The rivalry between British and Japanese ghosts

japanese ghost rivalry

I had no idea of the concern aired in the early 20th century by the keepers of all things paranormal regarding the potential usurping of the traditional British ghost by the Japanese variety. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Daily Mail, but I have to say that this article from 1933 opened my eyes to the rivalry that existed at the time. The author of the article does ultimately declare that the Japanese hitodama is a worthy contender for the spectral throne but equally I have read a number of earlier newspaper articles that are less impressed by these foreign phantoms. Does anyone know more about this subject?

Daily Mail, 1933

‘There seem to be no bounds to this Japanese competition with Britain. If there is one staple commodity of ours which has hitherto feared no comparison with foreign rivals it is the British ghost. He seemed a natural by product of our Tudor architecture. The panelled walls and stone-flagged passages of the moated granges and turreted castles of Britain provided an environment most favourable for his development, which was assisted by the gloomy and predominantly misty character of our climate. It might have been thought impossible for a, country whose houses are built of flimsy wood and paper to compete with us in this respect. After two visits to the Tokyo Ghost Exhibition I regret to report, however, that in eeriness, blood-curdling horror, malevolence, and general spookiness the Japanese ghost is in no way inferior to the British article.

Fortunately for our native spectres, however, the otherwise most efficient phantoms of Japan have a structural defect which renders them instantly recognisable. No attempt at Japanese spirit-dumping can possibly delude British ghost-hunters into the belief that they are being offered a genuine homebred apparition. The difference lies in the fact that Japanese ghosts have no legs. Down to the waist they correspond to the best European models. The form is generally cadaverous, and of a graveyard pallor. The dank hair’ falls in matted disorder over eyes that smoulder with a baleful glow. The hands are long, and skeletonised, and arc carried breast-high. But the legs merely taper off into a wisp of greyish vapour. Thus the Japanese ghost cannot walk; he merely floats along. Such traditional British effects as phantom footsteps or the dragging of chains are impossible for him. Continue reading

The Dark Conjurer of Batcombe

Batcombe church, Conjurer Minterne

I had been a rogue; worse some might say. Though in my defence, neither a murderer, nor snitch, nor liar, and my philandering was nothing to dwell upon — an honest thief you might say! Indeed, my career had not been of an entirely villainous order; though, I had seen fit to trouble the magistrate on two occasions.

But this was the city of London – wicked and corrupt, and spawning the likes of I. It had required far less time than I had served at His Majesty’s pleasure to conclude that it was no longer the place for a man of my considerable talents, for a better man at a lock or window you couldn’t find. When the key turned in its iron mantle, I was off like the wind.

The Prisoners’ Aid Society found me a job, on board a ship, coal trimming. I’ve never trimmed a scuttle full of coal, and as for a life on the ocean wave why, I’d much rather walk the plank! (I get seasick you see, even if I so much as think of taking a walk on a pier.) So I said “Thank you, but no,” and, getting a few tools together, I looked round for a job in my own line. But, as I had refused Society’s offer, the police were very anxious to know what exactly I did intend to do, and there wasn’t a minute of the day and night that there wasn’t somebody in “plain clothes” hovering about, watching me. So, when my last bob was spent, I beat if for the sticks.

Now, as house-breaking was my game, I had to choose carefully, well away from your average copper, and in an area where property was not so close together as to cause a swarm if there was a holler. So, with the smell and taste of London behind me, I set off for Dorsetshire where I knew there to be an assortment of villages ripe for busting. But it was hard work — all I got for my trouble was plenty of grub and any bits of clothing I wanted. Everybody in the country seemed to sleep with their cash-box and jewel-case under their pillow, and I never was a man to make any fuss or disturbance.

So here I was, on this November evening, tramping the Dorset hills without a bean in the world. It was a fair beast of a November evening, too. Dark, wet and cold. The road appeared to follow the edge of the downs, for, far away below, I could see the twinkle of a light here and there, but to the left there was nothing but the darkness and the rain. I was very wet and very tired, but the cursed road seemed to stretch on endlessly, without any sign of a shelter. Continue reading

Up at Littlecote

Littlecote legend

The evening was already falling; the shades of autumn were shrouding the wooded hill above the Kennet, as a traveller halted to consider his way to the town of Hungerford. He had managed to gain access to the park, but could not discover any road out of it without rendering himself liable to an accusation of trespass. Here, dressed in fading light, the leaves rustled with an ominous manner, though scarce a breath of wind fanned his cheeks; and as the man thought of retracing his steps, a light suddenly twinkled out from an old manor house in the valley beckoning him to follow it.

He was about to descend the hill through the wood; indeed, he had already taken some steps in that direction, when he became conscious of someone by his side. The evening was still sufficiently light to enable him to see anyone near him, but although he fancied he could hear, and even perceive the disturbance of the leaves by his side, he could see no one.

All this while the dim light still burned in the solitary window of the house. What did it portend? Suddenly, as with the sweeping by of a mist, the intruder became aware of a female figure with a child in her arms passing before him. She was grey and silent, so too the infant. So surprised was he, that he checked himself suddenly, fell heavily, and lay for a while half-stunned.

