Monthly Archives: October 2015

The ghost walk story begins …. and ends

This is the last posting for these Hallowe’en stories and dates back to late 2001 when a letter arrived addressed to ‘The Museum Ghost Hunter’.

It read:
‘Some time ago I read in the Evening Telegraph that you were looking for accounts of ‘spooky’ goings-on in Peterborough. If it’s not too late, please let me add to your collection of cathedral stories.
‘About 40 years ago, my mother (now long dead) came to stay with us. I took her to Peterborough Cathedral, expecting to hear many exclamations of surprise and admiration. She loved old buildings.
‘Instead, she sat beside me in one of the seats for a while after we had looked all around the place, and was very quiet and withdrawn, though she was if anything anti-religion, and would certainly not have been praying.’

When we emerged she asked: “Does the Cathedral have any history of violence?”
“You bet it does” said I, and gave a brief résumé of its early, turbulent history.
“That explains it then”, she said.
She had seen a man in monk’s habit pick up his skirts and run at top speed from one end of the nave to the other with a look of terror on his face. I certainly hadn’t seen him and no one else in the building had reacted in any way whatsoever, so we concluded that it was visible only to her.’

This story is still one that your scribe uses to this day – though not on every tour.
What the lady was seeing was quite probably the arrival of the Vikings in the 9th century destroying the first church here and murdering all present.

Black Shuck – the Barghest – the Devil Dog

The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus covers the period 655 to 1117 and tells us of the arrival in 1128 of Henry of Angely, he having been appointed Abbot of the Abbey then known as Burch by King Henry I.  This had not been a very popular appointment as far as the monks were concerned and Hugh records a great many of their complaints, and Abbot Henry’s actions. One such record tells us that:

‘In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of Lent, throughout the woodlands and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and their hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. And this is no false tale, for many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns.’

Dr Simon Sherwood in ‘Apparitions of Black Dogs’ [University of Northampton Psychology Department, 2008] suggests that the earliest surviving description of devilish black hounds is the account of an incident in the Peterborough Abbey recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle (one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) around 1127:

‘Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and the hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.’

Is the story true – or just made up to scare people?  I don’t know.  It is said to be the basis of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ story and I do know that it makes one heck of a spooky story when told late in the evening, in the dark, under trees with the shelter of a beautiful, towering Cathedral close by!

Who lifted the toilet seat?

Quite some time ago I worked for a few months in the old Tourist Information centre that was down below ground in the Peterborough Cathedral Precincts.  I experienced one or two ‘funny’ happenings during my time there. A couple of times things fell off shelves with no-one near them. It was just as if someone had picked it up and dropped it. The trouble was – each time I was the only one there, and I was two/three yards or more away from the incident! A couple of mornings when I came in I found a colleague or two clearing up some things lying on the floor at the back of the room. That had not been there when we had locked up the previous evening!

On the left just inside the entrance were the toilet facilities – facilities that fulfilled the needs of both genders.  A while after I had left I was talking to one of the staff – now an all ladies team.  With a chuckle she told me that it was a good for me that I had left. My obvious response was to ask ‘Why?’ It was then that she told me that there had been a number of incidents where they had tidied up before leaving to go home – and when they came in the next morning, opened the door to the ‘facilities’, they found the toilet seat up! Nothing else had been moved!

It’s a darn good job I was no longer there!  That TIC has been closed for quite some time now – the new one is up above ground level in Bridge Street.  I wonder if things still happen down, below ground, in the Precincts!

