After the small hiatus in spooky Halloween-type posts yesterday (unless you count the creepy disappearing footpath at Maze Hill) we go back to Ghostly Greenwich and a modern tale that master storyteller Robert of Number 16 St Alfege’s Passage tells about getting rid of a particularly stubborn phantom, who just didn’t know he’d outstayed his welcome (takes one to know one…)
So, pull your armchair a little closer into the fire, wrap the Turkey rug a little tighter round your shoulders, re-light the candle that extinguished itself in that sudden draught and listen as Robert, in silken dressing gown and tasselled smoking cap, seats himself in the chair opposite and begins…
“When people come down for breakfast I usually ask if they slept well,” he says. “We had a gentleman from New Zealand staying and he was the only guest at the time. When asked if he had had a good night he said ‘Well not really because one of the other guests kept walking up and down the stairs.’ When told that he was the only guest he seemed rather shocked,and said “Oh God not again.”
The second night, Robert tells me, all was well, but on the third he too heard footsteps on the stairs, and wished the New Zealand guy would just go to bed. At breakfast the following morning the man looked tired and rather drawn.”He said the foot steps were even louder and at 2.30am he could bear it no more,” he continues. “He opened the door to his room and there on the landing he meet a young man in ‘Victorian-looking clothes.’ He had long wet hair which he was drying with an old towel. The young man said “I will be late for work” and walked into what is now a bathroom – via what is now a boarded-up doorway.”
The New Zealand man told Robert that he felt that he should come clean and that he had had several encouters with other ‘ghosts’ before. He left, and all was well for a while.
Time passed, and Robert had all but forgotton about the ‘Victorian man.’ But when a neighbour brought his sister and her ten year-old son from Scotland round for a drink, he did ‘the usual guided tour’ of the B&B. At this point, I can just hear Robert’s usually sonorous voice lowering to a deathly whisper…
“We arrived at the landing outside the bathroom. Suddenly the Scots woman put her hands to her neck and said ‘I can`t breathe, I can’t breathe!’ She became very distressed and cried buckets. She then said ‘I have to leave this house – something very bad happened in there.’ We gave her a glass of water and she left, very shaken.”
More time passed, and once again all creepiness was forgotten for merry times at Number 16.
But then a theatre director came for tea to discuss a book he was writing. When he asked directions for the loo, Robert said ‘Oh, use the one upstairs; the downstairs one is out of use.’
“No sooner than he got to bathroom door on the upstair landing. I heard a scream and the sound of someone gasping for air. “Just,” Robert says, “as my mother did as she died.” He, too, was very shaken. “I kept rather quiet,” he admits. When the director left, he seemed very interested in the fact that a large beam outside the bathroom had never been removed from the house.
Nothing happened for ages. Then ‘things’ started happening. “I would lose objects for a while such as a kitchen knife and then the lost item would turn up in, say, a draw full of socks. More foot steps on the stairs – this time where there were no stairs – though there was a staircase there originally it was removed in 2000.”
Robert himself was never frightened by the presence. “I am often alone in the house and found myself telling the phantom “Please be quiet I`m trying to work,” he says.
But then it took a more nasty turn. “Returning from the shops to an empty house I found every lightbulb neatly placed by each lamp. Having replace all lightbulbs, I was sitting at the end of my bed when a wooden blind which had hung as a bedhead for several years flew off the wall and hit me. That was it.”
Robert called Giles Harcourt, the previous vicar of St Alfeges church. “Far from saying that I was off my rocker,” he says, “he said he would visit Number 16. He did this three times, each time deeply questioning me about the goings on. Then suddenly he said ‘You have a very troubled soul that needs to be let free. It is the right thing to do.’ He felt that the ‘Victorian man’ had taken his life with a rope from the large beam on the landing.
He returned with all his robes, a set of candle sticks, a lot of salt and a bowl filled with water. There was a short service where the phantom was asked ‘to go in peace.’ The house was blessed and the black and white cat drank the salty water from the bowl.”
Robert has never heard or seen The Phantom of Number 16 since. But Robert himself is omnipresent. Find him in the November issue of Homes & Gardens, on a live broadcast radio from the Olympic site to mark 1000 days until the 2012 games for BBC London 94.9 over the weekend, and a soon-to-be-released thriller set in Greenwich, called the Cost of Love, which I know nothing about (nothing on IMDB yet) but will look forward to….