In this plight, he was found by a labourer, who assisted him to the high road, and there he soon gained shelter, but his guide shook his head when he spoke of the woman, and hinted at some terrible deed in which the “old family” had been implicated.

“That maybe were the haunted room in which ye saw the light,” remarked the man. “Anyone will tell ye the tale of it. It’s well known hereabouts, and they say it’s true. P’r’aps she appeared to you, sir?!”

Instantly, the traveller’s mind was overwhelmed by such an inconceivable thought. Did something reach out to him? Something of the past? With some trepidation he sought to elicit all the facts from the labourer regarding the mystery — and the particulars follow in due order. Continue reading

A Tale of Chirbury has been published in ‘Darker Times Anthology, Vol 3’ – Amazon Kindle and Paperback

Darker Times Anthology Volume Three

The short stories here range from the plain gruesome to the psychologically sinister, black comedy to gritty drama, the playfully spooky to the downright disturbing. The winning stories were picked for their style, their technique, their originality, or their ability to invoke something ‘dark’ within the reader: fear, despair, doubt, regret, loneliness, pain. These aren’t just stories that will have you wondering what’s lurking under your bed or hiding in your closet; they’ll have you looking into your own life, peering into your past, glancing at your own personal ghosts. When you start delving into the darker times, it’s hard to get back to the light.

A Tale of Chirbury by PJ Hodge

A door to Chirbury Church

A Tale of Chirbury

Drowning of a maiden

hannah phillips, astley abbotts

Step into St. Calixtus, a church in the sleepy Shropshire hamlet of Astley Abbotts, and walk a path around the nave to find glass-encased and dripping wax-like the remnants of the funeral of Hannah Phillips, sitting unadorned and still of childish innocence. Upon an iron rod hangs the maiden’s garland; its heart-shaped frame holding her gloves, decorated with cloth and ribbons faded and yellowed. This sad feature, like garlands before and after, has served as a reminder of the death of a bride-to-be, cut down just a short time before her wedding. Upon the arrangement, chaplets of white paper flowers and a ribbon-like piece of paper saying, in still legible handwriting, that it commemorates Hannah Phillips who drowned whilst crossing the Severn on the eve of her wedding, May 10th 1707.

The Phillips family lived on the far side of the river, and years ago, there used to be a place where people could ford the channel. A day or two before her wedding, Hannah set off for the church to help with the preparations. And she was never seen alive again.

Locals say that she slipped at the ford and drowned, her body finding its way to a sunken cave lying below the ford. The only item found was her small clutch bag, floating in a shallow pool further downstream.

Maiden's garland, Hannah Phillips, Astley Abbotts

If it had not been for the maiden garland hanging in the church, this sad little story may have been forgotten — and for the greater part it was — until the early 20th century that is, when sightings of Hannah’s ghost began to be reported…

Mr and Mrs Owen moved into Little Severn Hall, a pretty riverside house north of Bridgnorth nearly forty years ago. A few years later, Mr Owen was returning home one evening by car. Though the skies had begun to darken, the road and hedgerows were still reasonably lit. Just up the road from his house, past the farm, between Severn Hall and The Boldings, was a lay-by with some oak trees, opposite a field with a little pool. As he approached the widening, he was shocked to see a woman appear, from out of the hedge, hovering a short distance above the road, and gently drifting to the other side.

With no time to turn, he came upon the woman, and in the instant he would have collided with the shape, it disappeared. What he had seen was a young woman, about five feet tall, in dark, drab clothes. She wore a long skirt, which reached to the ground, and a shawl pulled up over her head. He saw a side view of her as she floated across the road; the person was slim and wore clothes of an earlier time, though not fancy, more country working class. And she never looked to either side of her.

Mr Owen told a neighbour about this the next day — at that time, he knew little of the history of the area. This man told him the story of Hannah Phillips. It seemed to both gentlemen that the spectacle, though lasting but thirty seconds, was a ghost, and possibly that of the drowned maiden, again making her way to church.

But that is not all. Nearly twenty years before, another local man, Mr Tipton, had a similar experience in the same area. He was twelve at the time and was cycling home towards Colemore Green late in the evening, after finishing work on a nearby farm. Suddenly, in front of him, in the same lay-by, he saw a man wearing a suit. As he approached the figure, it faded and disappeared into the surrounding hedge. It was only once he had got over the shock of its vanishing did he recall the phantom’s attire: a dark brown suit and breeches.

Could this have been Hannah Phillips’ intended husband, still searching for her?

And the month: it was May.

A garland shall be framed
By Art and Nature’s skill,
Of sundry-coloured flowers,
In token of goodwill.

And sundry-coloured ribands
On it I will bestow,
But chiefly black and yellow
With her to grave shall go.

I’ll deck her tomb with flowers
The rarest ever seen;
And with my tears as showers
I’ll keep them fresh and green.

