Leading Ghosthunter, Peter Underwood, talks about his hunt for ghosts in Wiltshire.
The World’s leading Ghosthunter, Peter Underwood, Life President of The Ghost Club Society, has seen his fair share of spooks, phantoms and haunted places. Here he talks about his favourite Wiltshire haunts, spookiest cases, phantom dogs and ectoplasm…
How did you become a ghosthunter?
When I was a boy my grandparents lived in a well known haunted house in Hertfordshire. People called at the house and asked whether they could see the haunted room. My grandmother would ask me to show them and tell them the ghost story – which I did very much tongue in cheek. Often the visitors would say, when I had finished, ‘Well, we’re not surprised because we have a ghost in our house’.
This began to interest me and I kept notes of the ghost stories I was told and I then began to seek out people who claimed to have experienced ghosts. Then I was fortunate enough to investigate a haunted house in Buckinghamshire which turned out to be the first official investigation into a haunting. The result was broadcast by the BBC – one of the very few occasions when a haunting has seriously been reported in a news bulletin.
After that I was hooked and began seriously looking into reports of haunted houses and frequently spending a night in the most haunted room.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Belief does not really come into it. I am quite sure that I have spoken to people who are convinced that they have seen ghosts and experienced psychic activity and I have certainly experienced some things that I am totally unable to explain. But my object has always been to scientifically prove that what may be happening is objective and can be recorded and is not merely in the minds and imaginations of the people concerned.
Have you ever taken a picture of a ghost?
I have never taken a picture that I have been satisfied is a ghost or ghostly activity. But I have certainly seen photos that I have been unable to explain. Notably the Greenwich ghost photograph. It was taken by a visiting clergyman and his wife, with no interest in ghosts, at The Queen’s House, Greenwich. It shows a form climbing up the circular stairs which is always roped off and not available to anyone.
The authorities are unable to account for the image and repeated attempts to duplicate it come nowhere near. It is generally regarded as the most puzzling of all ghost photographs.
I spent a night at the Queens House with a few fellow investigators -but that is another story!
Have you ever been terrified on a case?
Not terrified, I think, I am usually too busy ensuring that everything we have with us is working and that everyone is fulfilling their tasks. But I have certainly been considerably surprised on occasions by loud sounds from locked and sealed rooms and such like.
Which Wiltshire haunting are you most interested in and what’s the story behind it?
Probably Littlecote where ‘Wild’ Will Darrell is said to have murdered a new-born child by throwing it into the fire and holding it down with the heel of his boot.
The charge was made in a statement by a midwife who on her deathbed revealed to a magistrate that she had been summoned one dark night to attend in secret a lady about to have a child and she was promised a large sum of money if she would do so.
She allowed herself to be blindfolded and taken to a house, she did not recognize, where she delivered the child which was then snatched from her by a man and thrown into the fire.
Too terrified to say much at the time she had the presence of mind to take a small piece of material from the bed-curtains and to count the number of stairs as she was led out, again blindfolded.
After her confession suspicion centered on ‘Wild’ Will Darrell as the villain and Littlecote as the house. Darrell was arrested and the connection established by the number of steps on the stairs and a corresponded hole in the bed-curtains.
Darrell seems to have succeeded in being acquitted but the ghost of the murdered baby seemingly appeared before him when he was riding on horseback and so startled the horse that he was thrown and died.
There were also the appearance of mysterious bloodstains in the appropriate chamber where the terrible crime was apparently sometimes reenacted.
The place where the stile stood where the horse reared is still known as ‘Darrell’s Stile’.
Where are the spookiest places in Wiltshire?
Apart from Littlecote I would probably pick Westwood Manor, near Bradford-on-avon, which was a fascinating place and had at least two ghosts. Then perhaps Lydiard Tregoze with its long history of haunting and many witnesses and then there is always Longleat with its Green Lady and other phantoms of the past.
What about animal ghosts?
There are certainly reports of animal ghosts in Wiltshire including the countrywide Black Dog seen at Brook House, Stourton and there are also phantom dogs reported at Cholderton House, Cholderton (that sometimes accompanies people crossing the driveway after dark).
And the ghostly lady in white seen on a path near the Common at Broughton Gifford is always followed by a ghostly little dog, according to reports; and then there are repeated reports of a ghost horse (some say headless!) in Bull Lane at Kilmington.
What is ectoplasm?
Ectoplasm is the name given to ‘something’ that reportedly exudes from a medium’s body and seemingly builds up into a recognized human form at physical seances.
I have seen what is claimed to be ectoplasm but have not been allowed to touch it or obtain a piece for examination. Mediums say that if interfered with the ectoplasm will suddenly retreat into the medium’s body with damaging results.
Is there such a thing as ectoplasm? I will accept there is when I have obtained a sample myself, under test conditions, and had it examined scientifically.
Are there any basic things you can do to investigate if a place is haunted?
There are no basic things that anyone can do to establish whether a place is haunted. It is a case of careful, truthful, serious and objective observation over as long as it takes.
Peter Underwood is the author of over 40 books on the supernatural including ‘Ghosts of Wiltshire’, ‘Peter Underwood’s Favourite Tales of the Fantastical’, ‘Exorcism!’ and ‘Ghosts And How To See Them’.