Ghost Hunters: The Phantom Fisherman

This episode really doesn't strike me as being terribly convincing. So some people smell a strong fishy smell in a house. A so-called medium comes in and tells John all sorts of stuff about a dead man who's leaving the smell. He uses the name James Goldsworthy and tells him a date and that he's buried in a church. He goes to the records office to find that a James Goldsworthy is actually buried at the church down the road. So why should we not assume that the medium went to the office in advance too? And anyway, how common is 'Goldsworthy' in Plymouth? James can't be very rare. Perhaps if you check 50 years of parish records you'd turn one up. Peter hasn't specified the church other than it's old, on a hill, and over looks water (which could apply to a lot of places).

The first paragraph from the narrator is utter speculation (and doesn't even sound right - the map seems to show an orchard, not scrubland). 

I found it quite funny that James Goldsworthy's wife had left him (according to Peter) and there's poor John also estranged from his family, as though Peter had cynically echoed the two men's stories. 

The thing is, John hasn't given the afterlife much thought. He "believes in god, obviously, I mean most people do". And now he's being chucked in with a woman who invites 'spirits' to sit down on the sofa, and Peter the medium. It's no wonder he feels his life's been turned upside down. It's no wonder he leaps to paranormal conclusions when everyone else round him is happy to accept them.

The coincidence with one of his driving school pupils being called James Goldsworthy is quite good. But it's hard to see where that might fit in.

But ultimately I think he should check the drains and under the fridge. Maybe there is a ghostly fisherman pushing his barrow through the house every night at teatime. But I would check the obvious first.

Narrator: Close to the centre of the ancient fishing port of Plymouth lies the old church of Stoke Damerel. It stands on the crest of the hill overlooking a narrow valley. It dates back several hundred years. It lies at the centre of a remarkable story that links the distant past with the immediate present. The story we tell is of an old fisherman who was attacked and robbed close to this church, way back in the middle of the 18th century. And how that event has touched the lives of people here and now in the 1990s. The story revolves around two key figures. One of them is John, a driving instructor, in his mid-30s, divorced with three children, he now lives on his own. He had no experience of or interest in the paranormal, but he was swept up in a string of events that started last April. Peter is quite different. He is an extraordinary and mysterious figure. He claims not only to be able to communicate with the dead, but to obtain from them remarkable insights into the past and even into the future. The story that unfolded tested those claims to the very limit, and we have to say in no way disprove them. John lives in Molesworth [?] road, an ordinary street in Plymouth, a row of typical Victorian houses. Just down the road is Stoke Damerel  Church. Back in the 18th century this area was open scrubland, and Holmfirth road was just a stoney track. It seems that traders and carriers with their cartloads of fish from the harbour would take a shortcut across this scrubland. This is where John’s house now stands. In some way the 18th century events seem to have been reactivated within the walls of the house that now lies across the old fishermen’s track.

John, Driving Instructor: It started in about April last year. I – presumably I got up for a coffee or something. For some reason I got up and walked through the door into the kitchen. And I smelt this fishy smell. And of course I carried on, made the coffee, came back. Then the next night it happened again, but it always happened about the same time  - five to five, five past five. And erm, then the next night and the next night, it continued. But the smell of fish was not just smelt by myself – quite a few people had come into the flat. By my children, who come on a Sunday. And er, if let’s say Daniel sat in the front room, and he used to watch the wrestling which was on Sky 1, the other two didn’t like it very much so they used to go into the bedroom and watch a video or something on the other channels.

Daniel: My brother and sister was watching a video in Dad’s room. So then they said ‘Daniel, Daniel, come in here!’ So I went into the other room, and they said ‘We can smell fish’. And I could smell it to. And I said Dad, maybe it’s your washing powder, why don’t you change your washing powder?

John: And I changed to a really expensive powder, and of course the smell was still there! So I went back to my cheap powder again!

Peter, Neighbour: John asked me to look after his flat while he went away for the weekend. He gave me the keys and I went in and had a look around. But as I went in the door, there was a very strong, overpowering smell of fish. And it was really bad. And I looked around the flat and nothing appeared to be out of order, everything was ok. And I came out again and I wondered what the smell was, and when I got back I told Yvonne, that’s the wife, about the smell.

