You may be weary of seeing the same four walls every day, but spare a thought for those stuck at home with a paranormal presence. Eimear O’Hagan reports.
It’s evening in Beckie Melvin’s home, and after another hectic day of home-schooling, running her business and housework, she’s put her feet up, ready for some peace and quiet. Until the noise of footsteps above her head begins. From bedroom to bedroom, the upper floor of her early 20th-century cottage in Sandy, Bedfordshire, creaks with the sound of heavy-footed pacing.
However, with both her husband and ten-year-old son fast asleep in bed, and visitors forbidden under lockdown rules, who on earth could be wandering through Beckie’s home night after night? Sceptics look away now, for 40-year-old Beckie firmly believes that she and her family are isolating with a ghost. Forget the stress of battling for an Ocado delivery slot or juggling Zoom quizzes, and consider instead the prospect of living in close proximity for weeks on end with a spirit. Even former One Direction singer Liam Payne is convinced he’s sharing his London flat with a ghost – and is determined to catch any paranormal activity on film after he experienced banging noises in his bedroom.
‘We call our ghost Top Hat Man and he’s shared our home since we moved in eight years ago,’ says Beckie, an events planner who runs Beckie Melvin Weddings. ‘He’s a tall man in a top hat but we have no idea who he is – or was. We know our house used to be a farm cottage, but his smartly dressed appearance isn’t that of a farm worker. Perhaps he was a land owner, but his identity is a mystery to us.’
It was Beckie’s ten-year-old son Cameron who first spotted Top Hat Man as a toddler. ‘Cam would sit and stare, sometimes pointing and jabbering, at a certain part of the house – a little hallway that leads off the kitchen to a downstairs loo,’ she remembers. ‘As his speech improved, he’d talk about a “tall man with a big hat”. Other children who came to play here would go home talking about him too. At first, I thought it was just Cam’s imagination running wild, but then I began to glimpse the man too. He was like a shadow at the periphery of my vision. In an instant he’d be gone, but I was sure of what I’d seen.’
Far from being rattled, Beckie says the family has always accepted their ghost as part of the household. ‘We’ve all seen him and heard him walking around over the years, but his presence has never been a threatening or mischievous one.’ But since lockdown began in March, Beckie says she’s noticed a perceptible change in Top Hat Man’s behaviour. ‘With all of us at home, the house is very noisy during the day: my husband Paul and I are working and taking calls, Cam is watching online videos for his schoolwork, and we have a dog running around.
‘Now I don’t see or hear Top Hat Man during the day, only in the evening when everything has quietened down, which makes me think we’re disturbing him by being here so much. He walks from the master bedroom at the front of the house to Cam’s at the back, over and over, every evening. I’m sure he’s wondering why we’re here all the time, but it has definitely influenced when he makes himself heard. Just the other night he was banging on the bathroom ceiling for several hours.’
Another homeowner who’s observed the impact of lockdown on her paranormal housemates is Christine Watson, the landlady of The Fleece Inn in Elland, West Yorkshire, dubbed the UK’s most haunted pub. ‘My husband Alan and I live above the pub, and apart from a brief period when we closed for a refurb, this is probably the first time in its 400-year history that this building has been so quiet,’ says Christine, 60, who’s been running the pub since 1993. ‘It’s always been a hive of paranormal activity, but since lockdown we’re noticing even more goings-on. In the past I spent most of my time in the bar, but now I’m in our apartment all day I hear footsteps and voices in our bedrooms and halls – even when I know there’s no one else around. Last week, our TV switched on by itself from standby. We’re used to things like this happening, but it feels more unnerving now that it’s just us and our dogs.’
Recently, she says, a CCTV camera picked up footage of an internal door swinging back and forth for over an hour – there were no draughts that could have explained it – as well as orbs (balls of energy) and shadows moving around.
Christine believes her ghosts – which ghost hunters and psychics have told her include a little girl called Eleanor who likes to play with the balloons after a party in the pub, a shepherd who lived there hundreds of years ago and once trashed a store room, and a young motorcyclist who died in an accident in the 1970s – are missing the bustle of pub life.
‘I think they’re wondering where everyone is. The function room is one of the most haunted areas – the spirit of a man called Harold lives down there. He’s a cantankerous sort who enjoys scaring guests by grabbing their necks and rushing them out of the room. Now when I go down there, there’s a very malevolent atmosphere. It’s as if he’s unhappy and lonely.’