Thieving spooky tours

The Great Hall was empty apart from 3,000 books – old books – very old books. Through the window the branches of a bare tree drew pictures across the sky. All was quiet.
‘Now listen’ he said quietly, ‘make yourselves familiar with the layout. We have three targets and just a few seconds to get each one.’
He stopped as a guide walked towards them.
‘You gentlemen OK?’
‘Yes thanks’ said Tim, ‘We’re just having a browse.’
‘Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with’ he said as he turned away to ask the same question to another visitor.
‘If only you knew,’ Tim thought to himself.
More tourists came into the room as the three checked on their target items. As they left, the guide caught their eye; ‘Thank you gentlemen’ he said, ‘Take care.’
‘You bet we will’ thought all three.
The half hourly ghost tours round the old house were a godsend to Tim and his two friends.
Pip joined the second tour of the night. The Great Hall was half way round the tour – up the back stairs, through the doors into the dark hall, a two minute spooky story then through the other door and down the corridor. Flickering candles distracted; spooky sounds caused screams and 30 seconds was long enough for the porcelain piece to move from the display to Pip’s pocket.
Chas had just had to time to check all was OK with Pip before he joined his tour. His was the most challenging lift. In daylight it was covered by an alarm. What about on the spooky night? He got to the front of the group as they entered the room and stretched his arm across where they had seen the alarm on their recce. There was silence. It was not active.
He let the rest of the group pass. As Pip had told him – a hooded figure rose at the back of the room with a crack of lightning and a roll of thunder. Distracting screams rent the air – and the targeted piece relocated to Chas’s pocket.
Two down, one to go.
Tim waited until the last but one tour of the night. As they began the circuit he became aware of more ‘large’ men than on the other tours he had watched depart.
‘Co-incidence or warning? We’ll see,’ he thought.
As the tour progressed he became conscious that, as they entered each room, at least one of the ‘large’ men was next to him. Once or twice they made contact with him – a firm nudge coinciding with a screaming spook scaring the rest.
As they went into the next room – the last but one of the tour – Tim tripped over the feet of one of the nudgers. It unbalanced the ‘nudger’ while Tim stumbled forward and collided with two or three of the other customers.
They all ended up in a heap on the floor. Someone turned on the lights – and one of the ‘large’ men picked Tim up by the back of his jacket. ‘I’ve been watching you; you did that on purpose.’
‘What are you on about,’ Tim responded, in a loud voice, ‘It was you – you clumsy oaf that tripped me. You and your other buddies have been a real pain all the way round this tour. I’m surprised I even managed to get this far before being knocked over by one of you.’
The ‘nudgers’ were not ready for that outburst, and the rest of the group instinctively seemed to back Tim.
Tim stood up: ‘I assume we have now finished and, if you don’t mind, I shall go and find my friends and go home.’ With that he rubbed his coat straight and left – leaving behind some annoyed customers and confused ‘nudgers’.
The man at the exit wished Tim and ‘good night’ as he left.
Pip and Chas were waiting for him with the car engine running quietly. Tim climbed in the back and they slowly drove away into the darkness.
It was half an hour later that two of the ‘nudgers’ discovered their wallets missing and three days before the house found two small but rather valuable pieces of porcelain were no longer where they should be.

Tim, Pip and Chas?

Well they reverted to their real names, shared the wallet contents, shredded the wallets and achieved a more than respectable price for the porcelain.

All I can say is ‘Watch out for them next Hallow’een’.

Spooky tours can be expensive.


Conington’s earlier incident

I told you about the sad death of Colonel Arthur Mellows and promised another story of death and ghostly events at the Conington Railway Crossing. This is it.

A Ministry of Transport Reports published on 14th October 1948 tells us that: “In dense fog, ten minutes after sunrise, a light engine travelling at about 20 m.p.h. from north to south on the up line collided with a Fordson 2½ ton covered lorry crossing the line from west to east. Though damage to the engine, of the 0-6-0 type running tender first, was negligible, the lorry, owned by the Huntingdon War Agricultural Executive Committee, was completely wrecked. It was conveying ten German prisoners of war to their work at neighbouring farms and its driver was also a German prisoner. I regret to report that three of the prisoners were killed outright and that three others, including the driver, died soon after admission to hospital or on their way there; the remaining five were seriously injured.

