Thursday, 15 December 2011

A Strange Tale

One of the great things about walking around London is the sheer joy of discovery that can be experienced as you explore the old streets.

The other day I was walking along one of the roads to the south of the River Thames when I came across the London Nautical School.

Popping in to the front pitch I was able to read a little of it's history and discovered that it was founded in 1915, as a direct result of the official report into the Titanic Disaster. Titanic. The School's stated aim is "to educate and prepare pupils to meet the needs of society either at sea or in any other occupation where responsibility, attention to duty and regard for others are valued equally with academic and practical skills."

Mention of the Titanic got me thinking about W.T.Stead, the pioneering investigative journalist who was very much involved in the reporting on the Jack the Ripper case of 1888.

Stead was a committed Spiritualist who, between 1893 and 1897 ran a journal entitled borderland In which he discussed his interest in psychical research extensively.

Now you might be wondering how the London Nautical School got me thinking about W.T Stead?

Well, as it happens, Stead was also a great peace campaigner in which capacity he was invited to speak at a peace conference at Carnegie Hall in 1915.

As it happened he chose to cross the Atlantic on the maiden voyage of the unsinkable Titanic and the rest, as they say, is history.

After the Titanic hit the iceberg, Stead helped several women and children into the lifeboats, after which he went into the 1st Class Smoking Room, where he was last seen sitting in a leather chair and reading a book.

A later witness claimed to have seen him in the sea clinging to a raft until the freezing water compelled him to let go. His body was never recovered.

Interestingly Stead had always maintained that he would die either by lynching or by drowning. There have also been claims that he may have even predicted his own death in two works.On In March 1886, he published an article named "How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor," in which he wrote of a steamer colliding with another ship, with high loss of life due to lack of lifeboats. Stead had added,"This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats". In 1892, Stead published another story entitled "From the Old World to the New" in which a vessel, the Majestic, rescues survivors of another ship that had collided with an iceberg.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A Face Lift For The Haunted Britain Website

Over the last month or so I've been hunched over the laptop revamping my Haunted Britain website.

I originally put the site together way back in 2002, when the web (or at least my knowledge of it!) was very much in its infancy.

The site looked very dated indeed. Indeed, it looked as though my (then) five year old son had got together with our pet dog and had come up with a regurgitated effort.

So a few months ago i began tinkering with the template and the new website is now rolling out in dribs and drabs.

I've currently got as far as the Haunted Hereford section of the website and have added several short films that I took of the locations that I visited last year whilst writing my book on Haunted Britain.In this section I decided to give the wonderful Hellens Manor, largely because I think its a great location and I think everyone should pay it a visit.

In addition, as mentioned in my previous blog, I recently gave a talk on Jack the Ripper at the magnificent St Briavels Castle in the heart of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, and was able to do several films in its various haunted rooms. Again it was a fantastic location and i would urge you to pay it a visit if you get the chance.

I read in the paper to day that they're thinking of scrapping the Oxford Comma. as a writer i find this a most interesting idea. Apparently it was only brought in a hundred or so years ago and is the comma that is used to separate a grouping of words. So, for example, (I don't think that was an Oxford Comma) if i were to say I have paid a visit to Hellens, St Briavels Castle, St Michael's Mount and the Tower of London - well that is an oxford Comma. Personally I quite like it as I think it a good idea to divide words like that, and don;t you think it would look untidy if they just followed on one after another?

Speaking of St Michael's Mount, I was most intrigued to read in the paper this week that an underwater landslide is thought to have caused a small tsunami that sent holidaymakers and anglers scattering in Cornwall, and soaked visitors who were crossing the causeway they joins St Michael's Mount with the mainland. Witnesses told how the sea was "sucked out," before a wave hitk the coast on the morning of 27th June 2011.

No damage was caused by the wave, thought to have been about 40cm (16in) high and causing a surge up to 90cm (3ft) by the time the seawater pushed into the Yealm estuary, 70 miles up the coast near Plymouth, Devon.

What intrigued me most about the reports was the fact that many people reported that static electricity in the air at the time made their hair stand on end. Curiouser and curiouser!

