by Frank E Earp
Laughing ghost: In the early 1970’s Wollaton Park became the venue for an annual Festival, (the first of many which are now held in the City). During these events the Hall remains open to the public. It was at the first Nottingham Festival that phantom laughter was heard coming from the cave known as the Admirals Bath. A guide had taken a party of visitors around the Hall finishing the tour with a visit to the cellars and Admirals Bath, – a part of the building not normally open to the public. Ushering the last of the party out, the guide went back to lock up. The man was later to report that he heard the distinct sound of laughter coming from the cave containing the bath chamber. Believing that a member of the public had been left-behind, he entered the cave, only to find it completely empty.
Ghostly girl or trick of acoustics?: Since it first passed into public hands, Wollaton Hall has played its part in the education system. In 1975, the resident ‘Schools Officer’, Margaret Mitchell, had her office in the north-east tower. In the newspaper article she relates a strange incident which had happen a few weeks prier to the interview; “I was right up at the top of the tower. The rooms there are used for storage. I was walking past one of them when I heard a child’s voice inside. I didn’t catch the words, but she seemed to be excited and laughing. It was a girl. I knew there was no one in the room and it was locked”. In an effort of apparent self reassurance, Margaret went on to offer a possible logical explanation for the phantom voice. “I can only assume it was a voice echoing in the room from the garden outside. It’s an example of the funny acoustics in this place”.
The Minstrel Gallery: According to the 1975 article, many of the staff working in the Hall after the public had left the building had experienced hearing phantom footsteps on the many stairs, in a number of rooms and on one occasion, on a garden path. Stanley (Stan) Whadcoat recalled how, around 20 months earlier, he and another attendant were standing by the inquiry desk around 7p.m. The building was empty but for the two attendants. Suddenly, there was the sound of what Stan described as a low whistle followed by footsteps on the floor of the Minstrel Gallery. The noise was distinct enough for Stan to discern that the footsteps were travelling from left to right. Stan’s colleague commented that he thought someone must still be in the Hall and Stan went to find the lost visitor. Although he explored the gallery and both rooms either side, Stan could find know-one. Just as Stan had returned to the inquiry desk, the two men heard the same low whistle and footsteps in the Gallery. Stan did not investigate a second time.
Terrified electrician: There are numerous accounts of staff and visitors hearing the sound of phantom footsteps, but perhaps the most terrifying experience comes from 1973 at a time when the Hall was being rewired. An electrician working alone on the spiral staircase of the north tower, abandoned his tools and fled the building in a state of panic. Stan, one of the attendants on duty at the time, recalls that the man exited without saying a word and never returned. The electrician later gave an account of his experience. He claimed that he had distinctly heard the sound of footsteps ascending the uncarpeted wooden treads from the floor below. As the footsteps grew closer, in order to make room for the person to pass on the narrow staircase, the man pressed himself against the wall. However, as the footsteps went by, it was not a person which passed the man, but an icy blast of cold air.
Strange Coincidence? Although phantom footsteps are a common form of haunting, there seems to be a preponderance of this form of para normal activity in the Wollaton area. In previous Topper articles and in my book, ‘The A to Z of Curious Nottinghamshire, I have related three ghost stories personnel to my family. Each of these relates to the sound of phantom footsteps being heard by the witness. One story concerns the old railway-hut on the line to Wollaton Colliery. Those occupying the hut on cold frosty mornings reported frequently hearing footstep on the ballast outside. The phantom visitor never seemed to arrive at the hut and if anyone should look out of the door no-one was ever around. The second story is of the flooded and disused workings at the Colliery. Here the ghost can be both be seen and heard. The sound of someone wadding through the water accompanied by the bobbing light of a minor’s head-lamp is witnessed by those foolish enough to enter the workings. Again, the phantom never seems to get any closer. Perhaps this is because no-one has stood around long enough to greet the ghost?
Charlie at Halfway House: Perhaps the best known of my family ghost stories is that of Charlie. Charlie is the name given by my grandfather to the apparition which haunted the house where I was born. Halfway House on Woodyard Lane Wollaton was a house very much connected to the history of the Hall and its estate. As its name suggests, it was halfway between Wollaton Hall and Aspley Hall, both owned by different branches of the Middleton family. Around four times a year – one around Christmas, – phantom footsteps would be heard climbing the stairs to one of the bedrooms. After a pause at the top of the stairs, and inky blackness would enter the room via the door and pass out through the opposite wall. On these occasions, my grandfather, who always seemed to know when they were going to occur would say; “Go to bed early tonight, Charlie is walking!”.
Charlie in the Stables: I finish this article with another coincidence, (or is it?). Don Wyatt, the attendant who lived with his wife in the Hall’s stable block, related in the 1975 newspaper article how the flat was haunted: “Bedroom doors left closed overnight are often open next morning. Several times we have heard footsteps on the stairs followed by a knock on the door, but there has been nobody there. Twice the door the door of the flat ha opened, there has been a cold draught and the fire has gone out. We’ve got used to it. We just say it’s old Charlie walking again!”