OAK COTTAGE HAUNTING
by Colin Randall
A great deal is known about the history of ‘Oak Cottage’ (pseudonym) . The current owner believes that a previous tenant is haunting the building. Alerted by media interest, a team that included ASSAP investigators went to see if there was anything to the alleged haunting. Early results were, indeed, promising.
Oak Cottage [pseudonym] is a pleasant dwelling situated in a picturesque town. The cottage is in the oldest part of the main street. We are concerned with the right-hand cottage in a terrace of three. Before the cottages were built, the site was that of River House [pseudonym].
Stepping through the 18th-century front of the cottage, one is greeted by a staircase that looks far too grand and out of proportion to the house. It is built of Canadian pine, stained to make it look dark and old, possibly built around 1900-1905.
The back of the house looks older than the front. Sally [pseudonym], the present owner of the house, believes the kitchen to have been altered at some stage. She tells a story of how a visitor who had been sleeping in the front room awoke terrified to see a ghostly figure walk through the wall from the kitchen. Sally had then taken a hammer to the spot on the wall and discovered an unsuspected hidden lintel, evidence of an old doorway of years ago.
The dining room smells musty, probably indicating dampness. The original name of the house referred to a stream that ran nearby and, indeed, under the floor. Dowsing rods have been used, appearing to show water under the dining room and through into the garden.
From old maps evidence has been uncovered that the front of the house was built out into part of the original main street, by what had been a wider market place in the past. Observing the stone wall at the rear of the house, one can see changes in the courses of stone. A small narrow stone course indicates the original height of the building, marking the line of eaves of a lower roof. The splayed walls of a cupboard show that at one time this had been an exterior wall. Another old window was also found in another cupboard showing splaying down to the ground, indicating that these windows had at one point had a seat below them.
It has been deduced that what now appears as a terrace of cottages was in fact built onto the front of a building of two rooms’ width. Also, at some time the roof was removed and a complete upstairs added. Other buildings nearby have been altered in a similar way, making the main street much narrower than it was originally. Oak Cottage is, it would appear, much older than had been assumed at first sight.
Sally has a theory that her ghost is one Ellen Moss [pseudonym], who lived in the house during the first half of the nineteenth century. A plaque in the local church commemorates Ellen and her husband Charles [pseudonym]. Charles was a successful, wealthy young businessman, and the house was listed as a malt house, brew house and a dwelling. He died in 1811, aged 45 years.
Sally believes that the ghost disapproves of liquor. Sally and a friend have witnessed a bottle of wine falling from a rack and tipping its contents over her.
Ellen lived on to 1845 and it was she who planted the tree that gave its name to the cottage in the rear garden between 1826 and 1828. Around this period her nephew lived with her, prompting her to add to the house in 1830, building over the stream. Charles had already extended the house forward to the main street some forty years previously.
After Ellen Moss the house passed to Henry Tate [pseudonym], who on his death gave it to his two daughters who lived there until 1920. It was these two sisters who had the grand staircase built.
River House was then split up by the next owner in 1933. It has been discovered that there was an estate owned by a man called Thoroughgood [pseudonym] and a deed in another name referred to an original building on the site dated 25 July 1494. Oak Cottage is thus thought to have originally been a medieval longhouse more than five hundred years ago.
The grounds of Oak Cottage once consisted of a long, narrow strip running away from the building. Similar strips were repeated along the main street, each with separate boundaries. The presence of such a pattern of strips has led to the conclusion that the basic shape of the landscape is more than 4,000 years old. Oak Cottage’s boundaries thus extend back in time to the Bronze Age.
Events Reported by Witnesses
Michael Lewis, ASSAP’s NIC, was alerted to this case by the media. He then got in touch with me with a view to attempting an investigation. I got in touch with the current owner of the cottage, and a meeting with Sally was arranged. On my arrival we chatted about what had happened in the house over a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Then to my surprise we both felt a cold draught, and a smell suddenly arrived at the same time. Sally said that a presence had just come in. I could feel goose pimples and the hairs on my neck standing on end. Thinking this was a good start, we arranged a date for an all-night vigil on Tuesday 22 April.
