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?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Yarm 8th September

Yes we've been back to Yarm and once again the talking boards did a lot of talking!  Our friend Jim came back through; last time he seemed quite concerned about having been, 'shot in me tit', as he put it.  This time we managed to learn that he actually shot himself while cleaning his own gun.  
We also got someone who claimed he was a demon, but we just didn't believe him.  
While I was there I took photos of the stones incorporated into the building, I presume they are the names of the people who did a lot of fundraising etc so the original church could be built.  Unfortunately I have missed one; guess we'll just have to go back so I can try again.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Yarm Fellowship Hall

Yarm is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086; it is thought that its name is derived from Old Norse where yarum or from the Old English gearum, both words mean an enclosure to catch fish.   The areas Friarage and Spital Bank preserve the memory of the Domninican Friars, often called Black Friars or Friar Preachers, who settled in Yarm about 1286 and maintained a Friarage and a Hospital in the town, until 1583.  John Wesley, founder of Methodism and Tom Brown, hero in the Battle of Dettingen are also associated with the town.
In 1822 the foundation stone for the primitive Baptist chapel was laid, the building was completed in 1831.  In 1897 the Main Hall was added followed by the middle hall which joins the two halls together.  This became a Methodist Church until it was sold to Yarm Parish Church in the early sixties.  The hall was used as the parish hall until it was sold to the Emmanuel Fellowship Church in 1976.
Twenty years later Yarm Town Council purchased the hall.  Once a charitable trust was set up in July 1999 to run the hall, the trustees decided to call it Yarm Fellowship hall, as it had always been a community building concerned with Fellowship.
It is said that people have been sent running from the building on many occasions after they have seen the ghost of a monk or a hooded man has been seen in the room upstairs.  Shadows have been seen passing the interior windows also children have been heard playing and even tugging on people clothes.  A man is reported to have been seen standing in the corner of the back room only for him to disappear the moment you turn to get a proper look footsteps are often heard coming from different parts of the building.

Yarm Fellowship Committee is a Charitable Trust (No. 1084481)

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Ghosts and Folklore of Knutsford, Cheshire.

Knutsford is situated on the Cheshire Plain close to its neighbouring communities of Alderley Edge and Wilmslow.  It is recorded in the William the Conqueror's Domesday Book of 1086 as Cunetesford ("Canute's ford").  King Canute (Knútr in Old Norse) was the king of England (1016–1035) and later king of Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden as well. Local tradition says that King Canute forded the River Lily, which was said to be dangerous then, here.  This is feasible as the River Lily, until given a channel to run in, meandered over the valley floor and fed into the mere in an area still known as The Moor creating quite a marshy area.
There is a wide selection of pubs and restaurants which makes Knutsford a popular destination for dining and drinking.  The two main town centre streets, Princess Street (also known locally as Top Street) and King Street lower down, known as Bottom Street, form the 'hub' of the town.  At one end of the narrow King Street is an entrance to Tatton Park.  The Tatton estate was home to the Egerton family. 
Ancient towns have their own folklore, and Knutsford is no exception.   One tale tells of an elderly lady who was buried in the Old Churchyard at Knutsford, with the unusual stipulation that a small sack of unshelled hazelnuts be placed beneath her head.  Unfortunately the nuts proved to be uncomfortable, so she turned in her coffin.  As this made no difference she arose from her grave one moonlight night, and proceeded to crack and eat the hazelnuts while seated on her own tombstone.  She then folded the sack for a pillow; retired to her coffin and troubled the mortal sublunary world no more.  But unnoticed one nut had rolled away; it sprouted, grew, fruited and thereafter its own nuts attracted the attention of local truants.

