1. The Ghosts of Chesterfield College.
The following are light hearted accounts of strange occurrences at Chesterfield
College, some experienced by myself some related by various colleagues over the
years. In matters of the paranormal I’m an agnostic neither easily believing nor being
strenuously sceptical. But, after over thirty years in the College I think Shakespeare
expresses my opinion best “there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than
are dreamed of in your philosophy!!” I hope you enjoy this collection of anecdotes and
if you’ve had any strange experiences or know of someone that has, please let me
know and I’ll add it to this account treating all information with upmost confidence.
Read on if you dare!
Infirmary Road Campus.
Looking at Chesterfield College from the outside its austere functional 20 th century
lines would not lead one to believe that you were looking at fertile territory for ghost
stories. However, in this you would be wrong. However our current West Block has a
history that can be traced back to the late 16 th century andgoing back even further in
timeour current West Block occupies the site of the former St Helen’s chapel. This was
a holy well that was famed with pilgrims for its curative powers until it was forcibly
closed during the English Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII. At other sites in the
UK springs dedicated to saints were adopted by Christianity from earlier pagan
goddesses such as Sulis in Bath and Arnemetia in Buxton (giving them their Roman
names of Aqua Sulis and Aqua Arnemetia), in both places the invading Romans built
associated temples to their goddess Minerva. It likely therefore that this Holy
Well(surely the stem of Holywell Cross)was similarly dedicated to an earlier pagan
water deity whose name is sadly lost to history. Although we now tend to think of
Celtic religion in terms of knot-work tattoos and tree hugging, it is likely that their
rituals involved human sacrifice so there may have been considerable violence on our
campus, possibly significant if the current theory of stone memory has any validity
(you can see echoes of these practices in the Derbyshire custom of well-dressing
where flowers rather than blood are offered to the deity of the spring).
As one of the oldest continual FE establishments in the county with nearly 200 years of
education it seems fitting we should have our own fables and folklore.
I will start my story with my own particular experiences though I emphasise that I
make no claims for supernatural origin and merely present the facts as experienced or
related for you to draw your own conclusions.
I started at Chesterfield Technical College as a very green biology technician on
Monday the 14th of August 1981 and the following occurred late in the afternoon of
the day we closed for Christmas (most likely December 23rdthe day before Christmas
Eve as in true Dickensian style we worked at that time almost right up to Christmas and
returned to work in between New Year, “Bah Humbug indeed!”). In the then
laboratory in S233 we kept a large fish tank of Guppies and for this reason we also had
a tubifex worm culture to provide live food for them. Over the close down we provided
2. a solid block of food that would slowly dissolve and keep the fish fed but before we
went home Ann the senior technician asked me to fetch a beaker of worms to give
them a last treat.
The worm culture was located on the old stone slab benches in the glass partitioned
balance room at the back of the old S208. These had originally been built to put the
accurate mechanical balances on that measure to 10,000 th of a gramme, to do this
they needed to be free of even the slightest vibration. By this time they had been
made obsolete by electronic self levelling balances so the room was used as a store
and the slabs made a cool place for the worm culture.
Now to appreciate what I’m about to tell, you need to understand the layout of the lab
and the prep room. S208 was an old, oak panelled laboratory with gothic looking oak
fume cupboards up one side with another in the front corner. Up the centre were four
huge fixed benches twelve by 5 feet with two inch thick Burma teak tops. Looking to
the front of the room the lecturing bench sat atop a dais with the blackboard behind,
to the right of this was the door to the prep room and chemical store. To the left of the
dais was the door to the main corridor, as already mentioned at the rear of the room
was an oak and glass partitioned balance room. The prep room ran the full width of
the room and had its own separate door to the main corridor. The one main problem
as we shall see was that the laboratory only had light switches by the door to the
It’s tempting to paint a picture where a thunderstorm fitfully lit a fiendish Frankenstein
laboratory as driving rain lashed at the windowpanes and tapped the knurled branches
of a tree like arthritic talons against the glass. Perhaps I should add a howling wolf just
for good measure and a stray but suspiciously strong gust suddenly blowing a window
open. The truth is more mundane and prosaic, it was just a normal late December
evening like any other and my mind was more likely occupied with the spirits I’d be
drinking after work to celebrate the start of Christmas (and the rather pretty office girl
I hoped would be there too!) than it was on any supernatural beings.
