Ghost Hunters: Across the great divide

This episode has some great anecdotes - I think Stuart is particularly convincing because he otherwise seems so straight and business-minded. Diane gives the impression (viewing the video) that she's making it up as she goes along. But Eddie Burks is so plausible. You don't want to think that a gentle-looking old chap would be taking you for a ride. I find it very hard to believe there are actual 'spirits' just hanging around for centuries in hotels, waiting on the off-chance for some medium to come by. I can just about go for the 'recording' idea. But Eddie evidently believes in both varieties. What are the options? It's all true / He's picking up something and he believes it to be a spirit but it's not / He's imagining the whole thing but he genuinely believes in it / He's making the whole thing up and he doesn't believe in it at all. I'm kind of tending towards the mid-point, because I believe that at least some of the weirdness in the hotel is happening (Stuart's stories). I also like the (often annoying) Archie Roy's remark about all science having to start with a stamp-collecting stage. That sounds very much like Charles Fort's attitude.

Diane, Spiritualist: She just stands there. She’s solid. She’s just the same as me or you or anybody else. And she just stands there, you open your eyes and she’s there. It’s not in the mind. You do see her. And if she touches you, you would feel her. She is solid.

Eddie Burks: So I’m asking her if she would just backtrack in her memory, to the events around her death. [Breathing heavily and looking discomforted] She died in great agony.

Narrator: This is the village of Ingatestone, in Essex in south east England. It’s a village that lies on the old coaching route from London to Colchester. It’s a place that has been somehow bypassed by all the industrial developments around  it. Much of it looks very much as it did three or maybe four hundred years ago. And in our researches around the country, we’ve found that places that have a long and involved history like this do seem to have a multi-layered history of psychic events, almost as if the events that the building has lived through are in some way imprinted on its fabric. This building, for example, was built in Elizabethan times. It was an old coaching in for almost three hundred years. Then in Victorian times it became a bakery. Now it’s a restaurant and a bakery, and many of the people who work here have no doubt they’ve seen and experienced things they can’t possibly explain.

Lucie: As I’m walking out to the table, I feel like someone’s looking at me, and it feels quite cold, so I’ve looked up, and there’s a lady standing there, and she’s looking at me. She was quite short I think, but it was quite quick, erm, and it was fairly dark as well, but her face was really really white. Very very pale. And she didn’t have what you could say was hair, she didn’t have like a bun, you couldn’t really see it. Erm and she had a taffeta-y type black dress on. And, er, as I walked to get the book, she turned and walked through, through the wall.

Mandy, Manageress: I went to serve this person, and I saw this lady walk past in a black dress. But I knew it was just me and these people in the restaurant, we weren’t busy. And no-one else appeared to have seen her, but it was like there was another person, it wasn’t– you know people say oh  ghostly figures and that, but it was nothing like that, it was like a real person.

Stuart, Proprietor: I was just working in the office one afternoon and not expecting it at all. Um, I was sitting there, concentrating on what I had to do for the following week, getting all my records ready. And basically I could feel all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Erm, I could feel it right on the back of my neck. And it was very quiet, I can hear the main road from my office, [indistinct] and we can hear the cars going past, and I couldn’t hear a single car. It was like I could hear a pin drop. I felt it then, I just shook it off, and I got up and went to the toilet. It was a natural thing to do, as you would, and I went through, and I sighted the woman behind the ladies toilet door. And she sort of looked at me and sort of drifted behind the door, and, and, first of all I stood in shock wondering what that could be, because I thought I was the only one in the building. And, er, I followed it through the back of the door, and there was nothing there, there was absolutely no-one there at all.

Narrator: The Victorian lady most often appears upstairs. Downstairs in the oldest part of the house there has been a continuous series of strange events, mainly poltergeist activity, things moving around, loud footsteps across a wooden floor that everybody knows is now carpeted. The sort of thing that makes you doubt your own judgement, until you realise that several other people have experienced exactly the same sort of thing.

Mandy: I was [indistinct] downstairs and we was all talking, and we was standing by this fridge, and it’s a tall fridge. And the fridge actually moved about three inches. And we all stood there and watched this fridge moving, we just couldn’t believe it. And it took two chefs to move the fridge back.

Lorraine: To lock up we go through everything by a system, whereby I would turn off all the lights in here and then I have to walk through the lounge (or what’s now known as the Macron’s Room, which was our staff lounge at the time). Now the light switch is only on one side of the wall, now as there are doors on both sides of the room, I had to walk through, through the dark(!), to the other side of the room to turn the light on. As I approached the door on the other side of the room, in the pitch black, I felt a hand round my elbow. I actually felt the fingers like this around my elbow. I presumed it was someone in the room trying to play some sort of joke on me. But I was right by the door and the light switch at the time so I turned the light on, and there was no one in the room with me.

Narrator: At the back of the house is the bakery, and several people have seen here, in great detail in terms of dress and facial expression and so on, the figure of a baker that actually died here of a heart attack several years ago.

