By Dr Jonathan Oates
There is a perennial interest in the supernatural. Ghost stories have been told for centuries whether orally, or in books or in the last 100 years, in film. They cause fear and fascination in equal measure. There is mystery about them which is appealing. They are often associated with the past and old houses and castles are commonly thought to harbour them, especially when there have been brutal deaths.
So perhaps it is not surprising that some of the old buildings in Ealing, past and present, have been reputed to be haunted. Not all of these exist anymore. One of these was Berrymead Priory, which once stood behind Acton Town Hall before its demolition in 1984. Despite its name, the building only dated from about 1801 and was only briefly used for religious purposes. Yet there have been reports of hooded white figures there and a workman once said that he saw a little man who talked about treasure and then disappeared.
Southall Manor House, parts of which date back to the sixteenth century, is another of these old houses with a ghostly reputation. In the 1970s a man working there saw another man enter an upstairs room used as an office. When he followed him into the room he could see no one and there was only one entrance. The witness was sober and it was daytime.
Above: Southall Manor House
Churches and religious buildings often have spectral associations, too. The only reputed haunted church in the borough is not one of the oldest, but is in fact a mid-Victorian creation. This is St. Dunstan’s in East Acton. In the late 1940s the vicar there was in church and saw a number of cowled, monk like figures, walk up the aisle and to the altar. Subsequently others also saw or felt their presence. The vicar thought that they were friendly ghosts and had a connection with a nearby monastery or abbey, though no such building existed. This became the most famous local ghost story and was published in books about haunted places in Britain.
The other well known story is that of the hauntings of Ellerslie Towers, a late Victorian house that stood on Montpelier Road. As soon as it was demolished in 1970 and replaced by a block of flats, a story emerged by a well known ghost enthusiast, Andrew Green, in his book, Our Haunted Kingdom. He stated that the house had been the scene of over 20 suicides, including that of a Victorian servant, and murders, culminating with a housemaid throwing herself and her child out of the highest tower to the their deaths in 1934. From then on the house was uninhabited. However, after 1945 it was sub-divided into flats, but the hauntings began when residents heard strange sounds and smelt odd things. The young Andrew Green visited and felt an unknown force urging him to emulate the housemaid who committed suicide, but he was with his father who saved his life. This is a story that has lost nothing in being retold many times since 1971. However, there is no record of the mass suicides/murders and the house was never abandoned.
The Hanwell Community Centre, once part of a school, might well count as another old building and there are stories, related on an internet site, about hauntings here as manifest by unexplained noises and lights.
There are also antiquarian ghost stories concerning a haunted mill in Greenford or Perivale in the seventeenth century and a headless lord in sixteenth century Northolt. There are some places, which by rights, should be haunted such as houses were murders have been committed, such as 22 Montpelier Road, 5 Kingsley Avenue, both in Ealing, 8 Gordon Road in Southall and a house in Cowper Road, Acton, but there have been no known reports of such.
Above: 22 Montpelier Road
Ghost stories seem to require a handful of ingredients. Firstly, a sinister past perhaps with unexplained or unsolved features, or involving great brutality and perhaps a particularly innocent victim. They need people to have seen strange figures or have heard or smelt something odd. Finally they seem to need to be set in a place or a site of a place of some antiquity. A cynic might add that they also need a sceptic trying to pour scorn on them.
This is an edited version of a talk held at Ealing Library in 26 September at 6.15pm.