– Corydon’s Doleful Knell

Astley abbotts

The ‘ghost village’ of Tyneham, a story of sacrifice…

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Tyneham stands as a defining example of the term ‘ghost village’. It was once a quiet little place, nestled on the Dorset coast; a quintessential chocolate box scene of a church, a school house and tidy lines of cottages. However, in 1943, the residents of the village were asked to leave so that the army could use the area for training. At the time, the folk received a promise from the government that once the war had ended they would be allowed to return. Sadly this did not happen; the promise was never honoured. Years passed, and the villagers accepted, sometimes grudgingly but always with a sense of honour in sacrifice, that they would never return. After years of neglect the church and the school house have been restored and are now museums. If you happen to be venturing nearby then I recommend that you visit. The derelict buildings have a distinct presence about them and are a reminder of some of the many home sacrifices that were made for the war effort.

Over the years, the plight of Tyneham has continued to touch me; and the more I investigated its history, the more I felt compelled to write about it. And so, using the writing genre I know best – the ghost story – I’ve tried to convey the sense of duty that comforted and supported these people in their valiant efforts to help Britain win the war. The resulting story, Return to Tyneham, can be read here:

Return to Tyneham

Return to Tyneham, a ghost story

Tyneham telephone box
Prickling with nervous energy, the small hands reached for their coats, prising them from the upturned pegs that began and ended each and every school day. Equally routine was the jostling for position in the march out of the school house: a shimmering line of tanned satchels rubbing and coaxing leather; a sea of untidy bodies threading their way through the grey-lit hallway; and there, next to the bright red telephone box, the perennial mores were to cease: the tiny uniformed children thronging, waiting for a call; one that would tell them to leave behind their old lives and all that they knew. But this was no ordinary evacuation, for the bombs had rarely threatened to disturb this peaceful haven in the Purbeck Hills; instead, the land had been taken from within. Whilst the radio buzzed with sightings of the wings of the Luftwaffe eagles, it was the khaki conversation of the Nissan huts that had ultimately decided their fate. And four years after the war had begun, on a bitterly cold day, the Creech village postmaster had delivered to each household the letters that brought the unwelcome news of evacuation.

As the Grebbel children huddled together, they looked up at the flags, fluttering around in the tireless wind, and soon they thought of nothing but snow and Christmas. Though barbed wire had become a familiar sight in the landscape, as had the tank traps along the coast, the community had come together to celebrate with defiant vigour throughout each of the war years. But now, with the impending scattering of families across the coastal hills, there would be little to rejoice.

Daphne Grebbel looked commanding behind the wheel having taken driving lessons and tractor maintenance courses in the early years of the war. The army had told her to be gone by Christmas; they had planned to put guns on the ridge behind the house and fire over it. No information had been conveyed personally; just letters, all formal, all paying little heed to the efforts she had made to double her output for the war whilst maintaining a meagre living for her family. And all this accomplished in the shadow of loss.

Their relocation was to be a brand new house near Lulworth but one entirely impractical for a family who had spent generations milking cows and tending crops. The official line was that places were hard to find; and so they were ‘politely’ informed that as they were unable to accept the offer, relocation had now become their responsibility. Left with little choice, they would have to be ‘taken in’: Mrs Grebbel’s aunt owned a smallholding near East Holme and there they would hope to grow fruit and veg, keep some chickens and run a couple of pigs or sheep. Not ideal, but it would do.

As the van approached, Anne and Harry picked up their coats and bags, and readied themselves for the big day. Although they had been aware of the plan to evacuate and re-house the village for some time now, its shadow had rarely touched them; when they had seen an angry crowd gathered outside the Post Office arguing with army officials two days before, they had swept its significance aside and considered it to be just the war effort ‘gone wobbly’.

Jumping into the cabin, the day felt like any other: fighting over scratchy blankets on leather seats that smelled of stale dog was the norm; but today, their sibling squabbles came to a sudden halt when each had turned to see the back of the van piled high with the entire contents of their home.

Tyneham church
Anne nestled against the door and gazed up the hill. “Mummy, can we stop at the church please? I’d like to see the sign one more time before we leave.”

Harry sighed, his lip curled. He was angry. ” You’ve seen it before. Why bother?”

“Hope — it gives me hope that one day we’ll come back,” retorted Anne, sharply.

“Of course we’ll come back,” interjected Mrs Grebbel. Her tone was soft and soothing; but there was something in her eyes that stole away the note of promise. “A few months and it’ll all be over. We’ll back home in no time.”

The van stopped beside the tiny church and Anne dashed up the path, hoping that the sign had been replaced by another announcing the evacuation to be one elaborate joke. But it was still there. Of course it was. She sighed gently and read aloud, ignorant to the presence of any audience:

Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free.

We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.

Tyneham church door
Though the board had been nailed to the church door only a week before, Anne had read the sign countless times; and each time it had left her with a remarkably different feeling. There had been rumours: some warned that once belongings were packed up, homes tipped up and turned out, backs turned away, it was the very last they would see of their beloved little village; but today, Anne’s heart was brimming with hope: she knew that one day they would all return. Continue reading