I entered the prep room and walked through into the lab, as I had no wish to go
blundering around tripping over stools with a glass beaker in my hand I decided that
there was enough light from the windows to make my way down the side to the
balance room. I’ve always had good night vision and this was done fairly easily even
though at nearly 4.30 it was totally dark outside there was sufficient light from
lampposts to allow me to see, this and a shaft of light from the prep room. I unlocked
the door to the balance room, took the lid off the culture, lifted the slice of bread left
for the worms to feed on and proceeded to scoop out the tiny little white worms.
Whilst doing this I heard someone enter the prep room and noted that they had an
exceptionally heavy tread, you could feel the vibrations even at this distance. Then an
elderly gentleman entered, he was fairly short, around five feet two or so but
exceptionally broadly built almost giving the impression of being square. The other
notable thing apart from his heavy tread was the fact he wore a bobble hat. I looked
out of the door and called a greeting, not wanting to startle him in the dark but he
ignored me and went along setting the fume cupboard doors to the same level (about
four inches from closed). I assumed he hadn’t heard me or was slightly deaf as he went
out again without acknowledging me at all. And that may have been it, after all I was
fairly new and there were all kinds of folk I didn’t know in such a large college as I been
there barely 3 months so I thought no more about it. Some months later a member of
3. the science staff retired and I got talking to another old hand and happened to
mention the man I’d seen, assuming he too had retired. He shook his head and said no-
one had left recently and asked me to describe the person I’d seen. As I told him what
had happened a thoughtful look came to his face and he said “well if I didn’t know
better I’d say you were describing Fred”. I asked if he’d left recently only for him to say
“he died twenty years ago”. He went on to say that Fred was a keen field biologist and
walked the peaks at every opportunity and he only owned one pair of footwear, hob
nailed walking boots that meant his tread could be heard long before he was seen. It
also seemed that Fred was bald so always wore a bobble hat almost the entire year; he
was also short and thickset. Another interesting fact was that for a time he’d actually
lived in the prep room when he’d run across hard times. The college was a very
different community then and the caretakers and management had turned a blind eye
to their unofficial lodger in fact the washing line that he strung across the sink to dry
his smalls was still used for drying chromatography papers right up to the
refurbishment last summer.
So that was my experience of S208.
It turned out that the room had a reputation of being haunted long before my
experience. Over the years there had been several other incidents so much so that the
cleaners always worked in there as a pair rather than alone as was normal for the
One lecturer walking past S208 on their way home after teaching an evening class was
startled to see a man walk through the locked door from the darkened lab straight in
front of her. It must be stressed that this was a mature Programme Manager who was
not given to wild flights of fancy or exaggeration. Right until the time she left the
College she stuck entirely to her story and henceforth avoided walking past the room
on her way home.
On another occasion a curious caretaker locking up one night pressed his face to the
window in the door to look into the dark lab that had such a malevolent reputation.
Just as his nose touched the pane the door shook as if from a violent blow making the
poor fellow jump out of his skin. He decided to beat a hasty retreat.
At anothertime the lab was being used to collate masses of mathematics work books,
because of the scale of the job each technician took a turn in strict rota and my senior
technician took her radio to keep her amused while doing this. At the end of the day
she returned to our prep room vowing never to go into S208 again, it would seem that
when she turned the radio off there was an annoyed harrumph from the prep room
and the door slammed violently shut with a resounding bang, even though the room
was empty and the door to the corridor locked.
A short while later a female technician came to work in chemistry and it wasn’t long
before she talked of hearing Fred pottering about in the lab next door but as he
seemed quite benign they rubbed along well enough together. She also pointed out
that no matter where the fume cupboard doors were set; they were always put to the
same four inch height when you came back that I’d seen the man setting them to.
However, on one occasion her happy acceptance of Fred was severely tested. She
phoned me at the end of the day and asked if I’d come over to the chemistry prep
room but would say no more. Mystified I walked round. When I got there I was met on
the corridor by an ashen face technician clutching her bag and coat, “can you turn the
4. light off in there” I was asked? When I asked why she merely said “you’ll see!”. Again
the light switches in this old part of the college were awkwardly placed as the original
building had been lit by gas (there was still a gas mantel in S203 up until recently), and
involved walking over to the other side of the room. I turned the switch off and turned
to go out as I did so the light came back on, as I reached to turned it off again it went
off before I could do so, only to relight as I turned away. The switch itself wasn’t
moving but I’d had enough and told the technician to go and I’d report it as a wiring
fault. Needles to say for narrative tension, no fault could be discovered the next day
and the same switch worked perfectly until ripped out last summer.
After this the ducting for the fume cupboards was ripped out, now I don’t know if it
was the disturbance, noise or whatever but all this seems to have been too much for
Fred who moved out and was never heard of again.
A post script to this tale is that the physics technician was entirely sceptical of the
whole haunted laboratory idea and explained the self-levelling fume cupboard doors
by a credible and rational theory that the internal sash weights balanced out the doors.
However when the laboratory was ripped out and the fume cupboards demolished it
was apparent from the thick layer of dust that the sash cords had rotted through and
the weights sat in the bottom of their wells for at least twenty or so years. So bang
went that theory!
My other experience was again on the second floor of south block a few years ago.
We’d had a chemical amnesty and had amassed a large volume of waste chemicals for
disposal. The firm had arranged for collection early on a Saturday morning and rather
than make a special journey over from near Doncaster, Bob tempted me to see to the
loading of the wagon with promises of overtime for Christmas. We’d collected trolleys
from all over and put the chemicals on these and stored them last thing Friday in S222
to allow easy loading of the goods lift the next morning. The Saturday proved overcast
and dull and at 6.00 it was still fairly dark. The caretaker let me in then retired to his
office; I had the entire south block to myself. I took the first trolley and stood it in the
goods lift door to keep it open whilst I loaded the others. Now if anyone has been in
the college when it’s dark you’ll know what I’m talking about here. On the ground, first
and second floors the corridor by the lifts are very long. Sometime you can give
yourself a fright by seeing your repeated image in the progression of fire doors along
its length, especially if you’re wearing a white lab coat. The impression is of a slightly
transparent figure walking towards you. As I took out the last trolley I glanced up the
corridor only to see this effect. I looked down; embarrassed that I’d fallen for it again,
realising that it was only my reflection. It was only when I was pulling the last trolley
onto the lift that I realised I wasn’t wearing my lab coat. Now with a real touch of the
jitters I pressed the lift door close button and with relief watched it slide to, only at the
last minute for there to be a beep as if something had been inserted in the way and
see the door open again. The high pitched whine continued and door refused to close,
now thoroughly un-nerved I peered out into the empty corridor, then I checked the
door runner to see if anything was in the way, nothing. A last my temper gave way and
I shouted “oh stop ####ing about!!” immediately at which the beeping stopped, the
door closed and the lift descended.
5. By now the lorry had arrived and we quickly loaded the various barrels with the
chemicals. When I was done I decided nothing would entice me to return to the
second floor (not even time and a half) and I’d leave taking the empty trolleys up until
Monday. When I went to inform the caretaker that the job was done I mentioned
seeing the figure on the second floor but strangely he didn’t seem inclined to check it
either! (we agreed that ghost-busting was a double time activity!!)
An ex chief caretaker also saw an old employee early one morning when he’d just
unlocked the front door. The figure walked through reception and into what had been
the old engineering labs through a locked door. He said the individual was plainly
recognisable, however it was impossible for it to be the person in question as he’d died
in rather tragic circumstances a few years earlier. In the days of coal fired heating it
was necessary at the weekend to make sure that the fires were still in and that the coal
was feeding onto them correctly, especially during cold weather where burst pipes
could result. He often had to go to an empty College and talked of frequently hearing
footsteps and seeing doors open and close without anyone visible to cause it.
Over the years there have also been stories relating to odd occurrences on the
mezzanine of the library with doors opening and closing without being touched and
the sound of footsteps.I have also recently been told that it was common to hear
sounds as of pages being turned or books being moved from shelves even though the
library was empty.It’ll be interesting to see if our recent extensive revamp of the area
has scared this particular spectral resident away.
Several people have also talked of seeing poltergeist like activity in the refectory with
items dropping off tables or skimming across the room, this when it was virtually
empty and no one was near to the items in question. One person noted when the area
was used for enrolment that whenever they came back after a break or first thing in
the morning the forms were scattered all over the floor.
One strange incident which I was reminded of recently by a colleague was a period
when folk reported seeing a black cat wandering the corridors of the College although
it was never apprehended. There was genuine concern that a cat had somehow
become trapped in the building. However should anyone attempt to catch it they
would see it dash round a corner only to be presented with an empty corridor on
following. For a short time it was reportedly seen all over the College and it
disappeared just as suddenly and mysteriously as it had appeared, so far never to be
Some years ago just after the bypass opened there was a spate of call outs due to
police reporting seeing someone on the principal’s staircase which remains lit at night.
