Ghost Hunters: Phantoms of Chingle Hall

There's a lot of guff in this one: Ms Easton who repeats all the local tales as fact (not as a real historian would), much waffling about leylines, and a 'science writer' who repeats stuff about the effects of electromagnetism on human brains as though it's demonstrably true (it's not in the way he suggests). But, in balance to this, Jason Braithwaite gives some sensible ideas about the power of suggestion and expectation at the Hall. And there's one of my favourite anecdotes ever, that of the central heating engineer. I don't want to think it was merely a case of mistaken room identity. I want it to be true. I think it's dramatised on Strange But True? as well. I will look for this

Narrator: What does it mean to be described as the most haunted house in England? That is the reputation that Chingle Hall has acquired. How did it come about? How does such a reputation distort and colour the events that go on here? Chingle Hall in west Lancashire is a place with a long and murky history. It goes back to the 13th century. People lived and worked in a moated farmhouse here when the knights of Europe were marching off to the crusades. Later on, during the Reformation, this place was a sanctuary for Roman Catholics in the area. The place is full of tunnels and crannies in which Catholic priests used to hide. People risked their lives to come and practise the rituals of the Mass here.

Anna Easton, Local Historian: Chingle Hall was a secret Mass centre at the time of the religious persecution. And we have priests’ hides because they came and practised Mass. And when Mass was about to be said a candle was lit in the Mass window, in the porch, and the flame would go across and light up the Mass window on the outer wall, so the local people knew that if there was a candle shining in the Mass window, then a Mass was about to be said at Chingle Hall, and it was safe to come. Now if the authorities came and found that people were practising Mass here, they would have been taken away and killed. It wasn’t a case of ‘Don’t let it happen again,’ they were taken away and killed.

Narrator: In modern times Chingle Hall has always had a ghostly reputation as the local haunted house. Though for people brought up in the village, that has always been treated as something of a joke.

Jeff, local resident: Well we never actually saw any ghosts, but we always…  because it was storm lanterns and candles  and an old coal fire and wood fire, so it was always dark and flickery inside, but it was tradition that all of the youngsters had to go out of the back door, er the rear door in the lounge – and the stairs sort of go upwards and along a landing and then past what was reputed to be the haunted room – stamp on the floor at the end and it used to take us, oh it felt like ten minutes, probably two minutes to get to the end. But only two seconds to get downstairs after we’d banged on the floor!

Narrator: But despite that, many people who’ve had cause to visit the place for one reason or another describe strange experiences they’ve had here, that to say the least are difficult to explain away. John Green, for example, came here to install some central heating. He will never forget the experience.

John Green: After three, probably two, three days, I thought I was probably getting a little bit behind, I thought I’d ask another engineer to come with me. I brought him over on the Wednesday morning, taking him through the job, saying ‘There’s this radiator to finish, the tank in the loft’ etc. etc. We came to this fireplace, which was already finished. The pipework was in, all this was in and in position, it just needed the actual boiler to be connected. As I turned to say this, I looked round, and to my amazement there was nothing there. This lot had gone, yeah? So I went over to see Mrs Kirk and we was upstairs, and I said, ‘Judy will you come down, somebody’s taken my pipework out’ or whatever. And as we came back into the room, everything was back in as it was before. I don’t really know (pff) erm, what ghosts may be, all I can say is that I’ve had an experience here, and it has changed my thoughts and belief on, on... the supernatural or whatever you may call it.

Narrator: Terry Whittaker is a radio producer who decided to spend the night at Chingle Hall and did some recordings. Again, he will never forget it.

Terrence, Radio Producer: And at about twenty to one we heard footsteps out here in the corridor. And two of us came out to see if there was anybody out here, I was stood there and the other chap was stood there. And you know old floorboards, when anybody walks on them, they spring. And these were actually springing. And we watched them, watched as this invisible entity walked across. And then we looked over here, and standing just here, with his arms tucked in his sleeves and his cowl up, was a monk. We couldn’t see his face for the cowl, but we could see him standing here. He was as solid looking as you or I. And after about thirty seconds he just drifted, rather than walked, forward through a big cupboard which was here, and straight into the wall. Which afterwards we realised was the entrance to the priest’s hide, the original entrance to the priest’s hide. The strange thing about it was we’d been following these ghosts, chasing ghosts for twelve weeks for the series, and we’d not come across anything. And then suddenly, on this particular night, there we are on our last programme, faced with a phantom monk.

