Posted on: September 13, 2011

If I had to name a favourite era for real-life ghost stories I don’t think I’d pick the (possibly obvious) choice of the Victorian era, but the inter-war years of the 20th century.  I’m not sure why, perhaps it was because legendary ghost-hunter Harry Price was at his peak then, or perhaps it’s just I find those two decades particularly interesting.  Much like now, it was a time of great unrest, of a sense that the world was rapidly changing, and although there was optimism (huge strides were being made in technology), it was also a time of great fear.  There was also a growing interest in psychology, which I believe is a vital element of anything to do with the supernatural.

The haunting of Ash Manor in Surrey is relatively little known in the world of the paranormal.  It is not a particularly dramatic one, as hauntings go, but it’s interesting for the  involvement of psychic investigators, the controversial use of mediumship, and for showing how a haunting apparently thrived on the fragile mental states of the witnesses.  A family, known to us as the Keels (a pseudonym), moved into the 13th century manor-house in June 1934.  The previous owner had been suspiciously keen to drop the asking price, so the family instantly assumed there was something wrong with the place.  The new owner suspected the plumbing was to blame, but his wife wasn’t so sure it was something as mundane as that.  She felt extremely ill-at-ease in the old servants quarters.  This wasn’t helped by the fact that the previous owner had informed her that the staff had suddenly all run away.

Stamping noises broke out in the attic, and in November 1934 Mr Keel, who slept separately from his wife, was awoken by violent hammering on his bedroom door.  For several nights this always occurred at the exact same time – 3:35 AM.  Then one night he woke up to find a little old man in his room.  The old man wore a green smock and muddy breeches.  His eyes were described as “malevolent and horrid”, and he was dribbling at the mouth.  Keel put his hands out to touch him, and when they went right through the figure, he was so shocked to ran into his wife’s room, where she had to soothe him with brandy.

Mrs Keel thought the old man was an intruder, and robustly went to confront him.  When she went to hit him, her hand went right through the figure.  The phantom old man wasn’t perturbed by his hostile reception, and appeared more and more often, and always at night.  He would walk across the bedroom to a cupboard that used to be the priest’s hole (a small hidden place where the family priest  could be hidden during times of anti-Catholic religious persecution).  Eventually the family began to accept him in their midst, and the owner’s wife said she could make him disappear simply by trying to touch him.  He was far from being a pleasant sight though.  His windpipe was exposed, which suggested that he had slit his throat.

Two visiting psychic investigators said the house had been built on an Druid’s stone circle, and that the ghost was one Henry Knowles, who had cut his throat when a milkmaid rejected his advances in 1819.  An amateur photographer succeeded in taking a picture of a dim shape on the landing in January 1936.  Professional psychic investigator, Nandor Fodor, was called to the house the following July.  The family called him in to desperately try and resolve the mystery, as they were concerned what the haunting was doing to their social reputation!

Fodor slept in the most haunted room, but experienced nothing untoward.  He did find however that the owner’s daughter was prone to temper tantrums, and was inordinately jealous of her mother, so he surmised that she was acting as the catalyst in the haunting.  Irish medium Eileen Garrett came up with another ghost entirely.  She said this one was a young fair-haired man, whom she said had been tortured to death in a royal castle nearby (both Farnham and Guildford castles are in the area).

Eileen went into a trance and revealed that, at around the time of the Battle of Agincourt, there had been a prison about 500 yards to the west of the house.  The misery of the lost souls that had been imprisoned there had impinged greatly on the area.  The ghostly man with the cut throat was thriving not only on the unhappiness of these lost souls to manifest himself, but also that of the daughter of the house.  The fair-haired young man came through to Mrs Garrett and raged about an Earl of Buckingham, who had offered him a considerable amount of money in exchange for his wife.  He said his name was Charles Edward Henley, son of Lord Henley of Huntingdon.

The ghost of the hideous old man continued to be seen.  The psychic investigators were recalled to the house.  Mrs Garrett said the old man was accusing the family of using him “to get at” each other.  The owner’s wife broke down in tears and admitted to the sorry emotional state the family were in.  She said her husband was a secret homosexual, she herself was reduced to taking drugs, and her daughter hated her because she was obsessed with her father.  It was all a dreadfully unhappy state of affairs.  The owner had also begun to talk in his sleep, as though he was Charles Henley.

The confession by the owner’s wife seems to have done the trick though.  Because soon afterwards it was reported that the haunting had ceased entirely.  Much scepticism was poured on the existence of Charles Henley though.  He communicated with Mrs Garrett via the old method of Automatic Writing, and the so-called Olde English language he used was ridiculed by experts.  Nandor Fodor believed that Henley existed only in Mrs Garrett’s mind.  Whatever the truth of the matter may be, I can only hope this wretchedly unhappy family found some peace of mind from then on.



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