Spencer from S.M.O.G (Scientific Measurement of Ghost) Avengers, The Living Dead, 1967.
When I think of the Avengers, I don’t think of the Marvel superheroes, I think of John Steed and Mrs Peel. The Mrs Peel series’ were rerun when I was a child and I loved the quirky humour and the eccentric and often surreal storylines. One of my favourite episodes was The Living Dead, from the 1967 series. In this episode Steed and Mrs Peel investigate strange happenings at the estate of the Duke of Benedict, including ghostly goings on in a creepy old church. Here they cross paths with rival ghost hunting factions FOG and SMOG (respectively, Friends of Ghosts and Scientific Measurements of Ghosts). The over the top characters of Mandy from FOG and Spencer from SMOG perfectly highlight the divide still often found in the ghost hunting community – between the psychic believers and the sceptical scientific types. To be honest, I’ve never been quite sure which camp I fit into.
In recent years I have been on several ghost hunts operated by various different groups. It’s fair to say that some were more FOG than SMOG and some clearly geared up primarily for entertainment. Nevertheless I enjoyed each one, and some were at truly excellent locations, with compelling and charismatic guides – Chillingham Castle springs to mind (it’s an experience not to be missed for sheer drama of location and the ghostly tradition attached to the castle). However, one thing that I have often felt lacking on some of the more commercial tours, is the element of investigation – I guess I’ve always had a secret affinity with Spencer from SMOG, despite the allure of FOG. Ultimately, what I was really looking for was a group that could accommodate both viewpoints.
Chillingham Castle, Northumberland.
I came across Ghost North East by chance, a local not for profit group who investigate locations in the North East of England and the Scottish borders. Ghost Northeast was founded just under 10 years ago by friends Steve Watson and David Howland. In Steve’s book The Chronicles of a Ghosthunter he explained:
“..we decided we should open our own group. We wanted it to be 100% genuine and 100% honest. If nothing happened, then nothing happened. But, if we did see, feel or hear things then we knew as far as we were concerned that the activity would be real”
They and their team now run regular ghost hunts throughout the North East of England and Scottish Borders, taking in haunted locations such as Jarrow Hall, Ellison Hall, Hexham Old Jail, Jedburgh Jail and Neidpath Castle.
The Ghost Hunter kit
Ghost hunters kit.
The group don’t use mediums or psychics, but do use psychic tools such as the Ouija/spirit board, planchet and dowsing rods. These methods sit alongside more scientific tools such as lasers, thermal imaging devices, EMF and K2 meters (for detecting electromagnetic fields -such as given off by ordinary electrical devices or, more interestingly, unexplained sources) and the Franks/Ghost box.
The latter is a device which is a somewhat controversial in ghost hunting circles. The Franks box works by rapidly scanning radio waves for anomalous phenomena. The device is familiar to many people through its use on popular TV series such as Zac Baggins Ghost Adventures. While some people believe that it can facilitate communication with spirits, others dismiss its effectiveness citing the credulousness of over eager ghost hunters in attributing random results as being of paranormal origin . My own view is that although it can bring up some interesting results, it would be hard to confirm they were of paranormal origin rather than just wishful thinking.
Ghost North East make the whole ghost hunter kit available to everyone at each location, and ‘ghosties’ are encouraged to be very hands on. Whether their preference is for the scientific or psychic tools, everyone gets to play with the kit and draw their own conclusions from the results.
Three Ghost Hunts:
1. On a dark November night – Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society.
The Lit & Phil, as it is affectionately known, is the largest independent library outside of London, and the oldest in Newcastle. The current building, dating to 1825, is located near the oldest parts of Newcastle (the Close) and Roman foundations can be found in the basement.
The Lit & Phil, Newcastle.
This was my first ghost hunt with the group, and the first thing I discovered was that many people attending were regulars, despite this, everyone was very welcoming and friendly. Steve Watson the founder of the group welcomed everyone and set out the housekeeping and the ground rules – in short, to respect that everyone has their own equally valid views on the supernatural. I was impressed by how accommodating the group where to those with mobility issues, although the locations often don’t lend themselves to full disabled access, the group are happy to cater for the less mobile.
Steve then took the whole group down to the Gentleman’s Library and held a circle and conducted a blessing – in the pitch dark. Standing in the musty darkness, surrounded by ancient tomes from floor to ceiling, with only the rhythmic ticking of an old clock puncturing the silence, he called out to the spirits and the K2 meter lit up….from that moment, I was hooked.
We were then split up into three separate groups to conduct investigations in different parts of the building (around 8 people max). Smaller groups made it a much more hands on experience, and we all had a case of equipment to play with, from Lasers, Franks Boxes, EVF meters to dowsing rods and dice. I was in Peter’s group and we began in ‘the stacks’ – a book store in the basement where they store books and manuscripts, it is a very eerie place, filled with looming shadows and priceless volumes. A number of people in the group said they felt a quite malevolent male presence down there. I can’t say that I did, however, I’m not sure I would have been willing to stay down there alone even with all those fabulous books (and I don’t scare easily).
Lit & Phil Main Library. Newcastle.
