Author PETER LEWIS reviewed for national press for several decades
He remembers ghosts he saw including at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire
On another occasion he saw a withered hand in a bag in Fleet Street alley
Whenever I mention to people that I have seen ghosts, I can depend on one of two opposite reactions.
Some people will be fascinated and want to know more. Others will vehemently pooh-pooh the possibility of ghosts - either I’m deluded or I’m lying. There can be no such thing as ghosts!
The vehemence, even violence, with which sceptics deny their existence makes me suspicious. What are they afraid of? That there are more things in heaven and earth than science can account for?
England is a thrilling place for those who do believe in ghosts. It is the most haunted country there is - with 10,000 places which are famed for sightings.
One is the West Midlands’s Dudley Castle which appeared in the news pages last week after a tourist took an accidental photograph which appeared to show the castle’s ‘Grey Lady’ in an ancient archway. Only on digital magnification did the image become visible.
It looks like the grey ghost of a woman of the Tudor period or earlier. But, of course, ‘ghost’ photographs can always be the result of a trick of the light, not to mention our tendency to make images out of any shapes that we see.
It is actually very rare to see ghosts; it’s much more common to hear them. I’ve experienced both and it has made me sure that there is something ‘out there’.
Your hair stands on end. Your skin goes cold. Worms crawl up your spine. Your neck feels as though it is being clenched in an unseen grip.
It first happened to me at boarding school at Stowe, which is housed in the magnificent Palladian mansion built by the family which became Dukes of Buckingham.
One brilliant summer’s night I went for a walk under the full moon and was coming back up a grassy rise when I saw two figures, a man and a woman, walking towards the massive flight of steps up to the portico of the school with its Greek columns.
It was midnight. Everyone was in bed (bar myself), and these people had nothing to do with the school. Who were they?
I hastened to confront them, but by the time I reached the building they had turned up the steps and mounted them close together as if in conversation. Before I could catch up, very out of breath, they had disappeared over the top step into the dark shadows of the portico.
Evidence? The ghostly figure was in the rear of this photograph taken by Amy Harper, who was on a day trip
By the time I reached the portico, it was empty. The big doors had not opened or light would have spilled out. And the sheer drop from the side would put off anyone from jumping.
That was when I froze with the reactions I have described above. I was stunned by two things.
First, their antique clothing — long skirts on the woman, an oddly long-hanging jacket on the man and weird hats.
Then there was the fact that they had made no noise, no footsteps on the stairs, no murmur of voices. And they never once looked round at me.
I had been watching a pair of ghosts from another century. After investigating costume history, I came to the conclusion that their dress was most like the Regency style, and that therefore they could have been the second Duke and his Duchess, who inherited Stowe in that period. They had strolled up the steps as if they owned it.
I said nothing about my ghost sighting at the time for fear of being laughed at. Then, 60 years later, to my great surprise, I found a description of an uncannily similar couple walking along the ridge, mounting the steps and vanishing among the columns of the portico.
It was in an anniversary issue of the school magazine. The account was dated ten years earlier than my experience. So I was not alone. I could believe my eyes with more confidence.
The next ghost I encountered was when I worked in Fleet Street. As a night-time newspaper sub-editor, I used to take a supper break in a pub around 10pm. Coming back from Tudor Street near the river one night, a female colleague and I were late.
A short-cut then existed, a narrow footpath between silent black buildings which was called Hanging Sword Alley. It was swept away during later redevelopment, though the street sign is still there. It was a murky, ill-lit passage, but we were in a rush so began to climb it. You could see the uphill pavement was empty all the way. Halfway along, as we reached the crossing with another passage, there was a street light, the only one.
As we passed across, we both suddenly stopped — and froze. Slowly both of us looked back the way we had come. Perched on a step to a building doorway was a large sack which we had not noticed on the way past.