First aid was given by members of the railway staff and others.  Considering the density of the fog and the relative isolated site, there was no unavoidable delay in obtaining medical assistance.  A doctor from the medical officer of Sawtry prisoner-of-war camp arrived at about 7.45 a.m., also an ambulace from Peterborough.  Six of the injured men left for hospital by about 8.00 a.m. and the remaining two at about 10 a.m.”

The Peterborough Citizen and Advertiser’s headlines for 1 March 1948:
‘Six German prisoners-of-war killed. Five injured as engine hits lorry in fog near Conington.’
The report reads as follows:
‘Six German prisoners-of-war from Glatton Camp were killed and five more were injured when a light engine hit a three-ton lorry on this main line crossing over the Peter­borough-London line at Conington in dense fog at 7am yesterday [Monday]. Three were fatally injured and three more were killed instantly. The remaining five were admit­ted to Peterborough Hospital in a serious condition. They were travelling to work at Messrs B. and C. Papworth’s Charter Farm, Speechley Farm and Darlow Farm. Visibility at the time was about 15 yards. A lorry that was carrying three of the injured men together with Dr T. Kuhlo and his medical orderly (both Germans) was in collision with an Eastern Counties bus on the narrow road not far from the scene of the accident. The doctor and the orderly were both badly injured and the bus and the lorry were badly damaged.
The accident happened on a railway crossing with a reputa­tion for narrow escapes, mainly caused by people’s negligence in failing to close the gates securely and not being sufficiently observant when crossing the busy main line that carried high-speed traffic to and from London. The crossing lies on a very narrow road and the gates in those days were opened by the road users. The railway company displayed warning notices in prominent positions near the crossing, but people nevertheless were careless and lives were lost.’

In Parliament the Minister of Transport was asked whether he is aware that the level crossing near Conington North signal box has become increasingly dangerous to people working on nearby farms and local villages and to their children; that last December a farm lorry was involved in an accident with a train; that on 1st March four German P.O.Ws. were killed and eleven injured when the lorry conveying them to work was hit by a light engine at the crossing; and will he take immediate action with the Railways Executive to prevent accidents there in future.  In response it was said that he was aware of these two accidents and an inspecting officer of railways is holding an inquiry into the one which occurred on 1st March. Until his report is received, I must reserve any statement as to the circumstances. I should like, however, to express my regret at this unfortunate occurrence involving death and injury to a number of prisoners of war.  A Ministry of Transport in late 1948 goes into considerable depth on this and adds a supplementary report on 9th November 1948 on the Colonel Mellows incident.

The question now is – which accident appears in ghostly form most often? The answer appears to be ‘no-one knows’.  It is understandable that the death of an important man of Peterborough is more easily remembered but sightings of the stranded lorry have not gone away!

Some trouble with wine

One of the many nice things about the Ghost Walks is that people on the tour often add their own stories as we move between locations. I had just finished telling the story of the strange happenings that disturbed the workmen when they changed the old solicitors’ building in Priestgate to the Ask Restaurant – and we were moving on to a Bridge Street tale. One of the group caught me up and said that he had worked there for a while and had had a strange and ghostly experience. This is his story:

One of the jobs he had was to keep a record of the wine stocks on a weekly basis and advise the management when stocks were running low. He usually did this at close of business on a weekly basis. On the night in question he had gathered together all the boxes and loose bottles of wine in one of the upstairs room. He had then stacked the full casks in a circle – 3 cases of Sauvignon Blanc stacked together, then a stack of Merlot, half a dozen cases of Shiraz Cabernet, a few cases of Rioja and so forth. When they were all in place he noted all the details and left the room, locking the door behind him. Next door was the room with the computer that he used to update the stock information and then produce a list of the wines that needed re-ordering.
While he was doing this he heard two or three unusual noises that seemed to come from the room he had just left. He didn’t take too much notice though. He finished the updating, printed the stocks and need-to-buy information, closed down the computer and left the room, locking the door behind him.

