1977 - 1979

54 - 56


“After more than thirty years’ experience of hauntings...

I set about re-examining…ten celebrated cases…”

“...to discover whether it is possible

to clear away some of the cobwebs of confusion

and re-examine the evidence…”

Hauntings: New Light on the Greatest True Stories of the World

“...many cases of so-called hauntings

can be explained without resorting

to the supernatural…”

“Long regarded as one of the best authenticated cases of haunting ever investigated…”

“...the ‘Morton Ghost’

manifested from June 1882…”

“...until about 1886…”

“The house was and still is situated in Pittville Circus Road, Cheltenham.”

In June 1882, a tenant named Rosina Despard

“thought she heard someone outside her bedroom...”

“…she opened the door and at first saw no one…”

“…but on fetching a candle and proceeding a few steps along the passage…” 

“…she saw the figure of a tall lady, dressed in black, standing at the head of the stairs…”

“After a moment the figure descended the stairs...

but then her candle went out and ‘being unable to see more’ she returned to her room...”

“During the next two years… Rosina saw the same figure ‘about half a dozen times’… [and] kept an almost daily record of the ‘ghost’s’ activities…”

Others also saw things; “the cook said she had heard…footsteps before and had seen the figure on the stairs one night…”

“She described the figure as being that of a lady in widow’s dress…”

“…with her face hidden in a handkerchief held in her right hand...”

“Andrew MacKenzie, in his book The Unexplained, mentions the possibility of the strange sounds being the result of underground streams…”

“...that ‘some real condensation of vapour’ may have ‘formed from time to time’ and gave ‘rise to the impression that it was a “ghost”’...”

“[Yet all] available evidence is that most of the occupants saw the distinct figure of a woman…” 

“…a figure that ‘almost spoke’ on one or two occasions…” 

MacKenzie with his case notes at the foot of the staircase of St. Anne’s, Cheltenham, where the apparition of a woman was said to walk.

“I feel there may be a much simpler and more convincing explanations for a figure that everyone who saw believed to be solid…”

“…perhaps the figure they saw may indeed have been as solid and real as they were…”

“…no one seems to have considered the possibility of the figure being a real person...”

p.14; p.13; pp.169-197

This enduring case is a likely inspiration for Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black.

1977 is also the year

that Stephen King publishes The Shining.

He was influenced by Shirley Jackson’s 

The Haunting of Hill House,

which was itself inspired by Borley Rectory...

The story came to King when he and his wife were staying at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. 

They found themselves to be the only guests.

They checked in to room 217, which was said to be haunted.

Two years after the publication of Hauntings,

Underwood receives an interesting letter in the mail...

It is from Roger Clarke,

who writes from St Bartholomew's Hospital...

where he has been sent

after falling gravely ill at school...

He reports to Underwood his own early experiences of ghosts...

“There was a dead woman at the end of the passageway…

I never saw her, but I knew she was there.”

“The passage was at the top of the stairs,

leading to the left,

to the spare bedroom…”

“The end was always in shadow…”

“Every day I delayed the rise up the stairs until it became a mad dash to my bedroom,

eyes clenched shut,

hands cold...”

“Whoever she was,

her energies seemed to dissipate

when alterations to the house were made.”

“Peter was intrigued that my haunted house was a Rectory…”

“He told me that he had found rectories in general to be unusually haunted!”

The ward in which Clarke was staying during this correspondence was also haunted...

…by the ghost of Rahere...

Favoured jester to King Henry I,

Rahere was visited during a grave illness by the apparition of St Bartholemew,

who instructed him to establish a religious hospital.

Which he famously did,

founding The Priory of the Hospital of St Bartholomew,

in 1123.

Rahere is often sighted on the stairway of the medical building,

floating in the air...

Underwood discusses the most common types of ghosts.

Clarke eventually publishes his own book on the subject:

A Natural History of Ghosts.

“Discussion has drifted away - thank goodness - from efforts to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts…

[they] exist because people constantly report that they see them...”

“[It] is not…about whether ghosts exist or not…

[but] about what we see when we see a ghost…”

“..and the stories that we tell each other about them.”

Roger Clarke
A Natural History of Ghosts