The Real Life Haunting of the Devonshire Dome

Buxton in the High Peak in the UK has some grand architecture for a small northern town. Arguably the most spectacular building is The Devonshire Dome. Seen from almost any high point in Buxton, the largest freestanding dome in Europe looks impressive and the interior is even more breath-taking.

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For a while, I’ve been aware of the rumours that the ex-hospital is haunted, perpetuated in recent times by the students who currently attend the place as a university. It is no surprise when you consider that most buildings of this size and age in England usually have at least one resident spook. It wasn’t until a man called Carl Bothamley got in touch with some stories about working the night shift as a security guard that I really began to take notice.

I present Carl’s reports for you in his own words but it is perhaps necessary to give you a brief history of the building first. Ghosts need context, if you subscribe to the belief that they are the restless spirits of the deceased (I’m not sure that I do but more about that later). Long before there was an actual dome, the place was a stable for horses, built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1779 (who is based in Derbyshire, not Devon, confusing I know!) In 1859, the seventh Duke donated the first floor to trustees to turn it into a hospital although, bizarrely, the ground floor remained occupied by our four-legged friends! Twenty years later, he was persuaded to relinquish the rest of the building to the hospital and the horses moved out. 1880 saw the construction of the massive dome. The hospital closed in 2000, one of the few remaining hydropathic hospitals left in the country. As I’ve already mentioned, it now belongs to the University of Derby and the interior has a very contemporary feel. However, it seems that something lingers in the shadows … over to you, Carl:

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The magnificent dome in Buxton is a fantastic and beautiful building. I was lucky enough to work there for a few years. Just after it closed as a hospital, through its change into the Uni and whilst it was open as the Uni. Many a strange thing happened over the years and these were witnessed by myself or myself and others. This first one was witnessed by myself only. I had just done a full patrol of the entire site. It was a warm summer night without any breeze. I was the early hours and the only occasional sound was the odd owl. I stood outside the old original doors (as I often did) having a smoke, when I heard the sound of children’s laughter. It couldn’t have been clearer. I realised it was coming from behind the main door, where only a minute or two earlier, I was stood. I thought that a group of teens had sneaked in and hidden from me. I quietly slid the key into the lock and burst into the hallway to confront them, only to find myself standing alone. No kids, no laughing and no sign of anyone inside! The same thing happened on another occasion too, the only difference was, I was already stood in the hallway and children’s laughter seemed to be surrounding me!

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the old surgical ward is often cited as “a chilly spot”

Another tale from the dome: I was stood inside the main entrance as I had done hundreds of times before. Now when it was the Devonshire Hospital, the upstairs floor was tiled and outside each room was a carpet runner. It was a quiet still night and from the far left end side I heard ladies footsteps walking towards where I was standing. The sound tip tapped over the tiled floor and made a muffled sound as it crossed that carpet. Then again the tip tap of the tiles and then the carpet. It kept walking until it stopped right above where I was standing, turned around and walked back to where it started then simply just went silent again. In went to investigate but there was no sign of anybody. That’s weird but the weirdest thing is that at least three weeks before the incident, the builders had ripped up all the carpets AND tiles, leaving just a concrete floor! So how did this ‘woman’s footsteps’ still make the sounds as if walking on tiles and carpet?

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Another time whilst on patrol, when Chiswick house (to the rear of the dome) was linked directly by an underground passage, myself and another officer witnessed the tunnel filled with smoke. We both thought that kids had broken into Chiswick house and set it on fire. We ran through the smoke to see if we could do anything but as we entered through the glass porchway, the smoke disappeared. There was no sign of intruders and certainly no sign of any fire! Another time I was showing some friends the former chapel when a large block of wood was thrown towards us. It bounced several times, the whole length of the dome floor (which is quite a feat in itself) and impacted the wall next to us. Again there was no sign of anybody other than us. I felt like a person or spirit had passed through me as i stood on the stairs, one time as I was locking up the former John Duncan school. A place I had been tens of times without any event. A friend turned up and without telling him anything, I asked him to stand on the same stairs with me. He did so and immediately said he also felt as if someone or something had passed through him. Moments later he claimed to see a face looking at us through the door by the staircase. We soon left ad you could imagine. To this day (as far as I am aware) one of the cleaners refuses to be in there alone as she heard laughing coming from a stall in the toilets, when she was alone cleaning!

