Happy Halloween and welcome to my spooky first blog post. As part of my Digital Media Apprenticeship, I have been sourcing some interesting images and poetry from the Pavilion Blues newspaper. The newspaper was produced by patients who were recovering from their injuries in the Pavilion Hospital for Limbless Men during the First World War. This is an article from December 1919 about Halton Grange (now Runcorn Town Hall) and a Sergeant’s encounter with the supernatural.
The Ghost of Halton Grange
First published in the Pavilion Blues, December, 1919
The day was bitterly cold and the sky was heavy, as the wind blew an icy blast through the tree tops.
Snow had now commenced to fall in great flakes. The occupants of the hut huddled closer to the fire, sitting there, expressionless and silent. It was Christmas Eve; many of them, no doubt, were thinking of home ties, before being called to the colours. The door suddenly opened and the sergeant in charge entered, glancing at the boys he wished them a Merry Christmas. ‘The worst time I ever had,’ said Edwards, a raw recruit yet in his teens. ‘There’s Dodger, been a trying to cheer us up with singing Christmas Carols, and Nobby telling us the most fearful ghost stories, now, you Sergeant, comes and wishes us merry Christmas.’
‘Ghost stories, eh? Answered the Sergeant, ‘Speaking of them, that just reminds me of a little incident that happened with this Regiment not many miles from London, some years ago.’
‘I am sure the lads would like to hear it, wouldn’t you, boys? Said Nobby.’
The Sergeant glanced at the company for approval, seeing they were looking at him expectant. He soon made himself comfortable with them around the fire.
‘I had not long been in the service,’ commenced the Sergeant, ‘When I had the satisfaction of unveiling the mystery of Halton Grange.’
‘It happened like this. Not far from the Barracks there stood on a hill a fine old English Mansion. It was surrounded with a high wall, a large imposing gate for an entrance. For the past two years it had many tenants. Weird noises were heard at night, and it soon had the reputation of being haunted. Many boys of the Regiment swore they had seen a figure glide mysteriously through the gate, and disappear in the garden. At that time I took no notice of the different tales told about the place, as I knew that after leaving the canteen, the lads might have imagined anything. One night as I was passing the Grange, I was astonished to see running towards me, Billie Roist. Now Billie was no coward, he had stood up to many of the best men of the battalion in the ring. Knowing that of him, I was thoroughly knocked when he reached me and fell in a dead faint at my feet. On getting him to consciousness, he commenced to babble about the awful yell that came from the house and swore that he saw a figure disappear suddenly in the grounds, as if the earth opened and swallowed him up, giving at the same time the noise complained of.’
‘I succeeded at last in getting him to Barracks after he had pulled himself together, we had a consultation on the subject and it was decided that we should make a thorough inspection of the house and grounds the next evening.’
‘At the appointed time we both set out for our observations both of us being armed with a service Colt revolver. Nearing the Grange, a solitary figure could be seen going ahead of us. Billie recognised him at once. He was one of our chaps named Arden-Brooks. He had been serving with the regiment for three years; there was some mystery attached to him. It was said that he had been a student of Oxford University, studying for surgery and medicine, failed his exams, and not daring to face his people, joined the army. We both followed him, keeping a good distance behind. Billie clutched my arm, as Brooks, giving a quick glance around, climbed the wall, and dropped on the other side. Keenly on the alert, we slowly advanced, but not a trace of him could be found. At last I made a discovery, illuminated by a shaft of moonlight shot down between the trees, what looked like an old well, proved to be an ingeniously built vault, cunningly concealed by a growth of ivy.’
‘So far we had heard and seen nothing unusual. Both of us drew our revolvers, and began to descend slowly down the vault. On going below the earth to the depth of about six feet, we found ourselves firmly established on terra firma. It was pitch dark, Billie fumbled about in his tunic pocket for a candle that he had brought on lighting it we received a startling shock, for there staring us in the face was a passage, apparently leading to the Grange. At the end of it a gleam of light was streaming through the crack of an old door. Billie and I crept silently towards it. Billie meanwhile, had blown his candle out. Suddenly an awful shriek came from behind the door that we were now approaching. I felt myself shivering from head to toe. I heard Billie mutter, ‘Good God, Sergeant, what’s that?’ My teeth were chattering too much to answer him, but grasping his arm firmly I led him to the door and peeped through. What I saw was one of the queerest sights I have ever seen. Brooks was bending over a huge boar hound it was stretched out on an old table, its legs firmly fastened at both ends. He had administered an anaesthetic and gently injecting the animal with some sort of fluid from a syringe. Billie by now had got his eye glued to the keyhole, ‘Sergeant,’ he said, ‘I can’t stand this,’ and with that he threw his whole weight against the door; with a crash the door tumbled down, throwing Billie headlong into the room and I following, Brooks staggered back, all of a sudden made a flying leap at Billie. I yelled a warning to him, but too late, he gave Billie a blow on the head with some instrument that he had picked up on us entering. My brain was conjuring up what I should do. I levelled my revolver at him; he went ghastly, his eyes blood-shot, I could sense danger as I gradually made my way nearer to him. At that moment the dog set up a mournful howl, the anaesthetic had just worked off. I glanced round hurriedly, Brooks taking advantage of my distracted attention, jumped clear of the broken door, and was soon lost to sight down the passage. I had now time to look around, first attending to Billie who soon recovered, the blow just making him a little dazed. Not caring to let the dog loose, we soon put the dog out of his misery. The room, we soon found out, was situated under the Grange, and at one time or other has given access to the kitchen, for what had once been a door had been bricked up; undoubtedly the strange noises heard, had been from various animals that Brooks had experimented with at different times. The room was simply littered with various surgical instruments that Billie and I knew nothing about. Packing them up carefully, we made our way back to the barracks, duly reporting the facts to the Guard room. The next day Brooks was reported as an absentee, and still remains so till this day. Some times afterwards, a body was found floating in the Thames, the description given of it was suspiciously like Brooks, but no one could swear to it.’
Needless to say, the Mansion after this soon found a tenant. I believe our O.C bought it. I have nothing more to say, only that the Ghost of Halton Grange is still spoken of by some of the old soldiers now serving the Battalion.
Nicola Adams, Digital Media Apprentice