Ghost Hunters: Mysteries at The George

This starts off most promisingly, with noises and apparitions. But it descends somewhat into Most Haunted-style daftness, with local 'researchers' clutching at straws and concluding bizarre things from the flimsiest of evidence. I wonder how things are at The George these days.

Narrator: This country is famous for its old coaching inns and public houses.  They’re dotted up and down the land at crossroads and village high streets, and for many hundreds of years they’ve been a centre of village life and a resting place for travellers moving along the old trunk roads. This constant ebb and flow of life around these old houses seems to have left an indelible imprint upon many of them. They’re the focus for some of the most extraordinary and surprising stories of paranormal events that we’ve come across in our search. In this programme we tell a quite remarkable story from just such a historic inn: The George, in the ancient city of Preston. Over three hundred years old, steeped in history, and built on the edge of an old battlefield.

Melanie Warren, Paranormal Investigator: We know that the pub was here for three hundred years or more, but the land itself also has a tremendous history. During the Civil War, the Battle of Preston was played out just down the road, and this area was used as a mass burial ground. This has nothing to do with the gravestones that have been found on the site, because those graves would not have been marked with stones. But we do know that it is, it was perfectly legal at the beginning of the eighteenth century to have your loved ones buried on your own family property. In the cellar, in the back garden, wherever. It was perfectly legal to do that. So it’s not so surprising that we found gravestones here.

Narrator: Over the past five or six years The George has been through what amounts to a paranormal storm: a troubled and disturbed time that has transformed the views of the people who live and work there.

Anne, Former landlady: When it happens to you, you start believing that, you know, you shouldn’t be so sceptical, that you should read into things, and when it does happen to you personally, or your immediate family, then you do realise that, er, you shouldn’t dismiss things. I was very shallow by, by not believing, by not looking into it more.

Murial, barmaid: I didn’t believe it, but it’s like the old saying, isn’t it – seeing is believing. There’s definitely something strange.

Narrator: The lightning conductor of this storm of paranormal activity has been Tom, a solid down-to-earth northcountryman: a former landlord of The George before he was driven out by the hauntings. He sought help from Melanie Warren. She is an experienced and rigorous paranormal investigator: profoundly sceptical, rejecting anything that smacks of deception. She was aware of a deeply sensitive side to Tom.

Melanie Warren: Tom has had psychic experiences of one kind or another for most of his life. And I think because he’s more sensitive to things of that nature, that’s why his story is much more exciting than anyone else’s.

Narrator: There isn’t just Tom. Over the past five years, all sorts of weird and unexplained events have gone on at The George. Objects have materialised and disappeared right in front of people’s eyes. Machines have switched themselves on and off. People have been frightened out of their wits by invisible forces that have pinned them to the wall. But many of these events have been just bizarre and whimsical: funny, rather than frightening.

Anne: A bank book, you’d leave it somewhere, that’s why, you knew it was important, you’d leave it in a particular place knowing full well where it was. And you’d go to retrieve it and find it had gone – minutes later! And begin a hunt for it, because it was usually important, and find it in a particular room that you hadn’t even visited. And obviously you blame yourself – ‘I must have gone in there and left it’ – you blame the children, they must have picked it up and moved it. But some of the things, it happened too often, to be reasoned away.

Murial: One night I came down to put some CDs on, and the CD player was here [indicates], and it was a large CD player, like a juke box. Which held a lot of CDs, I’d say about fifty or more. And I got half way down the stairs which are here [indicates], which were slightly different than that [the present staircase], but basically they were in the same position and everything else as they were. The CD player was here. Halfway down the stairs the machine just started to throw everything out, literally. And instead of straight up in the air, like you would imagine it would do, they were flying across the room, everywhere. I know because I thought at the time ‘I hope one doesn’t hit me’ as I’m running back up the stairs. As I thought it might be quite painful! And that was the last time I was down here, and I’ve never been down until today. So it still feels strange, and it’s not very nice, and I’ll be glad when I’m out of here, thank you! [giggles]

Tom, Former landlord: It’s like the new licensees what moved into this pub as we was moving out, er we took our old till with us to the next pub. They’d put their till up back over there. They hadn’t even plugged it in. And I was stood there, and the till was on there, and I was talking to the new landlord. And the till started working! Tickatickaticka – a little piece of paper come up, and the till weren’t even plugged in! And I said ‘You’re welcome to this, mate, I’m off!’ And he couldn’t believe it, he were absolutely gobsmacked.