Narrator: Smells and odours might seem a totally unlikely hint of underlying paranormal activity. In fact there is a long and detailed record of their being linked both to some types of psychic hallucination as well as to paranormal events. In this case it seems unlikely to be hallucination as we have no fewer than six independent witnesses. Professor Archie Roy has no doubts that there can be a powerful link between smells and the paranormal.

Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy:  It’s not just that people see apparitions, and it’s not just that they sometimes hear voices. Every sense can register seemingly… phenomena. There have been many cases of people who must be taken to be honest, and have said that they have suddenly smelt a particular perfume, or a noxious smell, and subsequently it has disappeared. I myself have had a case where there was a very powerful perfume. So heavy, so old-fashioned, that I was sure my clothes would stink of it for hours afterwards.And then the entity (if it was an entity) said ‘I must go now, goodbye’ and the perfume was cancelled like that!

Bernard Carr, Professor of Astrophysics: As far as I’m concerned, smell is just one of the sense modalities, and just as some people see apparitions, other people hear sounds, if you like, and not physical but auditory hallucinations. Some people have tastes and some people have smells. And in a way the smells, the sense of smell is the most primitive, in the sense that if we go back to earlier lifeforms, the smell was one of the first ones to be developed. And indeed when people are falling into unconsciousness or dying, they say that smell is one of the last sense modes to go.

Narrator: But for John, the sense of something strange going on in his house had become too much. It constantly nagged away at his mind – this same event happening at the same time every evening. Eventually he summoned up the courage to confide in a friend who had some interest in paranormal events.

Mandy: John had worried, all anxious, about what had been going on. So the only thing that I could think of doing was contact Peter Bowers, who was some acquaintance of mine. Because he is more in tune with the spirit world, and I thought he would be the best person to pick up on what was going on.

John: He said, I’m actually coming to Plymouth tonight, to Plympton. But he said I will call round and help you, I’ll get rid of whatever it is. And he said, I will be there at seven o’clock. So fine, great. Mandy and I sat there having a coffee, having a chat, trying to discuss what we think it possibly could be. And at five to seven there’s a knock on te front door.

Mandy: John looked out the window, and there was nobody there. Also remembering at this point that this spirit wasn’t in the flat with us at that time. So anyway the knock came again. John thought it was Peter Bowers, but as I said when he looked out the window there was nobody there. And the knock came again and I said, well of course it could be that this spirit has been invited here by Peter Bowers, so we must let him in.

John: I said, ah, right, well you can answer the door then! So she brushed past me, opened the front door. And as she opened the door she said “Come in.” There was nobody there. It was spooky if you as me.

Mandy: As he walked past me, I could smell the fishy odour that had been associated with him. And he actually went right past me and right past John, who was like stood nearer to the flat door. Um, and er, we then, John and I went into the flat door, closed the door, and I said to this spirit, well have a seat, make yourself comfortable at home. Because my belief is that you treat them – they still think that they’re alive, so you have to talk to them as though they are alive.

John: By this time the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up like you wouldn’t believe, you know. And she said ‘sit down’ in this chair next to me. And the smell of fish was actually surrounding this chair.

Narrator: A few moments later Peter arrived. Remember he had had no warning, no previous connection to John and his story. All he knew about was the strange smell. He claims to have sensed the presence of some alien entity immediately. He went on to describe his contact in extraordinary detail. His age, physical appearance, the robbery, even most unlikely of all – a name.

