On Friday 12th February a large group of people from Belper, Derby and Nottingham met in Strutt’s community centre (the old Strutt School) to investigate, with the Haunted Company to guide them through their endeavours to find out if the building was haunted.
Amongst the staff running the event were a shamanic healer, a tech expert and a medium.
The 30 odd people, gathered under green and red coloured spotlights, were generally excited, “It’s a good thing for Belper. Derby has it all for ghosts.”
The event started with the Haunted Company team going into a Madonna power circle. They came out of it and got us to form a circle around the team and hold hands. The shamanic healer then got us to crush in close so that we were pushed up against each other, close our eyes and imagine white light cocooning us, in a basic visualisation exercise. This was intended to ground us, to protect us from an unspecified threat and, with some added humming, “wake up the building” and enhance the vibrations. What vibrates was not stated. “Because we are working dimensionally, we have to raise the vibrations, creating a portal.” I am unsure how this portal is meant to work but luckily this wasn’t a horror film and the room was not flooded with impossible hell beasts made of smoke and mirrors.
All of the Haunted Team seemed very down to earth and were very accommodating and friendly. They split the large group into four groups of 8-10 people and each group went off in a different direction with a couple of Haunted Company staff. I got group 1.
We went into a dark room and were told that a device was an EMF meter and people warily handled it and the voice recorder, which wasn’t really mentioned again but I assume someone turned it on. We all turned our phones to airplane setting, so that they didn’t interfere with the EMF meter. The EMF meter was passed around with people asking questions of any spirits present.
EMF meters measure electro-magnetic fields. The kind that the Haunted Company have are single axis meters, which means that they have to be pointed directly at an electro-magnetic field to respond. This kind have LED lights on, that light up to signal field strength. Their use in ghost hunting is based upon the hypothesis that the conscious mind is composed of an electro-magnetic field which does not collapse upon death but remains. There is no evidence to support this hypothesis, nor that EMF meters detect anything more than the many EM fields present in our very electrical lives. They have, however, become a standard of ghost hunting because they suggest that science is present in the study.
It did get a bit creepy here. After a number of questionings which were largely led by the belief of the people asking, the EMF was placed on the ground and one of the Haunted Company began asking questions. The meter lit up in precise response to the questions for a long period of time, during which the questions asked and the interpretation of the EMF meter lights as yes or no gave us the information that there was a spirit present, she was female, a former teacher at Strutt’s, really liked working there and there were the spirits of children present. I could not construct an adequate explanation of this at the time that did not involve hoax, which I considered but dismissed due to the fact that so many other things failed and there seemed to be no attempt to be physically fraudulent by any of the guides.
After a brief spin of a pendulum, which also involved asking questions and interpreting movement as yes or no answers, a ouija board was brought out. Two people left the room at this point, one because he wouldn’t be involved with ouija boards and the friend that he had come with left with him. A woman who used to work at Old Derby Gaol got the name Thomas from the board and stated that she already knew this spirit and that he travelled around with her a lot. They appeared to have a conversation about travelling in her car and how he’d like to sit in the front seat but she’d need to move her coat. The lady whom Thomas was allegedly attached to was not freaked out and was having a lot of fun with it.
A second run at the ouija board brought forth the name Abigail. I later discovered that every group had got the name Abigail on the ouija board in this room and I have to state that none of the Haunted Company were touching the board and the name was not said by them and, as far as I am aware, was not shared between the groups. The questions asked brought out that she was scared of Strutt. The guide was quick to point out that George Herbert Strutt was a well liked man and did not work at the school. I later spent half an hour searching records for any child named Abigail in Belper during the time that the school was open and George Herbert Strutt was alive (1909-1928). I found a couple of adult wills, a couple of elderly people and a one other adult but no children of the age to attend the school.
We then switched groups and I went with a different group because I’d lost mine, so I ran up the back stairs in the dark to meet another group (who took a more well lit route). We entered the library, which looks a lot creepier in the dark than if you light it up with the flash of a camera.
This was the room that Pete, the tech guy, was set up in. He had a number of CCTV cameras set up around the library using infra red in case ghosts give off heat. Pete couldn’t tell me what software was used because it was built into the hardware that came with the system, so I was unable to research how well it works or whether camera reactions were part of the normal operation of the system.
There was going to be more ouija board and those who didn’t want to participate watched the screen which rotated between the cameras. The display suffered from a lot of pixel loss. We were told not to look for shapes of people. Possibly because there was a lag in images. We were told to look for black spots. Unfortunately black spots do not mean cold spots but are actually a common occurrence with commercially available infra red cameras, mobile black spots are mostly produced by glass in the field of vision or by the infra red camera’s own LEDs. Nothing was seen on the CCTV.
We were shown a couple of very busy iPhone apps that use the inbuilt EMF, sound and other detection capabilities of iPhones, that are not present in most other phones. I couldn’t follow what they were supposed to detect beyond EMF and sound, there were a lot of digital dials and detection graphs.