Narrator: Throughout all of this a great shadow has lain over The George. The shadow of a tall, gaunt, aggressive figure dressed in eighteenth century clothes, who has appeared again and again to Tom. He remembers the first appearance as keenly as if it happened yesterday.

Tom: I heard all this banging going on. This building’s like three storeys if you will. And I heard all this banging upstairs on the top floor. My first initial reaction was ‘it’s my oldest lad getting up for work – and I’m going to kill him when he gets downstairs for making so much noise!’ But every room, every door was opened and slammed, opened and slammed. And you heard this boom, boom, boom, these feet. And all the doors – slam, slam. And I were in bed, and I got out of bed thinking ‘when he gets down here, he’s in trouble.’

Anne: Well I was fast asleep, and the first thing I remember hearing was the dog barking very angrily, not just a little ‘woof’. I sat up in bed, and Tom was in the process of following the dog through the bedroom door, down on the landing, down the steps towards the bar. At this point I was still half asleep and thought ‘We’re being burgled’ and that the dog and Tom had gone down to investigate someone breaking in.

Tom: When I heard him coming down the stairs, I turned round, I just saw a black shape as such, moving fast. So I couldn’t, like, pick it out, if you will. I heard this slam and the next minute I heard another door slam, and another door slam, and another door slam. But all the time I couldn’t pick out what it was. So I shouted, you know, I said ‘Alan, is that you? I’m going to kill you! Come here, what’s all the racket for?’ And I turned round to get a cigarette, and when I turned back, there was this man stood in front of us, dressed very similarly to a Quaker, as such, with a long black coat, one of those old cravats. Very dark, unshaven, very taunt [indicates gaunt with hands?], you know, face. And he just turned round and said, like, don’t ignore me. Which, as you can imagine, sent a tingle right up my spine! I just went uh [jaw drops]! The dog then woke up, all his hair was stood on end, and he just shot for this man, who just glided, as such, straight out of the room.

Anne: And the next thing I remember was Tom coming back through the door and sitting heavily on the bed. And his head was in his hands, and I asked him what was the matter. And he just turned and said ‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’

Narrator: The constant visits of the ghostly stranger had a powerful effect on Tom. He found himself engaged in a terrifying battle of wills. Meanwhile his wife, who had never seen the stranger, thought he was going mad.

Anne: And still at this stage I was under the impression that Tom was having a nervous breakdown. I’m very sceptical about ghosts, and didn’t believe, in a sense. I knew he was upset about something, but I didn’t know whether it was the ghost he was talking about or whether was just sort of completely gaga, he’d gone, you know too many of the top spirits [nods towards optics in the bar]. But I did believe something was terribly wrong for him to lose all the weight and feel so badly about things.

Tom: Customers used to think I were going crazy, because they could hear me shouting at him downstairs, and all they could hear were like a rumble, which was how his voice [was], he had a very deep voice that sounded like some type of a machine going. But it was me and him having this argument – I were telling him to get out of the way, and he was saying ‘get out of my pub’ – and just [inaudible].

Narrator: Things got so bad that these people, who up until then had no belief in anything paranormal, decided to call in a psychic medium to drive the violent spirit away.

Anne: And she went round the house and relayed things to us that made us believe she was genuine. And she decided that this spirit needed help, and that he was using Tom as a means to gain access to some help, to end his suffering, as it seemed to the medium he was suffering badly. And she didn’t feel able to manage the séance – I think you call it a séance  - she didn’t feel able to manage it by herself and felt she needed the help of some more mediums.

Tom: And this medium came back with two more – a young lad and a middle aged lady. And she decided that combined, they could handle what was going on.