Anyway, just returning to the Haunted Britain website, I've got two more locations to add to the next section - Haunted Gloucestershire - and then that will go live on the website.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A Decent Night's Unrest

Have you ever spent the night in a haunted room?

I ask because in a few weeks time I will be pitching up at the very, very, very haunted St Briavel's Castle in Gloucestershire.

It's just over a year since I was last there and, hopefully, this time I'll get inside!

Last time I arrived there on a Monday afternoon and, as I discovered, Monday is not the best of days to go off in search of the inexplicable because, inexplicably, many haunted places seem to be closed on Mondays.

So having tried to get inside a smattering of haunted houses, finding myself locked out of Littledean Jail (intriguing concept that, to be locked out of a jail) I headed for St Briavel's Castle on the off chance that, since it is a Youth Hostel, it might just be open.

Well I could get inside the Castle itself, and I had a lovely stroll around the interior, but it was all locked up when it came to getting inside.

Not to worry though as in a few weeks time I'll be speaking at Ghost West South West and the heartbreak over not being able to get inside in 2010 will be replaced by the sheer joy of having done so in 2011!

I was at the Castle last year as part of my research for my (then) upcoming new book Haunted Britain, which was published in October by the AA. I was absolutely thrilled when Tom Baker agreed to write the forward for the book a d even more when I saw the finished product. The AA did a brilliant job on the production of the book, nice paper, nice cover, stunning photographs and the writing wasn't too bad either.

So if anyone out there fancies a night at a ghost fest at a truly haunted castle, then Here's the web link.

Ghostfest Southwest

If you would like to see the photos I took on my vist to St Briavel's Castle then pop over to the haunted Britain website at the St Briavel's Castle page.

Till the next time Good Hauntings

Friday, 4 February 2011

A Jack the Ripper Walk

On Wednesday night I took a Jack the Ripper Walk around the East End of London. Now when I say I took the walk I don't mean I pitched up and traipsed around the streets where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred, but rather that I was the guide who led the walk.

It's been a while since I've actually led a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, but to be back in those old alleyways again was truly nostalgic. Inevitably the question came up as to whether or not any of the sites where Jack the Ripper committed his murders is haunted?

Well the honest answer is "I don't know." By "I don't know" I mean that I personally have not seen any ghosts lurking around the Jack the Ripper murder sites. But then again, most of the time when I visit the murder sites I am in the company of around 34 people who I am guiding around the East End, which probably isn't that conducive to a phantom appearance.

However, there are certainly tales aplenty that concerning strange goings on at the places in Whitechapel and Spitalfields that are associated with Jack the Ripper.

Hanbury Street, for example, where Annie Chapman - the second victim of Jack the Ripper - was murdered in the back Yard of number 29, is now occupied by an unsightly former brewery building. The murder site itself no longer exists, but some sort of psychic trace reputedly lingers in the ether of where the murder site stood and, in the days of the brewer, it was said that the air in the brewery would turn deathly cold on the anniversary of Annie Chapman's murder, which was on the 8th September 1888.

Ooh, the air here has just turned decidedly cold and I have come out in goosebumps!

Just around the corner from Hanbury Street is the Ten Bells Pub which features in the Jack the Ripper story in that several of his victims are said to have drunk at this veritable old hostelry.

The pub has recently undergone a major refurbishment and is now unrecognizable as the down at heel place it was twelve or so months ago. Back then the exterior was very shabby indeed. In some places the paint peeled of the walls and in other the walls peeled off the paint. But no longer. The Ten Bells has been given a face lift and is now as handsome an East End boozer as you could wish to find.

Whether, the refit has rid the place of its ghosts only time will tell.

Not so long ago staff rooming on the pubs upper levels frequently commented on sightings of a ghostly old man dressed in Victorian clothing. More alarming were the times when they would wake up in the early hours, roll over and find his spectral form lying alongside them!

New staff, who had no knowledge of this ghostly visitor, would eventually encounter him, and, when asked to describe him, their descriptions would always tally with those given by previous staff who had had the honour of meeting the pub's oldest resident!

So yes, there are reportedly several ghost lurking in the shadows of Jack the Ripper's London and, despite the fact they seem relatively harmless, their antics certainly have the ability to send a shiver down the spine and a chill to the marrow!