Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Gods or demons - who haunts Haigh Hall?
This Friday sees my first rehearsal at the menacing mansion that is Haigh Hall (the ‘Borley Rectory of the North’, as it is locally known).
For those who are just tuning into this blog, I’ll be holding a special ghost story night there on April 26th and reading my new novella, THE UPPER TIER, which is based on real events that once occurred in this deceptively innocent looking country house on the outskirts of Wigan, Lancashire.
Haigh Hall has a reputation for being haunted by particularly grisly and frightening spirits. There has been very violent poltergeist activity in the past, particularly on the top floor (aka ‘the Upper Tier’), which has subsequently been sealed off for decades. Injuries and nervous breakdowns have been reported by visitors, particularly among paranormal investigators. The last of these enquiries had such a disastrous outcome that one member was sectioned in a mental hospital. After this upsetting event, a ruling was made, declaring Haigh Hall’s top floor a no-go zone for amateur ghost-hunters.
Attempts have also been made to keep news of these incidents out of the public domain. Haigh Hall’s ornate downstairs area is still used for official functions, and its local authority owners did not want it to become famous for the wrong reasons. However, ghoulish stories have continued to leak out.
The hauntings at the Hall have taken a variety of forms. Many physical manifestations have been reported – from nightmarish hooded figures to the recognisable spirits of witnesses’ own deceased family members (though there is evidence to suggest that these are not those persons at all, but malevolent dopplegangers seeking to cause mischief). Shrieks, cries and insane laugher have been heard, while brief terrible smells have been noted – “like the stench of a pit filled with dead animals,” one former caretaker told me – with no earthly source ever traceable. (For more detailed accounts of these individual events, look to earlier postings on this blog).
Spirits are also believed to roam the woods around the building. One in particular is Lady Mabel, a faceless medieval-era spectre who spent her final days of life serving a torturous barefoot penance for the crime of bigamy. More recently, evidence has come to light than an underground passage may lead from the Hall – a priest’s hole connecting with old mining tunnels (of which Wigan borough is riddled), finally linking to an subterranean excavation beneath Wigan Parish Church, where archaeologists in the 1930s uncovered the remains of an altar to the Roman god Mithras.
If this sounds like something from one of my novels or short stories, I assure you it isn’t. By origin, Wigan was a medieval market town, but it was built on the site of a Roman military camp called Coccium. The camp itself occupied the part of the town where the Parish Church now stands. (Wigan Parish Church itself had a strange history – local folklore told how, in 1485, Richard III’s infamous boar-headed banner was taken from the battlefield at Bosworth by Lancastrian soldiers, and hung bloodstained over the Wigan church altar – though no physical trace of it has ever been found).
Mithras (pictured above, slaughtering a sacrificial bull) was not viewed as an evil deity. In fact, quite the opposite. But he was strongly associated with animal sacrifices. Could this go some way to explaining the curious sounds and smells that are heard at the other end of that underground tunnel – in other words at Haigh Hall?
There are more questions than answers, though I hope to at least gain some insight over the next few weeks. As I said at the start of this missive, I’ll be holding my first official rehearsal this coming Friday, so it’s fingers crossed that we aren’t too spooked to do a professional job. When I was last up at the Hall it was the middle of winter. There was deep snow and a gnawing chill. The Hall was a gloomy, fog-enshrouded edifice, which bade no one enter. Things are somewhat different now. The trees are in bud, the grass and flowers growing, and the sun shining. It looks far more welcoming, but I for one am not fooled. It surely owes to more than mere superstition that at the heart of this house there is utter darkness.
Posted by Paul at 10:03