Anne: We all sat down and two medium ladies were sat opposite me. And then a young gentleman who was a medium was sat next to these two ladies.

Tom: I was told to sit with my hands… with myself on my hands as such, and to keep my back against the wall. And I asked, I said ‘Why have I to do this? What’s…?’ And she said there’s a chance that he will, like ‘come into you’. And I [pulls face] at the time couldn’t understand this, but I was just willing to do anything to try and sort it out. They went into this, well I’d say like a trance, meditation, whatever. And she at the same time was saying ‘Don’t you move, don’t move, you stay there.’ And then these two women took on [indicates face] – visually they changed a little bit, not a lot, but their voices went to children’s voices.

Anne: And the young man – as I said I’m very sceptical, but I did see something that night that I have never seen before - and this young gentleman, this young medium was only in his mid twenties, young clean face, clean shaven young chap, and he’s sat ten feet away from me. And I actually saw his face change before my very eyes. I really did see it. He changed from a twenty seven year old young chap to someone late forties, very dark, haggard, with a beard.

Tom: He then got up to come for me. When he moved, I got shoved right back, you know really powerful. And all the time, unbeknown to myself, I were rocking backwards and forwards like that. Then you feel like something trying to tear your back open as such, as I were rocking, you know. I were fighting to push myself back, and whoever, whatever, were fighting to push me forward, if you will.

Anne: And then the young chap spoke, and as he spoke, he was more or less saying ‘I can’t cope with this, I can’t cope, I can’t handle this.’ And as he spoke in his own voice, the face just seemed to melt away and change back to the young man that had been sitting there. And from that point out I took notice, because it was that point I believed, because the face that the chap had took on was the same face that Tom had described to me as the spirit that had been bothering him since we came into the George. So from then on I believed what he said was true.

Tom: But what happened then was the whole back wall just disappeared, as such, and a cloudy effect appeared like a swirling, if you will. From these two mediums you just saw these two shadows appear and like just walk off. Um, and they went and all and I was like gobsmacked  [giggles].

Anne: I couldn’t see light, I couldn’t see anything at all. And after a while Tom looked up towards the ceiling, and the mediums looked into the same direction above the curtain. And apparently this is where the light was to them – I couldn’t see anything. And this is where the light was they were asking him to walk towards, and apparently he did walk towards the light. And as I looked sideways onto Tom, he looked a lot more relaxed. He didn’t look as tense, he wasn’t rocking any more, but he was crying like a baby – tears were just rolling down his face.

Narrator: But Tom and Anne had had enough. They decided to leave The George. Within a year they’d passed it on to its present landlords, Tony and Debbie.

Melanie Warren: Now at the time I did contact Debbie and Tony who are the current tenants of the pub, and I simply said, ‘do you mind me covering the story, and have you had any experiences?’ And Debbie said no, nothing’s happened to us. So I had to respect that, I couldn’t push her any further on that. And I assumed that as Tom had told me they’d had a séance, and in effect an exorcism, that the exorcism must have worked. Although I found that a bit surprising, because in my experience exorcisms only work in about ten per cent of cases. They may calm it down – often they do more harm than good. They can actually make the occurrences a lot worse. So it was not a real surprise when I found out recently that things were still happening here.

Narrator: Melanie turned out to be right in her analysis. It was only a few months before Tony, the new landlord, had his first encounter with this grey-faced stranger from upstairs. And a key fact is, that up till then, he knew nothing about him.

Tony, Landlord: A lot of little things that have gone on, I wasn’t too sure whether they, you know, could be explained. Until one night when I was in bed on my own, the wife was away. And I was sleeping a bit uneasily, and I’d just looked at the clock, the digital clock – it was about two o’clock in the morning. And I was a bit restless, and while I was tossing and turning I saw a figure in the bedroom.

Debbie, Landlady: And he said he thought we had burglars, so he shouted ‘Who is it?!’ and when he looked there were this fella in black with a funny-shaped hat on, collar, dicky-bow, long black jacket, long gaunt face, stood at the end of the bed. And he said ‘What do you want?’ He said the fella just turned round and started walking out. And I said, like, what did you do? Did you follow him? And he said ‘No, I got under the covers!’ (giggles).

