I was born in the Lancashire village of Foulridge, close by Pendle Hill, infamous for its association with witches. Like most families in the 1950’s mine did not encourage the idea that there were ghosts and spirits that could be ‘seen’ by the sensitive ones we call mediums. In fact within my family I was actively discouraged from speaking of the visions and spirit encounters I had experienced. But there were ghosts in Foulridge and I recall hearing my grandmother Eva Walsh telling of the time her father had been terrified by the mysterious unseen spirit of a long dead navigator alongside the local stretch of the Leeds to Liverpool canal.
It seems that around the year 1930 Fred Walsh, a weaver in the local mills, was walking back from Barnoldswick to Foulridge along the tow path of the old canal. By the time he had walked three miles or so and could see the faint lights of Foulridge flickering in the distance it was gone midnight. Fred was a strapping big chap and afraid of nothing he could get hold of, but as he passed the last bridge before the mile tunnel on the canal he heard something he could not quite comprehend. From immediately behind him there came the sound of chains rattling as though they were being dragged along the ground. Turning and staring into the moonlit mists drifting off the canal he saw only the rough shale path reflecting the silver beams of that far away moon. But the sound grew louder and closer. There was a stillness in the air and all around the atmosphere seemed to cool. The chains rattled louder now and Fred stood transfixed in terror unable to move. Rattling and clanging the invisible chains slowly passed alongside Fred and disappeared into the misty Lancashire night. When they had gone he ran all the way home. According to my grandmother he didn’t sleep too well for weeks after that encounter with the unknown.
There are many tales of ghosts in Lancashire which may or may not have a foundation in fact. One supposedly haunted location is Samlesbury Old Hall situated some five miles or so north-east of Preston. According to legend there is in this hall a spirit called the ‘White Lady’ who has been seen wandering both within the grounds and also along the main highway to Blackburn which runs by the side. A number of motorists claimed to have picked out a filmy white shape in their headlights late at night. Also some Air Force personnel from the nearby air-base at Wharton have described seeing the ‘White Lady’ drifting across the road heading into the ancient hall.
Samlesbury Hall was built around 1322 by Gilbert de Southworth who was a staunch Catholic. The family occupied the hall for generations and remained true to their faith during the reformation when the Catholic priests faced persecution. Legend has it that it the ‘White Lady’ is Dorothy the daughter of Sir John Southworth. Dorothy was a Catholic and it seems she fell in love with a member of the Houghton family of Houghton Tower, they were Protestants. Because of the religious differences Dorothy and her lover were refused permission to marry and decided to elope. This plan was discovered by Dorothy’s older brother who lay in wait for her lover from Hoghton Tower and killed the man as she watched in terror.
According to the legend following the murder of her lover she lived as a recluse in Samlesbury Hall eventually dying in a local convent. Some say that along with the vision of the ‘White Lady’ they have heard the sounds of weeping and wailing. Could it be that the spirit of Dorothy Southworth is still haunting Samlesbury Hall mourning the long ago loss of her lover? There are those that do believe so. If you ever find yourself in Preston or thereabouts why not call in to Samlesbury Hall, it is open to the public. Who knows, you too may encounter the mysterious ‘White Lady’.
One could write copious amounts detailing the legends and myths of haunted Lancashire filling books if one wanted to. Dark tales of long dead lovers and ghostly horsemen galloping into lightning storms and thunder-clouded purple midnights abound, but what is the truth? Are there really such things as spirits that have spent countless ages wandering this earthly plane in utter despair wearying for whatever sad situation blighted their physical lives? As Spiritualists we must question such ideas and I personally do not believe that a discarnate entity would waste its time spooking people or hanging around some deserted patch waiting in vain forevermore.
Consider this, put yourself in the place of Dorothy Southworth, you have just passed into spirit and are now a discarnate being called into the light of eternal love having endured a truly miserable incarnation on earth. You have a choice to move on and enter the kingdom of peace or pop back to the ancient old hall where you watched your own brother murder the man you love. Would you seriously waste your time wandering round minus your physical body moaning and wailing about something that is past or would you get on with your new life in spirit and put that encounter with the stupidity of humankind down to bitter experience? I know what I would do!
So if we assume that spirits have some degree of common sense and do not haunt in the traditional sense what then of those visions of ghosts, white-ladys etc. They most certainly are NOT discarnate spirits. They are, I believe, no more than a form of video/audio recording captured in the atmosphere in the same way the actual video and audio records are captured on magnetic or digital tape. These recordings playback when the atmospheric conditions are right. This may be why sightings of ‘ghosts’ are often reported during storms as the natural electrical discharge and dampness acts as an enabling charge and pathway triggering the playback. The original scenes that are seen may have been recorded as they were themselves highly emotionally charged (as in the commission of a murder) thereby creating the power required to record on the atmosphere, the stones, bricks and buildings trapping forevermore the incidents that then playback down the centuries.
GHOSTLY GOINGS ON. Not For Those Who Are Easily Offended.
That being the case there is nothing to fear from the mumblings, moanings and chain rattling visions of the past. They are simply a record of times long gone captured on natures Video Recorders playing back the same old scene century after century, rather like Dad’s Army repeats on TV. Makes more sense than the idea that some love struck spirit is hanging round a dusty old hall waiting for a lover that will never appear, don’t you agree?
A TOUR OF SAMLESBURY HALL