Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Winter chills at the dark hall of horror
Haigh Hall, one of the most haunted houses in Lancashire, currently lowers over a desolate, ice-bound landscape. The woodlands surrounding it are skeletal: the twigs thick with frost; the snaking, snowy pathways silent and hung with frozen mist.
Thankfully, the horror night I’m due to write and then host in Haigh Hall’s derelict upper tier as part of the Wigan Literature Festival for 2011, will be held next Easter, when it’s likely to be a little warmer than it is in this deep, dark December. Now of course the season of good will is just around the corner, but there wasn’t much of that upstairs in the old Hall when I was there this morning to spy out an internal landscape of shadows and whispers. The dust of centuries still fills those ancient rooms and moldering passages. The long disused fireplaces are crammed with cinders and feathers and rotted rags covered with suspicious stains. Paper hangs in strips, which look to have been violently ripped from the walls, exposing claw-marked brickwork underneath. Floorboards creak as if you aren’t the only person standing on them. Ice clings to the inside of every window in bizarre, filigree patterns.
I was there for practical purposes, testing the acoustics, working out the position where my wingback, black leather armchair will be placed – and so on. But even if you’re working, there’s an aura to Haigh Hall that distracts you. In truth the whole building is supposedly riddled with ghosts, but the upper tier – closed to the public for so long, and reputedly the scene of dreadful past events – forcibly reminds you of this. It’s a maze of empty chambers, rickety stairways and dead-end passages, often lit only by grimy overhead skylights. Your eyes and ears play tricks on you straight away. I’d been up there five minutes this morning, and I fancied I heard footsteps in the adjoining corridor – needless to say, when I looked, there was nobody there. There are stains on the walls that suggest bent figures or demonic faces. A workman was up there alone once, and almost had a heart-attack when an eerie, silken voice tittered and said: “Why don’t you look behind you?”
He fled without looking, and refused ever to go back inside. It’s little wonder the same attitude persists among local authority staff. Some are prepared to venture up there, but they are in a constant state of nervousness – as I’ve seen for myself.
One of the spookier tales concerning Haigh Hall involves Lady Mabel, a chatelaine of the manor in medieval times who, for the crime of bigamy, was ordered to make a six-mile barefoot walk through the estate grounds every morning for the rest of her life. Her ghost is still seen regularly on the woodland trails during the misty or twilight hours – a ragged, forlorn figure, who, if you get too close, will turn a face to you that has no features. Another story regards incidents from the 1950s, when Haigh Hall had been taken over by Wigan Corporation, and was being prepared to receive visitors as a stately home. Students living-in and tidying up were terrified one night by the sounds of a horse galloping back and forth on the upper floor. Clumping hooves and equine shrieks were supposedly heard, before the entire gang of them fled. A few weeks later, another student tried to spend a night at the Hall alone, and in the early hours staggered sobbing to the estate manager’s cottage. He had been woken by the sound of a large animal snuffling at his bedroom door, and then shrieking and slamming hooves against it as if trying to force entry. The student was so frightened by the incident that he had soiled his pajamas and injured his leg jumping from the window.
This place is no joke.
More stories as I pick them up. But I think we’re going to have a lot of fun next Easter.
By the way, the picture was taken by my daughter, Eleanor, who doesn’t like going up there alone but will risk both life and limb to please her adoring parent (For some reason, when I assured her that no-one at Haigh Hall is ever alone, she wasn’t too impressed).
Posted by Paul at 05:22