It just struck me that I have never written about ghosts of Cheltenham, and considering former SPR President Robert H. Thouless wrote that one of our famous apparitions was among “the best attested in the annals of haunting” I thought I should. It’s tempting to start there, with the famous Cheltenham Ghost, as I have done a lot of original research on the case over the years, but I’m pushed for time today so instead I will write briefly about some other Cheltenham spooks.
A Rosehill Ghost Busted!
It seems fitting, as I first came to Cheltenham to attend the university (then the College of St. Paul and St. Mary) to begin there. Let’s go back to late September/ early October 1987, when I have just arrived and lived on the Rosehill Campus (which no longer exists). I was living in the East Wing Flat of John Priestley House, with a couple of other lads, in Halls of Residence (and shortly thereafter moved to Fullwood Halls on the Park Campus as it happens). I had had my experience at Thetford Priory only a few months before, and another strange experience I rarely tell back in Suffolk. I was very open to ghost stories at this time in my life!
One morning I woke up to find my flat filled with some of the Rec Studies students, big hefty sport lads. Turned out they had fled their rooms in one of the modern brick houses surrounding JPH (also Halls) because of a ghost! In fact I seem to recall some actually stayed in our flat for a few days. My memory is rubbish now, but I do recall the story pretty well though I have not told it as much as I have the Thetford story. If anyone can add more, or correct me, do comment or email me.
It seems that the “ghost ” was actually pretty innocuous – it was the sound of a ball bouncing down the main staircase, heard every night at the same time. At first it had gone unnoticed, until they were told the story of a depressed student who had hanged him or herself by the rather strange method of balancing on a medicine ball at the top of the stairs, and kicking it away, before dying. The ball bounced down the stairs, and that is the sound heard today – so the grim legend went. Of course, it all makes very little sense, but interestingly the witnesses were clearly hearing something.
I was caught up in the first week of college and homesickness, but I found time to make enquiries. No student had committed suicide in the building in question (and indeed any on that campus, and given it was with the exception of JPH fairly modern and the people I asked had all been around before it was built they would know!) and the legend was just that – a story that had arisen to scare Freshers. However, my flatmates and others went and heard a dull thudding sound, as described. In fact I seem to recall I gave them a flat bed Panasonic tape recorder to tape the sound, but whether they did or not I know not. It was getting softer over the two or three days of the phenomena, less audible.
The cause of the spook was now discovered. In the buildings the hot water tank and gas boiler were in a sort of cupboard area under the stairs, safely locked away. The building, empty of students and unheated over the summer holiday had become damp and cold; as the heating came on each evening the stair joists dried out, warmed up and expanded, causing the thudding. No ghost – just building noises. You can always find out of a “ghost” is caused by this by resetting the time your central heating turns on and seeing if the “ghost” follows suit. It only happens normally when you first turn it on for the year, in England in late September/early October, in other words about the time students come back.
Sadly nearby Pittville Campus had no ghost stories I am aware of.
Frances Close Hall really looks like it should be haunted, though doubtless Dean Close chased all the spooks of The Marsh as the area was called before he developed it and built the college around 1849 away. Tennyson called him the “Protestant Pope of Cheltenham” and despised him, and even today his reputation seems to be of an incredibly strong and rather scary religious fanatic, though he was greatly loved by the working people of Cheltenham at the time. I have been all round FCH at every time of day and night and seen and heard nothing, though there was in the late 1980′s a story that the corridor from the main staircase to the library which has a modern faux-Roman mosaic with the Latin phrase for the “legend lives on” was haunted, and students avoided collecting their post at night for fear of what they might encounter. Some said it was the ghost of a Roman legionnaire, which seems rather unlikely given the modern date of the mosaic! I never lived in halls at FCH (no longer a Hall of Residence but still very much a campus) and so am reliant on J.K. and Steve Wood for these vague rumours. If you know more, do email me! While a Roman soldier is out of place at F.C.H it would make perfect sense at Oxstall Campus i believe, but again I know of no alleged hauntings there.