Peter Bowers, Psychic Medium: Now the feeling was that it was a man about sixty, sixty five. A small man who would only come up to here on me, up to my shoulder. With rather thick set, greying hair. But with a very unhappy and miserable expression on his face. He gave me a date of 1759 and he gave me a name of John Goldsworthy. And he told me that he’d been if you like an itinerant fish merchant of some description, or pedlar, something like that. And he’d had a route of going from the back of the barbican where he lived, collecting fish and other commodities from various places where they’d been landed, and bringing them up round to the villages at the back of Plymouth. Then he’d go round the circuit and back home by the evening. And at some point in time he’d been robbed in the vicinity of this place and this house. And as a result of that it had caused a lot of hurt in his life. He’d been injured and his arm had been broken. His wife had left him at some stage. And all his misfortune if you like flowed from this one incident here. When a soul comes like this to be released, it’s necessary for them to make a connection through to the other side where they need to go. Because they’re trapped in a lower vibration down here on the earth, and they haven’t got the ability themselves to raise themselves into this new situation where they want to be. The reason they’re trapped is their sadness or fear or whatever of the condition they’ve got around them. So in this case what I did standing on the spot that I’m standing on now, I opened a vortex of energy into which he stepped, and it has the same effect as an elevator. And when the energy is right and he is in the right energy field, it’s literally just a case of him passing up and going. Now we always say a little prayer, the same as we would for anybody else that is hurt. And this is what happened on this occasion. And he was just lifted from this room where I’m standing now in the hall, and the whole thing would only take three or four minutes, it doesn’t take an enormous amount of time.

Narrator: This account, for all its graphic detail, leaves us with the eternal problem of what to believe. We have no way of sorting fact from fiction. Peter’s story could all be pure fabrication. But in this case the strange events at John’s house that evening were only the starting point. They opened up a remarkable trail and enabled James Goldsworthy of 1759 to make contact with James Goldsworthy 1996.

Narrator: immediately after Peter’s visit to the house in Moorsworth road, the strange events stopped. But for John it was an unexpected reaction. Instead of a sense of release he felt a deep sense of loss as though a member of the family had passed away.

John: The night after all this had happened I was sat in here by myself and it was about nine ten o’clock at night. I was watching something like the news at ten on the television. And I felt really, as though I‘d lost something or somebody. Like when you lose a member of the family and you get that horrible gut feeling. I had tears running down my face for some reason, and I was crying, I was sat here crying and I didn’t know the reason why. And obviously I knew it had something to do with what had happened. So  I rang up Peter and asked him what he thought it was. And he said, of course you’re going to feel like this for a couple of days afterwards. Because what he got rid of has been around for 2, 250 years. And at that point I decided I wanted to find out a little bit more about who he was, what he was. I started by asking Pete some questions, and he just started rattling it off. It was like he was talking to somebody up there.

Peter: The owner asked me if I could give him any more information to trace the man. Which I must admit was the furthest thing from my mind at that time. I told him that within the next few days something would happen which would make the whole situation much clearer. I wasn’t sure what that would be, only that something was going to happen which would tie in with the name of the man which we’d been given – James Goldsworthy.

Narrator: Only a few days later, the first part of Peter’s extraordinary prediction fell into place. John was giving a driving lesson to a complete stranger: a young man whose name was Jimmy, Jimmy Taylor.

John: We’d just finished the driving lesson and we sat down and I did a debrief with him. And he was talking about his stepfather who was taking driving lessons. And I said, send him to me, I’ll teach him how to drive, just jokingly. And I said, well if he’s your stepdad, where’s your real dad? And he said, oh he died. And what was he called? James Goldsworthy.

Jimmy: And that’s when John freaked out and started telling me about another person called James Goldsworthy that’s supposed to be haunting his house.

John: If your dad is James Goldsworthy then HE is james Goldsworthy, and I’m sat in this car next to James Goldsworthy. And I just couldn’t believe it.

Narrator: Both John and James were stunned by this event, and decided then and there to dig into the records of 18th century Plymouth and find out if there’d ever been a James Goldsworthy. And if so, where he’d lived and died and where he’d been buried. They started with three mysterious clues Peter had claimed to get from the old fisherman. They were looking for an ancient church on a hill overlooking water.

John: He was sixty-ish, around that age, and he died in the middle to late 1700s. He said actually he’s buried in a church in the fold of the hill near water. But, it’s not any church, it was built before the 1500s. So I decided to go to the library and get a book out on churches and historic houses and such like. I went right through the whole lot until I actually found three churches it could possibly be. One was Saint B., one was Stoke Damerel and the other one was on the river but it was quite a long way off so we counted that one out really.