Narrator: These kinds of extraordinary experience are a regular occurrence – indeed there’ve been so many strange happenings at Chingle Hall that it has become the focus of a great deal of paranormal research, to try to pin down something of what is going on here.

Jason Karl, Paranormal Investigator: The method of investigation that we’ve used here, mainly is experience rather than scientific methods. People that come here with me, investigators and sceptics or believers alike from different jobs, different types of people, different ages, all come here hopefully for something they’re going to see. Um but that doesn’t happen very often here, more often you have different kinds of experiences, things that can be scientifically recorded, and the simple equipment we have used here involves tape recorders, video observations, single lens reflex cameras. And with all those different types of equipment we have come up with evidence here – we’ve had photographs of ghosts taken, not seen at the time but when later on films have been developed of the photographs taken here, at the time of exposure something has obviously been around because something has appeared on the film afterwards, some kind of image.

Narrator: These are some of the strange photographs that have been taken, this one for example seems to show a swirl or a spiral of energy with a slightly manikin shape. 
Many of them show vague misty outlines in various parts of the rooms or on the stairs. They’re similar to other photographs taken in houses where paranormal activity is frequent. The key point is they all come from ordinary visitor’s snaps, and no-one was aware of anything when the snaps were taken. The images were revealed only in the printing. But of course it’s difficult to verify that these are anything other than fogging, or perhaps some more elaborate deception.  
The same is true of recordings taken during sit-ins. This one, for example, claims to record the sound of an eerie and guttural scream [noise like someone throwing up]. It was analysed and defined as not coming from a human throat. But again these are scarcely acceptable as evidence of anything. Indeed that is one of the commonest scientific responses to much of what goes on at Chingle Hall – part hoax, part hokum.

Jason Braithwaite, Parapsychological researcher: We do not know, unfortunately, the nature and the context that the experiences took place in. Because the experiences are anecdotal it would be dangerous to interpret anything much else from that. If we have strict scientific conditions there, if we do a series or a long-term investigation there, when such things do go on, and we can eliminate such things with perhaps sealed doors, where they are more structurally sealed but can still be broken by a force similar to that of a human just walking into a room or something, and they are again in thoroughly controlled conditions, [?], manipulated, and sounds have then occurred we can measure them, monitor them, experience them even, and then make a far better informed judgement from them. It’s very dangerous dealing with the anecdotal.

Narrator: But the paranormal is by definition anecdotal. The fact that scientists cannot get a grip on what is happening here – they can’t measure it or correlate it, let alone repeat it in any meaningful way  - that simply describes the problems that science has in dealing with the paranormal. It certainly doesn’t prove that these happenings aren’t happening.

Anna Easton: And I was in the chapel here with a party from New Zealand, and one girl suddenly turned round and she said ‘Oh look at the white-habitted figure against the wall.’ And we turned and there was the monk standing by the wall there, very clear. You couldn’t see his features, he had his hand like this [back of left hand pressed against right cheek] up against his face as though he was guarding his features. And he was there for about a full minute and then he gradually faded. And my other sighting was up in the John Wall room upstairs, and as you probably know, people in those days were much smaller. The men were five feet and under and the women even smaller. And he was standing beside the door (which is a very small door) and he was standing beside it and again you could see the cowled head, folded arms, and the robes. And he was there for a full minute and then he gradually faded away. He was very very clear.

Carrie: I was sat next to the window, someone was sat next to me. We had the lights off and everyone was being really quiet, we were trying to be quiet, trying to listen. And I heard the sound – and I just thought it was my heart at first, my heart was beating so fast – and it was unmistakeable, I don’t know, Latin chanting, and the feeling of oppression in the room was just unbelievable. I just felt, I had put my jumper over my head actually, even though I couldn’t see anything anyway I was just really frightened. And I asked somebody to come out with me, because it was just a really bad feeling in there as if something… as if you’d just captured a minute of something that had happened in there, you just got a taste of it. It was something more unnerving than you can ever imagine.

Paul: I was coming here to do some filming about some research that was going on in Chingle Hall, so we thought it’d be a good idea to stay the night. And basically what we thought would be a fun evening just turned out to be a complete nightmare. I mean I will never – this is the closest you’ll get me inside Chingle Hall because I will not go through the door, it just scared me rigid.

Narrator: A great deal of time has been spent at Chingle Hall trying to identify just who some of the most frequently seen apparitions might be. Although there have been many sightings of monk-like figures, as it happens, some of the most prominent stories are linked to two women. One of them is Margaret Howard. She owned Chingle Hall in the 50s, and led a very social life here. The legend has it that she loved Chingle Hall so much that she’s never been able to tear herself away despite her death. There are many extraordinary stories told about the grey lady, as she’s called.