The ouija board in this room produced a very odd set of responses:
The spirit’s name is John
He worked at Strutt’s
He worked in the library
He’s not dead
He was born in ’81
He knows Louise (a paying ghost hunter)
He is her Dad (her Dad did not work there)
He gets lonely
He doesn’t follow her around
He wasn’t 47 (Louise’s Dad died aged 47)
He didn’t die in hospital (Louise’s Dad did)
He doesn’t know he is dead
It made little sense and everyone, especially Louise, recognised this. Pete suggested that spirits might not always tell the truth.
We then went into “The Poltergeist Room”. A former teacher’s lounge which was fairly modern albeit rather cramped. I had a headache immediately. The ghost stories of this room were falling filing cabinets, things being thrown at people and the caretaker getting locked in. Then there was more ouija board. This time we got that Pat was 62 years old and didn’t work at the school. Pete decided to try to get poltergeist activity. He asked the poltergeist to make a noise. Someone tapped their fingers on the metal table. Continuing the ouija board, Pat was asked if he wanted to leave, he did, was asked if he was unhappy, he was, and Pete promised to get the shaman to help him to “move on”.
I asked how many times they got misspelt words on the ouija board. Apparently it happens a lot, along with part words and initials. Some photos were passed around showing orbs (a camera effect often caused by reflection on dust) in which basic human features could be discerned. This effect is known as pareidolia and is the same consequence of the way the human brain works that causes you to see elephants in clouds and Jesus on burnt toast, we look for shapes we recognise and attribute meaning to similarities.
Pete mentioned that this room gives people headaches and I rubbed my neck wondering if I was doing that before or if there was something wrong with the pressure, the architecture, the hermetic sealing of air or if the combination of sustained darkness whilst trying to see, interspersed with flashing LEDs and torches, causes headaches.
Pete told us that ghosts go to the place that they felt most at home. I asked how they do this. Pete began to give a spiritual answer about individual emotion but I clarified that I meant physically, materially. The answer was that they move along ley lines. Ley lines are the ancient geographical alignment of significant buildings, monuments and topography, both natural and manmade. The choices of humans and uses of landscape are represented in these ancient straight trackways. The term has been co-opted in recent times to suggest that there are rivers of energy flowing across the world and that they affect the spiritual world with resonant psychic or mystic energy. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that such a network exists. Nor that it serves any magical function. I am told that a mess of them transect on the underground stream beneath my garden, so I expect to get some transport complaints if I am the King’s Cross of the ghost world.
Someone else asked if they ever got non-human spirits responding. Pete told of how an iPhone voice recorder interpreted noise as “goat” in the Shining Cliff woods. We were informed that druids used to sacrifice goats up there. Many people believe that “druids” used Shining Cliff woods for rituals. If it was proved that the area had been used for ritual then it would not have been a nameable organised religion. The modern concept of druid is a misunderstanding. Druid was a class of priest, not a religion and there would probably only be one druid amongst the pagan folk of the area, like we have one bishop. They might have sacrificed goats but I don’t think goats say “goat” to identify themselves, which is what that function on the program does, guesses the whispered word.
Switching again, Andrew, the medium was next up. He checked us for “attachments” with an EMF meter and checked my camera, which was turned off. It got the all clear.
The first form of ghostly interrogation with Andrew was dowsing for spirits with dowsing rods. The trick was to let the rods rest lightly on one’s fingers, drop them to one’s sides, raise them up to shoulder height and then ask spirits for an individual movement that constitutes Yes. “Can you give me my yes?” However the rods move is then taken to mean Yes. This is repeated for No. Absolutely nothing happened for the first volunteer for quite a while and then she asked trick questions, which were answered correctly, she then asked if she had a guide and if her guide was Arthur. This was answered yes. She had had Arthur come up at a previous event. The Haunted Company told us that they believe that spirits can choose to move on to another dimension or to stay behind and help people and that everyone has one guide from birth and others who dip in and out. I felt massively creeped out by this idea; I’d consider anyone watching me to be an enemy. I’m not sure why anyone finds this belief welcome or comforting.
A second dowser volunteered. Again it took a while for there to be any movement. Apparently it usually takes 30 minutes to train someone to use dowsing rods, which made me wonder why they were included. This volunteer asked even more trick questions. One question was followed by the wrong movement of the rods.
Next we were introduced to the Human Pendulum. My mind was immediately filled with images from Edgar Allan Poe stories. But it is using how people wobble when they have their eyes closed for the same function, to interpret movement as meaning yes or no in response to questions. Andrew wanted to use me. I had deliberately not been a party to any other means of trying to talk to the dead. For one, I wanted to observe and secondly, I was there for free whereas everyone else had paid and deserved all the opportunities. But no-one wanted to do it, or at least do it first and Andrew was confident that I would be as amazed and affected as the last journalist that they did this to. I suggested that he would be better off with someone more susceptible, because after decades of wading about in ghosts, magic and paganism due to my specialisation in mythology I knew that not only would he not be able to affect me but that even if I could deeply relax in a public situation where I was cold, my innate sense of self would never be swayed into fantasy directed by another. I’m too contrary and do not obey. He was sure it would work. It didn’t. It went wrong first when I was given inadequate parameters for behaviour and as I wasn’t pretending to be in some unlikely hypnotic mood I spoke in answer to his questions. This was the point where I realised that he had moved on to trying to use me wobbling blind as a medium for communication. I have terrible balance and have been known to fall off disabled ramps, flat ground and faceplant walls because I looked at something while walking, but if I was moving then it couldn’t be interpreted. Andrew said he was bringing me out of whatever trance I was meant to have gone into. I had the overwhelming urge to laugh my head off, which was noticed.