Naturally Knutsford with its narrow streets that still follow the old medieval layout has its fair share of ghosts.  The 300 year old Lord Eldon public house is reputed to be haunted by Annie Sarah Pollitt, Knutford's first May Queen and daughter of James Pollitt the landlord in the late19th century.  Witness reports tell of seeing an apparition that wears clothing dating from the 1800’s, flickering lights, moving objects and an unidentified cold breeze.  Staff have reported sightings of the white shade in the lower rooms, even the landlady, Laura Scullion, from 1999 - ?, has glimpsed the white figure.  She had been sceptical about the myth when she took over the pub but stated to a Warrington Guardian reporter in June 2001, "We had just closed for the night and I was standing at the bar with a barman when the white shadow of a woman moved across the bar and into the tap room."
On the M6, that runs close by the town, a terrified driver reported a glowing white lorry that charged towards him travelling the wrong way down the motorway.  The driver pulled onto the hard shoulder and closed his eyes, he even felt the HGV drive past, but when he looked into his rear view mirror immediately afterwards, there was nothing there.  On another road, this time Tatton Mile, the road running next to Tatton Park, at approximately 22:30hrs on the 19th October 2009 a driver, driving with his full beams on, spotted the figure of a man standing in the road with his hand out as if he wanted the car to stop.  As the car drew closer, the figure vanished, causing the driver to swerve out of shock.
An older story takes place close to the old turnpike on the A537 from Knutsford to Chelford in the 1800s; it was around midnight when a group of three people passed the gatekeeper in a horse-drawn gig.  The gatekeeper noted that the young man in the centre was being supported by the other two.  The next day a dead body was found by the road at Ollerton; the clothing and soft hands suggested someone of some social standing.  The clothes were retained as evidence for many years but the identity of the body was never discovered.
The story has passed into local folklore and appears in Henry Green's 1869 History of Knutsford; a sequel to this event appears in Cheshire Notes and Queries for 1889.  Albert A Birchenough recalled his experience when in October 1872 he had been walking to Chelford; he had been halfway through his journey having just passed Norbury Booths.  It was a Sunday clear night with a starry sky and the countryside was silent when coming from behind him he heard the rattling wheels of a horse drawn conveyance.  He moved aside to let it pass, but it stopped some 20 yards behind him.  Hearing the sound of voices and two or three persons jumping down he turned and went back to ask for a lift, but there was nothing there.  A short while later a passer-by came from the direction of Chelford, this allowed Birchenough to enquire if there were any turnings nearby.  The reply was 'no' and the stranger put the noises down to the possibility of them having been created by poachers.  A sensible enough answer perhaps, but it did not explain why Birchenough had heard a gig.

However the most famous, or at least most notorious, apparition is that of Edward Higgins. He lived for some time in Heath House in what is now known as Gaskell Avenue, which is just a few  doors beyond  the house where  famous  Victorian  novelist  Elizabeth Gaskell once lived  as announced
by the wall plaque. Gaskell wrote about Higgins in her short story The Squire's Tale, as did Thomas de Quincey in Highwayman.
"Squire" Higgins as he was known to his friends in the local gentry, appears to have been of good birth, and on moving from Manchester, took up residence in Knutsford, Cheshire around1756, where he was accepted by the community as a gentleman of reasonable means.  
He cannot have been short of money for he bought number 19 which is situated opposite the Common, the house was at the time covered in ivy and known as the Cann office as it had once been the place where scales and weights were tested.
His origins are obscure, but what is known is that in 1754 he had been convicted of housebreaking in Worcester and sentenced to transportation for seven years to the American colonies.  However shortly after his arrival in Boston, Higgins stole a large amount of money from the house of a rich merchant, bought himself a passage home and was back in England within a few months. 
       The marriage of Edward Higgins, Yeoman, and Katherine Birtles, spinster, is recorded in the parish church register on April 21st, 1757, where she signed her name as ÒKathruneÓ.  It is not known whether this was a normal spelling at the time or if she was illiterate.  At this time wives were not expected to be particularly inquisitive about their husband's business affairs, and Katherine was probably happy to believe that Edward lived on the rents from properties he owned in various parts of the country.  Higgins is recorded as a fit and athletic man who rode to hounds, owned several horses and was reputed to be very fond of his five children.  As was befitting a man of his standing Higgins and his wife dined with their neighbours and so become familiar with the layout of his hosts’ homes, this enabled him, at a later date, to sneak back for a spot of burglary
On one occasion Mr. and Mrs. Higgins were guests of Samuel Egerton, at his Oulton Park house, while playing an after dinner game of whist Higgins took a fancy to a jewelled snuff box which was lying on the table.  As the roads back to Knutsford were dark and dangerous the Higgins’s were staying the night; while the household slept; one guest crept into the host's dressing room and took the snuff box which he then hid outdoors for retrieval later.  Naturally the theft was discovered the very next morning; Higgins summoned all the servants and had their rooms searched.   There was, of course, no question of searching the guests’ rooms for ladies and gentlemen did not do such a thing.  Mr. Egerton was grateful for Higgins’ prompt action even though the box was not found.

Higgins, apparently, was never one to resist an impulse; he was wandering along the Rows in Chester late at night when one opportunity presented itself in the shape of a ladder that some workman had left against the wall of a house in Stanley Street.  He climbed into a bedroom of a young woman who lay asleep after returning from a ball to discover her jewellery scattered on the dressing table.  Higgins calmly pocketed his booty, held his breath when the girl turned over in bed, and then made his escape.  Years later he was to confess, "Had she awaked I would have had no choice but to murder her."