Clairvoyant and spiritualist medium Carianne Robins says it’s not surprising that people may be more aware at this time of not being alone in lockdown. ‘Now many of us are at home all day we have more time for reflection,’ she says. ‘There are fewer distractions so we’re more responsive to energies around us. At a time when many of us are very frightened and anxious, it’s understandable that loved ones who have previously passed over into the light would return to offer comfort.’
Carianne, from Eastleigh, Hampshire, has noticed a significant increase in spirits needing her help to ‘pass over’ since the COVID-19 crisis began. ‘I perform “rescues” offering guidance and support to energies who, for a variety of reasons, haven’t passed over. I’m helped by an angel who comes to collect them and I reassure them it’s OK to go towards that light. There has definitely been increased activity, a massive wave of people needing my help, and at a time when we know large numbers are dying prematurely and being jolted from their bodies quickly. They may not want to leave their life behind and need guidance.’
It’s one thing being in lockdown with a familiar paranormal presence, but what’s it like when it’s an entirely new – and very unwelcome – experience? Just days before the shutdown happened, musician Kalif*, 40, moved from London to Edinburgh, which has a reputation as one of the most haunted cities in the world. Within 48 hours he realised that he and his partner Surita, 36, were sharing their new city-centre apartment with a third party.
‘On the second night I watched a large sideboard unit shunt forward by a couple of inches, completely of its own accord,’ he says. ‘For the next couple of weeks, we heard bumps and bangs every night, knocks on the window, and sometimes in the morning things had been moved. We both felt uneasy, there was a bad atmosphere – and of course we couldn’t go anywhere to escape from it.’
Matters came to a head in late March when Surita woke from a vivid dream in which she was shown a word she had never seen before – ‘trowie’. ‘We googled it and it means the dwelling of a “trow” – a spirit in Scottish folklore. We learned that trows come out at night, create mischief and are drawn to musicians. It was disturbing thinking that we could be sharing our new home with something menacing.
‘We took advice from a friend who is more of a believer in the paranormal, and they suggested scattering salt in each corner of every room as well as playing “loud, happy music”. It’s been a couple of weeks now and all has been peaceful since. We’re grateful because lockdown is hard enough without sharing it with a naughty spirit.’
Alan Murdie is chairman of the Ghost Club of Great Britain and a self-proclaimed ghost hunter alongside his day job as a barrister. He’s not surprised by reports of paranormal experiences at present, especially tied up with people who lose loved ones. ‘Spontaneous psychic experiences – for example, apparitions and disturbed dreams – frequently seem to be associated with events of emotional significance, including crises and periods of transformation,’ he says. ‘Often, people who claim to have seen an apparition will say that at the moment they experienced it, their mind was relaxed and they weren’t thinking of anything in particular. It could be that with people currently at home, and less to distract them, this is making them more receptive to these experiences.
‘Equally, it’s important to consider that, for many people, emotions are currently running high. In those cases where someone believes there is an unexplained presence in their home for the first time, it could well be anxiety and stress manifesting as a sense of unease that they’re not alone.’
For Kerry Ashby, lockdown has helped her feel less nervous about sharing her 17th-century farmhouse in a Hertfordshire hamlet with the ghost of a dairy maid. ‘I work from home, running my business Hertfordshire Flower School, so usually during the day it’s just her and me,’ she explains. ‘There have been times when I’ve felt a bit spooked, especially when my husband Paul has been away overnight with work – I’ve dreaded opening my eyes and seeing her in my bedroom.
‘She walks the landing and knocks on furniture in the smallest of the three bedrooms, which is always freezing despite the extra heater we put in it,’ says Kerry, 53. ‘Now Paul is here too, along with my mother and youngest daughter Alice, 23, I feel less nervous because we’re all sharing her company.’
Kerry moved into her house a year ago and knew from the outset it was haunted. ‘Just after we bought it, I was in the main bedroom with a friend, who’d come to see the house, and the heavy bedroom door suddenly slammed shut,’ she remembers. ‘After that, we began to hear the footsteps and knocking, as well as seeing orbs flying around. One evening Paul ran from the house after seeing a shadowy figure walking down the stairs. A friend of a relative, who’s a medium, was able to tell me just from a photograph that the ghost of a dairy maid lives here. She loves the house so much she stayed, but she’s happy we’re here too.
‘At a time of so much change and uncertainty, hearing her around the house is actually comforting in its familiarity, and I feel much more at ease now.’
Have you experienced paranormal goings-on at home during lockdown? Email us at email@example.com.