My Earliest Psychic Experience
On the sixth of August in the year 1949 I was born at Colne, in the shadow of Lancashire’s Pendle hill, infamous for its witches. My parents initially lodged with my maternal grandparents in a small 17th century weaver’s cottage on Cromwell Street in the village of Foulridge. It had two foot thick stone walls, painted white, exposed wooden ceiling beams and a dark cellar where once the handloom weavers had woven cloth, long before the industrial revolution brought the dark satanic mills. My father, Francis Sutton, worked as a blacksmith and my mother Shelia as a weaver in the local cotton sheds alongside her mother, my grandmother, Eva Walsh. Grandfather, Billy Walsh, also worked in the mills repairing the looms. Among my first recollections of those early days is a memory of the village folk that would walk unannounced into the house shouting ‘It’s only me!’. The door was always open and I can see to this day an old lady called Mrs. Thompson, dressed as she always was, rain or shine, in a long dark brown overcoat, polished clogs and a faded scarf covering her grey hair. She would walk in, sit down in front of the open coal fire in the best chair and start talking about ‘Our Eli’. Who he was I never did discover but according to Mrs. Thompson ‘Our Eli’ had opinions on everything from the price of duck eggs to the wages in the factories of Colne. My grandmother Eva tolerated this obvious intrusion with good humour and I never heard her complain. Though sometimes granddad would grumble that he had heard quite enough about ‘Our Eli’. He was forever telling grandma’ ‘that woman’s just a nosey-parker’.
If it wasn’t Mrs. Thompson joining the family in the living room it would be Aunty Norah, my grandmother’s sister who lived a few hundred yards away. She would call round for a game of cards, they played ‘partner-whist’ or maybe a ‘beetle-drive’. There was never anything formal about these events, just friends who called in as they felt like it. No one even considered that walking into someone else’s house, sitting down and joining in the conversation was anything other than normal. Imagine anyone doing that today! But in the early 1950’s the days of muggings, drug dealing and the constant fear of burglary were half a century, and a lifetime, away.
I was brought up to believe that the supernatural was wicked, the work of the devil and to be avoided. Though there had been a clairvoyant in our family, a great aunt of my grandmother, she had been the local fortune teller, but no one spoke of her. Perhaps there remained in the little village of Foulridge a kind of collective folk memory concerning the practice of witchcraft. Just a few miles away stood the forest of Pendle and the hill that overshadowed the land. It was there, in the 17th century, that a coven of witches was discovered, many of whom were executed, hanged at Lancaster Prison. I can clearly recall hearing my grandmother Eva warn me that if I misbehaved then ‘Old Mother Demdike’ would appear and take me away. Demdike being one of the Lancashire witches. My father, Francis Sutton, was by faith Roman Catholic and rather strict. The very last thing welcome in our family was a paranormal encounter. But the spirit world had plans that extended beyond the belief systems and paternal protection that structured those early days. My psychic life was a matter of destiny and outside the rigid regulations and rules that were laid down by my family. It was to be a difficult pathway and one that I would be forced to walk alone. I was indeed alone, that is in the physical sense, but there were those that walked with me in spirit form and they have always been there.
My grandparent’s cottage had a cellar the full length of the house with its entrance through a door in the tiny kitchen. It contained only an old wooden workbench and various unwanted household goods, washing boards, cloth mangles, a dolly-tub for the weekly wash and all kinds of tools. I was aged six and to me it seemed a wonderful place, full of cobwebs and mystery. It was in that cellar that I would spend hours playing in the spooky dark corners with the spiders, old bits of wood, some tin toys all lit by candles. I must have seemed quite a weird little boy, sitting in that musty old cellar, but I was happy and it didn’t seem odd to me. I loved the atmosphere in the shadowy corners. I was content down there and would sit for hours watching the flame of my candle flicker in the gloom.
I had a special place, near the cobwebbed corner at the far end of the cellar where I had made a kind of secret den. There I kept my candles and toys, the bits of things I had found to play with. Then one day I noticed that someone had moved my toys, I had a tin train and some building blocks that were among my favourite playthings. I recall searching for these by candlelight and seeing a shadow moving in a corner. ‘I’m Sammy’ a voice said that seemed to come from within the darkness. Then a blast of cold air rushed by me. I wasn’t afraid, as I recall I was just curious. When I looked again into the corner of the cellar there was nobody there. But in the shadow I saw my little tin train and other toys. From that day onwards I often saw the strange shadow in that dark corner of the cellar. It wasn’t scary, I had heard the shadow’s name, it was Sammy and we were friends. I could hear more than see Sammy and he said he lived in the house and was happy there. He was my secret friend I never told anyone about him because I somehow knew they wouldn’t let me play down the cellar again if I did. Sammy knew my name and called me ‘John’ in what I recall as being a whispering kind of voice. I talked to him more than he talked to me but to this day I can still remember one thing that Sammy did say to me over and over again. He said ‘look and see John’ in a soft whisper ‘look and see’.