By Julia Thompson
With literally hundreds of paranormal sightings, what better way to spend Halloween, than ghost hunting at Brighton’s most haunted house, the spooky Preston Manor?
Photos used under Creative Commons from Dominic Alves
It is very cold and very dark. I am sitting on a rusty old bath trying very hard to compel my mind to sense something: an icy breeze, a distant cackle, a hand on my shoulder, maybe.
The distant cackle is the first to arrive. The hand on my shoulder comes next. The door to the ancient bathroom swings open and a plump silhouette appears. She steps into the room sniggering, places her hand on my shoulder and smiles, her rosy, rounded face lighting up at the possibility that she may have frightened me.
Disappointingly she is not a ghost; her name is Sally and she is our tour guide.
Sally had locked us in the pitch-black room in the hope that we would experience the evil presence of an angry friar who murdered a pregnant nun in 1535. After a very patient 15-minute wait the closest thing I got to a ghostly experience was the odd gust of hot air on the back on my neck. But I am pretty certain that this can be attributed to the 15 other people squashed inside the 8ft by 4ft room with me.
It looks like the friar isn’t home today. It seems he does make the odd appearance when he is particularly angry, however. Sue Cousins, who works in the Manor’s shop tells me about a time when she had to lock up the building alone one night. She said: “I went up to close the window in the bathroom and I walked in and the door shut behind me and the light went off. I turned the doorknob and the door wouldn’t open; it was like it was locked. He prays on your biggest fears, you see. I’m scared of small spaces and he knew that. I was terrified, I had to sit down and tell him I wasn’t scared over and over, even though I was.”
The Friar is said to have been enraged at the nun’s pregnancy, and in an attempt to cover it up, murdered her and buried her in the Manor’s grounds. Unsurprisingly, the nun, thought to be called Sister Agnes was not best pleased about this, and her restless soul has roamed the house and grounds ever since. There have been numerous sightings of the nun, known as The Lady in White since the 16th Century, with many people reportedly seeing her leaning out of the window on the top landing.
Sally is everything a great storyteller should be: dramatic, funny and unpredictable. Her arms flail as she talks, her voice alternates from high-pitched shrieks to deep, sinister tones and it is clear she truly believes in everything she tells us.
She leads us down a creaky wooden staircase, past ancient family portraits and pristine 19th century ornaments, into what she describes as the most significant room in the house. Here, we are again plunged into total darkness and told about the famous séance that was held in this very room in 1896. Apparently, a medium managed to make contact with the White Lady and discovered that she could not rest because she was denied a proper Christian burial.
There is definitely something strangely eerie about the room. I am sure the darkness and the howling wind outside probably does not do much to take away from the creepy atmosphere, but it feels like it is more than that. A few people in the group report feeling slightly strange after leaving the room and one woman tells us she could suddenly smell very sweet perfume. Sally informs us that other visitors have smelled the same thing on different occasions, and that upper-class Victorian women often wore this kind of scent.
When Living TV’s Most Haunted filmed at the Manor in 2006, they described it as one of the most haunted places they had ever been too. The show’s host, Yvette Fielding said: “We were thrilled by our experiences at Preston Manor. The house has a fascinating history and our investigations were more than fully rewarded. Karl is convinced he was confronted by the Manor’s White Lady!’
The 800-year-old house has been kept in exactly the same condition it was left in when the last remaining family member handed it over to the Council in 1933. The Manor is now a museum reflecting upper-class family life before and after the Second World War. However, the ghostly-goings-on continue to be a source of curiosity for many people.
Whether you are a self-confessed ghost hunter or the world’s biggest sceptic, Preston Manor’s ghost tours are certainly a lot of fun. If you think you are brave enough you might even want to attend one of their famous séances.
Tours cost £12 and can be booked at Brighton and Hove Museum’s website.