A University Column
by Chris Huff
Universities with their shifting population of mainly young people inevitably give rise to rumours and legends. Chris Huff has investigated the stories of one such institution. One of the most intriguing findings was that various incidents seemed to occur directly above each other, forming a sort of vertical ‘column’ in one building. Perhaps such occurrences hold a clue to the nature of these, and maybe other, phenomena.
The holdings of Bridgeford University (pseudonym) comprise many buildings. This article sets out to document some of the phenomena that have been witnessed in them.
I have recently made the acquaintance of a former student at Bridgeford, who started her university education in 1993. Sheila (pseudonym) had an interest in the paranormal and either witnessed or was told accounts of phenomena witnessed by fellow students during her three years at the university. She is at pains throughout our communications to stress that ‘some of the things have happened to me and some to others, but I don’t believe any of them to be made up or particularly exaggerated’.
At first, not spending too much time in halls, she didn’t feel anything in the buildings, there being too many distractions for freshers. However, as time went by and the workload increased, Sheila started to frequent the buildings more and then she became aware of, as she puts it; ‘one or two odd things‘. The paranormal events she related took place in a number of university buildings.
To earn enough money to survive today’s education system Sheila worked as an assistant steward for two years in a college bar. This involved often being on her own during the day and late at night in the bar. Sheila states ‘The bar to me always felt strange when it was empty but I kind of put that down to the fact that your brain “thinking” that there should be people there and so making you think there is someone.’
An incident in the bar. which happened late one night, was related to me as ‘We were clearing up one night with the shutter [a security shutter on the bar itself - Ed.] down, it was about 2am. My best friend and I were clearing up. We had put all of the stools up on the seats so the cleaners could get round easily in the morning. Helen [pseudonym] was mopping up in the back room and I was behind the bar I heard someone setting down a stool (which we did when we were about to cash up) and I called to Helen and started to come round from behind the shutter. As I did the stool scraped back as if someone was standing up, this happened just as I was about to come round the shutter. As I got out, Helen was coming through the door at the other end asking if I’d called. She had also heard the chair scrape back. Needless to say that at 2am we didn’t stay long enough to find out what “it” was that had moved the chair!’
Building 1 [pseudonym] is rumoured to be haunted by a handyman/caretaker, nicknamed Fred [pseudonym], who drowned himself. While a number of people are alleged to have witnessed the phantom, it has proved hard to pin anyone down that actually has. Sheila was housed in this property and recalls that it was never a nice place to be alone, although she cannot be entirely sure why. She notes that the building felt very oppressive, particularly the upstairs rooms in the main part. The staircase which leads to these rooms was also considered to be an uncomfortable place to be, particularly at night. The top staircase is particularly singled out as having a strange atmosphere, even during the hours of daylight. While Sheila cannot recall any witnessed phenomena at the house, she comments upon the alleged haunting: ‘People had seen “Fred” but nobody that I know, so I suspect he was exaggerated.’ A view with which I must concur.
Building 2 [pseudonym] is a university residence which tends to be male only. Students, knowing of Sheila’s interest in anything strange that went on in the college, told her a few tales relating to Building 2. One of these students related to Sheila that Building 2 had a ‘funny feeling sometimes’. He said that the main thing that happened was that you would look out of the window at night and you would see your own reflection and also that of somebody else. On turning around there would be nobody else in the room. The reflection was always stated to be nobody that the residents knew. Sheila adds ‘they were all apparently shaken up about it so I did think he was telling the truth. He said that the cleaners were the ones to talk to because they knew more, but I never really got the chance.’
Another report of an unexplained phenomenon that happened at Building 2 was obtained by Sheila from a friend who lived there in his first year. He replied, when asked if he knew of anything at the house, that he knew about the reflections and that he had also witnessed apparitions in the building. He had been standing with a friend in their room during the day when they both witnessed a group of two or three small children standing a little way from them. Unfortunately he did not specify what the children were doing as he watched. It was later discovered, after the history of the house was researched, that the room they now used as a bedroom was apparently once a children’s nursery before it became a part of the university’s accommodation.
From accounts received, Building 3 [pseudonym] appears to be a very haunted building. Sheila stated that it felt like there was a ‘column’ of space within the house from the top storey to the ground floor which felt ‘wrong’. There were three rooms on three floors encompassed by the column. The unease that was witnessed there was not constant, however, though it felt odd more often than not. The room at the top of the building within the column of space is reputed to have less of an atmosphere than the others, but more phenomena are alleged to take place there.
Sheila found out much more about the phenomena in the room after her boyfriend was allocated to it. One of the first experiences that she heard about (it was shared accommodation) was: ‘One of the lads living there was lying in bed one night when he was overcome with fear. He felt someone was really close to him and watching him intensely. He stayed in the room, but put the feeling down to paranoia. The feeling didn’t go away and he said he was convinced that any minute someone was going to jump on him and attack him. So much so that he slept with a knife that night.’
