There I was, whistling a tune while standing alone in my mum’s kitchen in Orlingbury, when the chair in front of me moved from right to left, a full three inches, without me even touching it. And, no, I hadn’t been on the booze, there was no breeze and there were no wonky floorboards.
As someone who isn’t really a believer in ghosts I have dismissed this seemingly impossible occurrence as just ‘one of those weird things that happens’. But I do wonder – could it have been a spirit objecting to my music making?
I mentioned the story to paranormal expert Dr Simon Sherwood when I visited him at his Moulton home recently. Simon has just published a book called Haunted Northamptonshire, which is packed full of fascinatingly spooky tales from locations across the county.
Yet even Simon isn’t convinced about the existence of ghosts. He has remained open-minded, just as any investigator should be.
He said: “Some people are happy to say, ‘I don’t believe in this but I have had this strange experience’ and move on from that, other people aren’t like that – people differ quite a lot, some people are fascinated by it.
“Some people just want to share the experience with you, they just want someone to listen, other people want you to suggest explanations for them. I respect people’s experiences and, at the end of the day, if they want me to offer explanations, I can do that.”
“I don’t have a definite explanation for a lot of the cases, I have no doubt that people have genuine experiences but there is not one single explanation for all of them. Some could be wishful thinking, some are difficult to explain, some could be caused by environmental conditions affecting the brain, or a health issue. I’m not yet convinced of the survival of the spirit explanation, I don’t think the evidence is strong enough,” he added.
Simon has a long history of being involved with investigating apparently paranormal locations.
A former lecturer in psychology and former director of the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes (CSAPP) at the University of Northampton, he specialised in teaching and conducting research into parapsychology and the psychology of these kinds of exceptional experiences. He now works at the University of Greenwich.
His expertise also saw him brought in as resident parapsychologist for series one of Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns. So what led him to pen a book about Northamptonshire’s own hauntings?
He said: “I like ghost books and I have read a lot about places in Northamptonshire. I thought, why don’t I try to write one myself? I had a year’s sabbatical coming up, so I used that.”
The aim was to delve into stories of hauntings going back many decades or even centuries, to try to work out if there are any locations which have been linked to spooky tales over many years.
Simon used Northamptonshire Newspapers’ archives for much of his information, as well as the Northamptonshire Record Office and other first hand accounts.
He said: “Some accounts and places were easier to research than others. The newspaper’s office was an excellent resource, as well as the county records office. I found records of hauntings going back to 1674.
“At the Wig and Pen in Northampton, there are recordings of successive landlords who have had things happening. Some of the reports from The George at Brixworth are interesting too.”
He wrote: “The George Inn is one of the pubs in the county that lays claim to Oliver Cromwell having stayed there on the eve of the Battle of Naseby. It is alleged that during this time, one of Cromwell’s runners, a 16-year-old boy, was murdered in the stables and that it is he who haunts the inn.
“As in other haunted pubs, there are reports of the gas for the beer having been switched off on occasions and a dog refusing to enter the cellar and going mad when the cellar door was open. A recent landlord reported that heavy doors opened and closed by themselves and on one occasion a glass bowl full of candles is said to have jumped off a table and smashed onto the floor.”
One of the sites mentioned in the book is the Naseby battlefield, which, on June 14, 1645, saw a great deal of bloodshed as the Royalist and Parliamentarians battled it out as part of the English Civil War.
Simon wrote: “On June 14, 1949, a young couple took a picnic and cycled out to Naseby; at the time they were unaware that this was the anniversary of the battle. Neither of them thought that the other would believe the strange things that they saw that day and it was only later when they discovered the significance of the date that they shared their experience with each other.
“Both of them had written down notes concerning their trip. The girl had written, ‘We pushed our bikes some way along a bridleway, then sat down on the grass, leaning back against a haystack...I suddenly realised there were men looking at me. No, that is not true, they were completely ignoring me. They were walking on either side of a waggon, four men, perhaps five. The waggon was very heavy and wooden, with chains looped along its sides. It was flat and oblong, just like a heavy board on wheels. They were dressed in black leather jerkins and boots, grim-faced and so weary that the perspiration had run down their faces.”
We may live in a scientific age, but ghost stories still seem to be prevalent, perhaps thanks to television programmes such as Most Haunted and Ghost Adventures.
But Simon said: “Investigations are not all about the equipment.
“On television it seems all about having their latest gadgets. They can be useful but we don’t want to rule out human testimony completely.
“The difficulty is that phenomena are so unpredictable. The chance of you being there on the right day at the right time is quite slim. On TV programmes, something seems to be happening all the time but most of the time nothing happens,” Simon added.
“I think the programmes have increased people’s awareness of the subject area and generated interest in it. But sometimes the television programmes give the wrong impression of how someone should do an investigation.”
Haunted Northamptonshire is available, priced £9.99, from Waterstones, Northampton. Also, see www.hauntednorthamptonshire.co.uk for more information and background to the book.