Carl’s disturbing accounts are not the first that I’ve heard about the place. Back in the early 1990s when the hospital had its own radio station, DJ Tony Francis, aka Big T, told me about an equally frightening encounter. The corridor that led to the station studio had an unfortunate feature; the light switch was at the other end so the first person in or the last person out had to walk through darkness. It was while one of Big T’s colleagues was performing this minor act of courage that he felt someone brush past him, going the other way. The young man switched on the light and was horrified to discover that he was alone. Apparently, he refused to be the first or the last person to the studio ever again. The creepy corridor is no longer used but I’m sure you will agree that it retains an eerie aspect.

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Generally speaking, Buxton is not a very haunted town. I was once asked to provide information for a ghost-themed guided tour and struggled to suggest more than three stops. This has something to do with the people; Buxtonians tend to be very down-to-earth and pragmatic and they are not prone to fuss or flights of fancy. That’s why when one of them turns to me and says they have experienced paranormal phenomena, I tend to raise an eyebrow and take notice. Personally, I love a good ghost story (I’m from Staffordshire which is a different kettle of fish) but I struggle with the notion of an afterlife and therefore struggle with the concept of “spirits who are unable to pass over to the other side”. That said, I’ve spoken to many people who have seen, heard or felt something weird inside an old building and I have no reason to doubt any of them so I think there must be something going on; lingering souls being only one possible theory, albeit the most popular. I’m also fascinated by why some individuals experience by what appears to be supernatural whilst others do not. Veteran ghost hunter Wesley H. Downes once told me about a situation where two people were in the presence of an apparition but only one of them could see it.  You can read more about my afternoon with Wesley here.

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Hauntings aside, the university is a great place to visit; seeing the Dome itself is worth anyone’s time and I recommend the café, the restaurant and the spa. It just seems that it is not the right place to be alone at night, unless you relish the company of the otherworldly. If you have a story about the Dome you would like to share, or indeed any other place, please get in touch.

D.W.

with special thanks to Carl Bothamley

 

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The Wolfson Collection part 1: 1979 Alien Toy

Into creepy stuff since I was a kid, I have retained many toys, games and books that have nudged their way into the annals of obscurity and wonder as the decades have passed.

Up first is a 19 inch tall action figure that I’ve never had the heart to part with, even though it’s missing its tail and inner set of teeth (the left arm is also blu-tacked on). I believe this was the first Alien toy ever manufactured shortly after the release of Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking science-fiction horror film in 1979; a long time before it became a franchise and spawned merchandise beyond count.

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just taking a stroll

I played with this toy loads even though I was too young to see the film but my mum and dad who had seen it, assured me that it was very good and that I could watch it as soon as I was 18. I think they caved in a few years later when it came out on Betamax. The somewhat gruesome plaything proved to be a great adversary for my Action Men, towering above them and thrusting its double set of teeth (activated by a discreet button at the base of its skull) while they had only their “eagle eyes” and naff rubber hands to save them from a grisly and inevitable demise.

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Alien is now happily married to Care Bear and they have two lovely children

I loved the way the H R Giger-designed cranium glowed in the dark so out of all my toys, I could still see it in my bedroom at night. Most kids probably would have been freaked out but I was a bit strange. I suspect that if my Alien was still in good nick and in its original box, it would pay for a holiday in Australia but what child of the 80s ever kept their toys in pristine condition? That would be even weirder than playing with the thing.

D.W.

Mystery Beasts of the Peak part two

In part one, I revealed sightings of big cats, phantom dogs, werewolves and …erm… wallabies in and around the Peak District. Think it couldn’t get any more disturbing? Think again!

Since my last post, a few people have got in touch to tell me about their own alarming encounters in Britain’s oldest national park. A lady called Gladys was shocked to read my account of a black panther sighting in King Sterndale because she had seen a similar creature near the same village around the same time. It seems that King Sterndale is the prime place to go beast spotting. Take a job lot of Felix with you.

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Lion skull from Buxton Museum

Even more hair-raising was an account sent in by someone who got too close for comfort with a monstrous moggy twenty years ago. Witnesses usually glimpse these creatures from a distance in the countryside but this was a face-to-face encounter in suburbia. The person in question came home from school to find a huge sand-coloured cat “like a cougar or a lioness” relaxing in his garden. The RSPCA arrived later to remove the unwelcome visitor from the home of the family, who were understandably frightened and upset. He mentioned how odd it was that the men from the RSPCA seemed remarkably blasé about the incident, like it was something they were used to dealing with, and had very little to say. I contacted the RSPCA to discover what became of the creature but they replied to say they currently had no staff to consult their archives; two decades on and still suspiciously little to say on the matter.