Again, Hardwick Halls had no ghostly reputation that I am aware of, and neither did The Folley. Shaftesbury Hall did have rumours in it’s declining days after it’s sale by the college when it was being run as a jazz club and community centre in a state of increasing dereliction, but I never found any evidence of any haunts (some of the buildings opposite do have good stories however.) The only story I heard that seemed to have a slight ring of authenticity was stories about the Theatre being the source of loud noises and annoyance to the priests who live nearby after it was derelict and long boarded up and empty. I suspect they were hearing noises from Gas night club (later Chemistry I think) across the road, or the short lives Rhythm Rooms in the old Shaftesbury bar. However there is an interesting ghost story concerning the public passageway which runs behind the former Shaftesbury Campus and St. Greg’s church next door, where you can still walk it being a public footpath. I won’t tell it here now because it is not technically a university ghost, but will return to it later!
Ghosts of the Park Campus
And so we come to the place I know and love the best, the Park Campus. I still recall the legend of the Black Duck of Fullwood, a giant black vampire duck that ate Freshers, invented by Martin Peters I think to take the mickey out of my interest in spooks in 1987. It was a running joke. There is one oddity that if I was more inclined to believe my own senses might have been construed as a time-slip. Soon after arriving to live in Fullwood Halls (since demolished; the villas are on the site, but the Refectory and Principal’s House still stand) I wandered down to the lake with my good friend J.K, and turning right we found a lovely paved areas with a bench and little well tended area. A couple of days later we returned, finding the whole place far more overgrown than we remebered, and the bench missing. (if you find the paved spot and look in the water you will see what is probably the legs of it). We remarked at the time that it seemed to have all changed. The most likely explanation is someone threw the bench in the water; still it was replaced, and there is still one there today.
I love the lake and will haunt it one day. Sadly the swans seemed to have gone and been replaced by geese, but I wonder if the 6′ plus catfish still lurks in there? He was immense and monstrous, and it took several sightings by me before my friends believed me after I saw it.
Fullwood inevitably had a ghost story, told by a porter, though I never tracked the fellow in question down, and I knew many of them. It is recounted in Bob Meredith and Peter Reardon’s little book on local ghosts Cheltenham Town of Shadows, and having not asked for permission I will not repeat it here. You can still find it in some shops or second hand here – I can’t believe people are selling it new for £20 and £70, when it is really a very small booklet! Recommended. Ross Andrew’s Paranormal Cheltenham is well worth picking up – I reviewed it for the SPR here.
Anyway the ghost story took place on I think D South, far above the roofs of the current villas, in the now demolished Fullwood Halls. What the bombs of the Luftwaffe failed to achieve (they damaged the north wing in 1941) improved fire regulations made inevitable, but I knew the area well, and lived on B floor for three years without ever hearing anything of the ghost! Still, we do have one real ghost story where I interviewed the witness myself from the Park Campus, and being pushed for time I shall recount it here and then sign off for today. Here is the story as it appeared at the time on the uni website, written by, as usual, me… I have updayted it in [square brackets] where clarification is needed thirteen years later.
Cheltenham, May 3rd 1996
The SPS is based here at the Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education [today the university of Gloucestershire - CJ], and it is interesting to be able to report our first College ghost story in the society’s history. Pseudonymns have been used throughout, but the facts are all correct. I would like to remind would be ghost-hunters that the College is private property and that trespassers are likely to be eaten by the famous College guard dogs and security officers!
The setting for the sighting is Fullwood Hall of residence, which was my home for three years in the late 80′s. I must state at this point that I have never in my ten-year association with the College heard of any similar sighting, so we must assume this was a one-off…
On Friday 3rd of May 1996 the college staged a ‘May Ball’. It was a fancy dress event, on the theme of 60′s/70′s/80′s music. A good time was had by many.
At about 1.30am Amy and her partner Bill had returned to Amy’s room on ‘D’ West on the third storey of the building. The room’s window overlooks a semi-quadrangle, open at one side, covered in grass and with two trees. [Note: this area is immediately north of the Principal's House, D West being the then designation for student rooms up there. The grass area still exists as far as I recall, near the modern villa's]
Amy was looking out of the window, when she saw a woman standing by a tree. The woman was wearing a white dress, had dark hair, and a broad brimmed white hat with several large white feathers protruding. The style of dress was described by the witness as that of an Edwardian lady.
