As Halloween draws closers we delve into some of the ghoulish tales to be found lurking among the shelves of Special Collections…
The Wallop Latch
Thomas Gatehouse’s manuscript history of Hampshire (MS 5/15) is dated 31 December 1778 and is the earliest history of the county recorded. The history, largely a compilation from printed sources but containing some original materials, concludes with the ghost story ‘The Wallop Latch’. Described as being “for the amusement of the Wit or the Sceptic”, it provides an apparently true account of a Miss G___ who moves into a house in the village of Nether Wallop in Hampshire after the death of her father. One evening while sitting in her parlour, she is suddenly disturbed by a great noise produced by the violent rattling of the heavy iron latch on the back door. While initially startled, she disregards the incident as most likely being the product of an idle farmhand looking to frighten her. However, the disturbance recurs on numerous occasions and soon begins to draws the attention of the whole neighbourhood, with the noise being described as “violent and loud enough to be heard in distant quarters of the parish.”
In order to solve the mystery, members of the local community arm themselves and surround the house while others wait inside for the rattling to commence. As soon as the latch begins to move, the door is swiftly thrown open only to reveal there is no one there. The narrative then continues by considering and disproving a number of possible tricks or explanations and claims that no imaginable natural cause could have produced the effect. The account is testified and signed by a number of honourable witnesses and it remains for the sceptic to explain the occurrence.
A Ghost in the Isle of Wight
The Isle of the Wight has a long tradition of ghost stories and hauntings, many associated with places such as Billingham House, Carisbrooke Castle, and Knighton Gorges Manor. Sir John Randolph Leslie, 3rd Baronet of Glaslough (1885–1971), more generally known as Shane Leslie, was an Irish born diplomat and writer. He had a lifelong interest in the supernatural which influenced a number of his writings. His novelette A Ghost in the Isle of Wight was published in 1929, in a limited signed edition of 500 copies for sale, and a copy can be found among the Cope Collection on Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
As with The Wallop Latch, the story appears to report the true account of an actual haunting. It is told from the perspective of a narrator who stayed at the isolated Jacobean manor at Killington during the previous autumn. Having been delayed in London, he travels to the island a week after his companions and their maidservants. On his first evening in the manor he is informed that the place is haunted and that sounds have been heard at night resembling the treading of feet and the clinking of swords accompanied by the smell of lilies. Nearly a fortnight passes before the narrator himself is woken by a series of clear metallic sounds on the stairs. The following morning the whole house is investigated and the property agent questioned. The agent eventually admits that the manor was regarded as the most haunted human abode on the island. As the narrator proceeds to piece the mystery together, the incidents are revealed to be connected with an escaped fugitive, the execution of Charles I, and the story of a murdered lover…
Death on the Line
Eric Jones-Evans was a medical practitioner and actor. He maintained a medical practice in Fawley, near Southampton, and closed his surgery on matinee days to perform at the Grand Theatre in Southampton. In 1928 he formed his own company and both wrote and appeared in a number of his own melodramas, chiefly adapted from the novels of Charles Dickens and George Eliot.
Among the papers of Dr Eric Jones-Evans (MS 91) is a typescript of Death on the Line: A Ghost Story in One Act, dated 21 December 1952. Based on Dickens’ short story The Signal Man, the play is set in a signal-box in a deep cutting near a tunnel entrance on a lonely stretch of the railway line. The author describes it as a play of “atmosphere and tension”, with the wailing of the wind in the telegraph wires introduced judicially to provide an eerie background to the narrative. It tells the story of a railway signalman who is haunted by a recurring apparition, with each appearance of the spectre preceding a tragic event on the railway. The first is followed by a terrible collision between two trains in the tunnel (likely based on the Clayton Tunnel crash of 1861) and the second by the mysterious death of a young woman on a passing train. The third and final warning of “death on the line” causes the signalman to rush onto the track in an attempt to stop an oncoming train where he is struck and killed. As the driver and other characters stand over his body a telegram is received warning of fallen rocks on the line up ahead. The play ends as they ponder how he could have known and how many lives might have been lost if not for his intervention.
At this time it remains uncertain whether these tales represent the only cases of ghostly encounters to be found within the walls of the Hartley Library or whether further apparitions are yet to appear…