When you start digging around, the Peak’s unknown menagerie gets even more flamboyant than panthers and lions. Local musician Kenny Robertson told me about a series of incidents when he was a young man in Buxton. It is a strange tale that ends with the most frightening beast that I have heard about so far.

Whilst walking around on a summer’s night in the mid-90s, Kenny and his friends were perturbed to hear a chorus of chanting from a disused quarry round the back of Lightwood and Corbar Road. Normally a quiet and respectable part of town, Kenny told me that he felt compelled to investigate the cacophony. However, every time he and his pals got close, the peculiar choir would cease chanting and play salsa music on a ghetto blaster, as if to mask their weird commotion.

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Kenny

Little did Kenny and his peers suspect that this was merely the start to a sequence of troubling events. Over the coming months, they would stumble upon the scene of three ritualised sheep killings in the same area. The first carcass had been torn open and filled with manure. Then they discovered three lambs hung and left to die on a barbed-wire fence and finally Kenny witnessed his neighbour cutting down another animal from a tree in his back garden.

Kenny’s upbringing was not as trouble free as you might expect from a peaceful town like Buxton. However, as I have already established, other people have stumbled across occult activity in these parts in the 1990s, including myself.

The sequence of gruesome discoveries came to a culmination at Lightwood reservoir. Kenny and his friends were shocked to see an unearthly creature running up an old track. It looked like a goat but it moved abnormally quick on two legs. Kenny suppressed a shudder as he recalled the scene; he can still picture the goatman silhouetted against a dusky sky. He told me that they didn’t have the courage to follow the fiend in the failing light but they returned the next day and found hoof marks in the mud, eventually disappearing into the tall grass.

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Lightwood

Could the group responsible for the ritual chanting and sheep mutilation have managed to summon a demon?

The Lightwood reservoir monster fits the archetypal image of The Devil or the Greek God Pan. A few local places have an established association with Satan. Peak Cavern in Castleton is also named The Devil’s Arse, due to its vast cave entrance where you can sometimes hear flatulent noises caused by water draining away inside. Eldon Hole near Peak Forest is the deepest pothole in the Peak and was once believed to descend all the way down into Hell. Both places are only a few miles apart and were thought to be linked underground but more recent explorations have yet to reveal a connection, nor the flaming abode of Beelzebub.

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Taking a stroll: Old Nick

I asked Kenny if he thought he had seen the Devil on that fateful night but he laughed and said “if it was Big D himself, I would have expected something a little more. It was probably a minion of some kind.”

Are there monsters in this part of the world? Not only is the answer yes but it actually seems overcrowded with horned, fanged and clawed villains. Prehistoric remains tell us that the Peak District was once the domain of bears, wolves and lions. Although it might be stretching your imagination too much to believe that these critters still linger, it is a scientific fact that they thrived here thousands of years ago. The last wolf in England was purportedly killed in the Peak village of Wormhill only as far back as the 15th century.

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Wolf skull from Buxton Museum

I wonder if there is part of the human psyche that still clings to the distant past; something in our DNA that echoes back to a time when having your throat torn out by a wild animal was a realistic threat? When you are walking out in the countryside and you see that dark shape dart away out of the corner of your eye, is there really something there or is it some funny old part of the brain still dealing with survival? I’m sure we have all experienced the irrational feeling of being watched. Although I never doubt anyone who has seen, heard or felt something peculiar, I am aware that the human brain has its own internal landscape designated “here be monsters.” Best not to be complacent; it might be a very long time since anyone was devoured by a beast of the Peak but can you be 100% sure there’s nothing out there?

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Wolfson and the wolf at Chatsworth House

I currently have no material for a Mystery Beasts of the Peak part 3 but I would be very surprised if there are not a few more tales out there yet to be told. If you have an experience you would like to share, please get in touch.

D.W.

Grinlow Woods – again!

Grinlow in Buxton continues to be my local supernatural hotspot with this photo, kindly sent in by a nice man called Kevin. Visiting for the day, Kevin took this shot of his daughter on the approach to Solomon’s Temple, a Victorian folly that crowns Grinlow’s highest point. Not a particularly unusual image until you spot the monk-like figures behind the tree in the background. After noticing the spectral photo bombers, Kevin searched the web and found my original post about sinister figures at Grinlow. The ascent through the woods to Solomon’s Temple is a popular walk but Kevin mentioned that there wasn’t anyone else around at the time. At least, no one that belongs to this world.

