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Authors: Darren W. Ritson

Ghosts at Christmas

BOOK: Ghosts at Christmas
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This book is dedicated to my dear grandmother, May Bower, who passed away on 25 December 1993

C
ONTENTS

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Famous Christmas Quotes

Introduction

one
    Fictional Christmas Ghosts

two
    Ghosts at Christmas

three
    Christmas Investigations

The Christmas Spirit

Bibliography

Also by the Author

Copyright

A
CKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would first like to thank my good friend Mike Hallowell, for the help and support he has given me during the compilation of this book, and to Sunderland researcher Alan Tedder, for helping me in ways you couldn’t possibly even know. My gratitude goes to Simon Cox and Phil Jeffries for allowing overnight access to their properties. I would also like to thank the Ghosts and Hauntings Overnight Surveillance Team (GHOST) for sharing my adventures with me. Thanks must also go to Drew Bartley and Julie Olley for supplying me with some of the line drawings and illustrations that are printed herein, and to Trevor Yorke for allowing me to reproduce his wonderful sketch of the Battle of Edgehill. Thanks to paranormal writer John Stoker for kindly allowing the reproduction of his text regarding the
Betsy Jane
, and for his information on the rector’s ghost of St Peter’s Church in Dorchester. Also
Fortean Times
for their information regarding Grainger Street. To everyone I have spoken to, received stories from, and gained information to help me prepare this work, I offer you my sincere thanks. You all know who you are.

My gratitude also goes to my editor Beth Amphlett and the rest of the staff at The History Press.

Finally, I would like to thank you, the reader, for choosing to buy this book. Without good people like yourselves, my work, my writing and my research would all be in vain.

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. I apologise to anyone who has been inadvertently missed out and will gladly receive information enabling me to rectify any error or omission in subsequent editions. Unless otherwise stated, all pictures were taken by Darren W. Ritson.

F
AMOUS
C
HRISTMAS
Q
UOTES

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home.

Charles Dickens,
The Pickwick Papers
, 1836

A Christmas gambol oft could cheer, the poor man’s heart through half the year.

Sir Walter Scott, ‘Marmion’, 1808

The Church does not superstitiously observe days, merely as days, but as memorials of important facts. Christmas might be kept as well upon one day of the year as another; but there should be a stated day for commemorating the birth of our Saviour, because there is danger that what may be done on any day, will be neglected.

Dr Samuel Johnson

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

Charles Dickens,
A Christmas Carol
, 1843

At Christmas I no more desire a rose than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled shows; but like of each thing that in season grows.

William Shakespeare,
Love’s Labour’s Lost
, 1598

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Charles Dickens,
A Christmas Carol
, 1843

I
NTRODUCTION

Do you believe in ghosts? This is a question that is becoming far more frequently asked these days, due to the rise in interest in supernatural activity and matters that are deemed ‘paranormal’. There is no doubt in my mind that apparitions are seen – indeed I have seen them myself – but are they really the dead returning or is there another explanation for them?

Over the past ten years I have travelled around the UK investigating hundreds of haunted locations and chatting with people who own haunted places, and other people that have seen, or experienced, ghosts for themselves. The stories they tell are often quite amazing. On top of that, I have dedicated hundreds upon hundreds of hours (I kid you not) sitting in dark and spooky haunted locations waiting for the spectral visitors to make their presences known, sometimes with startling results. It has been a real pleasure and the work is only just beginning.

Christmas has long been associated with ghosts and I have always wanted to put together my own compilation of chilling Christmas accounts. There are many others that have walked this wonderful road before me, including M.R. James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the great Charles Dickens and my good friend Mike Hallowell. So when I was approached by The History Press and asked if I would be prepared to pen a volume on festive
phantoms I jumped at the chance – I mean, what self-respecting ghost hunter and author wouldn’t?

I remember when I was very young, on Christmas Eve, after my brother and I had eventually dropped off to sleep, my mother and father would cover the settee and chairs with wonderful gifts. Of course, when we awoke the following morning and dashed down the stairs we would burst open the living room door to find that ‘he’ had been; it was magical. I never questioned where these gifts came from as I knew it was Father Christmas who had brought them. He must have, because searching the house high and low prior to 24 December in search of hidden gifts always yielded nothing, no matter where I looked. Being a child and being wrapped up in the whole magical experience, I didn’t really question those inconsistencies that are so obvious to me now. Children simply revel in the whole Christmas experience.

It must be said, however, that Christmas is also quite a sad time for me, for it was on 25 December 1993 when I lost my grandmother, May Bower, after she had fought a long battle against lung cancer. Losing a friend or a family member is bad enough to begin with, no matter how much time you are given to prepare for it, but to lose a loved one on Christmas Day – a time for rejoicing and being with your family – is probably one of the worst things that could happen.

