True Stories of Our Local Ghosts, by Chris Aspin
True Stories of Our Local Ghosts is SPR member Chris Aspin’s follow-up to his 2014 Strange Stories from a Lancashire Village, again published by the Helmshore Local History Society. As is often the way, once word gets around that someone is recording experiences and family lore, more people come forward with accounts. Aspin has added to these with his own researches to produce another interesting selection, though some are not local but were recounted to him by people he met in the Helmshore area.
The booklet begins with an extract from Joseph Braddock’s Haunted Houses (1956) in which he recounts the ghost stories emanating from a house, Tor View, at Haslingden, which is close to Helmshore. Tor View was occupied by the family of Braddock’s maternal grandparents from 1893 to the 1920s and he visited it regularly at Christmas as a child. The main ghost was of a young lady, possibly a previous occupant of the house who was said to have had an unfortunate relationship. Totally benign, the ghost never gave a moment’s anxiety. An aunt also saw Braddock’s grandfather at her home at Colne after he died in 1914, come as she thought to reassure her about her engagement to his son, Braddock’s grandmother being opposed to the match.
Some buildings seem likely candidates for ghosts: Cemetery Lodge at Haslingden, for example, with an odd chill noted by some visitors, a sense of presence, and possibly the apparition of a suicide in the stairway. The oldest building in the area, Lumb Hall, parts of which date from the sixteenth century, is also reputed to be haunted, with a figure seen, footsteps heard, and a mysterious perfume smelt. The booklet contains crisis apparitions and intuitions, and even a possible time-slip. The oldest report is taken from a letter sent in 1786 describing knocks accompanying the death in 1765 of the writer’s wife.
Not only houses are venues for the paranormal. As might be expected in Lancashire, ghosts are found in an industrial setting, such as the one witnessed at a mill. The ghost of a man murdered in 1950 was seen in a platelayers’ hut on the railway line running through Helmshore, so frequently witnessed by the maintenance gang that he was nicknamed ‘George’. The sound of a locomotive whistle was heard after the line closed in 1966. Other ghosts are encountered in the countryside, and then there is the story of the unfortunate sequence of events which occurred after the removal of what was thought to be a ‘witch bottle’ from an abandoned agricultural building, but calming down once the bottle was returned to where it had been found.
As well as ghosts there are poltergeist incidents. In one case an exorcism (perhaps in fact a blessing) only made matters worse, arousing the animosity of whatever was causing the trouble. A longer narrative recounts a poltergeist episode which lasted three weeks in 2010 in the house of a Helmshore woman. She lived on her own and seems to have displayed a remarkable degree of sangfroid in the circumstances. She was subjected to, among other things, disappearing keys, furniture moving at night (to the irritation of her neighbour), a strange light, ‘thundering’ footsteps, blasts of ice-cold air on her face, and a moving quilt while in bed.
Moving away from ghosts and poltergeists, there is a possible UFO case, a pair of youngsters out angling at a reservoir who saw lights under the water that were not a reflection, and cases of dowsing, including that of an amateur dowser from Haslingden who helped (so he said) the police investigate the still-unsolved 1908 murder of Caroline Luard at Ightham in Kent.
The booklet concludes with a strange experience a Haslingden couple had one afternoon in 1961 or ‘62 while walking and climbing in North Wales. At about 2pm one day they heard a swishing sound behind them, but could see nothing to account for it. The sound came nearer, passed them, then faded into the distance. They were close to a feature known as The Devil’s Kitchen so were inclined to put a sinister spin on what had happened, and were feeling uncomfortable faced with this apparently causeless noise.
Quickly they decided that it was a natural phenomenon, the sun warming the ground creating the conditions for a dust devil in which warm air rises and spins. Unlike a dust devil in the desert there was nothing for the warm air to pick up on the rocky mountainside, but the sound was there. The pair were satisfied with this and the wife has since heard identical noises in the Middle East, supporting their interpretation. But what caused the sound if nothing was being moved by the air current? Were they looking for an explanation which seemed plausible because the alternative was too difficult to contemplate?
The Helmshore district is no different to communities around the country in possessing a rich tradition of strange stories (as Aspin himself noted in his previous compilation), but many are lost because no-one records them. It is good to have them, but the drawback with many is that witnesses often only agree to publication on condition that names and locations are left out. In addition authors may abbreviate details for publication or change them in order to disguise their origin. While understandable, such operations reduce their value.
To avoid this problem, local historians with such material can donate the complete records to an organisation such as the SPR, or arrange for their donation in their wills, under embargo if they (or their informants) wish. That way they can be maintained for the benefit of future researchers. Meanwhile, Chris is still collecting, so if anyone with a connection to the area has a curious tale to tell, I’m sure he would be happy to hear from you.
True Stories of Our Local Ghosts is 27 A5 pages. Copies can be obtained from the author at £2.50 inc. p&p - email chris_aspin[at]yahoo.co.uk.