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If the photo wasn’t creepy enough, it is a lesser known fact that Grinlow was actually an ancient burial site. As the skull in the local museum will testify, the foundation of Solomon’s Temple is a Bronze Age barrow that contained the remains of a man. The word low is an old English word meaning barrow or burial mound. However, this is only significant if you subscribe to the belief that ghosts are the lingering spirits of the deceased. I’ve never been terribly convinced, especially after my conversation with seasoned ghost hunter Wesley H. Downes although I remain open-minded.

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D.W.

 

Mystery Beasts of the Peak part one

Anyone who has lived in the Peak District in the UK usually has a creepy story to tell about the place. Being a national park, the Peak has miles of wilderness, drenched in history and atmosphere.

Professional musician Matt Swindells now lives in San Francisco in the USA but he was brought up in Whaley Bridge, a small town on the western edge of the Peak. Whilst taking his dog, Toddy, for a walk one day in the early 1990s, Matt suddenly stumbled upon some wildlife that could hardly be described as indigenous. During a recent visit, he was kind enough to take me back to the location of his disturbing and unforgettable encounter.

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Matt returns to the lair of the beasts

Matt and Toddy were crossing a field that borders an old abandoned quarry; a fairly common feature in this landscape. Gazing down into the quarry, Matt was shocked to see a group of “Alsatian-sized” cats lounging around amongst the rocks. It was hard to determine their exact breed but Matt recalls that the cats were coloured differently and appeared well-fed and content; their tails “swishing around”. Unlike domestic cats, they had very pronounced scapulas or shoulder blades. He watched the creatures for five long minutes, fascinated and scarcely able to believe his eyes. Usually eager to give chase, Toddy was clearly distressed or as Matt describes him; “in survival mode”.  More out of concern for his canine companion rather than himself, Matt decided to beat a hasty retreat.

Despite repeat visits, Matt never saw the mystery moggies again. Upon viewing the old quarry for myself, I certainly found the scenario easy to imagine. A few hares bolted from cover upon our arrival, providing an instant answer to what such large carnivores might include in their diet. The place seemed good shelter from the elements too and remote enough to stay hidden from humans, with the exception of the occasional plucky dog walker.

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The perfect hiding place?

Although Matt’s story is outlandish, a quick search of the internet will tell you that sightings of big cats in these parts are far from unknown. My own Aunty and Uncle witnessed an enormous black cat crossing a field more recently. The creature was walking towards King Sterndale Hall in the heart of the Peak and they noted its distinctive feline gait and tail. What disturbs me is that my Uncle is a native; a pragmatic type who was raised on a Derbyshire farm. In other words, he is not prone to flights of fancy or in danger of misidentifying an animal.

The Park Authority officially denies the existence of big cats despite the fact that people have confessed to releasing them into the wild back in the 1970s when laws on keeping animals changed. On the nearby border of Staffordshire, in a place called The Roaches, a variety of beasts were set free from a private menagerie and survived for some time, most notably a colony of wallabies. Bearing this in mind, is an itinerant group of feline predators an impossible stretch of the imagination?

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Wallabies in the 1960s, probably hiding from Jimmy Savile

Oddly enough, big black mystery animals of The Peak are not exclusively cats. Chicago-born tattoo artist and musician Jori Lakars had a frightening confrontation with a different kind of monster in Grinlow Woods, Buxton.

Jori was walking her puppy, Piper, for the first ever time. They were on the path up to Solomon’s Temple, above Poole’s Cavern, when a huge black dog came bolting towards them. Not unusual until you consider that the brute’s eyes were blazing red! Afraid they were under attack, Jori scooped Piper up in her arms, but the demonic hound just ran past. Nevertheless, Jori was understandably stunned:

I stood there shaking for a minute, thinking that his owner would be by shortly and I could mention he/she should keep a beast like that on a lead, but there was no one.  I’m pretty sure we were the only ones in the woods at the time; we didn’t see a soul except for the beastie. I haven’t seen it since, and quite glad for it! I do get some funny looks when I recount the tale, people think I’m making the red eyes up, but I swear I saw them.  Not looked much into the history of the demon dog, but if there really is a legend, it’s definitely what I saw!

