One very strange happening happened to my Dad, Fred, and myself when, in 1970, I accompanied my father down to his parents’ house at number 39, Hartshorne Road. Both his father, Will, and then his mother, Fanny, had recently died, within a few months of each other, both in hospital at Burton-on-Trent, with Fanny unaware of Will’s demise.
Fred was paying regular visits to the property, presumably attempting little by little to clear the house out so that it could be resold. At the time, as a teenager, I was unaware of this, although, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had been, and I could perhaps have stopped him from throwing away so many of Will’s Great War souvenirs such as his Canadian Army uniform, his German soldier’s belt and his collection of old German guns and ammunition. Here’s the front of a very average semi-detached house. The only thing left nowadays from my Grandma and Grandad’s occupancy of No 39 is the sign above the front door. It reads “Holmgarth”, the name given to their house by the first family ever to live there. Here’s the house:
As we entered the deserted house through the front door, I walked through the hall towards the kitchen. Then I distinctly heard the upstairs toilet flush. I turned round and asked Fred, who was following me through the door and into the hall, how this could have happened, and who it could have been, given that we both knew that the house was locked up and empty.
Fred gave me some non-committal answer at the time, but afterwards, perhaps when he had regained his composure, he told me that, as he was a little way behind me, he had been able to look up the stairs at the sudden noise of the toilet being flushed. He had seen his father, Will, walk out of the toilet, across the short landing and into the bedroom.
Fred, of course, had always maintained that his own house, number 9, Hartshorne Road was haunted. Or rather the garden was, because on a quiet, windless summer’s evening, even though nobody in the two nearby houses smoked a pipe, it was occasionally possible to smell the distinctive aroma of pipe tobacco in the garden. This, Fred explained, was the ghost of one of the railway workers at the next door goods station, who, in the 1930s, was exceptionally keen on working in the evenings in the extensive station house garden. Just once, ironically enough, I smelled that same smell of tobacco, when it was my own turn to visit Fred’s house to clear it for resale after his death.
Let’s look back briefly at No 39 though. As I mucked around with the scan of the original photograph in an effort to improve it, using my entire suite of sophisticated activities (Adjust levels, brightness, colour balance, contrast and image size) I noticed something really weird. Here we are:
There seem to have been faces at the window that my Dad didn’t see as he took the original photograph. Can you see them? I enlarged the photograph. They were still there: