Friday, October 29, 2021

Are you sitting comfortably? Top Hat and Tales.

If last week's austere abandoned buildings photography and Black Country poem didn't get you quaking in your boots, I've decided to share with you a family ghost story, which will hopefully set the tone and get you in the right (or should I say "wrong")frame of mind for All Hallows' Eve.  I'll throw in a few spooky creations to aid the process.

Now, should you be a paranormal non-believer, please bear with me.  This story was relayed to me numerous times by my late father over the years and there was none more sceptical than he.  I had my own experience as a pre-pubescent, which I won't go into here, but he attributed many logical explanations to my own very real (and repeated experience during a period of 18 months), until the same experience befell him, shaking him free of his migraine pain.  My point is, that even whilst he was a first hand witness to the events I am about to describe, he maintained to the end, that there must be some more plausible explanation than poltergeists.  Yes, poltergeists...and it all started with a top hat.

Gareth modelling a top hat and allowing me to play around with Rembrandt lighting

My grandfather, Ernest Taylor was his generation's answer to today's charity shop aficionado, only in the middle part of the 20th century, he bagged his bargains from house sales and auction houses.  With six children (five boys, one girl) to keep occupied, much entertainment could be had from unwanted ornaments, paintings and for the younger members of the family, an old sword or an inoffensive, if slightly battered, top hat.  

When the top hat arrived, my parents' romance was in full swing.  They were "courting" and my Mom has clear memories of Ernie arriving home with an old top hat and a bible, purportedly discovered in the back of an old hearse.  

On that particular evening, my mother was visiting the house in New Street, Wordsley (then a thriving semi rural village) and recalls the top hat being passed around the fireside from head to head; each wearer acting the fool or striking a pose in a loud, exuberant atmosphere.

Typically however, any attachment to the top hat was short lived and it was soon relegated to the back of a cupboard, taking up occupation next to the brooms and feather dusters.  But soon, there would be more than enough to pique the family's interest.

One evening, my father awoke to the sound of footsteps in the alleyway between their terraced house and the neighbouring property.  The footsteps were approaching the back yard to the property and as my Dad attuned to the sound, sure enough, the footsteps soon made their way into the yard.  Dad was immediately on his feet and peered through the window.  There was no one to be seen.

Not the kind of the foot in the door you want

Days or weeks later (the chronological details are somewhat hazy numerous decades later), my grandmother was at home with her daughter, my Aunt Valerie.  They were alone at the property and were outside in the garden when they happened to see a bottle of perfume belonging to my Aunt, seemingly rise up above the bedroom window ledge, before falling out of the open window and shattering into a million pieces on the stone floor outside.  To all intents and purposes it was as though the bottle had been propelled through the open window by an unseen hand.  Naturally they were both quite unsettled by this event.  The window ledge was some distance above the chest of drawers housing my Aunt's cosmetics and perfume bottle collection.  Explanations were thin on the ground.

A few nights later, in the early hours of the morning, the dense silence of the dead of night was, without warning, violently disturbed by the sound of smashing crockery.  The source of the noise was quickly identified as the living room downstairs and Mitzi, the keen eyed, intelligent family poodle was whining her troubled alert.

My grandmother was no minimalist and the mantelpiece was awash with ornaments.  The picture hanging on the wall above the mantelpiece was on the floor in the corner of the room and the ornaments, en masse, had been swept to one side by someone or something.  Most were damaged beyond repair.  My mother recalls visiting the next morning during an extensive clean up operation and the family could talk of little else than the recent unexplained activity.

An exorcism of sorts

It may have been during that clean up operation that the top hat was discovered lurking in the back of the cupboard.  No longer of use, it was disposed of somehow and family life continued at pace but without any further drama of this nature.  Coincidence?

As with all children, I loved to be scared by ghost stories, but would grow frustrated when my Dad maintained that he didn't believe in ghosts.  He also never wavered from this version of events or embellished the story in any way.  The facts as I have outlined them were irrefutable.  My Dad had a number of ghostly encounters in his lifetime but still refused to entertain the possibility of their existence.  He was a mass of contradictions (like father like daughter).  Still, too many other witnesses bear out this story and to this day, those remaining cannot explain the supremely strange events of the New Street property.

So, what else have I been doing?  Well, I've fully indulged my dark side and created yet more visual creepiness to tingle the spine and accompany you into dreamland.

Here's a Dial M for Murder inspired photo.  We've recently opted to replace our ailing landline cordless telephones with an old vintage style telephone and with the the timely discovery of a tube of ghoulish fake blood in a drawer, what else was I going to do?

I also have a vivid memory of staying up late and watching the 1946 horror film "The Beast with Five Fingers."  Well, Gareth can be a bit of a beast at times and he's got five fingers, so here's my homage to that piece of cinematic history.  

Honestly, can you imagine today's generation being menaced by a disembodied hand and using a hammer and nails to dispense with it?

I've also been buying miniature pumpkins to dry out and roll out every October from this day forth.  Much better than buying plastic tat and adding to the planet's problems.

I also took a walk along the canal, past more relics of our region's industrial heritage...

...sinister spaces (a new title for George Clark?)

and met a wood fairy (aka artist Jan, the Wood Fairy to be precise). She sells her wares at festivals.  Vix you might know her?

We've planted the woodland bulbs and tulip bulbs around the garden - just in the nick of time.  They have to be in the ground by 31st October according to the experts.  Best get them in before the dead rise I suppose.

So, the scene is set.  We're ready for the rain.  This is Gareth's submariner's helmet, on which he is testing out some verdigris paint. 

 I have candles, reading material, red wine and some TV viewing scheduled (Paris Police and a suitably scary film for Halloween (to be decided)).  

Other than that, this weekend, I will mostly be levitating.

A little levitation and little more action, please.

Sweet dreams!


  1. Your post title made me sit upright, and I was edging towards the edge of my seat while I was reading that utterly brilliant family ghost story, while goosebumps were spreading all over my body!
    I am a firm paranormal believer, but although I've had some experiences myself, this really is something else.
    Your photos are all utterly brilliant and just perfect to set the tone while we approach All Hallows' Eve! xxx

    1. So glad you enjoyed it Ann…and are a believer. I often don’t tell people because sometimes sense that there is scepticism. I suppose it’s understandable. Still, whether or not people believe (or read it for that matter), I thought it was the perfect time to write an account of it. It’s now out there, so to speak. xxx

  2. Hello Claire, thank you for your spooky family story this Halloween! I am glad the top hat moved on but can't help thinking where it is now :0 :0 :0 I find these kind of stories incredibly scary - even if it wasn't some poltergeist walking through the alleyway - SOMEONE was lurking in there, maybe paused at the end, and waited? That, in some respects even more terrifying for me... the idea of potential lurking human beings. This Mine Exploration clip Monsieur discovered recently really creeped me out -

    My dad, who is one of the most down-to-earth, 'meat & potatoes' sensible people, says he believes in 'other beings', due to a series of unexplainable events at an old fire station he used to work shifts at.

    Your spooky photos are just bloomin' marvelous!!! Ahhhhhh, telephones are sinister even without the blood stained scissors (must be a David Lynch thing) and your levitation photo should be an album cover!

    May the good spirits be with you,
    Lulu xXx

    1. Hi Lulu, That mine clip was indeed creepy. He could have been hit by one of those swinging chains! I’m with you actually - I am less terrified of unseen forces than of humans with psychopathic tendencies! We have a couple of old top hats…hope it’s not one of them! Your Dad’s experiences must have been quite disturbing - would love to know more. Thanks for the kind words on the photos - if you put a band together and make an album, consider it yours! xxx


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