The front room is a pleasant setting, full of fine antiques and nick-nacks, not one you might normally associate with a ghost. It was here, however, that Ellen Moss expired in a corner in a chair (date 1856), to be found later by her maid. At times there is a strong smell of a decomposing corpse in the vicinity. Also in this room is the original exterior wall, now dividing the front room from the kitchen. There used to be a door in this wall, but it has now gone. The site of the original doorway is where Sally’s friend had seen the figure coming through the wall. There are also strange events reported in the kitchen, such as cooking smells when no one is preparing any meals. Also there are smells of polish from time to time.
It is said that the ghost does not like doors being closed and goes round opening them. This phenomenon has been noticed by members of the media who have visited the cottage. A particular instance of this concerns the toilet. It is claimed that if you visit the toilet and bolt the door, when you come to leave the room the door will be unbolted.
A sound of walking is heard on the landing floor from time to time. Bangs are also heard on a window upstairs. The sound of scratching has been heard on a particular window from time to time. On subsequent examination, scratch marks have been found where there were none before.
Sally talks to the ghost who, she claims, replies. It reportedly told her that the fireplace was of a recent date and, if removed, there was a better one behind. This was apparently done and proved indeed to be the case.
The ghost is also reported to have claimed that under or inside the eponymous tree in the garden lies the ‘fortune of the house’. Years ago the tree was used as a meeting and vantage point for smugglers. There is a tunnel leading to one of the three dwellings on the site of Oak Cottage. This was presumably used by the smugglers. Alas, it has long been bricked up.
The appointed day arrived for our visit to Oak Cottage. Our party included three ASSAP investigators (Joanne Darwood, Philip Upton and myself) as well as John Girvan, an historian, and John McGraw, a spiritualist. On arrival we introduced ourselves and began to settle in for the night. Several photographs were taken of the house, internally and externally, of the front and back. A quick tour inside made everyone aware of what went on and where.
The original plan had been for seven people to meet at the cottage, but in the event only five could make it. My previously planned rota thus then had to be amended.
As Sally and her friend Hilary [pseudonym] were also staying the night, we decided to all sit quietly in the front room, in a relaxed pose, hoping Sally or Hilary might be able to make contact with ‘Ellen’.
At 9.05 pm John McGraw, sitting in a chair by the bay window, reported the presence of a woman said to be excited by our being there.
9.07 pm: Still in the front room, seven people were present. The temperature was recorded at 15.7°C. John McGraw reported a feeling in his hands described as ‘a sense of tiredness and being worn-out - a sensation of arthritis’. Then after a few minutes he got up with a headache and feeling of depression.
9.15 pm: Hilary, Sally and Joanne all saw shadows apparently moving anti-clockwise around the room, which seemed to disappear in Joanne’s seat area (Ellen’s seat). I took a photograph under direction from Sally as I could not see the shadows myself.
9.20 pm: Hilary reported sensing the presence of ‘Ellen’ as well as a small blonde girl and a man, all in the front room. These sensed presences persisted for 5-10 minutes. Sally walked around the house to see if she could pick them up again, but without success.
9.47 pm: John McGraw held Hilary’s pendant, dangling from his fingers. Seconds later it started to make small circular, swinging motions, then to my surprise it was seemingly snatched from his hand by something unseen. It dropped on the floor over a metre away with John left holding a couple of links in his fingers. On picking up the pendant and looking at the chain, there were no broken links to be seen.
10.05 pm: I sat in a chair by the bay window and felt a headache and feeling of depression. The feeling later passed away after I had left the chair. John decided to walk around the house for a while. On his return to the front room some time later he reported a cold presence.
Joanne entered the bathroom, carefully bolting the door as she entered (to see if the door would be unbolted). After she had waited 5 or so minutes and nothing happened, she unbolted the door. There was then a bang on the window, which then vibrated.
