Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Tonight's the night - no turning back now!
In 1947, part of the parapsychology team made famous by their enquiries at Borley Rectory attempted to investigate Haigh Hall, a Regency Gothic built on the site of a medieval manor house on the outskirts of Wigan, Lancashire, reputedly one of the most haunted properties in the whole of the north of England. What happened to that team has become the stuff of ghost-hunting legend.
Without doubt, this is one of the most disturbing episodes in the entire history of paranormal enquiry. To call this investigation ‘a disaster’ would be underselling it in a big way, though the actual details are rarely leaked as the local authority, who now own Haigh Hall, have clamped down on it hard.
Subsequent vigils there have also had bizarre outcomes, with investigators hospitalised or frightened out of their wits – in one case, a very experienced chap had to be sectioned in an asylum. Though none of these events (most of which are detailed in earlier posts on this blog) can even compare with the truly terrible incident in 1947, Wigan Local Authority decided in the early 1990s that enough was enough and issued an order that no further paranormal enquiries could be held at Haigh Hall. Not only that, they closed the upper tier of the building to all but essential staff, as this was deemed to be the epicentre of very violent ghostly (though would also call it ‘demonic’) activity.
Since then, of course, there have been occasional reports about Haigh Hall, though as the public are only normally admitted to the downstairs area, which is still open for official functions, these have been few and far between. But nobody believes that the evil lurking upstairs has gone away, least of all the staff responsible for maintaining the venerable old mansion. They are the unwilling protectors of this ancient building’s secrets, though these secrets won’t remain secrets for much longer. Tonight, as part of the Wigan Literature Festival, and as dusk descends on the lush, overgrown woodland that surrounds Haigh Hall, I shall be hosting a special ghost story evening in its main ballroom, and reading my new novella, The Upper Tier, which draws directly on the ghastly horror that struck this place way back in 1947. (It’s a ticket-only event, of course, so unfortunately no-one can just turn up at the door, if they haven't already booked).
When I was initially approached to do this, I was obviously delighted but I also felt a little trepidation. So frightening are some of the stories concerning Haigh Hall that witnesses have supposedly never recovered from them. Others who’ve experienced things here have refused ever to return, even in daylight. It was always going to be a challenge, but in preparing for this night I’ve had the chance to look the Hall over thoroughly, including the upper tier, which I’ve now visited several times. It is achingly eerie up there: derelict, web-shrouded and groaning with disuse. It is also easy to imagine that you aren’t alone while traversing its gutted rooms and bleak corridors. Whether this owes to what people like me already know about this place, or to a genuine supernatural presence is a matter for debate. But there are so many tight corners, so many dark and narrow passages, so many curious markings on the mottled walls that the aura of brooding menace is all but tangible.
Perhaps because of this, it soon became plain to me that I couldn’t just reveal to our guests the mysteries of this uncanny place without allowing them to have a look for themselves. So tonight – for the first time in a long time – the general public, at least those members of the public who have tickets for my presentation, will not just hear the full, uncensored account of what happened there in 1947, but they will be admitted to the upper tier, where it all occurred.
It took all our powers of persuasion, but we finally got permission for this. And in case anyone thinks this is a joke, we then found that we had another problem to contend with – only one of the tour guides volunteered, and now that the day is upon us, he is far from comfortable about going up there.
It’s now lunchtime as I write this. The clock is ticking. I too am beginning to wonder if we maybe we’ve all made the biggest mistake of our lives …
For those who haven’t visited this blog before, the above pic, which comes to us courtesy of ‘Wigan Observer’ snapper, Nick Fairhurst, shows yours truly in the much-feared Noah’s Ark Room, regarded by many as the malevolent heart of Haigh Hall’s notorious upper tier.
Posted by Paul at 04:52