Halloween has passed and this year it felt like it was truly exposed for the arduous commercial sweet robbery that it has become over the past few years. There was little trace of the usual ‘mise-en-scène’ associated with the Autumnal festival of ‘All Hallows’ Eve’. Even the TV failed to broadcast anything remotely chilling.
As a kid, I have fond memories of getting a full set of stamps in all of the books in my village library that were under the shelf marked ‘unexplained/occult’. It seemed that there was a common fascination at school with the retelling of ghost stories and strange events that were often rooted in local folklore. There was a certain thrill attached to it – especially if you were camping or walking down a quiet lane in the dark.
I had scores of books reassessing the classic hauntings at ‘Borley Rectory‘ or the ‘Enfield Poltergeist‘ and what I found remarkable was the scholarly way in which they were written. The Victorian Psychical Research Society would send representatives and investigative teams to sites of ‘disquiet’. Universities had whole departments set up to monitor ‘spectral’ activity. There was real academic plausibility in this scientific field at one time and it was performed by serious-faced men in thorn-coloured suits with leather patches on the elbows. Harry Price and Peter Underwood are names that spring to mind. Where are these chaps now? Who do we turn to? What would I do if eggs started cooking on my worktop on their own? I have no idea.
One source of redemption is ‘Haunted Britain’ by Anthony D Hippisley Coxe (see above). The book was written after the author visited a healing well and felt unusually overwhelmed. He and his wife then travelled all over the British Isles putting together the guide from distilling local history and having interviews with the owners of haunted properties.
This huge tome, complete with its own iconographic legend, classic sketches and heavily processed photography is unsurpassed as a paranormal pathfinder. The short, direct and relatively humourless descriptions of each haunting are as rationally British as you could imagine. There are some hauntings in there that are admittedly quite eerie indeed and I found myself experiencing a medium sense of dread when I suddenly caught a glimpse of a glow in kitchen only to realise that the oven was on.
I thoroughly recommend the formality of this book and the prevailing sense that the study of the supernatural is indeed, a serious pursuit and possibly something you could even tie into a summer holiday. If anything, it might function as a useful guide to avoiding ‘restless inns’ whilst on a weekend away.