About a month after the above account Sheila had stayed overnight with her boyfriend and relates: ‘We hadn’t been there long, just starting to relax, when Simon [pseudonym] leapt up shouting. He was really scared and white as a sheet.[You should know at this point that Simon is not given to being scared as a rule!]He was shouting and yelling. I asked what was going on and he said something had touched him. He had been lying with his arms stretched out above his head. I asked what he meant, what had touched him, and he said “fingers”. I felt his hand and sure enough it was freezing and only over one patch, where he said the fingers had been.’
About a year after the event described above there were again two lads sharing this room, big and ‘hard’ and not the types to believe in the paranormal, let alone be scared by it. Apparently they had just put out the lights when they both heard someone jump onto their floor over by the window. They said that it sounded ‘as if someone had climbed in and jumped off the window ledge. Needless to say the lights came back on. They said that there was nobody there and the window was shut.’
The room in the column directly below was occupied by a woman, Rona [pseudonym]. This room is alleged to have a very threatening feel to it through the day and night. Sheila commented that it was definitely more uncomfortable when you were on your own, although this feeling must be influenced by everyday fears and phobias. A tale related to me concerns the first night that Rona stayed in the room ,the night before anyone else had arrived for the term. She had all of the copies of the keys to hand out the next day. Having had a strange dream, she woke up at about 3am hearing an odd noise and went to investigate. Having decided that the noise was the fridge, she then heard heavy, brisk footsteps across the hall and an unbelievably loud rapping on her door. Rona, knowing that she was the only one in the building at the time, thought that perhaps someone else had arrived and was coming to tell her they were there. She opened the door to find that nobody was there, then she searched around the building and even checked the front door, which was still double-locked. When she saw the caretaker the next day he had cryptically asked her how she’d slept. She replied that she had woken up in the middle of the night, whereupon he had questioned her about footsteps and knocking at the door. He said the same had happened to him the night before when he had used the room.
This is not an isolated incident. When asked, the occupant from the year before asserted that the same had happened to him on his first night. Subsequently he had slept with the lights on for the whole first term because he had felt so scared.
The lowest of the three rooms is a library which does not feel comfortable at the best of times. Sheila attested: ‘One night my friend and I were working in there. He decided to go upstairs and I stayed to work some more. About half an hour after he left I was working at a computer and I thought I saw the door in front of me open slightly. The door is very heavy and never opened in a breeze or anything (not that there was one). As I watched the door it opened as if someone had pulled it open to come through. Once again I did not stay around for very long. Another thing that used to happen in that room was that you would hear people walking around in the corridor above. This is of course fine in term time when there are people about, but when you are there in the holidays and you know that you are the only one in the building, it is a little more unnerving.’
In another room in the same building a student and male friend of Sheila was lying in bed at night when he felt the presence of (but did not see) six men standing around him. He could hear them talking and from this he ‘knew’ they were monks. They were talking about how he was bravely ill and would probably not make it through the next week or so. After this event the presences are reported to have just faded away. This is an important witnessed phenomenon because the building is thought to be built on the site of a monastery.
Sheila has herself witnessed an apparition in this building. Her report of the incident is as follows: ‘We were standing on the landing of the library stairs one day. I happened to glance up to the top just in time to see a really beautiful young woman walk past the top of the stairs and through a wall. She was dressed in a long gown, it was yellow with white lace. She had dark hair, which was swept up into a bun affair. When I saw her I was just amazed. We went upstairs just to check that it couldn’t have been someone wandering around or anything, but there was nobody around and anyway, she had walked through the wall!’
I am fortunate enough to know Beryl [pseudonym] who, while in charge of the cleaning team in Building 4 [pseudonym], witnessed a paranormal event. The top floor of the building had a reputation among the cleaners for being an eerie venue at night, some of them refusing to work on the floor at night. Beryl was working on the top floor between 7 and 8.30 pm, sorting out the cleaners’ cupboard. The cupboard was a large walk in type, outside of which was a 1.5m tall artificial tree. This tree started to shake on its own, while Beryl was inside the cupboard. Beryl reported the occurrence as: ‘I thought it was Jimmy [pseudonym] the porter larking about and shaking the tree until the leaves were rustling. I told him to pack it in, but when I came out of the cupboard there was nobody there. I went to Jimmy who turned out to be on the ground floor. He stated that he had not been on the top floor all night.’
When further questioned, Beryl remembered that the tree started to shake only when she had entered the cupboard. It stopped rustling briefly when she shouted for the porter to stop larking about and then resumed until just before she came out of the cupboard. No similar phenomena have been reported.
The above recorded phenomena are, I suspect, but the scratching of the surface. The problem lies in getting the students to admit that they have witnessed anything out of the ordinary – in case their friends think them strange. Nonetheless the work of collating the paranormal events at the University continues as and when the cases present themselves.
This article first appeared in Anomaly vol 26