Saturday, June 22, 2013

Haunted Homes

It rained heavily today, and school sports day had to be postponed, leaving me with a bit of time on my hands; so what better way to spend it than browsing amongst all my old books again?

The book pictured left is a great favourite of mine: The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John H. Ingram. First published in the early 1880s, this is the fourth edition (1888). I found it years ago (probably decades ago, I think) in a junk shop by the side of a road somewhere in rural Scotland - I don't remember exactly where. This was long before we came to live here, so it must have been on one of our hill-walking trips.

Haunted Homes is a collection of "true" (as opposed to fictional) ghost stories, organised alphabetically by location. The preface declares that the book has not been compiled "with a view of creating un frisson nouveau*, but to serve as a guide to the geography of Ghostland - a handbook to the Haunted Houses of Great Britain."

It also claims to supply exact details where most people can only give a vague account of any particular apparition, ie. it is trying to be as scientific as possible. However, at the end of the preface the author says that if he had ever believed in ghosts, compiling the book would have cured him of "such mental weakness". So I must say I think he is being disingenuous when he claims not to be trying to give his readers a frisson; if he thinks it is all bunk then the only purpose is to entertain!

Anyway, the book is a fascinating read. It includes some fairly well-known "hauntings" such as Glamis Castle and Rainham Hall, but also a host of others that I had never come across before. Some of them are standard fare: misers haunting the hiding-place of their hidden hoard or people appearing to their relatives when they were known to be far away at the time, and later being discovered to have died at the instant of their appearance. Others of the stories are more disturbing.

There is, for example, an entry for a country house coyly described as "Yorkshire: ----- Hall" which has a very creepy little ghost in it. A young woman stayed with some cousins who lived in a mansion in North Yorkshire, in the summer of 1879. Between three and four in the morning she heard her bedroom door open and shut, and then the rustling of some curtains close to the bed. For several minutes the young woman had a strong feeling that she was not alone, and then she saw someone standing at the foot of the bed: "the figure of a little girl in her night-dress - a little girl with dark hair and a very white face." The young woman tried to speak to her, but couldn't. She reports what happened next as follows: "She came slowly up on to the top of the bed, and I then saw her face clearly. She seemed in great trouble; her hands were clasped and her eyes were turned up with a look of entreaty, an almost agonised look. Then, slowly unclasping her hands, she touched me on the shoulder. The hand felt icy cold, and while I strove to speak she was gone."

The young woman's hostess (presumably her aunt) encouraged her to think that the whole thing must have been a very vivid nightmare. It was not until after she had left the house and gone to stay elsewhere that her cousin told her that the apparition of the little girl had been seen by other people on three other occasions, but that the young woman's uncle had forbidden his children from telling her this, because he thought it would frighten her too badly!

The thing that I personally find most chilling about this account is that on all the previous occasions, the little girl in the nightdress with her dark hair had only ever been seen from the back, looking out of the window, running up the staircase, or on one occasion simply standing by the table in a room. The young woman who recounted the story said, "I am the only one that has seen its face."


* a cheap thrill.


  1. Every time I read of any incident (?) featuring the ghost of a child nowadays, I am reminded of Reggie Oliver's "Hand to Mouth", which has been compiled in "Flowers of the Sea". Seriously creepy stuff.