I've embarked on hundreds of ghost events over the years and as a skeptic, I'm always the person who doesn't experience anything. But that all changed at the weekend when I headed to Staffordshire to investigate a Grade II listed mansion and got more than I bargained for there.
The event was hosted by Most Haunted Experience (MHE), a spin-off of the long-running television series, which gives viewers the chance to hunt ghosts
with the stars of 'Most Haunted'. At this event Karl Beattie and Stuart Torevell were on hand to get stuck into some ghost hunting with the 30 or so guests.
I pulled up outside the foreboding Bishton Hall just before 9pm, the Georgian mansion is one of the oldest settlements in Staffordshire, and is fast gaining a reputation as one of the most haunted thanks to frequent reports of unexplained phantom footsteps, disembodied voices, and even sightings of full-bodied apparitions.
The hall is now owned by antiques expert, Charles Hanson, who uses the property to showcase his collection. Charles is fairly well known thanks to regular appearances on shows like 'Bargain Hunt' and 'Antiques Road Trip'. Since purchasing the hall in 2019, Charles has opened the vast and fascinating building up to the public as an events space and wedding venue, but before this Bishton had a long and varied history.
According to the Doomsday Book of 1086, a dwelling once stood on the land, which belonged to King Harold II, who died at the Battle of Hastings fighting the Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror during the Norman conquest of England. The building as it stands today started its life in the 18th century as a family home. Notable residents include three former high sheriffs of Staffordshire.
One of these high sheriffs, John Sparrow, passed the hall on to his eldest child, Charlotte. Miss Sparrow never married, but remained in the hall and devoted her life to caring for it and improving upon it. It was Charlotte who added the grand east and west wings to the house in the 19th century, leaving the sprawling property we see today.
The hall was later sold on and in 1954 became one of the last few family owned and run prep schools in the country, it offered boarding and had a capacity for around 130 children. St Bede's school at Bishton Hall only closed in 2018, leaving behind empty classrooms and eerie corridors haunted by the echoes of disembodied child voices.
Other unexplained happenings to occur in the hall include the windows' shutters slamming on the upper floors, door knobs rattling and doors opening and closing themselves, sudden drops in temperatures, the haunting sound of a woman screaming, as well as reports of people being touched and pushed.
There has also been sightings of dark mists, shadowy figures and even an apparition of a woman wearing period clothing who has often been seen looking out a window on the upper floor.
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I entered the house guided by the light of my torch through the side door and passed a historic and complete set of servants' bells mounted to the wall of the entrance hall.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to look around the property before the event, so as fearless as ever, I climbed one of the hall's winding stairwells and soon found myself on the top floor. The long corridor and the old vacant rooms off of it didn't feel particularly unnerving, no more so than any other unfamiliar dark building, but things were about to change and soon I'd be running back to the safety of the MHE team.
I was about to head back downstairs, but as I passed a doorway that was ajar I heard what I can only describe as being a growl. The sound seemed to be coming from behind the door. My normally rational and level-headed demeanour instantly left me, and spinning around to face the door I shouted "what the f**k was that?!"
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Not quite believing what I had heard, I backed along the corridor away from the door and shouted, "is someone there?" This unnerving realisation that someone or something might be lurking in the dark with me became too much and I turned and run, darting back down the two flights of stairs where I found MHE's events manager. By the time I'd got to Jenny I was visibly shaking and could hardly speak, this is very out of character for me.
I can't explain the cause of the sound, perhaps I might have been able to if I hadn't run away, but I know for sure there was no one upstairs at that point. I later learnt that the room behind the door was a store room, a completely empty store room with nothing inside that could have caused the sound.
After this scare, I stuck with the other guests for the rest of the night, joining them at first in the quaint orangery, where a wood burner was fired up to keep us warm on what was a cold winter night. The orangery, which served as our base room for the night, is just one of several features that stand in the hall's 30 acres of grounds.
To the north of the hall is the Temple Garden, built in the 1840s it features a long temple-like wall. The purpose of this wall was to protect the peace and tranquility of the the garden from the busy railway that runs beyond.
Elsewhere in the gardens is a small but dense wooded area that hides a pet cemetery. The small collection of gravestones pay tribute to the hall's beloved pets who have been laid to rest there since the 1890s. This tradition was continued during the hall's time as a school, with the most recent headstones being placed for Melanie and Norris, two of the school tortoises.
After an introduction from Karl and Stuart and the chance to have some photos taken with the television ghost hunters, we headed back inside the main house for our night-long investigation. Now divided into two teams, we first went up to that creepy second floor where I'd previously heard the growl. We focussed our attention on some of the abandoned rooms off of that terrifying corridor.
We did a lot of calling out to the spirits and encouraged them to interact. All the other guests on the event were confident and keen to get involved. The team had handed out some bits of kit for guests to use, like a few K-II meters, some flashing cat balls and a point-and-click infrared thermometer. The latter turned out to be handy for monitoring how cold it was getting in the house as the night went on.
Apart from this handful of gadgets, there wasn't actually much tech in use, which was quite nice. As a skeptic I don't have much faith in unproven and unscientific ghost hunting equipment, but I don't deny that people experience things. So for me, ditching the gadgets and focussing on the human perspective of hauntings
is a much more valid approach - as the growl I heard had already dramatically demonstrated.
During our vigil we were joined by Karl in one of the rooms, which several minutes later we were drawn away from when we heard a noise coming from out in the corridor - from the exact same spot where I'd heard the growl in fact. We all headed out into the corridor and things got bizarre.
While we were stood in the darkness with Karl, we heard very loud and very clear tapping. Karl took the lead and called out encouraging the knocks to respond, and they seemed to. The bangs tapped out two times to indicate 'yes' to various questions, while one tap meant 'no'. When Karl asked the knocking to stop, it did. Other guests joined in too and had similar responses. At times we could feel the knocks beneath our feet as if unseen boots were stomping around us. All of this took place outside the store room where I'd had my earlier scare.
After a break and a chance to warm up near the fire with a Cup-a-Soup, we swapped around and headed down to the large and spooky cellar. Here we spent some time in the darkness trying to communicate with the spirits via the ancient method of table tipping, guided by Stuart.
Although this part of the night resulted in some interesting movements and vibrations, it was a little less dramatic than the first half. Although some guests in the other team witnessed a crucifix falling off of a wall.
I can say without a doubt, that my night at Bishton Hall was one of my scariest ghost hunting events, and also one of the most eventful I have done. Thanks to all the MHE team for hosting us, and for all the other guests for being good sports and making it such a fun night.
If you'd like to book your own ghost hunt with Most Haunted Experience at Bishton Hall, you can find more information at mosthauntedexperience.com.