Narrator: The most appropriate church seemed to be the one at Stoke Damerel. It was near where the attack had taken place, and near where as it happened John and James both lived. But there was one major omission, it certainly didn’t overlook water. When we began to dig into the records however, we uncovered an extraordinary and hitherto unknown fact. That back in 1759 it had overlooked water – a tidal creek that ran at the bottom of the hill and was only filled in about a hundred years ago.

Sally, Records Researcher: This is Molesworth Road. As you can see at the bottom it meets the water of Stonehouse Creek. It was perfectly possible for small fishing boats to make their way up to this area at the bottom of Molesworth road. There were small cottages there that may well have been used as fishing cottages. Nowadays Victoria Park takes the place of Stonehouse Creek, it has been infilled and obviously can no longer be used for fishing.

Narrator: In Victorian times when the creek was filled in to become Victoria Park, the road across the park was clearly built on the lines of an older bridge. The fishing cottages are still there, now overlooking the park. So, Stoke Damerel church fitted Peter’s description in every respect. But what would the burial records reveal? this was the key test of Peter’s claim. If he was right and it should prove the death of a man called James Goldsworthy, some time after the year of the robbery, 1759. They did.

I am Paul Bradford the senior archivist at West Devon Records Office. The County Council’s archives for Plymouth. And we’re responsible for the records of the parish of Stoke Damerel, which is the parish of Devonport. And amongst the burial records that we have, I have a register which includes an entry for the 7th of November 1774 which refers to a burial of one James Goldsworthy.

Narrator: Even with all this historical verification, at first hearing this story seems unbelievable, incredible – how is it possible? How does it fit into our view of reality. Can a man buried here in 1774 should be able to communicate with a living human being over 200 years later. It’s an idea that shatters our everyday frame of reference. But more and more scientists have come to believe that some psychic mediums are tuning in to a communiciations channel that science doesn’t yet understand.

Archie Roy: We have a real and important mystery here. There is no doubt that some mediums are seemingly acting as channels between people on this side and what one might call the communicating intelligence, whatever it may be. Information is got through these mediums that they simply could not have obtained in any normal way. What this also means is that the reductionist materialist model of a human being, as simply the animal that grew the big brain,a nd that you only get information through the five senses and that is all, is embarrassingly inadequate. There are faculties that the human being has that seem to be demonstrated most strongly by the phenomena of mediumship.

Peter: Mr Goldsworthy was trying to make some sort of contact with the James Goldsworhty who is alive now. The reason I’m not sure of. But no doubt the family will be. It’s an unusual occurrence in an instance like this, to get an entity that is actually able to identify itself and give so much information. It isn’t n ormal. But so many strange things happen, and people who I meet often tell me how strange things happen, how coincidences happen – that this is not really abnormal. There are lots of things happening like this all of the time. But it doesn’t sell newspapers and it’s only known by those people who happen to be aware of it at that time.

Narrator: We can only speculate. Can it be that the ancient James Goldsworthy’s purpose in making his presence felt when he did was to ensure the continuation of his name. He needed to contact James Taylor who had abandoned his father’s name. Either way the message from the past has had a profound effect on two people in the present.

Jimmy : I’ve now changed my name to James Goldsworthy to carry on my father’s name. with going through what has happened, the other James Goldsworthy could be a past relative, it’s encouraged me to change my name.

James: Before this experience happened to me I wasn’t very spiritual. I believed in god, obviously, I think most people do. I didn’t go to church. I wasn’t into talking to dead people! If you want to put it that way. Until after the event and now that this has all happened, things have actually been proven to me, where somebody can come into my house and say ‘There’s somebody in your house called James Goldsworthy and he’s buried in the church down the road’. From 250 years ago. Or as close as. I mean how does that guy know this James Goldsworthy? Where did he pick him up from. And the proof is it’s all in the records that this James Goldsworthy has been found. Now to me that is just fantastic. I mean I’m not here on television to try to prove to people that there is something on the other side. I’m just here to tell you that it’s been proven to me. And now my faith is being made so much stronger about the possibility that there is life after death.