Paranormal Brighton and Hove

By Cameron, Janet

From the publisher’s website: The first book to explore, in depth, the complete range of paranormal phenomena reported in Brighton & Hove. Here you will find accounts of well-known hauntings, as well as many previously undiscovered locations.
This fascinating account of local ‘sightings’ looks at traditional historical legends as well as modern day experiences, providing fresh knowledge together with the author’s personal accounts of new and traditional stories.
Janet Cameron’s ghostly tour of the area is illustrated with many of her own photographs.

Amberley Publishing, November 2009. ISBN 9781848687165

Reviewed for the SPR by: Tom Ruffles

Unlike other contributors to Amberley’s Paranormal Someplace list, Janet Cameron is not a spontaneous case investigator, but rather is a retired lecturer in creative writing. As a Hove resident she clearly has a wide-ranging knowledge of the area, but her background highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the book. On the plus side, it is very well written and full of interesting information. But not having previous experience of psychical research – her main interest seems to be true crime – there are no first-hand case reports. Instead there is a heavy reliance on a cut and paste job using the newspaper morgue, supplemented by a few personal interviews. The brief introduction ’What is a Ghost?’ is theoretically eclectic, and it is clear it was not written by someone who has studied the subject in depth. The book, however, is still a useful ghost gazeteer, with a liberal sprinkling of local history for added interest.
Cameron faces the usual problem of a book like this: how to organise the contents, given the choice between a thematic and geographical division. She has chosen a hybrid approach, looking at pubs, hotels and shops grouped together, but also devoting entire chapters to specific places. She starts with a look at haunted pubs organised alphabetically, but the lack of an index leads to the usual problem for the user of not being able to find all the establishments in a particular place at a glance. This type of collection would benefit from either being divided into walks (as is for example the Cheltenham book in the series) or having an index which categorises the places mentioned on a geographic basis.
While the coverage of Brighton and its environs is broad, Cameron has missed a few snippets of interest. For example, the brief section on St Ann’s Well Gardens mentions that George Albert Smith ran it for a period and had a film studio there. It does not, however, say that he was closely connected with the SPR, engaging in telepathy experiments as its main hypnotist, and was also the secretary to Edmund Gurney, the SPR’s Honorary Secretary, who died in Brighton’s Royal Albion Hotel in June1888 (the Royal Albion is mentioned in connection with Sir Harry Preston, whose ghost is reckoned to linger there).
Nor does she cover the supposedly haunted house which Smith and his wife occupied in Brighton for thirteen months in 1888 and 1889. Her account of Will Erwood, who gave ‘clairvoyance’ demonstrations at the Royal Pavilion in 1933, might also have included Smith’s 1894 description of the Baldwins’ Somnomancy (mind-reading ) act at Brighton, which was accomplished by the use of pieces of soft mill-board containing hidden carbon paper handed out for selected audience members to write on. Judging by the description culled from the Brighton and Hove Herald, Erwood was using the one-ahead method supplemented by cold reading.
As one would expect from a teacher of creative writing, Cameron has done a good job checking her copy. There are a couple of errors that I spotted though. The article on spiritual healer Ray Brown was in the Argus dated 14 Aug 2000, not 14 March. A section is devoted to ‘Chevalier’ Taylor, but he was an oculist, not an occultist. The main drawback to the book is the brevity of its chapters. In addition to Brighton and Hove, they cover Portslade, Rottingdean, Newhaven, Seaford, Shoreham, Southwick, Steyning, and the Devil’s Dyke - all in 127 pages. Not much is dealt with in depth, but Paranormal Brighton and Hove is enjoyable, and will increase the reader’s knowledge of the area.