by Ross Andrews
This interesting, all-too-brief book encompasses five ghost walks and ancillary chapters on other ghosts of Cheltenham, investigations by the Myers Paranormal Society of Gloucestershire, or PARASOC, a group of amateur ghost hunters who investigate paranormal phenomena in the South West and of which Ross Andrews is the chairman. There is also advice on how to conduct ghost hunts and details of the various pieces of equipment available to researchers.
Combining his ghost hunting activities with a career in entertainment Mr Andrews highlights a succession of accounts of ghostly activity either reported to him or experienced directly during his twenty years of conducting vigils in geographically diverse areas and particularly around the Cheltenham area. The book incorporates a delightful degree of chuckle-level humour and is lavishly illustrated with many photographs, many of them his own. His professed object is not to convince his readers of the reality of ghosts (who can do that?) but to relate his and his group’s experience and experiments in the hope that results may be replicated or phenomena confirmed.
The book commences with a humorous drawing by Mr Andrews daughter Carrie (aged eight) of how he looks when ghost hunting – rather like many of us look first thing in the morning before the caffeine relief arrives! This notwithstanding a brief history of Cheltenham is given, noting that it was founded as a Saxon settlement and received an eventual mention in the Doomsday book (1086). Being in the centre of an agricultural area it received its right to hold a fair and market from Henry III in 1226. Education was a speciality with various colleges being founded, along with the development of several spas in the early nineteenth century following a visit from George III in 1788. Nowadays it’s famous for the races. This diversity of activity has given rise to a rich plethora of ghostly visitation including poltergeist phenomena, sightings at the town’s theatres, an interesting selection of public houses (of course!) and an interesting explosion of the famous ‘Morton Case’ in Pittville Circus Road, first investigated for the Society of Psychical Research by FW Myers (a founding member of the SPR) in 1895.
There is also an interesting section on orbs, that fascinating topic with enlivens many a conversation on paranormal phenomena. Mr Andrews makes the pertinent observation that despite the many plausible explanations put forward by sceptics it is worth remembering that a true sceptic who refuses to believe in anything is as bad as a believer who believes everything uncritically. PARASOC had an interesting experience with orbs at the Playhouse where they were filmed in conjunction with an associated soundtrack demonstrating that they were visible to the naked eye and were not simply an artefact of the camera. To balance this, Mr Andrews notes that in an investigation an area contained much building material which precipitated a large volume of orb photographs, so dust was the preferred culprit here.
Mr Andrews concludes his eclectic collection of ghost stories by emphasising the necessity of questioning everything in the course of an investigation. No investigative group has the answer as to what the ghost is, and the best of these groups outline the theories that could account for observed phenomena. He also warns of economically predatory groups of psychic researchers and psychics as the inclusion of money in the equation increases the likelihood of fraud with the high expectations generated. The best point about ghost hunting is that it is free and he stresses the need to share information so reputedly haunted sites can be cross-checked for data that may be replicated and incidents can be confirmed or questioned accordingly.
This is an interesting little volume and deserves a wide audience irrespective of whether one is visiting Cheltenham and its environs. The maps attached to each walk are useful for the psychic tourist. The author stresses the need to use equipment to corroborate incidents and to eschew the use of séances and Ouija boads as these are viewed as unreliable. However, one cannot help thinking that it is better to obtain a more holistic picture with an all avenues available to explore the psychic world being employed, even with doubts over their credibility. All in all this book I would recommend for its concise nature in providing an overview of the pleasures and frustrations of psychical research, enlivened by a gentle humour, and the projected second volume should be just as interesting!
Review by John Barrett