The Ingrid Pitt column: ghosthunting in Norfolk
Stories of weeping child ghosts send Ingrid out on a quest for one-upmanship - but will she manage to spot any of a haunted farmhouses multiple spectres?
Some time ago I was sitting in the lounge at BAFTA headquarters in Piccadilly, chatting to singer Lynsey de Paul while we waited for a film to start. The conversation turned to ghosts. Lynsey lives in one of those walled communities out Hampstead Heath way. I think it was a Victoria Almshouse conclave that had been spruced up and gentrified. She told me that she had recently exorcised a ghost. That took some beating. Evidently her house had a history of a child weeping copiously which sometimes went on for hours. Nothing was known of the child or how it became unhappy but Lynsey was determined to do something about it. What do you do to soothe a crying child? Read it Alice in Wonderland, of course! Personally I have never been a big fan of the smarmy Alice. I’ve always hoped to see a version were the Queen of Hearts goes through with her threat to separate her pinny from her Alice Band. But it seems that the Wailing Waif didn’t have the same problem. Lynsey’s house is now waifless.
I tried a bit of one-upmanship. I told her about sitting by a camp fire in the Grand Canyon, half asleep, and seeing a sort of hologram of my father in the flames. Lynsey wasn’t impressed. That was just wish-fulfilment. Not the real McCoy. So when Wayne Drew, late of the BFI, rang me to tell me that he had bought an ancient farmhouse in the wilds of Norfolk and wanted me to go there for the weekend, the first question which tripped off my ego was, “Does it have ghosts?” “Ghosts.” said Wayne, “Ghosts! It’s over 800 years old. Of course it has ghosts.”
Friday came and I donned deerstalker and Norfolk Tweeds and headed east. Feeling a bit like the dozy couple in The Rocky Horror Show wandering around lanes that refused to get anywhere, I finally pulled up outside a five bar gate and was happy to see the farmhouse buried amongst the bushes and trees. It was certainly beautiful. A relic from the past but its longevity and charm guaranteed it a worthy future. It had been built when Ghiyas od-Din Abol-Fath Omar ibn Ebrah%u012Bm Khayyam Neyshaburi, known to his muse as Omar Khayyam, had been musing under a palm tree, stuffing himself with dates and dribbling wine onto his jalabiha. It was a family home when King Henry had sent his quartet of murderous knights on a trip to get rid of the ‘Turbulent Priest’, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett and had become popular as a home from home when Maggie Thatcher liberated money. And, whaddya know? It had a child ghost. Wayne claimed to have seen it a number of times but so far, I was glad to hear, had resisted the urge to read it extracts from the Beano.
Wayne was happy to tell me about how he had come to purchase the house and some weird experiences he had observed since moving in. He heard about the farmhouse from a friend in the Norwich Historical Society. His claim that it was a house with ‘history’ intrigued Wayne. He immediately approached the owner who turned out to be the Vicar of a well-known London church. They reached an agreement and the Vicar sent him the records. Everything was in order so the sale was arranged. Once the legal business had been done Wayne received another file of papers. Among them a well thumbed sheet from the Historical Society. Noticeable were a number of white patches of correcting fluid. He managed to make out what had been hidden. The phrase, “the use of the pentagram is best left to the imagination” stirred his bowels a little. It was the first time he had heard about the pentagram. He looked around the house but could find no sign of it.
A couple of days later an old lady turned up at the gate. She had lived in the house at the end of the lane for 83 years. Matter of factly she told Wayne about the oddballs, witches and warlock who had lived in the house over the years. She also asked what he thought of the ‘Devil’s sign’ on the floor. Wayne tried to tell her that he hadn’t found it but she was already babbling on about the axe-murderer who had run amok. She wandered off down the lane, cackling to herself in a very witch oriented way.
Wayne called his mate at the Historical Society and over a glass of Claret coaxed a few tid-bits out of him that he hadn’t been prepared to volunteer before. It seems that the odd goings-on in the house had forced the previous occupants to have the place exorcised. For a while it seemed to work but then the sightings and noises had started all over again. The pentagram mentioned in the file had been etched into the stone slabs in front of the fireplace in the dining room and it was generally agreed that this was the source of the manifestations. The little girl walking up the stairs, the man standing beside the bed in the dead of night, the little boy, dressed in blue, soaking wet and crying his eyes out in the back room plus various noises and unexplainable accidents that had happened about the house were all the fault of the Devil’s Sign. So the previous owner had removed the pentagram – but the poltergeist, or whatever, didn’t go with it.
Wayne confessed to me that he had seen the man at the foot of his bed. Heard ghostly footsteps in the room above when he was alone in the house and had caught a fleeting glimpse of the girl on the stairs. He said he wasn’t particularly bothered by the apparitions – just hoped the reputed axe-murderer didn’t make a return visit.
It all sounded too wonderful to be true. This was my big chance to have a supernatural experience which would have Lynsey’s Weeping Waif in floods of tears again. I wandered around the old walled garden that had seen centuries of man’s endeavour to tame nature. Nature was still fighting back with its storm troopers of nettles, dandelions and convolvulus but they added to the perfection – if that is possible. It was beautiful and interesting but I was waiting for the dark so that I could check out the phantoms. In the dining room by the light of candles, our feet firmly on the place where the pentagram used to be, we ate a thoughtful meal. As soon as I decently could I went up to bed. I had a torch by the side of the bed just in case Wayne decided to give me a thrill by providing a few home made apparitions, went through what I would do if the Girl, the Man or the Boy should appear – and promptly dropped off to sleep.
OK – so it had been a tiring day. Wayne was surprised when I asked him if I had missed any interesting psychic phenomena over night and explained to me that it wasn’t a nightly occurrence. That didn’t put me off. I hung around all day, worked out where the ghosts would appear and where they would go. Wayne got a bit obnoxious in the afternoon and decided a trip to Norwich was what I wanted. I didn’t but he didn’t leave me an escape route that wouldn’t have involved fisticuffs. As soon as dinner was out of the way I yawned and made a big production of being out on my bum. Wayne suggested bed and I was a blur as I made for the stairs. Tonight was going to be the night. I had a fold-up travelling clock with me with a luminous dial. I promised myself that I wouldn’t lie down and made a nest of pillows to keep me semi upright. I would check the clock every quarter of an hour to make sure I kept awake. Eleven o’clock came and went, twelve, the witching hour, followed it. One o’clock – 1.15 -1.30. 1.45 – 2.00 – 2.15 – 7.30. Seven thirty? I sat up and scowled at the treacherous clock. How had that happened?
I think Wayne was happy to wave me good bye that afternoon. I guess my determination to see some sort of apparition so that I could get one over on Lynsey de Paul had worn him out. He promised to invite me again – in the future. What do I do about Lynsey? Well, I haven’t seen her since but I think I will be economical with the truth and extravagant with the narrative.
Ingrid Pitt will be back again next Tuesday; in the meantime, read her last column here.