MISS ADA GOODRICH-FREER AND THE (ALLEGED) HAUNTING OF BALLECHIN HOUSE
Posted November 28, 2012on:
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Ballechin House, in Perthshire, was at one time reputed to be the most haunted house in Scotland. Whether that was actually true or not is a matter of some conjecture, and it was the subject of some considerable scandal at the time of its investigation.
The haunting was investigated in the 1890s by a lady called Ada Goodrich-Freer, one of those colourful characters that the paranormal world often attracts. Ada bragged that her family were Highland gentry, when in fact she seems to have been born at Uppingham in 1857. Although a member of the Society For Psychical Research, Ada had a bit of a dubious reputation where supernatural investigations were concerned. For instance, she was once caught cheating at a table-rapping session. On another occasion, she had informed the owners of Clandon House, Surrey, which was under investigation, that the house wasn’t haunted, whilst at the same time informing the SPR that she had seen a hooded female figure in the grounds. She was also criticised for relying too much on ancedotes from the domestic staff there, instead of carrying out her own investigations.
In 1897 Ada heard that Ballechin House was reputed to be haunted by a former owner. The owner had been a rather eccentric individual, who said that, on his death, he wanted his corpse to be fed to his dogs, so that he could come back to life in their bodies. He had learned about reincarnation during his time in India, and felt very strongly about the subject. Perhaps understandably, when he died his bizarre request was not carried out, and as such his miffed ghost was said to be very annoyed about it.
Ada decided to rent the house for a month, and, pre-empting Harry Price at Borley Rectory by several decades, to put the house under a round-the-clock ghost investigation. Aware that the owners might not take too kindly to a ghost-hunt on their premises, she told them that she required it for a fishing-holiday, and to all outward appearances, this is what the house-party were there for.
Many tales were spun by Ada about her dramatic experiences at Ballechin. She claimed to hear thumps, bangs and ghostly footsteps in the house. She said she had had her bedclothes torn off her by a poltergeist, seen disembodied dogs paws on a table, and – after following instructions given during a ouija board session – she went to a nearby glen, where she said she had seen a ghostly weeping nun.
Ada described the ghost in detail in a letter to Lord Bute, dated 25 February 1896. Lord Bute thought the phantom may have been Miss Isabella, a sister of the eccentric major, who became a nun in 1850 and died in 1880.
Other guests at the house said that they had heard the thumps and footsteps, but didn’t experience anything else. This didn’t stop wild rumours from spreading about the haunting. Guests began to enjoy themselves, hyping up the haunting into truly gothic proportions, claiming that a disembodied hand had been seen clutching a crucifx, a ghostly hunchback had been seen walking upstairs, and hearing a wild, unearthly shriek which rang through the house at midnight.
Ada returned to London, and wrote up her experiences in a book entitled ‘The Alleged Haunting Of B- House’. The owner, J M S Steuart, was not happy about all this. He wrote to the papers from Paris in June 1897, saying he would never have let the house if he had known it was to be to a party of ghost-hunters. One of Ada’s guests, Mr Callendar Ross, was also quite withering about the whole affair, and he wrote about “the suspicion and disgust that close contact with the SPR tends to excite”. It was concluded that the haunting was nothing more than a product of practical jokes and “diseased imaginations”.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Ballechin does seem to have been one of those sad, unloved houses. It was put up for auction in the autumn of 1913, but no buyer could be found for it. By 1932 it was completely uninhabited, and it was eventually demolished in 1963.
And what happened to exotic Ada? After the farce of the Ballechin investigation, she severed all connection with the SPR, and instead turned her attention to the study of folklore. Her private life continued to be colourful. It was rumoured that she had a sado-masochistic affair with Constance Moore, daughter of Canon Daniel Moore. She eventually married a man 16 years younger than herself, and went to live abroad. She died in New York in 1930. For all her faults, a fascinating woman. Although the investigation at Ballechin was undoubtedly flawed, she had the right idea, as regards putting a haunted house under a 24-hour surveillance. Perhaps she was simply ahead of her time.