Bill Spectre’s Ghost Story Performances
Written by Bill Spectre this article first appeared in The Witney Gazette on Wednesday November 30th 2016
What a treat it was for me to explore the darker side of this wonderful county! When I first started looking into the idea of running a ghost tour in West Oxfordshire, I hunted out every spooky nugget of history I could find and looking into Burford, what a rich seam I struck. I found many more stories than I could possibly use, sometimes because they were from just outside the town and were not relevant, or because having been told the stories first hand, the owners feared for the future value of their properties if word spread of its haunting. One of my favourites stories springs from Asthall Manor, which lies a short way from Burford. Many years ago, it was apparently owned by a gentleman who would ask his wealthy friends over to the manor where they would be lavishly wined and dined. At the end of the evening with smiles and laughter, he would happily wave their coach goodbye, dash around the back of his house where his trusty steed would already be saddled up ready and waiting. He would quickly don his cloak and mask, mount up, and gallop off in time to meet his coach-full of friends whereupon he would rob them at gunpoint. Although he did his best to disguise his appearance and voice, a glimpse of his black stockings which were only worn by the wealthy, gave him away.
Much as I enjoy my ghost trails in Burford and Oxford, I wanted to find a way of developing a ghostly entertainment that could be performed anywhere. I felt classic ghost stories were the answer, the first that came to mind was one of my all-time favourites, the Monkey’s Paw, written in 1902 by W W Jacobs who usually specialised in seafaring tales. The elderly Mr White who lives with his wife and son, has a visit from an old work colleague and friend, who returns from having served in the army in India. He tells them of an enchanted monkey’s paw which enables three separate owners to each have three wishes. The Sgt Major very reluctantly lets Mr White have the paw but tells him to exercise extreme caution over his wishes. Mr White almost on a whim, has his first wish, it is granted, but terrifyingly not in any way he would have wished or hoped for. He has two more wishes to somehow rectify the situation, but is it too late?
The other story I found was The Judges House by Bram Stoker who gave the world Dracula, one of the most enduring and terrifying characters ever to have emerged from any writer’s imagination. The empty judge’s house is the remote and ancient dwelling chosen by Malcolm Malcolmson, who has taken himself away from the distraction of his friends, into the country, for some intensive revision before his exams. He ignores fearful local warnings about the house and settles himself in with only the rats to keep him company, but do the rats know a little more about the house and its former owner, than he does?
I’ve been lucky enough to perform both stories in many historic venues including the central library in Bristol which has a wonderful chair in which Judge Jeffreys himself is said to have sat.
Having had a sold-out performance in March at The Blanket Hall in Witney, I’m delighted to have been asked back to perform once again these two spooky stories. The Blanket Hall was built in 1721,The Great Room, in which the stories will unfold, was where the rules of the Witney blanket industry were set and has witnessed much history.
Delighted to report, we had another sell out performance on December 1st. Many thanks to all involved!