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Aw, Shucks! Piper the dog

Not commonly associated with Buxton but unearthly black dogs have been reported around the British Isles for centuries, usually going by the name of Black Shuck. Did Jori come face to face with a legend? It was certainly one hell of a first walk for poor little Piper. Grinlow Woods in Buxton does keep cropping up as the location of curious encounters and I’m starting to get very suspicious about the place. I even have a couple of my own incidents that you can read about HERE.

If big cats and big dogs were not enough, there are werewolves in the Peak District too, if you delve deep enough.  In 1925, writer Charles Hoy Fort (as in The Fortean Times ) felt the need to mention events that occurred in Edale, in the north of the Peak, in his book Lo!

London Daily Express, Oct.14 1925 – the district of Edale, Derbyshire. Something “black in colour and of enormous size” was slaughtering sheep at night and “leaving the carcasses strewn about with legs, shoulders, and heads torn off; broken backs and pieces of flesh ripped off.” Many hunting parties had gone out but had been unable to track the animal. “People in many places refuse to leave their homes after dark, and keep their children safe in the house.” If something had mysteriously appeared, it then quite mysteriously disappeared.

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I’ll be waiting for you in the woods

Considering the predatory big cats, red-eyed Shucks and untidy werewolves, the next time you’re out for a walk in these parts and you hear something rustle in the bushes behind you, you might want to quicken your pace!

If you have a tale to tell of your own mystery beast of the Peak, please get in touch, and I may feature it in part two.

D.W.

Grinlow Woods update

It’s been just over a year since I wrote a blog about my strange encounters in Grinlow Woods in Buxton in the UK. During that time, a few people have contacted me with more information. It’s slightly more comforting to know that the procession of cloaked figures that I saw in the woods were witnessed by other people and not just a figment of my imagination. Infact, someone got in touch to say that their parents even knew the group. Apparently, witches’ covens and satanic cults were all the rage back in the 1990s. I guess folks had to invent their own entertainment, pre-internet.

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Just as one incident gets explained away, another one crops up that isn’t so easy to rationalise. My next post features another queer tale from the supernatural hotspot that is Grinlow Woods! I hope you can join me.

D.W.

 

 

Scary Books

No daring supernatural investigations recently. Weeks of gale-force winds and lashing rain have forced this horror writer into more sedate interior pursuits, such as actual writing. I have read some very frightening things too. Don’t bank on getting a good night’s sleep with this lot!

Dead Mountain

 

First up for no particular reason is Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar. I first read about the Dyatlov Pass incident a few years ago and I’ve been waiting to get my hands on a decent book about the subject. To summarise, nine young Russian hikers lost their lives in bizarre and mysterious circumstances whilst on an expedition in 1959. To this day, no one knows how they died although there are many crackpot theories. Donnie Eichar finely combs his way through the peculiar facts and finds a hypothesis of his own, utilising Sherlock Holmes’ theory of deduction, i.e. eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth, no matter how unlikely. Personally, I found his conclusion more unsettling than any of the others and I drifted off to a fitful sleep, no longer feeling too sure of the world around me.

Boggy Creek

I love stuff about Bigfoot and one of my favourite horror films is infamous 1972 Sasquatch docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek. I was only a kid when I first saw it and it damaged me for life, especially the image of a cat that was literally scared to death by the monster. Boggy Creek looks a little tired and dated these days and fails to provoke anything more than an amused smile. The real-life sightings that inspired the film, however, have persisted and Lyle Blackburn drags the mystery into the 21st century with this excellent overview. He even features his own collection of Boggy Creek Monster memorabilia. The illustrations are fun too.

Real Wolfmen

It seems they have their hands full with monsters in America. Not only does Bigfoot insist upon hanging around in the woods but wolfmen too. No wonder that as a nation, Americans insist upon having guns. Linda S. Godfrey accounts for a disturbing amount of true encounters in her book. Before reading Real Wolfmen, the concept of people bumping into upright dog-like creatures all over the USA seemed outrageous but after reading through the whole lot, the consistency of the description and habits of the creature becomes a little worrying. The writer somehow manages to be both level-headed and open-minded in her investigation, putting you in a comfortable limbo where you can decide what the hell is going on for yourself.

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All three of these titles are available to buy on Amazon. I recommend all three of them. Your purchase could happily include my collection of scary stories Hidden Places on Earth.

Sweet dreams.

D.W.