Hello all. I thought I might share some of my family’s experiences with the unexplained. The following is true so far as I am involved in the events, and where I am not, the information is from people I believe are credible. I should add that there is nothing particularly dramatic about what I have to relate: if it’s supernatural melodrama you are after, you should probably move on.
I grew up in rural Shropshire, a county in England in Great Britain for those not in the know and it was during this childhood that my only significant experience of the unexplained occurred. Incidentally, by rural I mean that our nearest neighbour was approximately half a mile away, and the nearest significant centre of civilization was some sixteen miles. In England we don’t have any real wildernesses: the country is so old and so populated nowhere is very far from some sort of urbanization.
The house I lived in was a single storey, timber frame building which had previously been a “turn-of-the-last-century” Army hut and was probably a little more than a hundred years old. It was cited without foundations, approximately 70-feet long, with eight good sized rooms connected by a long hallway. In subsequent years we had an extension built on the back of the house, but none of the unexplained occurrences we experienced took place there. The house stood in approximately two-acres of land with a magnificent view over a valley in the direction of a series of hills called the Stiperstones (on which is a pile of rocks called the Devil’s Chair). We kept three dogs, two cats, goats, Shetland ponies, chickens and a goose (before the fox got him). The house was reached by way of a gravel drive adjacent to the front lawn; over which there were unobstructed views from the house.
We moved to the property one summer in the early 1980′s from the suburban mediocrity of Birmingham (Britain’s second largest city I believe), and the unexplained events started happening in the Autumn (Fall) after we moved. I’m recounting this now as a 31 years old and I don’t recall the precise sequence in which the occurrences took place: many were repeated time and again over the fifteen years we lived there, and so I hope you will forgive me for not relating a complete chronology.
I recall that the events began with the very strong smell of tobacco smoke. I think we all noticed at various times and at first put it down to smoke from the log-fuelled fires that kept the house warm. Incidentally, these were not open fire-places, but enclosed iron units. At some point we realised that the smell wasn’t wood-smoke but tobacco. It was always strongest in the middle rooms along the hallway (these were bedrooms, farthest from the two log-fires which were at either end of the house). The smell was always very strong, and seemingly without any obvious source. Neither of my parents smoked, and I was the eldest of two (and at that time would have been no more than 8 years old). Suffice it to say neither I nor my brother smoked then, and do not smoke now. Of course, when we became aware of this mystery, we spent some time searching the house and the grounds for obvious explanations: faulty wiring, an unannounced visitor and so on. We never saw anyone (certainly not anyone smoking acrid tobacco) and didn’t have problems with the electrics until much, much later. Our nearest neighbour (the guy half-a mile away) did smoke, but not “roll-your-own” or “pipe-type” tobacco, which was what this seemed to be. I suppose it’s possible that wood-smoke from the fires is an explanation, but we would experience the aroma even when the fires were not lit.
The house did not have a front door in the conventional sense. Entrance was by way of a double “porch” at the rear of the house, adjacent to the drive. The first porch was just a covered walkway without a door, but the second was accessed by way of a large, heavy timber door. We didn’t have a doorbell, but rather a bell-pull: this was a chain with a handle beside the door which, when pulled, would ring an old fashioned style bell inside the second porch. On a number of occasions the bell would sound but without any apparent human agency. I don’t think it’s possible that people were playing tricks: notwithstanding that it’s unlikely they’d have got off the property without us seeing them, they would have been “challenged” very quickly by our dogs. It wasn’t my brother and I playing tricks either, since the bell-ringing happened when the whole family was in the same room. It’s been mooted to me that it might have been the wind or heavy trucks passing causing the bell to ring. However, the bell was protected from the elements by two porches and we never experienced vibrations from what little heavy traffic we got.
The dogs were, as you might imagine, a good barometer of unexplained activity: I’m not sure whether dogs apparently watching the movement of something invisible across a room is a sign worth talking about (given the often inexplicable idiosyncrasies of dogs), but one of our hounds in particular seemed to dislike the presence. It didn’t start bothering this dog until we received an old clock from a great aunt. The clock was an antique American mantle clock which was bequeathed to us in the old lady’s will. It was, I’m sure, quite a lovely piece if you like that sort of thing.