10.12 pm: The temperature in the front room was recorded to be 18.2°C.
10.17 pm: The presence of ‘Ellen’ was reported again in the front room. Most of the group felt a peaceful, sleepy atmosphere.
11.30 pm: It was now time to start the formal vigil. As I was two people short of the original vigil team, new plans were made. Joanne and John McGraw decided to spend a couple of hours in the front room. John Girvan, Philip Upton and I elected to stay in the hall and staircase area. As we could not cover the rest of the house so easily, John G. decided to sit in the kitchen for two hours on his own.
Philip sat near the bottom of the staircase, and I was stationed upstairs in the corridor watching the landing and bathroom areas.
As I sat on my own on the landing, Sally and Hilary bid us ‘happy ghost hunting’ and said goodnight, each retiring to bedrooms off the landing. At last all seemed quiet as the vigil really began.
12.10 am: I heard creaks like footsteps along the landing. Though all the lights were on I could not see any movement.
12.25 am: Hilary got up to visit the bathroom. On her return I asked her to close the bathroom door. I noted that her steps sounded similar to the creaks I had heard earlier but were not as heavy.
12.40 am: The telephone rang in Sally’s bedroom, and there followed a lengthy chat.
1.10 am: Sally visited the bathroom. Again I noticed that there were hardly any creaks on the floorboards as she passed by. After closing the bathroom door, she retired to her own room, closing the door behind her. Silence again settled on the house.
1.17 am: Heavy creaks were again heard on the landing, though once again nothing was seen.
1.30 am: Everyone assembled back in the front room for a snack and a quick chat. John G. had been sitting in the kitchen and John M. in the front room. They were unknowingly sitting either side of the old blocked-up doorway. They both reported that at 11.42 pm a strange scratching noise was heard from within the wall, sounding rather like an old door opening. Neither of them saw anything, however.
We then had a changeover; Philip went to the kitchen, John M. to the landing, Joanne to the hall, and John G. and myself to the front room. Our findings were as follows.
Nothing was reported in the front room, but Joanne said she became very cold at 3.20 am. I joined her to check the temperature - it was 17.5°C. As we both became aware of a sudden cold chill, we observed the kitchen door latch click. The door opened about 15cm. Philip asked us who had opened the door. When we told him no one had, he was surprised.
3.33 am: Everyone, except Philip, assembled in the front room again, taking our seats in different places around the room. I noticed that the temperature started to drop. The door was open and the window was closed and shuttered with four people in the room. The temperature began dropping constantly, going from 16.9 to 16.2°C, by 3.48 am. It then remained between 16.1°C and 16.2°C. John M. had the cat sitting on his lap. It had been quite settled, when at 4.05 am the temperature dropped to 15.9°C, whereupon the cat got up and wandered about, seemingly unable to settle.
4.06 am: There was a bang on the fireplace which was heard by all four of us present.
4.18 am: Philip entered the front room, closing the door behind him. The temperature was then recorded at 15.8°C.
4.35 am: The temperature dropped to 15.6°C.
5.10 am: Everyone agreed that it now felt very cold. Several people put on extra garments. The temperature continued to drop going down to 15.2°C.
5.15 am: The temperature remained between 15.2 and 15.3°C.
We all sat relatively quietly for the remainder of the vigil. The temperature remained at 15.3°C.
When Sally awoke she enquired about the night’s events. On retiring to bed, she had closed her door. On rising she found it wide open.
That was our first vigil in Oak Cottage, which we found quite eventful. We left at 7.00 am after thanking Sally for allowing us to spend the night in her house.
A subsequent vigil was uneventful. In spite of that a third one is planned given the promising indications from the first night.
Editor’s Note: The recorded temperature variations seem quite modest overall and to be expected overnight. The feelings of coldness that overtake everyone late in the night have been reported in other rather less eventful vigils. They are probably physiological in origin.
This article first appeared in Anomaly 21 Nov 1997