Burgling the homes of his Knutsfordian friends was not Higgins’s solo source of ill-gotten income, when the nights were amenable he would muffle the hooves of his horse, so as not to disturb the neighbours, and would head out to the Chester Road where he would hold up a coach or two.  Part of the road between Knutsford and Chester had been turnpiked; the private company charged with collecting the toll had greatly improved the old muddy wagon track consequently traffic on the turnpiked carriageway was increasing.  This was too good an opportunity for Higgins to allow to pass by and he found it easier to hold up a coach than to burgle a house as travellers usually kept a few guineas handy to surrender to the first "gentleman of the road" who stopped them.
Higgins’s  base  of  operations  for  his  highwayman exploits was the coaching house, the Royal George Hotel, what better place could there be for a highwayman to assess the likely bounty carried by a coach then the very establishment where the passengers alighted for a spot of refreshment. 
Higgins  almost came  unstuck after a ball  at the Royal  George Hotel;  he  had seen  Lady
Warburton of Arley wearing expensive jewellery and decided to waylay her carriage as she journeyed home but her Ladyship recognised him and asked why he'd left the ball so early.
Higgins is said to have murdered an old woman on one of his ‘rent collecting’ jaunts.  He returned from Bristol with hundreds of her Spanish dollars but as Spanish dollars began circulating in the North West the fable says the highwayman told a local gossip in a Knutsford pub about someone being robbed in Bristol.  The drinker, who prided himself on hearing any news first in the town, soon became suspicious of Higgins.  Higgins left Knutsford hurriedly in late 1764.  He had been tracked back to the town after robbing a house in Gloucester and was arrested in his own home by the local constables.  He asked leave to prepare a few items to take with him and was allowed to go upstairs, the constables never saw him again.  It is said Higgins escaped through a secret passage that lead onto the Heath.
Leaving his wife to sell the house and follow him, with the instruction not sell the board, which hung over his dining room fire place that had painted in gold letters 'Do Not Steal' Higgins set up a house in French Hay, near Bristol and again lived as a gentleman, this time calling himself Edward Hickson.
Highwayman Higgins’ luck finally ran out in 1767 when having told his wife he was "collecting the rents" he travelled to Wales.   After breaking into a house in Carmarthen Higgins was spotted by two butchers who were suspicious of his being abroad so late at night.  It is said that Higgins put up a good fight but their dog got the best of him.  Unable to protest his innocence having been caught with a piece of the broken key, the other piece of the key being still in the lock, and other items from a chest in the house he had robbed in his pocket Higgins was put under lock and key in Bristol.
Here Higgins was identified as an escaped prisoner but he tried to get out of it by handing over a fake official pardon.  The authorities realised that it was a forgery and his fate was sealed; Higgins was sentenced to death.  While waiting for his sentence to be carried out he wrote, "I beg you will have compassion on my poor disconsolate widow and fatherless infants, as undoubtedly you will hear my widow upbraided with my past misconduct.  I beg you will vindicate her as not being guilty of knowing about my villany."
Squire Higgins died on the gallows at Carmarthen on Saturday 7th November, 1767.

It is said that in the dead of a dark and moonless night Higgins can still be seen riding his horse through the streets of Knutsford on his way to visit a chosen house or, if off on one of his highway visits, searching for a likely looking coach to stop and demand coin of the realm from its occupants.    On occasion late night revellers, while making their way home along the narrow streets, have seen and heard a phantom coach moving over the cobbles outside the Royal George Hotel. This too it said to be Higgins, this time off on one of his ‘rent collecting’ excursions.

Now let’s look again at some of the Knutsford ghosts; Knutsford is in a low lying area full of meres, (bodies of open water, often slow moving and deep), marshy areas and small rivers, when the weather conditions are right these give off vast amounts of mist, some light, some not so light and more often then not white.  As for the tale of the ghostly figure seen on Tatton Mile, we have a tired driver in the late hours of an October night with his head lights fully on.  Was it really some spectral hitchhiker or a trick of the mist and light on tired eyes with a little bit of pareidolia thrown in for good measure?
In the case of the ghostly HGV wagon, that stretch of the motorway is known to be affected by fog and mist, could it not be the same although no time of day is given for the event.
The ghost of Annie Sarah Pollitt; we have a 300 year old building, this in itself will lend to creaks and draughts, the flickering lights could be tired wiring, a bad change over at the generator or even a faulty bulb.  Again the apparition is seen late at night; could it be tired eyes, a drift of mere mist invading the building, or even having drunk a spirit or two too many?
As for Highwayman Higgins; ghostly coaches travelling over the cobbles of the Royal George, or the sound of a late night goods train, for these move along the line that runs through the valley bottom much later into the night than the passenger services do, (this was a regular occurrence particularly when ICI had a big works on the outskirts of Knutsford), distorted by the open moor then the confines of the narrow streets combined with a little mist and a few beers? 
And, while it may sound sceptical to some, we must bear in mind that, not only are there quite a few busy little pubs in Knutsford, but a portion of the town’s income is based on tourism and what brings tourists better than a ghost or two?

Around Haunted Manchester,  Peter Portland.   Publishers AMCD.