It's always a bit of a thrill to get to go ghost hunting in a building in your home town, to get free rein of it and have the rare opportunity to literally see it in a different light. So when I saw an advert for a paranormal
event that was to take place in a former church in the heart of Bristol, I had to go along.
What made the event even more appealing was that it was being hosted by Kate Cherrell, who recently appeared alongside Jack Osbourne in the Discovery+ series 'Haunted Homecoming'. Billed as a Victorian night of discovery, the evening included a talk from Kate about Victorian spiritualism.
I've investigated prisons, inns, castles and just about every other type of building you can think of, but I've never been on a paranormal investigation in a church. It was quite a thrill to show up at this beautiful building on a cold February night. Being right in the city centre, I must have walked past this church hundreds of times, but I must confess, I've never so much as noticed it before. So getting the chance to step inside was a bit like being initiated into a secret gang.
Known as The Mount Without, like all good ghost hunting
venues, it has a varied history. A church is said to have stood on the site since the 12th century, but was rebuilt in 1460 including the clock tower that remains to this day. The main part of the church was demolished and rebuilt in the 18th century in order to increase its size. The church was damaged by falling bombs during the Second World War, and in 2016 the building was damaged by a fire.
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After a welcome drink in the crypt, guests were taken up to the nave, which was last used by a congregation in 1999.
Standing on the former alter dressed in apt black Victorian style clothing, Kate started her talk about the strange world of Victorian spiritualism by telling us, "spiritualism and Victorian séance was never as simple as just grabbing a table, turning off the lights, and shouting into the darkness."
Kate, who was funny, knowledgeable and engaging talked us through the turbulent history of spiritualism. From its inception at the hands - and hammer toes - of the legendary Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York, to ectoplasm - the validity of which was debated by paranormal investigators of the time, including Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The investigator and blogger of the macabre's 45 minute talk covered everything from apportation to the birth of spirit photography. Kate talked about many of the methods used by mediums to communicate with spirits in Victorian séances, including Ouija boards, materialisation cabinets, spirit trumpets, slate writing, table tipping and scrying.
An interesting takeaway from Kate's talk was that many of these spirit communication methods used by trance mediums and physical mediums have fallen out of popularity and are not conducted as part of a paranormal investigation
, except for a couple of exceptions. The few mediumistic techniques that remain popular tend to be things like spirit boards and table tipping, both of which can be potentially explained away by subconscious movements. Whereas other methods, like slate writing that required blatant trickery on the medium's part to make writing appear on the chalkboards, have become things of the past.
The second part of the evening gave guests the chance to become the first investigators to search for spooks in this unique and historic venue. A pursuit that Kate likes to call, not ghost hunting or ghost busting, but "ghost bothering."
The ghost hunt was sold as "a special Victorian investigation" and promised to take guests back to Victorian times of spiritual communication. So I was excited at the potential of breaking from the modern-day traditions of gadget-heavy paranormal investigation and trying something a little different, perhaps some automatic writing, scrying or a traditional séance.
Sadly, the ghost hunt didn't really live up to its promised Victorian theme and was pretty ordinary, involving the usual methods and the standard array of gadgets such as REM-Pods, laser grids and cat balls. That's not to say the investigation wasn't fun.
We started off in the impressive nave where Kate had given her talk earlier. This part of the old building is now used as an event space and wedding venue.
As tradition dictates, we were sat in near darkness on the former alter, the old stone walls only illuminated by the various coloured LEDs from the ghost hunting gadgets placed around the room.
We spent about an hour here and did get some strange goings on. There were a few clicks and knocking sounds that we couldn't explain and multiple times we heard slamming doors. At one point, I heard a door slam and assumed it was someone from the crypt below coming up to us. For a moment I thought I was right when I saw a light through the main door at the back of the church.
The entrance was a small porch with heavy wooden doors on the outside. On the opposite side of the porch, glass-panelled double doors opened up into the nave. I could see the light through the decorative glass of the inner doors. I was pretty sure this explained the earlier banging door, as someone had now opened the outer doors and was walking in by torchlight. I thought I would confirm this theory with them when they came through the inner doors. Only they didn't.
I didn't mention the light to the others because I was so sure it was a person, but it wasn't. There was no one there. No one came in.
A little while later we heard a door slam multiple times, and then I saw the light again. This time I mentioned it to my fellow ghost hunters, who all said they could see it too. Then I had a moment of realisation. I suspected that the banging door was in fact the front door of the church banging in the wind and each time it swung open, it was banging against the frame.
I confidently told myself, "yeah, that's what's happening," as I got up and walked to the door to prove my theory. I opened the glass doors and peered into the porch. The front doors of the church were firmly shut. They had not been blowing in the wind. I returned to my perch on the alter scratching my head.
A little while later, we saw the lights through the glass doors again. This time I darted to the back of the church, as quickly as you can in the dark through a minefield of REM-Pods placed on the floor. I pushed the glass doors open and stepped into the porch where I found, once again, that the wooden doors were closed.
I pushed the doors open and stepped outside in to the cold night air. There was no one around, no obvious cause of the light, and the heavy iron gate beyond the door was still closed. Soon after, our hour in the nave came to an end, and the mysterious lights I'd seen would remain a mystery... at least for now.
Later in the evening, we swapped around and went to investigate the crypt. This area proved to be as dead spiritually as the long-dead bodies buried beneath the stone floor here. The night ended with one final vigil in the nave, but this time around it fell silent. I couldn't see the door from where I was sitting on this second visit, but there were no reports of strange lights from any of the other guests.
The paranormal night of discovery at The Mount Without was a one-off event, but keep an eye on the venue's website
for possible future events. The church is definitely worthy of some more investigation.