He went back to the stock room, unlocked the door and entered – turning the light on as he did so. He then, he told me, stopped still and felt the back of his neck go cold. He said he just could not move. In front of him was the wine collection – but not as he had left it. There we now three stacks of boxes in the middle of the circle! Those noises he had heard had come from the boxes being dragged across the room.
He had the only key that opened that door; there was no other person on that floor – in fact there were only two others in the building and they were busy downstairs!

What did he do? He told me he said nothing, handed the week’s list to the manager down stairs and gave his notice in the following week.

As I write this the Ask Restaurant in Priestgate is no more. It is empty. I just wonder what the next occupants will experience!

The Conington Railway Crossing

On 16 October 1948 Colonel Arthur H Mellows and his friend Mr A. F. Per­cival were returning home in the colonel’s large black Chrysler car after a day’s shoot­ing near Conington. When they reached the Conington level-crossing Colonel Mellows – a keen railway follower – looked up and down the line. There was a train stand­ing on the south side of the crossing some 200yards away, obvi­ously waiting for the signal to proceed northwards towards the crossing. The Colonel remarked to his friend ‘That’s the 4pm to London’ then got back into the car. Mr Percival opened the gates and watched the car slowly cross the line.  Neither appears to have looked in the other direction. Later Mr Percival said his impression was that Colonel Mellows was looking in one direction at the stationary train and just didn’t notice a fast express that was bearing down on him from the other direction. The train ploughed into his car and instantly killed the colonel and his dog.
Colonel Mellows was buried in the city with full civic honours; his faithful Labrador was buried beside the fatal stretch of line.
In time there were stories of strange happenings at the crossing. Over a dozen signalmen reported having experienced in­explicable events, so much so that some refused to work the box. Mr D. Ellis, signalman at Conington from 1956 until 1958 re­membered looking out from the remote box over the flat wind-swept fens and hearing gates clanging to and fro when they were locked.

In a BBC interview in 1973 several signalmen gave accounts of seeing a large black car drawing up to the crossing, obviously waiting to cross the line. By the time they had walked down to perform their duty, the car had vanished. Other signalmen reported sighting the apparition of the phan­tom car and hearing the crunch of gravel as it approached the crossing. In broad daylight one man said he was able to define a mascot on the radiator which seemed to be the figure of a lady. Colonel Mellows’ car had such a mascot. Everything pointed to the fact that Colonel Mellows had returned to the scene of his tragic death.
Mr Norman Jinks, who had custody of the box for many years, used to take his dog for a walk near the crossing but the animal was always very distressed whenever they passed the spot where Colonel Mellows’ Labrador was buried.  The whole area was regarded as highly emotive because of the unexplained events.

The signal box was later removed as part of the Peterborough area signalling modernisation with the crossing then controlled by remote-control television from the next box down the line at Holme. The official explanation of the removal of Conington box, and the choice of Holme to supervise several crossings in the area, was based on technical considerations but one wonders how much of that decision was based on the events at Conington. Now, many years later, the crossing is still regarded with a touch of fear at night but today’s high-speed trains fly noisily along the main line over the crossing – their passengers little realising that they are passing over the scene of such tragic events.

I say ‘events’ because there had been another tragic event there a few years previous.  I’ll tell you about that before this Hallowe’en has ended!

A Cat and a Tunnel

In 1845 the London & Birmingham Railway company was given parliamentary assent to construct a line from Blisworth in Northants to Peterborough – it was complete by late 1847. Its importance increased and, in 1884, the line received a royal visit when the royal family travelled from Peterborough to Barnwell to visit Barnwell Manor, the home of the then Duke of Gloucester. Between 1900 and the 1960s the line provided an important connection from Norwich, via Cambridge to Northampton and the Midlands. It could not last under the Beeching cuts and by late 1966 it was closed to passengers. It carried on moving freight until 1972 when it all finally ended. However, local supporters re-opened this part of the line in 1974 and the Nene Valley Railway was born.