On 25 March 1994, three months after her sad death, a very strange thing happened to me. While sitting at home in my living room, eating my breakfast of boiled eggs and toast, the three photographs of my gran, which we had placed up on shelves and on our mantelpiece, fell over all at the same time! I heard three thumps in quick succession and when I looked up to see what it was I noticed it was the photographs. How the three pictures – which were in frames and on stands – could fall over right at the same time eludes me, leaving me with the conclusion that it was just gran popping in to say hello, and letting me know that
everything was well. The pictures had fallen over at 7.30 a.m., the exact time we discovered gran had slipped away from us three months earlier.

So I began my research and started to collect spine-chilling accounts of ghosts that occur around the festive season. There are plenty to discuss I might add; the ghostly butterfly of the Theatre Royal in Bath, the troubled souls of the starving children at Bramber Castle in Sussex, the phantom armies at Edgehill, North Road station in Darlington, north-east England, the apparition of Kathleen Breaks in Blackpool and many, many more can be found within the pages of this new and exciting volume.

Over the years I have personally carried out many ghost vigils in reputedly haunted locations, with a small percentage of these overnight investigations being at Christmas time. I don’t know what it is about investigating haunted properties in and around Yuletide (or Ghoultide, as some folk prefer to call it), but it does have a certain eerie quality to it that most other investigations often lack. Perhaps it is the atmosphere that the long and cold winter nights bring? Could it be Jack Frost as he makes his presence felt across the land by leaving in his wake a white layer of sparkling aesthetic beauty which, when seen in full moonlight, looks most enchanting, yet remarkably spooky. Perhaps it’s because Christmas time follows shortly after Halloween? A friend of mine, Drew Bartley, often says that ‘from September through to January is ghost hunting season’ and I know exactly what he means. Of course Drew and I realise that ghosts are felt and seen all of the time, regardless of what month it may be, but we both agree that there is just something ‘mysteriously paranormal’ about the last quarter of the year and so I have included a small slice of my Christmas investigations in this volume to give the reader a chance to learn of some brand new, never-before-read-about ghosts that inhabit all sorts of weird and wonderful places around the season of good will.

Ghosts are most certainly an integral part of the festive season and have been even more so since the release of Charles Dickens’ famous novel,
A Christmas Carol
, back in December 1843. In fact, I recently read in a magazine that Christmas Eve can boast more apparitions than any other night of the year – even Halloween! Ghosts, to me, are a wonderful part of our Christmas traditions, as essential as Santa Claus, Christmas presents, seasonal greetings cards, turkey and pulling crackers. The renowned author and ghost hunter Elliott O’Donnell (1872–1965) was also a great believer in Christmas ghosts and spent a lot of his time during the festive season searching for them. By all accounts, he was rarely disappointed.

Now, my dear reader, all that remains for you to do is to sink comfortably in your most inviting armchair and pour yourself a drink. Prepare yourself by turning down the lights and locking the doors – to make sure you won’t be disturbed – and begin to leaf through the pages that follow. Be warned, don’t think for a
moment that these tales are embellished or even untrue … on the contrary, they are all, to the best of my knowledge, authentic accounts. Ghosts, my dear friends, are real … so, if you happen to hear an unexplained bump, or feel an unusual chilling draught, then maybe, just maybe, you are not alone.

Merry Christmas, my dear reader.

Darren W. Ritson, 2010

one
F
ICTIONAL
C
HRISTMAS
G
HOSTS

There’s something about Christmas that lends itself to stories of spectres dragging balls and chains or wispy, ethereal females – often headless – sporting diaphanous white gowns as they float through the hallway of some stately mansion or other. Christmas is paradise for the tellers of ghostly tales.

Perhaps the classic example is Charles Dickens’
A Christmas Carol
, in which Scrooge is transported hither and thither by a spirit from the world beyond and forced to confront rather negative aspects of his behaviour – and their potential consequences. As just about everyone knows,
A Christmas Carol
is a wonderful morality tale. However, what many people don’t realise about Dickens is that he penned a whole raft of similar stories, including
The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life
and
The Haunted Man
. A beautifully bound edition of these –
The Christmas Books
– was published in 1852.

Later writers would capitalise on Dickens’ characters. Playwright Jeff Goode went on to pen
Marley’s Ghost
, a stage play which was essentially a prequel to
A Christmas Carol
. Goode’s play centres around a seven-year spiritual sojourn undertaken by Jacob Marley, beginning with his burial and culminating with his appearance to Ebenezer Scrooge.

The advent of the television age was a boon for Christmas ghost stories. Back in the 1970s, the BBC produced eight programmes in a series entitled
A Ghost Story for Christmas
. The tales, predominantly the brainchild of M.R. James, included,
Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, The Signalman
and
The Ice House
, but they were not for the faint of heart. A radio version of the series was broadcast shortly afterwards.

BOOK: Ghosts at Christmas
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