Anna Easton: And a young couple came up one evening, and they’d heard about Chingle Hall and thought ‘ooh we’d like to have a look round here.’ So they came up, didn’t know if anybody would be there or if it would be empty, and they knocked on the sanctuary knocker, and this little old lady answered the door. And they said, ‘Oh, we’d like to have a look round Chingle Hall, is it possible for you to show us round.’ And she said ‘Oh certainly, come in.’ She showed them all round the hall, and they were fascinated, and she told them all these stories of things that happened to her. And eventually they said goodbye, and off they went, and she said ‘oh and my name’s Mrs Howarth.’ And they went down to the pub, and they went in, and they were talking to the locals and they said ‘Oh we’ve just been up to Chingle Hall and Mrs Howarth has showed us round and we’re fascinated with it’. And they said ‘Mrs Howarth died twelve months ago.’

Narrator: Eleanor de Singleton’s story is quite different. She dates from the 16th century, and she is the centre of a quite horrific story in which it is quite difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. She was allegedly imprisoned and abused from a young age by her uncles in one of the rooms upstairs.

Sybil, Chingle Hall guide: Eleanor de Singleton was the last person from the de Singleton line to have the hall, and she was about six when her parents died. She was then looked after by two uncles. She was kept in one room, which is the Priest’s Room in Chingle Hall. Erm it’s very hard to talk about, and people perhaps think it’s a bit bizarre, but she was a victim of sexual abuse from six to eighteen  by her two uncles, and she had quite a lot of stillborn children, and she had four birthed children that actually breathed. Each one of these children were actually murdered and burnt, and the last one was a hydrocephaletic child with an enormous head that she died giving birth to.

Jason Karl: And a lot of the emotional trauma that she experienced in the room has somehow been locked in the atmosphere and at times is replayed to people who walk into the room. Especially women, who often break down in floods of tears here, or they have fits, they feel faint or dizzy. Certainly lots of people have had a horrible experience in the room and have had to be taken out not able to explain the feeling that’s overcome them, with no particular reason for it – just an overcome feeling of dread, horror, desolation, fear. And they’ve had to be taken out of the room, out of the Hall.

Narrator: Even given its long and troubled history, the range and complexity of the happenings at Chingle Hall is still quite remarkable. Several investigators put this down, in part at least, to its location. It lies, they say, at the crossing point of several magnetic fault lines.

Anna Easton: Now Chingle Hall is built on crossed ley lines. The word ley is spelt L.E.Y: Chor-ley, Burn-ley, Ley-land. And if anything is built on leylines it’s prone to electrical, magnetic and paranormal forces.

Narrator: Far to the south of Chingle Hall, near Glastonbury in Somerset, lives one of this country’s most renowned experts on leylines and their effects: Dr Roney-Dougal.

Dr Rouney-Dougal [sic], Parapsychologist: I have come across places where you get leylines crossing, or several leylines converging, and they are places where you get psychic effects happening, where you get ghosts, where you get timeslips, where people are seeing things that happened at another time, or experiencing things from another time. And it’s part of the modern idea about leylines that the leyline crossing is a place of particular energy. Now an awful lot of the old churches, the old houses were actually built at these places, because the people that built in those days – we’re going back 4, 5, 6 hundred years, were actually much more in tune with the environment than we are now. They were people that lived outside much more, they walked more, they were out there on their horses, and they were very aware of what places felt like.

Simon Best, Science writer: Chingle Hall is, I understand, on the intersection of two underground geological faultlines, producing strong seismic activity and possibly microwave radiation. These can very easily give rise to phenomena in the brain that would cause anything from visual and auditory hallucinations to instances of fear or elation, or tingling – definite bodily reactions, all of which people would interpret as something paranormal. Whereas in fact they can be reproduced by beaming certain frequencies at people in those situations. In fact, this has been developed in a more macabre way by the US military, who are using certain frequencies for crowd control and for definite military situations. If you hypothesise that the truly paranormal is some frequencies that we’re not normally sensitive to in the huge range of the electromagnetic spectrum that is out there, then yes it is quite possible, particularly if you’re electrically shocked, as seems to be the case, that areas that are normally blocked out to you, you could suddenly become sensitive to, and react paranormally.

Narrator: Others would argue there is a far more straightforward explanation. Namely, that people get from Chingle Hall exactly what they expect to get: a bit of a thrill. Many people are prepared to pay to spend the night here. And the argument goes, they come to the place filled with paranormal expectations.