Tony: The following day I explained to my wife what I’d seen, and she said ‘Do you know what it is you’ve seen?’ And I said, ‘Well I don’t know really’ and I’ve explained to you what it looked like. Erm, and it was about two weeks later and we were out one night on a  night out and we bumped into Tom, the previous landlord. And she called him over, and I explained to him what I’d seen. And I couldn’t believe it when he said it was the exact same description as this chap he’d seen that’d frightened him that night.

Narrator: But the question that continued to nag away at Tom’s mind was who this tortured and violent figure might be. An extraordinary clue came from something that was found in the cellar of The George during some building work – a gold ring. Tom wears it now on a chain around his neck. Inside is inscribed the name of one Robert Clay, and a date, 1786. But who was Robert Clay, and what connection did he have to The George? Tom and Anne set out on a quest to find out.

Melanie Warren: We do have some important evidence in the bereavement ring that Tom found in the cellar. He found it under one of the gravestones. Now the gravestones were too worn away for us to gain any knowledge of whom might have been buried there or when, but the bereavement ring had the name Robert Clay and the date 1786, and that was the year that he’d died. It was a bereavement ring, however. This means that it belonged to someone who had loved Robert Clay, and it was that person that was buried on that site, it wasn’t Robert Clay himself. We’ve tried to check out the Clay family. Now at that time there was only one Clay family in Preston. There were other families with similar names – Clayton, for example was a very big family, with lots of family members. But there was only one Clay family. We found out that John Clay used to run the House of Correction, which, coincidence or not, was situated directly opposite The George Hotel. That I find very interesting. Unfortunately there was no Robert in his family at that time. We’ve checked the records to try and find out when, if, Robert was mentioned in the records at all. We know when he died, we know what age he was when he died, we can’t find him in the records.

Tom: The story then came out that Robert Clay had actually killed these two young children, here, and in the research that we found that two young children did go missing, and they were never found. Now according to… according to what was said in there [nods towards other room], that two young children were actually buried in the lower cellar of this pub, which is now all concreted up.

Anne: The historian we spoke to asked us to keep him in touch with the story because he was quite interested in it. So after the séance we went back and told him what had been said, and how it had progressed, and he said he wasn’t surprised Robert Clay wasn’t found on the census. That apparently in those days if some heinous crime was committed by a member of an eminent family, then that member of the family was written out not only of the will, et cetera, but actually written off the records, and therefore didn’t ever exist.

Melanie: We mustn’t forget that there are several other people who’ve had experiences here – customers and friends of the landlords who have been here, had one experience and won’t come back [her eyes light up]. Most of them didn’t even want to talk about it, they wouldn’t appear today, they would rather keep it to themselves. When you’re dealing with witnesses like that, you know they’re willing to talk to me in private – they don’t want it publicised. Am I supposed to believe they’re not telling the truth? And when you look at Tom, you see the man’s face as he’s telling you the story – he’s an honest bloke.

Narrator: So Robert Clay’s connection with The George seemed clear. Two hundred years ago he’d murdered two children and buried them in the cellar. Had he prowled around the place ever since to guard his guilty secret?

Tom: Robert Clay was actually… not protecting, but trying to make sure that nobody ever found out about it, and that is one of the… they thought that might be one of the reasons why he’s been the one to try and get shot of people. The previous licensees had troubles, but not to the extent that I did.

Anne: I think that with a building so old that’s been used as a pub for three hundred plus years, it must hold something other than bricks and mortar. People’s lived in here, they’ve died here,  they’ve been born here, and it’s a meeting place at the end of the day. And I think perhaps my idea is perhaps it carries on being a meeting place for people when they’ve passed over, when they’ve died. They perhaps want to come back and visit – it’s somewhere where they’ve always been comfortable. And that’s what a pub is, it’s a meeting place maybe not just for people to meet, but spirits too [smiles].