My dad gave it pride of place on a sideboard in our dining room. However, not long after receiving it dad got up one morning to find the clock had stopped. Upon inspection, he discovered that the pendulum had been halted, and taken off and laid in the bottom of the clock. Now the pendulum was on a long hook, the hook itself being a substantial curve which reflexed back on itself: the pendulum could not have fallen off on its own.
Of course, my brother and I got the blame for that (I’m not sure either of us would have had the gumption at that age to sabotage the clock). However, the same thing occurred on six or seven other occasions and eventually, the springs powering the clock were broken (snapped). Clearly an act of vindictiveness far outside the desire of even the most hellion-like schoolboy (which we were not).
One morning dad decided to have a go at mending the clock (he was an aircraft engineer and took the view that if he could put jumbo-jets back together, then anything less than that would be a doddle). No sooner did he pick the clock up and carry it through into the kitchen then one of our dogs, the bitch, went berserk. Well, that’s probably hyperbole: however, she started to growl and snap at the clock, her fur stood up on end and she started to try and back away under my mum’s rocking chair (in contra-direction to the kitchen counter and the clock). Apparently, though I’m not sure I recall it, my dad said: “Leave the dogs alone, or I’ll have you exorcised”, whereupon apparently whatever was upsetting the dog ceased and she calmed down.
There were innumerable other occasions where the dogs started barking or growling for no apparent reason, but dogs are idiosyncratic and might have been barking at flatulent cows for all I know. As for the clock, dad replaced the spring (or springs, or whatever). It broke (or was broken) again after that, whereupon dad gave up.
Speaking of object d’art disliked by this presence, my mum and dad owned a Batik (Javanese cloth) print showing two stylised fighting birds. My mum had picked the thing up whilst working for the British Council in Indonesia. For a long time it was hung in the main hall (or the sitting room, I’m not quite sure which), but at some point my parents moved the thing to the dining room. Apparently, one morning my mum found the print propped up against the wall, but standing on the floor, its cord unbroken: directly under where it had previously been hung, the hook still in the wall. Again, we kids got blamed for taking the thing down, but I can assure you that moving object d’art around was probably the least interesting thing one could get up to in rural Shropshire. Mum returned the print to the wall, but a few days later found it propped up against the wall on the floor again. This happened several times, before one day the print finally fell (or was knocked) off the wall, the fall resulting in the frame and the glass cover smashing to pieces. The print was okay, but after that mum returned it to the hallway where it hung until mum and dad sold up.
Again it has been suggested by some that heavy trucks on the road could explain this: but I feel sure someone would have heard it falling off the wall, and that damage from repeated falls to the frame would have been substantial.
One Spring an aunt and uncle from Australia were staying with us, and were staying in one of the bedrooms in the middle of the house. One evening both of them were laying awake, having just retired to the room, when they heard the sound of three or four heavy footsteps pass along the floor at the bottom of their bed. The sound was loud and clear: when my aunt recounted it in the morning, and was told it was probably timbers shifting, she assured us she knew the difference between the sound of heavy, booted footsteps and the odd creak of an oak frame.
On an occasion not long afterward, my best friend was staying with us at the house and reported seeing something strange in the dining room as he returned from the kitchen with cups of tea for us all (yes, guests were made to work for their keep). He described it as seeing the torso (and only the torso) of some person wearing an old fashioned waistcoat (I think you call them a vest in the colonies). He only glimpsed it for a moment as he passed the dining room, but it was enough to unnerve him and insist that he camped on my bedroom floor in a sleeping bag, rather than on his own in the spare room.