Amy was interested in the woman and observed her for what she estimates to have been three minutes. The woman then walked around the tree and stared at the [presumably "in the direction of" - the line of vision would be blocked by trees and the rise] lake. The area is very well lit; Amy noted the shadow of the tree but no shadow from the figure, which appeared perfectly solid.
Suddenly panicked she went to call Bill who came to the window – taking perhaps thirty seconds. The figure had vanished. It seems highly unlikely that the figure could have ran out of sight in that time, though the possibility of entering the building by a door or window must be admitted, and in a brief test I was able to sprint up to trees and cover in about twenty seconds.
You can read an account of a poltergeist investigation in a student house I did on my blog here.
The University’s Student Parapsychology Society (Defunct!)
For about a decade the university had a student society, the SPS or Student Parapsychology Society, founded by me and deeply involved in investigating spooks etc. (I’d like to see it reborn – contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk about this, or tell me a uni or college ghost story, or comment below). I was rather amused to find the old programme of events…
SPS Meetings Spring Term 2000
SPS meetings are held from 5.30pm – 7.30pm every Wednesday of term, and are open to all students. Students should e-mail John Madden for details of lecture locations.
Wk 1 Careers in Parapsychology… CJ
Wk 2 Theories of the Poltergeist
Wk 3 Experimental Psi Research
Wk 4 Modern Resarch in Survival of Bodily Death
Wk 5 The Case for Survival; A Debate
Wk 6 Investigations in the History of Psychical Research… CJ
Wk 7 Do we need a new Psychical Research?
Wk 8 Guest Lecture… speaker to be announced
Wk 9 Psychiatry and Psychical Research
Wk 10 Christianity and Psychical Research: The Power of Prayer?
Wk 11 The Ley of the land; Parapsychology, Earth Mysteries and Cultural History…CJ
I note with wry amusement that 9 weeks talks were given by me, and they really were lectures with handouts, coursework and everything! Oh how I miss those days with the “spusslings” and our bottles of little dead guy wine – they still sell it in what is now Sainsbury’s Bath Road I noticed today! One grows old so fast.
If you have any university or otherwise ghost stories do share them with me – email@example.com, or comment below
How odd, I actually woke up last night in the middle of the night, startled awake by a nightmare. And I was startled awake by the one thing I would never expect to scare me at all – a dream about ghosts…
My memory is that it was a highly visual dream – for years people have asked me, do you dream in colour, to which I reply, no, “I dream in text”. The dreams that I recall when I awake are just that – as if I have been reading a book, formatted and grammatically correct. Last night I had a full blown technicolour “as if I was there” dream – and it managed to frighten me!
Now the details probably are not interesting to anyone, but the dream geography was exact and consistent – I was in Australia, staying in a hotel built in the 19th century, adjacent to a vineyard. The terrain was rocky and not at all what I would expect from Oz, but with well watered lush gardens. The building complex featured small gatehouse or “castle” built in the 19th century, which served as a hotel, then a large house where a number of my friends were staying, in th centre of the grounds, then a larger, possibly larger bungalow I think – but that gives no concept of the buildings scale or magnificence – I’d say it was a fine modern house, a mansion in fact. The ground sloped up, from gatehouse to bungalow, and I was investigating spook claims in the top house. I had one male colleague staying with me, I forget who, and within a few hours we had been forced out by the phenomena – I recall frantically trying to fix the fuses when the lights blew, and a real sense of mounting terror. We retreated to the middle property, where we met Amanda a girl who I knew at college, among other members of the old Student Parapsychology Society, then all retreated to the gatehouse.
So the point of the dream seemed to be “CJ gets defeated by a genuine ghost.” Of course it was a modern ghost – because that is what I find scary. Not Victorian maidens rustling around staircases wailing, but the ghosts of the years I have been alive. There is nothing like a haunted shopping mall or a haunted service station to be creepy when stuff kicks off. Still, odd I should be so disconcerted and forced awake by nothing more than a dream!