Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The scary secrets of the real ‘Hell House’


I’m over the moon this week, as I’ve picked up a fascinating gig – to write and present a night of ghost stories for the Wigan Literature Festival, which will be held next Easter. The most exciting part of this, however, is that my presentation will be given during the hours of darkness in the spookily derelict upper tier of Haigh Hall (pictured), the so-called ‘Borley Rectory of the North’.

Haigh Hall is a stately home located in my native borough of Wigan, Lancashire. Wigan, of course, was once the butt of many a music hall joke concerning its terraced houses, pitheads and bogged up canals, but that’s never been the whole story. We have a lot of green space up here as well, and Haigh Hall is a case in point, as it occupies an isolated spot in the very middle of The Plantations, 250-acres of Victorian era parkland, much of which have now degenerated into dense and impenetrable wildwood. The Hall itself, which is now local authority-owned, was first built in the 1830s, but occupies a site where manor houses have stood since the Norman Conquest. It has seen much tragedy and bloodshed, particularly during the Middle Ages and, later on, during the English Civil War. It now has a reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in the whole of northwest England, yet it has proved difficult for ghost-watch societies to get permission to hold vigils there, and the reasons for this have always been closely guarded. Rumours abound that when you investigate supernatural events at Haigh Hall, it often has a disastrous outcome.

So, all in all, it’s going to be quite a challenge. No booking information is available yet, as the brochures and tickets will only be going on sale in the New Year. But obviously I’ll be getting to work quickly, researching and writing.

Haigh Hall is not new to me. It provided the blueprint for two very different horror stories of mine, The Mummers, which appeared in Shadows And Silence in 2000, and Deep Woods, Dark Water, which appeared in Nasty Piece of Work 10 in 1998. Both necessitated research trips there, but last week was the first time I’ve actually been allowed into the Hall’s mysterious and much feared upper tier, which has been closed to the public for as long as anyone can remember.

I literally had to claw my way through curtains of dust-webs as I moved from one derelict chamber to the next, many of which still bore evidence of their former use: peeling and faded wallpaper; fireplaces stuffed with ashes and rotted feathers, and of course, in one of them, the ubiquitous rusty old wheelchair. There was even a wax mannequin wearing what looked like a shroud. Its face was horribly scarred, as if someone had attacked it with a knife. The staff, none of whom knew the origins of the mannequin, also told tales of strange sounds and odious smells pervading the eerie structure, and of mysterious handwriting appearing on the walls, begging for help or mercy.

A friend of mine who holds scientific paranormal enquiries was extremely jealous; he told me he’d “kill someone to get permission to go in there”. I replied that I didn’t think this a wise choice of words, as many of those who roam its dingy passages may have done exactly that!

We were both in agreement that I couldn’t have found a better venue for what looks like being a ghoulishly enjoyable night.

More details as I get them.

4 comments:

  1. I think both my wife and I would love to go to watch something like this, especially in that venue. Sounds brilliant. I'll have to keep a look out for booking details.

    ReplyDelete
  2. May ghosts come alive in your stories, but not at your back while you are busy narrating them!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks chaps.

    David, I will keep you fully informed of ticket availability. We're doing some shots for the official brochure before Christmas, but the publicity machine will only really start running in the New Year.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, Paul. My wife's response when I emailed her from work about it was: "Yeah. Book it now." In capitals.

    ReplyDelete