Paranormal Cheltenham

By Andrews, Ross

From the publisher’s website: The first book to explore, in depth, the complete range of paranormal phenomena reported in Cheltenham. 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.
Ross Andrews’ ghostly tour of the area is illustrated with many of his own photographs.

Click on the title and see review by Chris Romer


Amberley Books, December 2009. ISBN 9781848686304

Reviewed for the SPR by: Chris Romer


Paranormal Cheltenham is a recent volume in Amberley Publishing’s collection of local ghost books. As the title suggests it deals with the town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, and also covers the adjoining village of Prestbury, one of the claimants for the title of ‘England’s most haunted village’, competing with Pluckley in Kent for the honour. 
 
The book is organised into five ghost walks, of varying length. Each is illustrated by crudely drawn maps, and one of the great weaknesses of the book is that these maps do not have any street names on them, and unless one is familiar with the town it may be easy to become lost while searching for a specific location. Church Lane for example is a narrow alley that runs down the side of St.Gregory’s Church and the Shaftesbury Hall apartments; this reviewer has lived in Cheltenham for twenty years and did not know its name, recognising the alley in question by the apparitional experience reported in the book rather than by the map or name! 
 
This is a great shame, because the walks are well thought-out, and the author Ross Andrews has constructed them to take in most of the ‘sights’ of the town as well as the locales of the haunting. While taking second place to the ghost stories the book is peppered with interesting snippets of history incorporated with a deft hand. However this is not a local history book; one would look in vain for the fascinating history of Pittville as a proposed second town in the Chelt valley, or such Cheltenham notables as Francis Close or his critic Lord Tennyson.
 
The first ghost walk should take forty minutes to an hour at a leisurely pace, and takes the reader around the town centre. It could be combined with a shopping trip for those whose partners prefer non-psychical research pursuits. (No times are given for any of the walks, or parking instructions – a grievous fault in a book of walks, far less so in a book primarily about ghosts.)  The second walk takes in some parts of Cheltenham of great charm and character, but well off the usual visitors’ route. It includes the Suffolks, Tivoli, and what locals refer to as the “Antiques Quarter” owing to the number of little shops dedicated to that trade. At perhaps an hour and a half this is a more strenuous walk.   Again the third walk takes one through Pittville, around the park, the lake and some truly beautiful Georgian buildings. Curiously there is no mention of the Gustav Holst museum, despite occasional claims of haunting there, and the obvious interest of the location to visitors to the town. 
 
This walk includes an interesting summary of the famous “Cheltenham Ghost”, summarising the story in to a little over three pages. The ghost is the Morton Case of SPR Proceedings Vol. 8, and the subject of W. Abdy Collins book The Cheltenham Ghost. Andrews fails to note that the property where the haunting occurred is today a Housing Association block of flats, whose residents would probably rather not be troubled by ghosthunters. However, it is worth noting that the grounds of St. Anne’s, where the supposed ghost of Imogen Swinhoe was seen, is now a sleepy little road of bungalows, and there is no harm in looking I suppose. The sad story of a dead dog attributed to the ghost and a couple of recent sightings bring the story up to date, but there are curious omissions, such as the supposed sightings of ‘Imogen’ in the 1950’s in a building on the other side of the road, or some other stories mentioned by Andrew Mackenzie in his account. Even more curious, given Mr Andrew’s personal involvement in psychical research is the absence of any reference to G. W. Lambert’s theories concerning the case, or Peter Underwood’s interesting critique.
 
The book includes two Prestbury village ghost walks; the former is largely the well-known story of the village that one can see on various websites, but the second, which takes the walker out of the village and some distance in to the countryside, has some interesting new accounts.
 
 The ghost stories are interesting, many drawn from the author’s circle of friends and acquaintances, others from the researches of local ghost group of which he is Chairman, PARASOC (Myers Society for Psychical Research). Some of the stories are recognisable from local author Bob Meredith’s little 1982 book Cheltenham: Town of Shadows, and a small number appear to derive from earlier Gloucestershire groups such as the Cheltenham Psychical Research Group. One of the more interesting aspects of this as an example of the “local ghosts” genre is how many of the stories and locations were investigated at the time of the alleged events. However the book does not concentrate on establishing the evidential value of the cases covered, and readers interested in further research should turn instead to the case reports at www.parasoc.org, as the author notes.
 
The book concludes with a chapter of ghost stories located outside of the walks, a number of PARASOC investigations and a final chapter on ‘How To Hunt Ghosts’ which makes the whole enterprise sounds like a hi-tech safari for gadget fans, as it is very much focussed on equipment and its usage in paranormal research. I was surprised at this; the author illustrates well in the rest of the book his understanding of the importance of interviewing witnesses, research, and attempting to understand the experience and its context and importance to the percipient.   The book provides a perfect example of the kind of useful research that can be conducted without a single ‘vigil’ or EMF meter in sight, yet somehow Andrews seems to overlook it in this chapter, despite it being an important strand of PARASOC’s research.
 
One new technique is described, called “Sensory Mapping”: asking people to designate which areas of a building they feel are “odd” or “spooky” before they are informed of the percipient’s experiences. Loosely modelled on Getrude Schmeidler’s ‘Quantitative Investigation of a Haunted House’, this method has given interesting results, the interpretation of which remains open, and is referenced many times in the book. More on this and similar research methodologies would have made this an even better book.
 
As it is this is an excellent local ghost book, written with dry with and at times painful humour, it entertains but does not scare. The author’s experience and knowledge shines through, and it is a superb example of what a local ghost book can be. Recommended, even to those who are not residents of the town.