From watching the volunteer that followed me I figured that it plays upon the inclination of humans to answer questions and that one would sway in the way that one wanted to direct the story. Upon coming out of the trance, this woman said that she felt like she had been crying but didn’t know what the teenager from the 1950s (too old for the school) might have been upset about. She saw an empty room while “not hypnotised”.
Next up was a test to see whether we could use our senses (“you have more than five”) to tell which room was haunted and which one wasn’t. We were taken into each room in the pitch black. The first room had a lot of windows which streetlight and moonlight shone through, illuminating stripper poles. I assume this is for a form of workout that happens there and they don’t actually train strippers in Strutt’s. It was freezing cold because of the preponderance of huge windows. No-one felt anything strange. We moved into the second room, which was genuinely pitch black because all of the huge windows were covered over with blackout blinds. But I saw a sliver of light and as my eyes adjusted I realised that this was actually the same room, with an artificial divide. So rationally, if spirits were treading old ground, then they would view it as one room, the old staff room. I pointed this out repeatedly but was ignored by everyone. People got a bit crazy in this room. They increased their volume, as though the darkness affected sound and began to mess with each other. I felt impatient to get out at this point, but it was entirely due to the living and the huge amount of noise prompted by being in the dark. No-one felt anything here either. There could be an argument made that this is because they behaved like children and therefore paid no attention to anything beyond their own unease in darkness. We were informed that people commonly feel children pulling at them and running around. I’m not sure why that would happen in the staff room.
Finally, there was a seance in the old Headmaster’s Office, which is the one commonly reported ghost in the building who is an identifiable person and allegedly haunts the room associated with him personally. There was speculation about the amount of corporal punishment that must have occurred there. Those willing to participate sat in the dark around a modern conference table and placed our hands on the table, touching the hands of those next to us with our little fingers. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Spirits were exhorted to appear. To communicate. They didn’t. To their credit the Haunted Company said that they would never fake such reactions. Another Haunted Company employee said that a spirit named George had tried to “come through me” but that he wouldn’t let him. Might have been fun if he had.
We all gathered to depart at the end and there were a mixture of responses. Some had been terrified in the Poltergeist Room when the iPhone app interpreted sound as words; others had found confirmation of one form of spectral divination in the responses of another, both giving the same answer; we discovered that Abigail had come up in every ouija board in that one room; the app had been answering questions in the Library – someone was “Lost”; the offer to release someone to move on from the poltergeist room had been repeated to a different “ghost”; many had heard scraping of furniture and a few claimed to have seen things move when no-one was touching them; for some, nothing could convince them and the evidence was not strong enough. The believers still believed and the sceptics were still sceptical. It was time to do the circle again. They wanted to cleanse us, to remove anything that might have attached itself to us. No ghostly takeout for us. This time the visualisation had a showerhead washing all the dirt and smokiness (of the dirty industrial ghosts?) off until we became clear. Visualisation isn’t hard so I put my hand up immediately when we were told to signal when the shower ran white and clear. Next to me, two gentlemen lost their decorum and burst out laughing. Afterwards they explained that they had opened their eyes and saw how seriously people were taking it, waiting for their imaginary shower to run clear of the spectral corruption. Karl and David actually did for me what the shower was meant to do, return one to normality.
Speaking to the organisers afterwards they stated that the first investigation of a building is always the hardest, and this was the absolute first. They said that it was “nice to see groups corroborating each other without any help from us” and that has to be the most solid plus point for a sceptic, that people are not being led and the guides do not have their hands on the equipment used when people are convinced they are being answered.
The Haunted Company “had an ace time” and so did the local ghost hunters. Perhaps a journalist is not the best person to assess paranormal investigations as a social activity. As a researcher and analyst I can point out the problems with history, reason and science but people didn’t come for reason and science, they came to be spooked and people were definitely spooked, invested and entertained.
Is Strutt’s haunted? I was unconvinced but many others were convinced. Perhaps you have this debate with friends and can finally pitch spiritualism against scepticism.
The Haunted Company is a relatively new business operating in Derbyshire and you can book on their many investigations through their website and be guaranteed a full interesting evening of ghostly doings, although do make sure that everyone in your party is okay with ouija boards and seances. They intend to return to Belper and plan to do a ghost walk to raise funds for the restoration of Strutt’s, which they intend to return to for future spiritual enquiries. So if you want to follow in the footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini and Edvard Munch and try to talk to the dead, these guys are your local port of call.