Later in the night, my group went into the main library and tried to communicate with spirits via the Franks Box. During this experiment I took up the offer to do a ‘Lone Vigil’ in the ladies waiting room, in the pitch black, with only an EVF meter for company! Not being shy I sat in the middle of the sofa and asked if any spirits would like to come and sit next to me, having previously checked for any reaction on the EVF and getting none. However, once I made the invitation and rescanned the sofa, the box reacted in a very definite manner. I withhold judgement on whether a ghost actually did accept my invitation to join me on the sofa, but the timing was most interesting….
Perhaps the most powerful part of the night occurred in the Music Room, where the groups rejoined and formed a circle while the Gnostic Mass was played. This is a very strange piece of music and whether the music, the darkness or supernatural forces were at play, several people were overcome and had to leave the room…the music player also jumped unexpectedly to particular song, one with significance to one of the Lit & Phil’s early patrons.
By the end of the night, while many of the phenomenon could clearly be explained away, nevertheless, various interesting pieces of information came to light that could be linked to the historical record. I’m giving away no spoilers though!
2. On a frosty January night – Gateshead’s Little Theatre
The Little Theatre Gateshead, is a remarkable building, the current theatre was opened in Autumn 1943 and was the only theatre to be built during World War II. It sits on the corner of Saltwell Road, and faces onto the beautiful Saltwell Park.
The Little Theatre Gateshead.
The theatre is home to the Progressive Players, whose founding members, Misses Hope, Ruth and Sylvia Dodds, helped to fund the building work in the 1930’s. However, things did not go smoothly and upon the outbreak of war, the empty house purchased for the theatre was requisitioned for a RAF Barrage Balloon station. The players only got the site back on New Years Day 1942, when the RAF decamped following a particularly harsh winter. The theatre also suffered from collateral bomb damage on a misty night in early 1943, when a German bomb hit Saltwell Park just across the street from the theatre. Windows were blown out, the doors damaged and a tree fell through the roof. No one appears to have been hurt or killed.
All in all, a promising location for not only theatrical ghosts, but perhaps some wartime spectres as well.
After our orientation and the group circle, which Steve conducted on the stage, we split into our groups. Unable to help myself, I, yet again, volunteered to do a lone vigil. I was conducted down a maze of corridors to one of the dressing rooms, and here I waited in the dark, calling out occasionally. Unfortunately there was no activity that I could discern, and the evening as a whole appeared quite quiet, with little activity on the planchet or otherwise. However, some other groups did report activity and one individual did become noticeably affected during an invocation on the stage. Despite the lack of activity on this occasion, it was a wonderfully atmospheric venue.
The Planchet in use, but no messages this time.
3. On a snowy March night, Jarrow Hall
My third, and most recent outing with Ghost North East, was at Jarrow Hall. I have to say it was my favourite venue, perhaps that is because the Hall itself is eighteenth century (and I’m a sucker for the Georgians). The falling snow made it even more atmospheric – the North East was in the grip of the mini Beast from the East that night, just getting to the venue was an adventure. Jarrow Hall is closely associated with the Venerable Bede (considered the ‘Father of English history’) and linked to the Anglo-Saxon monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow. It houses a lot of Anglo-Saxon artifacts in the museum, and a reconstruction of an atrium style house of the period.
Jarrow Hall by night. Jarrow.
Now, I firmly believe that most paranormal phenomena can be explained rationally, however…..during the group circle that took place at the foot of the staircase, I kept getting the impression of someone peaking round the banisters at the top of the stairs….I’m not sure if it was just peripheral vision going scatty but I was not the only one who felt this.
‘I met a man upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there’….Jarrow Hall Stairs.
There were some very interesting results from the dowsing rods in the museum (linking up with the Anglo-Saxon history of the location). Beyond that, the most active part of the Hall was the back stairs, where some quite extraordinary activity unfolded. I was with two others using the Ouija board, while another member of the team was seated on the stairs (around the corner and out of the line of sight of the board). As we asked questions and the glass moved around the board, the information was conveyed almost simultaneously by the person on the stairs, who was convinced that a spirit was communicating directly with them. A tragic tale was soon pieced together, and culminated with the board spelling out a song title, as the person on the stairs began to sing the same song.
There were some contradictions brought up by the board, and some elements of the information that did not add up, however the overall story that unfolded could be linked to the historical record – as far as could be ascertained. This phenomena could be explained in several ways, from auto-suggestion, telepathy or pure coincidence, whatever the explanation, being a part of the experience was extraordinary (and I can say for certain that I didn’t know the story and I definitely wasn’t pushing the glass!)
The Ghost Hunter
Emma Peel and Mandy from F.O.G (Friends of Ghosts). The Avengers, The Living Dead, 1967.
It’s fair to say that people want different things from ghost hunts, for some people it is pure entertainment – and any creak or strange noise is enough to send them off into paroxysm of fearful giggles, others may want a more spiritual experience – to connect with a supernatural that they firmly believe in, others may prefer a purely rational or sceptical approach. I have to say, that to my mind, a good ghost hunting group can accommodate all viewpoints and belief systems.
In short, I would say that whether you are Mandy from Friends of Ghosts or Spencer from Scientific Measurements of Ghosts a ghost hunt with Ghost North East will not disappoint.
For those who are interested in reading more about the investigations, full investigation reports are published by Ghost North East in their magazine.
Ouija board, and EMF readers, a mix of the scientific and the spiritual.
Sources and notes
All images by Lenora unless otherwise stated.
Watson, Steve, Ghostnortheast volume 1: The Chronicles of a Ghost Hunter, 2017