Jason Braithwaite: You’ll be looking for two things not to be there: prior knowledge and expectation. Unfortunately every experience at Chingle Hall has prior knowledge of the building being haunted and the expectation of what’s around every corner. These two are very very high level. And those added to the other ingredients, again gives me reason for concern.

Narrator: But can that be a complete answer to the extraordinary range of events that have been experienced here by people from all walks of life, with totally different personalities and characters and expectations. We spoke, for example, to a group of ordinary people who had spent the night at Chingle Hall. They had no doubt whatsoever about the disturbing nature of their experiences.

Vic: Going up towards three o’clock in the morning, Jason said like, if you want we’ll have a séance. And I’m thinking to myself ‘Oh aye, yeah’ [pulls face]. I’ve heard about this sort of thing! And I wasn’t feeling any strangeness or anything, and whatever it was seemed to pick on me straight away [laughs wryly]. I felt a cold shiver down my back, and no sooner it warmed up with a feeling of tremendous pressure on my back. It were like someone had two hands on my back and they were pushing me really hard. And I were holding myself against it, a really incredible force of pressure, but it didn’t just stop on my back, it came through my body. You know all the force was unbelievable. And when it actually came out of the front of my body, and relieved me, then I were absolutely gasping for breath. And no sooner had it left me, my wife Wendy who was sat on my left, and another girl, Angela, that was sat on my right – they both experienced the same thing. At one stage I had floods of tears rolling down my face. I wasn’t feeling any depression or sadness or anything, it was just an overwhelming experience of tears.

Robert: And it was quite late and I heard this clanging, crashing noise in the porch, and wanted to go and investigate it. So I opened the door, and to my amazement what I saw was this chair physically moving on its own, and making a hell of a noise because it’s a tiled floor here. And the chair was doing this [he rocks the chair back and forth on its legs]. Violent movements. And obviously I witnessed this and I was on my own and I wanted to get someone else to see it, so I shouted to my friend Andy, who came (and the rest of them didn’t want to come and see it). And he saw it. And I turned the light on because we wanted to see this happen. And it was very very cold in here. And I turned the light on the chair was still moving. Now obviously it felt like a long time, but actually the time was about thirty seconds.

Paul: We were inside the Hall with eight nurses who were here on a sponsored sit-in, and it all started out as good fun, and everyone was jovial and joking, and it – it just turned very nasty. We were all upstairs. The first experience was about an hour after I’d arrived, and we were all upstairs sitting down in one of the rooms. And one of the nurses – who were cynics at the best of times – turned round and said ‘I can see something, there’s someone above your shoulder’ – to one of the nurses in the corner. And the way she said it, we just knew she wasn’t joking. And the nurse on the other side said ‘Oh god, I can feel him, I can feel him but I can’t look, I’m too scared to look.’ And there were a couple of others that actually saw this figure in a hood, standing above the nurses. And that was it, that was the first episode and it completely freaked her, I mean she was in tears, she couldn’t talk for about an hour and a half. And we knew then that it was going to be a very, very long night.

Carrie: It was the first occasion we came, and we were all sat round the fire just talking, having a drink, and the girl who was actually sat with her back against the wall just leaned forward suddenly. She went absolutely white, the blood went out of her face. We were sort of leaning forward, ‘Are you okay?’ And a, a ‘psychic breeze’ [slight face pull] was moving around the crowd. It was if it had come through the wall, had sensed we were there (which looking back on it was quite unusual). It didn’t walk straight through us all, it walked around us all as though it was aware we were there. And then there was a heavy knock on the door. It’s, it’s, it’s just not similar, it’s just nothing like when you knock on a door, the sound’s not like that. It’s as though it’s more resonant, it sounds like it’s going throughout the whole house and through everything, through you. It’s a really bizarre thing. It’s as if it’s not a human who’s doing it.

Narrator: There is no doubt that Chingle Hall has become immensely commercialised. As ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ it’s become a nice little earner. Groups of people pay handsomely to spend a night here to experience that tingle up the spine. But one has to ask, does that make Chingle Hall any less haunted?

Anna Easton: She had a dog show on the car park and several people came up that day and said ‘Where’s the monastery? Because when we’ve been here we’d like to go visit the monastery.’ And she said ‘There’s no monastery round here.’ And they said ‘Well how do you explain the monks that have been walking across the drawbridge, across the car park, and disappearing into the distance?’