Another year, one Christmas, my brother and I were left alone in the house whilst my mum and dad attended a work Christmas dinner. By this time we were both older (I was in my mid-teens) and we were trusted to be left alone: plus, we had three big dogs to guard us. We spent that evening in the sitting room watching WWF (wrestling, not nature) on our VCR. There came a time when one of the wrestlers was entering the arena to a particularly catchy tune. Both my brother and I heard loud, clear whistling in the room, keeping tune with the noise on the TV. We both looked at each other, presumably intending to castigate the other for whistling so loudly, however, when I realised that neither of us had been whistling I felt the hairs on the back of my neck and my head stand on end. The whistling lasted only for a few bars, mere seconds, but it was the most overtly “frightening” thing that happened to us. The dogs weren’t allowed in the sitting room, but that night we let them camp with us in front of the fire and didn’t venture anywhere else until mum and dad got home.
That same winter, my dad was preparing one evening to go out to work. He often worked night shifts at Birmingham International Airport, and had a 70 minute commute. He was tying his shoe laces in the sitting room, and just happened to glance up at where my mum was sitting on a couch watching the TV. He said, with some astonishment: “There’s a man sat next to you”. Although my mum didn’t see him, apparently she had a sudden and overwhelming mental image of a man. They described to each other what they saw: a small, slightly balding man in smart attire (jacket and waistcoat) with a pipe.
I only “saw” (rather than heard, smelt or felt) something unexplained once. My bedroom opened onto the long hallway, which also connected to the sitting room. After having lounged around in bed until 1100hrs one Saturday morning, I decided I needed to go and speak to my dad about something. Opening my bedroom door, I was aware, in the corner of my eye, the shadow of a figure passing into the sitting room. As dad and I were the only ones in the house, I was immediately certain it was my father and so went down the hallway to speak to him. I was a little surprised to find the sitting room door shut, but when I opened it and found the room empty, I again experienced that feeling of the hairs on my head standing on end. There was nothing in the room (which was probably why I found it so disturbing), but the atmosphere seemed very heavy, very close (I hope those terms mean something to you, I don’t know how else to describe it).
My dad had at least two other singularly memorable unexplained experiences. He was into DIY (Do it yourself: home improvement) in a big way, particularly after he retired from his job. One of his projects was the refurbishing of the dining room. He was engaged, one day, in wallpapering the ceiling (no, I don’t quite understand why either). Suffice to say, up a ladder, with no one to assist him the inevitable happened: the paper came off the ceiling, the ladder slipped and he ended up on his arse draped in sodden wallpaper: whereupon he heard clearly in the room the sound laughter. A man’s laugh. As I have said, my father was an engineer: a practical man, not given to flights of fancy or imaginings, but he maintains that he heard a man guffawing at his misfortune.
The second experience occurred in the Fall before we sold the house. He was sat at his computer in the sitting room, doing something, when he felt a pair of hands rest on his shoulders. Assuming it was my mum, he turned to speak to her only to discover there was no one there. Yes, I know that’s a little dramatic, and it was enough to unnerve even him (this was a man who had been under fire during some troubles we Brits had in Cyprus, and so not a man to scare easily).
There are no other overtly strange experiences like those I have discussed that I recall. I always think it rather dubious to talk about “presences”, not least because of the subjectivity of the experience, but also because unless you have experienced it it’s impossible to know what someone talking about “presences” is going on about. One room in particular, however, the spare room (the one where my aunt stayed) always had a peculiar atmosphere: the rest of the house, despite its age, was light and airy (high ceilings, big windows), but this room always seemed dark and the air very close. After I got my first computer I’d spend hours on my own in my bedroom playing video games and surfing the internet for stuff I shouldn’t have been. Some nights I’d stay glued to the screen until the early hours, well after my mum and dad had gone to bed. Every once in a while, however, I’d be suddenly overcome with the feeling that I was no longer alone in my bedroom, that I was being watched. On those occasions, I found the feeling intolerable: I’d turn off my computer and go and sit with my mum and dad. Most of us (and many visitors to the house) experienced flickers of motion in the periphery of their vision (but I concede that could have been anything, manufactured into manifestations of the supernatural by credible minds that had heard first hand our “ghost stories”).
My dad made some enquiries in the village, with the local rogues in the pubs about the previous owners of the house and it turned out that in the sixties an elderly Belgian gentlemen had lived in the property: by all accounts he matched the description of the man mum and dad “perceived” that January evening. What an elderly Belgian gentlemen was doing living in “nowhere-upon-nothing”, Shropshire in the 1960′s I have no idea, but there you have it.
