the charred remains provided an echo chamber for the sounds of footsteps and doors slamming

Before the construction of the A229 between Rochester and Maidstone, traffic used to pass through a place known as Blue Bell Hill, site of a Neolithic chambered tomb.

It was also the scene of strange incidents of motorists reporting that they had knocked down a woman pedestrian.

In 1974, the police were called to the scene on two occasions when motorists thought they had knocked down a young woman - but both times there was no evidence of an accident or a victim.

The first encounter was on 13 July 1974, when a Mr Goodenough was driving along the Rochester to Maidstone road when suddenly a young girl appeared in front of his vehicle. He braked and swerved but was sure that he had hit her. Getting out of his car, he found a young girl lying in the road, bleeding. He carried her to the side of the road and wrapped her in a rug.

Unable to flag down any passing vehicles, he left her and drove immediately to Rochester police station, where records show him arriving at 12.15am. He and the police went straight back to the scene - but there was no girl and no signs of blood.

Tracker dogs found no scent and there were no marks on the car.

In the autumn of 1992, three separate motorists reported that they had knocked down a young woman who had unexpectedly run into the road.

One was quoted as saying, 'She ran in front of the car. She stopped and looked at me.

There was no expression on her face. Then I hit her, and it was as if the ground moved apart and she went under the car. I thought I had killed her, because it was not as if she was see-through or anything. She was solid - as real as you are'. But, of course, there was no one there.

The witnesses in all of these accounts fully believed in the reality of what they had seen or experienced. Whether the reader chooses to believe in it is another matter.

The English Ghost: Spectres Through Time by Peter Ackroyd is published on 7 October by Chatto & Windus, priced 12.99
Last edited by Blackleaf; Sep 22nd, 2010 at 01:38 PM..
hmm maybe because they were soo bored back then that they came up with all this.
A good meal would have held her down.

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