Stuart: I was teaching one of my trainees how to make a salad, and this is about two o’clock in the morning.  We’d just done a lot of building work in the front of the building, which is now a restaurant, and I had this chap standing near me, and obviously I wasn’t surprised to see him come through for some milk or something in the evening, because there was no refridgeration in that part of the bakery. And he ignored me as I talked to him, and I carried on concentrating, doing my salads, and I turned round and he was very clear, it was very clear as though it was a human being talking to me about five feet away. And at this point I didn’t realise I’d sighted something that was the paranormal. He had a white t-shirt on, he was very dusty with flour. Sort of dark hair, curly, brown . And he had a brown belt on that was hanging down, as most of the bakers seem to wear, with white trousers and black shoes that look like they’ve been worn for the last forty years(!) with flour all over them. Um and he ignored me, so as I was concentrating on this commis chef, he had turned round as we’d talked to him the second time. And I just said, ‘have you got your milk for the evening?’ for your tea, or something, and I carried on getting this lad to concentrate on what he was doing. And he ignored me again, as I turned round myself for the third time, and he had just disappeared so I just assumed he was being arrogant or ignorant or whatever, he just didn’t want to know what I was saying or just came to have a look and went. I presumed nothing. So I went to see the night baker, who had only just come in in the evening in the bakery, and said, you know, you don’t have to ignore me, I’m here to help you, it’s best for us to get on, we’ll work as a team , it’s a business we’re running. And he said, well I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I said, well you’ve just been round there, I spoken to you three times and you’ve ignored me. And he says, that door to the bakery there, he said, I’ve been here thirteen and a half years and I’ve never been through that door. And with that, a startling sort of effect and feeling on me, which was quite horrible! And he said ‘you’ve probably seen a ghost’, which he’d not sighted himself, but he’d heard many stories about over the years he’d been there.

Lorraine: I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye a man standing in the ladies toilets. Now he was in front of a full length mirror, and he was wearing a white jacket. It looked like white trousers. And I only saw the back of him. A dark haired chap. And at the time I thought it was just a chef, sort of getting ready for work and checking the mirror. So I didn’t really study him too closely! It wasn’t what I was expecting. So I looked away and I went to busy myself and I suddenly thought, well why is this chef in the ladies toilets? When they’ve got their own staff room and the mens, why was he in there? So I looked back, and all I saw was my own reflection when I looked back.

Narrator: Events like this have been going on for several years now. Although nobody talked about them very much it became an acknowledged part of the atmosphere of the place. And then one day Mandy the manageress went to see a friend who had some experience as a psychic medium, and was told to her surprise about some of the spirits or entities who the medium claimed still inhabited the old coaching inn.

Mandy: So I’d been to see this lady. It was for fun, fortune telling and things like that, so we went there. And she actually told me that where I worked, it was haunted, and there was this young girl here. And she described the building, and she actually told me that she watched me leave, and I asked her why it was actually such a scary experience. And she said it’s because she doesn’t want you to leave the building, she doesn’t want to be there on her own. But she does actually watch you leave. And she even described how I get in my car and speed up the road. Erm, she also said there is actually a soldier here, but he isn’t nice. Whereas this young girl is nice, she likes to be here. This soldier, he doesn’t like it here at all, he doesn’t like to be here at all. And she said, that is not good.

Narrator: Eventually Diane the medium decided to go back to Ingatestone to see if she could learn more about this person whom she called Sarah, who seemed to have been a maid or a servant at the old Inn perhaps two or more hundred years ago.

Diane, Spiritualist: The first time I saw Sarah she was in long clothes, it was a skirt and top I think, and it was made of dark sacking stuff, with a shawl over her head or round her shoulders. But the second, no the third time I saw Sarah actually, she had a bonnet, which was her mother’s. And Sarah said that she’s wearing this bonnet because it’s a special occasion and she’s very happy, so she’s dressed up in her mother’s bonnet. Then we went through the house. This was a nice room, she liked this room. There’s one room upstairs she didn’t like, because she broke her arm, and she used to have to nurse the sick in that room. And there’s another room where she always watches Mandy go home safely. That’s what I call Sarah’s Room. And then she just showed us all. But it was as it was, not how it now.

Narrator: A servant girl, a soldier, a Victorian lady and a baker, all from quite different periods in history. The accounts of some of the events in the old coaching in at Ingatestone were so intriguing, and they seem to have been recalled in such detail, that we decided to bring in another psychic medium to see if any of his perceptions matched the descriptions we’d received. Eddie Burks has an international reputation for his work in this field. And we took him to the house blind, so to speak, we told him nothing about its history or what was said to have gone on there. And the extraordinary fact is, that within a few minutes of his arrival at the house he felt as if he’d been seized upon by somebody unseen. As he described her, a similarity to the young maidservant Sarah was unmistakable.

Eddie Burks, Psychic Medium: I think she’s a serving girl, I’m seeing her wearing an apron.  And [puffing slightly] a white apron and a white bonnet. Which, I’m not quite sure, it’s not a mob cap, but it served the same purpose as a mob cap. Erm, it kept the hair in order, part of her uniform, as it were. She’s wearing a skirt which comes down to upper ankles, it’s not a full length skirt. Um, I think it’s a brownish, a brown fairly coarse cloth. The apron is fastened over it. And she has lots of hair, and I think the colour was brown, what I can see of it anyway.