My only other unnerving experience took place one summer’s day when my family visited Ludlow Castle. Ludlow is a very ancient market town in Shropshire, with a large, fairly intact medieval castle. The castle figures fairly prominently in various parts of our nation’s history and has an accompanying history of grizzly going’s on (murders, tragic suicides and the such). Both my brother and I were in our teens by then (I was probably 17 or 18). Both of us were and are fairly intrepid: there’s no where we won’t explore (particularly together) and we’re not given (as a team) to fright (individually we’re a pair of cowards). We had been exploring this castle all morning when we happened upon a archway in one of the walls: the archway fed up at a steep angle through the wall but was either very dark or in complete darkness (I don’t recall which: the latter seems unlikely for a public historical attraction). I took two steps into this passage and came to a complete halt: I had an immediate feeling of absolute dread; I was suddenly cold and the hairs on my head stood on end. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since. My words to my brother, in a tone of incredulity were “I can’t go on”. He gave me a look of filial contempt and walked two steps past me, then he too stopped, as if listening. He then turned back to me and said “I can’t either.” We departed swiftly and compared our feelings on the place which came out the same. I haven’t been back to Ludlow Castle since (more for lack of opportunity than anything else), and would be interested to visit the place again to see whether that passageway elicits the same response.
I’d like, if you will give me the time, to mention a couple of experiences my great aunt (the one who bequeathed us the carriage clock) had.
She used to recount a tale about the Roman road leading to the town of Montgomery. Montgomery is a small town just over the border in Wales and is served by a very long straight road (and there are not many of those in England) which reputedly had been laid by the Romans. She used to walk this road regularly with her mother when just a girl. On one occasion she recalls hearing the sound of a horse and carriage thundering along the road towards them (this was the early part of the last century: they did have cars, though not too many in rural Wales I suspect). Her mother said that they had to get off the road to let the carriage past, which duly they did and awaited the appearance of the carriage. The noise got louder and louder, but still they could see no sign of the carriage. Then, the noise went past them and receded into the distance, and still there was no sign of the carriage.
Early on in the years of the First World War my aunt was having breakfast one morning when she saw the face of her older brother at the window. She told her mother that Lance had come home. Upon investigation, of course, Lance was nowhere to be found. A month later the telegram from the War Office arrived, notifying the family that he had been killed in Palestine.
Later, having been made a widow at a fairly young age, she was living at the local Vicarage (I don’t know if such things are common outside of Britain: the vicarage is a property attached to a parish church used by the vicar and his family as a dwelling). She reported on a number of occasions hearing a knock at her parlour door (no, I don’t know what a parlour is, as distinct from a sitting room either); upon investigating which she would find no person, just the lingering smell of strong perfume.
Finally, I should like to mention a couple of experiences my dad has had more recently. He and my mother sold the Shropshire house about eight years ago, and have since lived in the West Country of England. A couple of months ago, he recounted to be an extremely vivid dream he had in which his father had come to him, held out his hand and said: “It’s time to go, come with me.” I think the imperative was delivered in a fatherly (rather than creepy) fashion but my dad recalls that in the dream he refused to go with my grandfather and said “No, I’m not ready yet”. Now, my dad is 75 years old and perhaps one can forgive him dreams about mortality. However, a few weeks after this dream he was driving along the side of the road when he saw a very old, very good (best) friend standing on the kerbside looking right at him and motioning to him. The friend was a chap my father had known when he had been working out in South East Asia.
This friend died thirty five years ago.
I’m not like my dad: I’m not mechanically minded, I’m far more credible (gullible(?)) than he is and though he’s very sanguine about these recent experiences I am less so. I had a dream quite recently in which I was standing at my father’s grave side. I try to be a skeptic: I like science, I like rationalism, I think the paranormal explanation should always, always be the last one you reach (and then only with considerable doubt): but this experience has rather unnerved me in the way that my previous encounters with the unexplained has not.
Thank you for your time in reading this.
Written by George Jacks, Copyright 2010