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Spooky Staffs: Paranormal Staffordshire and Haunted Staffordshire

From the publishers’ websites:

Paranormal Staffordshire:  The first book to explore, in depth, the complete range of paranormal phenomena reported in Staffordshire. 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.  Anthony Poulton-Smith’s ghostly tour of the area is illustrated with many of his own photographs and is an ideal book for anyone curious about the unexplained, or even a paranormal tourist. Turn the pages if you dare, and join him on the adventure of your life….or afterlife!

Haunted Staffordshire: From heart-stopping accounts of apparitions, manifestations and related supernatural phenomena to first-hand encounters with ghouls and spirits, this collection of stories contains both new and well-known spooky stories from around Staffordshire. Compiled by the Wolverhampton Express & Star's own psychic agony uncle, Philip Solomon, this terrifying assortment of tales includes details of long-reported poltergeist activity at Sinai House, strange goings-on at the Gladstone Pottery Museum and even a reported visitation from author J.R.R. Tolkien in Leek! Haunted Staffordshire is sure to fascinate everyone with an interest in the area’s haunted history. Philip Solomon is a professional investigator of the paranormal, and has been described by Hans Holzer, a leading authority on the paranormal, as ‘the greatest medium of our time’. Philip is a feature writer, the author of fifteen published books and also has his own radio programme on WCR FM, ‘The Voice of Wolverhampton’. Previous publications for The History Press include Haunted Derby and Haunted Black Country. He lives in Willenhall, West Midlands.

First Author: 
Anthony Poulton-Smith
Secondary Author(s): 
Philip Solomon
Reviewed for SPR by: 
Tom Ruffles
SPR Review: 

Given that Amberley Publishing and the History Press are both covering the country with their paranormal guides, it is not surprising that they frequently issue books on the same areas.  Those on Staffordshire in their Paranormal and Haunted series respectively were published just a few months apart and offer a useful opportunity to make a comparison.

Anthony Poulton-Smith’s Paranormal Staffordshire (Amberley) appeared in 2011.  It is the longer of the two and takes a straightforward geographical A-Z approach, which means that it is easy to navigate.  Poulton-Smith is a general author on local subjects, and although he has previously written paranormal books about the Cotswolds and the Black Country, he does not appear to have specialised knowledge; as an indication, Sir Oliver Lodge’s name crops up, but while it is mentioned right at the end of his various accomplishments that he wrote about ‘life after death’, his long involvement with the Society for Psychical Research (including its presidency), surely relevant in this context, is not referred to.

The contents are the usual mix of folklore and anecdotes culled from previous books and newspapers, with what appears to be the odd recent case drawn to his attention by an appeal for stories.  He includes an intriguing experience he himself had in the 1990s, involving a phantom coach and horses going at an impossible speed where no road has ever been.  One curiosity: he notes the frequency with which pubs appear in his stories, and also churchyards.  He speculates that this is because these are common meeting-places after sunset.  Pubs maybe, as they are definitely common meeting places after sunset – but churchyards?  One glaring error: Lady Jane Grey was executed in 1554, not 1654.  And he takes the ‘Green Stone’ questing nonsense (subject of a couple of books by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman) more seriously than it deserves.  Overall it’s well written and enjoyable, containing just the sort of unverified stories you expect from this type of collection.

Philip Solomon’s Haunted Staffordshire (History Press) was published in 2012 and is a lot thinner than the Amberley volume.  Solomon is the “agony uncle” for the Wolverhampton Express & Star, if that is a recommendation, and more pertinently he has hands-on experience of paranormal investigation with local ghost-hunting groups.  He also has a number of paranormal writing credits, including one with Hans Holzer, so he has some prior familiarity with the subject.  Instead of plunging straight in, he provides a little background on his view of ghosts, and a brief, too brief to be useful, overview of the county’s history.  Like the Amberley book the stories are arranged in alphabetical order by place, but there is a paucity of sources here as well.

Both books are well illustrated, though Solomon’s pictures feature himself more than is necessary to complement the text, giving a sense of padding.  Each volume concludes with a brief list of relevant books, and newspapers that cover the county (The History Press published Paranormal Stoke-on-Trent, by Matt Hicks and Terri Setterington in 2009, but it appears in neither bibliography; it’s a competitive field).

Naturally there is a lot of overlap in the contents, though some stories appear in only one.  A completist might therefore want both, but as sources are rarely provided in either, they are useful only for the casual reader, and anybody with a serious interest in Staffordshire‘s paranormal heritage will quickly note their limitations.  They are the same price so if only buying one, the deciding factor would be the range of accounts and the amount of detail supplied.  Despite his relative lack of experience of the subject, Poulton-Smith’s effort is more substantial in every way, so of the two Amberley’s Paranormal Staffordshire is the one I would recommend, though with reservations.

Reference Information: 
Paranormal Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing, December 2011. ISBN 9781445603360; Haunted Staffordshire, The History Press, March 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0752461687