Narrator: This strange conversation, for that is what it felt like, went on for over half an hour, and it seemed as though the servant girl was increasingly unwilling to talk about her death, or why she felt trapped.

Eddie Burks: She knows I want her to go back into the reasons why she’s stuck, which means perhaps going back into her death situation. Oh… no wonder she backed out of it. [Puffs a bit and looks uncomfortable] It’s to do with childbirth, that went wrong. Ooh she died in great agony. Possibly a breach birth that couldn’t be dealt with properly. But she died and her thoughts are about the child – my child, my child, my baby. Great grief allied with the memory of great pain, terrible pain – clumsy midwife.

Narrator: After that very disturbing experience, Eddie moved round the house for a while and then made what he claimed was another contact in the part of the house where there’d been so much poltergeist activity – the strange sounds and the unexplained movements. The contact seemed to be, he said, of a young man: a former soldier filled with anger.

Eddie Burks: I’m seeing a man in… in khaki, first world war soldier. He was, he was either married or engaged to a girl. He was.. oof… he was killed in France. As soon as he died, very swiftly, he came back here, drawn by the need to contact this young woman. And what he found sort of destroyed him. She was involved with someone else. There’s a lot of energy there with him, and a lot of frustration, and a determination to make himself felt.

Narrator: So it seemed that the two mediums had quite independently, at quite different times, encountered the same spirits or entities. That in itself is quite remarkable. But how are we supposed to respond when we witness Eddie’s conversations? Here we have a man who is clearly sane and reasonable, and of great integrity, claiming to have detailed and intimate communication with people who lived and died eighty, a hundred, even two hundred years ago. And not only talking, but sharing in crucial moments in their lives. How does Eddie explain what he believes is going on?

Eddie Burks: Er, some people, some ghosts are attached to places very specifically, some tend to be attached to localities, some of them are adrift and occasionally I’ll pick up the ones that are adrift. I, I sometimes think that if you’re psychic you do tend to show some degree of illumination in the next levels, especially in the aetheric level where these people are trapped. And that will draw them – so they will know intuitively perhaps that possibly there is some help available. The world they live in is a gloomy dark one, and therefore a small light will be an attraction.

Narrator: But Eddie’s claims go further. He believes that when he goes into an old building like this one which has a long and involved multi-layered history, it’s possible for him (as it were) to go back in time and peel off the various layers of the building’s psychic history.

Eddie Burks: Imprints occur – they’re occurring all the time in every building, in every place. And they are the, erm, result very largely of the emotional content of events. And the stronger the emotion the more deeply things are etched into this record of the place. And I sometimes think that if I deliberately go into a place and I start looking for the imprint aspect, which is very different from going in and looking for the haunting aspect – but if I’m looking for the imprint I feel as though I’m peeling the wallpaper off a very old building. And I’ll get an imprint of something more recent followed by an imprint of something further back, and so on.

Narrator: The fundamental question of course, is what kind of conclusions can we draw from the research we’ve carried out on this programme and indeed on this series? The sheer range of events that we’ve looked into, the number of reliable witnesses we’ve interviewed, and the quality of the historical verification – it would be very difficult indeed to challenge the claims that paranormal events have taken place. It’s just as clear that there is nothing that could be called conventional scientific proof – nothing that could be weighed or measured or repeated in a controlled environment. But that does not mean of course that they did not take place. We think that there is clear evidence of a profound shift in the scientific community away from an outright rejection of paranormal activity towards an acceptance that it lies beyond the bounds of the scientific method and may well require an entirely different scientific approach if we are to come to any deeper understanding of what is going on.

Dr John Beloff, Psychologist: My own philosophy is rather dualistic, I think one set of laws for the mind and another set for matter. And that what science knows to a very advanced degree are the laws that govern the behaviour of matter, and perhaps even the laws that govern the behaviour of the brain. But over and above all that I believe that the mind is a power in the universe, and that mind can achieve things that are simply not allowed for in the accepted scientific scheme which is basically a physicalistic picture of reality.

Bernard Carr, Professor of Astrophysics: My own view is that psychical phenomena, even if you believe that the probability that they are real is very small, their significance will be so immense if demonstrated to be valid that it’s crucial that we should try to investigate them.

Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy: I really wish we knew more about these cases. In fact it’s part of the reason why one studies psychic phenomena in order to gather as many cases as possible so that they can be compared. Every science begins with the stamp-collecting stage where you collect all kinds of stamps, you have no preconceived notions of where they come from or why they are printed in such colours, or what the denominations are. But once you’ve got a large number of them, then you can compare them, you begin to classify them, you begin to see family resemblances, you begin to get some theory about why stamps exist. Where they go, where they come from, why they have such denominations. You are beginning to get beyond the stamp-collecting stage. And this happens with every science. And I hope we are beginning to get beyond the stamp collecting stage with psychic phenomena, but I sometimes have my doubts. But that these phenomena are real I have no doubt whatsoever.