Alive again with steam and diesel engines working alongside each other and many other attractions as well it has proved a success. However there are one or two things happening that may not be classed as attractions. The tunnel – the Yarwell Tunnel – was built by Irish navvies during the mid 1840s. The tunnel is still there, and is still in use – and there are still echoes of the past. It is known that at least ten men died during the construction and that fights were commonplace. Now there are no-one there to fight but many people have reported hearing bangs and crashes from inside the dark hole – plus the unmistakable sounds of men fighting.

Maintaining the whole site is a challenge of course – and this has not been helped sometimes by tools being left out during the work – and going missing! Back in the 1970s some workmen came close to disaster. They were working on the line with a colleague on ‘watch-out’ duty for a train. Without warning a train appeared – but the men got out of the way in time. The ‘lookout’ was found lying unconscious by the track – he said that he had been knocked out by ‘someone he could not see’!
During the 1920s the Station Master had a very distinctive white cat called Snowy that tended to wander off at times. One such wander led to the station master going on a hunt for it. He saw Snowy sitting amongst sleepers and the rails but as he went to catch the cat it went off leaving Station Master standing between the rails. He must have been deaf because he didn’t hear a train coming out of the tunnel and died on the spot.

The Station Master has not been seen since but Snowy the cat has been seen wandering around the end of the tunnel ‘mewing piteously’.

No doubt many things will happen in the future – but as long as you take care, and beware, the Nene Valley Railway is still something that’s well worth a visit.

An experience in a shop

Today Bridge Street, Peterborough, is a wide pedestrian – and cyclists – area with shops on both side and the Town Hall in the middle on one side. It hasn’t always been like that. For many centuries it was Narrow Bridge Street – a narrow street linking the Market Place and Broad Bridge Street that was then south of what is now Bourges Boulevard. Bridge Street changed in the 1930s and again in the 1970s. Old buildings went – new ones took their place – but – that doesn’t mean the past has gone; far from it!  I’d like to tell you a story about a conversation I had in one place that led me to a ghostly story in a city centre shop in Peterborough.
The first one actually starts quite a few miles away on the outskirts of Stamford. I was chatting with an engineer at the place where he was checking all the CCTV cameras in a building. I forget now how the conversation developed but we got talking about ghostly stories and happenings in Peterborough – and he told me of an experience he had had there. This is his story:
He had been called to one of the shops in the city centre because two members of staff had said that they had seen a ghost in their storeroom. They had not been believed but they were adamant about what they had seen and the manager agreed to get the CCTV in the basement checked. ‘My’ man was duly called to ‘fix’ the equipment. He listened to the story from the ladies in question and then set up the CCTV film on his equipment. The 24 hour film started was fast forwarded to the time of the alleged happening. On the word of the two ladies, he slowed the film down to normal speed and the two were clearly seen doing their job.
‘It’s just after this’ one of them said.
The film rolled on. The ladies could be seen moving some items at an angle to the camera – and then the film went blank. For some 30 seconds or so they all had sat watching the film in silence – then the film re-appeared with the two ladies standing open-mouthed, staring towards a corner of the room. ‘Stop the film,’ one of them said. ‘That’s it; that’s when it happened. There had been a man standing there, an old man in old fashioned clothes!’ They described what they had seen; they drew a sketch of the man. He was obviously a priest of sometime in the past. No one really believed them. There was nothing unusual visible on the film so it was re-used a few days later. That was the end of the story.
That had happened quite a while previous to our conversation and the shop in question had now changed ownership and design. The ladies reported experience was a good and totally possible story. There have been times in Peterborough when it was dangerous to follow the ‘wrong’ religion. Loyal followers would risk their lives in supporting their belief. Priests would come and pray and move on; and many houses in Peterborough would have ‘priest holes’ where they could hide.

It was a couple or so years later and I was taking a group on a tour. We stopped at the junction of Priestgate and Bridge Street and I described what it would have been like in centuries past – houses and shops combined – and how the echoes of the past still reverberate around our city. I had made no mention of the story above but one of those ladies was on that tour. ‘I’ve had one of those’ she said to us all – and for the next few minutes she gave us all a graphic description of that experience!

I don’t retell this story very often – we have plenty of them to fit in – but a few months later I briefly told the tale and we were walking along to the next story stopping point. A lady came alongside and said ‘We’ve had things happen in our shop as well.’ I managed to avoid stopping dead in my tracks. ‘Oh’ was all I could say just then.

I’ll tell you about that later-on this week!

Strange happening one Christmas in Peterborough

Apologies for the delay in this second story – I have had a battle with certain elements of my computer and Windows 10.  I think I am getting on top of it – so let’s move on:

This second ghostly story is much different to the first one. When I first started the ghost walks this was one of my favourites but it’s quite some time since I told it so here goes: it was on Saturday 9th January 1892 that the Peterborough Advertiser told the story, headlining it as:-

The opening paragraph reads:
‘Alarming nocturnal noises have compelled a family to dessert their home in Mayor’s Walk, Peterborough, have terrified residents on either side of the house, and have filled the neighbourhood with fear.’
So – what was happening? 22 Mayor’s Walk had become vacant and a Mr Rimes [a worker on the railways], his wife and their three boys moved in. Soon after they took in two lodgers – her brother Mr Want, and a brother-in-law Mr Easy, who both also worked on the railways.
The Advertiser picks up the story, recording that they were: ‘much surprised soon after their settlement in this particular quarter of the city at being saluted at various hours of the night with most unwelcome, and unexpected, rappings at the front door and against the partition wall of the building – noises most unmistakable and unwelcome. The boys – so goes the story – experienced midnight intruders, and on one occasion both lodgers and boys were suddenly deprived of their bed coverings.’
Things got worse – on the Friday before Christmas 1891 the noises were so bad that they woke the neighbours on both sides of number 22. One described the sound as ‘a noise like a cannon going off’. Another described it as being ‘like a giant ripping up a kitchen table and hurling it down the stairs’.
Messrs Want and Easy called upon a Mister Arthur Wright – a friend of theirs who also worked on the railway and was sceptical about the whole story they had told him.  He offered to lodge with them for the night to convince himself of the story. That night ‘the house was carefully locked up, windows fastened, and the occupants of the rooms duly regarded.’ The report says that a few minutes after 12 midnight there was a hum along the bedroom passage followed by a fearful smash – described as being like ‘a giant sack of coal being tipped downstairs’! Wright and all the occupants of the rooms rushed out – but there was nothing to see. The whole passage looked as if nothing had happened!

They then all got together in one room but noises continued. Then there was another crash – described by Mr Butler the neighbour as being ‘like the fall of a house into the passage’. Mrs Goode on the other side of the Rimes’ house described it as ‘like the explosion of a great gun which shook the house and all in it. The noise before it was like that when a boy rubs the string of his toy telephone.’

The Advertiser goes on to tell its readers that: ‘On Friday the family left, and are now living in Monument Street, and whilst Mrs Rimes declares she has had no sleep at night for six weeks, Want and Easy give similar testimony, that for nights and nights they have never closed their eyes, and neighbours corroborate this probability of this evidence. The house, it should be mentioned, has no cellar and no attic, and the noise in the passage and rattling of the interior doors seemed altogether disproportionate to the average strength or movement of any human individual.’

So that’s the end of this spooky story. The Rimes had no more ghostly problems and there has been no repeat of the events for any residents since in this Mayor’s Walk cottage. Oh, and by the way – don’t go looking for the house. It’s still there but the number has changed!
If you want more on this story you can read the Advertiser’s full-length report in the library archives and Stuart’s telling of it is on pages 60-62 of his book that’s available at the Museum, various shops in Peterborough and on-line.