Needless to say no intruder was ever discovered or apprehended nor was any sign of
forced entry apparent. Around this time there were also wild goose chases for folk
seen during the locking up of the College. Although it isn’t unknown for excessively
conscientious staff to occasionally get locked inside, in this particular case no one was
ever caught even though escape was impossible due to all the exits being locked.
6. One member of staff who regularly worked late into the evenings on the 8th floor told
me they had frequently heard disembodied footsteps passing along the parquet floor
from the staff lift through the lift vestibule towards the lantern staircase. Describing
them as having a strange precise click, perhaps of stiletto heels or hob-nailed boots
any attempt to catch the source of the sound always revealed an empty corridor.
Interestingly for those with long memories the old goods lift had a front and a back
door, this was because when it originally opened onto the 8 th floor the back door
opened onto the kitchens for the then refectory, this being before the current one was
built in the mid-1960s. If you look carefully at the parquet on the 8th floor you will see
where the railing for the serving area were fixed and the fact that the whole floor is
heavily and extensively pock-marked by years of student and staff stiletto heels.
Other people have also reported seeing ghosts, one cleaner frequently claimed to see
a young child wandering the corridors in west block. She said he wore a tall Eton collar
and very old fashioned suit. She talked of seeing him in various parts of the building
and occasionally saw him looking out of one of the windows. As he seemed entirely
oblivious to her presence she wasn’t particularly scared and was content to leave him
to his perambulations.
In the rambling warren of staff rooms up in the attics a member of staff talked of
frequently hearing the sounds of activity in adjoining rooms which they always
assumed was a colleague busy at their desk. Unsurprisingly on investigation it always
transpired that the rooms had been unoccupied all the time.
Another member of staff worked in the same third floor attic offices at a time when
they were sub-let to a charity around 2004/5 and she described a strange sensation of
vertigo and the visual feeling that the banisters were lower than they actually were
and the fall down the stairwell far higher than it actually was (for a similar case look up
the 16 Montpellier Road haunting) this, accompanied by the strange impulse to crawl
on her hands and knees whenever she was on that particular landing. It must be
stressed that this person has no particular fear of heights and has never before or
since suffered from vertigo. She and her colleagues were always the last to lock up and
leave the building after which they would walk together to the St Helen’s pub where
they parked their cars. Glancing back on one occasion she distinctly saw the face of a
young boy looking out of one of the upstairs attic windows. At first she assumed it
must have been another workmate until she saw them walking towards her and
realised the building was already locked and empty. She recently had occasion to go
over to West Block but was very relieved when she didn’t have to visit the attics again.
Up until the early 50s Chesterfield Grammar School had taken boarders with the pupils
living in the end section up in the attics which up until recently were occupied by our
Access staff. Perhaps this is the sad shade of some lonely child dreaming of home.
Also to be borne in mind is the fact that the college owns the lease on Tapton house.
Over the years there have been several spectral sightings of George Stephenson. When
the building was still used as a school a terrified cleaner was confronted one morning
7. by an old gentleman in a nightshirt emerging from the room at the head of the stairs
and demanding in a strong North Eastern accent “where’s my hot water?” I also had
further confirmation that it was haunted during its time as a school from a member of
staff who was an Old Taptonian. She vividly recalls walking down the staircase in the
corner of the building between the first and ground floors and of hearing “heavy,
hollow footsteps” descending the steps behind her even though there was no human
agency visible to cause them. It was one of those occasions when you find out just how
fast you can run!!
In the time of the college’s tenancy there have been reports of footsteps and opening
doors when there was no one else in the building. One notable feature of several
accounts is that although Tapton Campus is thickly carpeted the footsteps sound as if
they’re walking on bare surfaces. One member of staff on hearing conversation in fine
front parlour they were to teach in politely knocked before entering only to have the
conversation die immediately on opening the door to an empty room.
One member of staff talked of hearing someone entering the second floor ladies toilet
and occupy the cubicle next to them (although she later recalled there were no
footsteps). But on leaving she noted that although the door had shut it wasn’t locked
and the cubicle was empty. I think on this occasion we can definitely say that this
particular haunting shouldn’t be attributed to George Stephenson if only to preserve
the old gentleman’s reputation.
Tradition also has it that the ghost of Charles Markham, another tenant of the house
has, from time to time, been seen strolling around the grounds cutting and Edwardian
dash in his plus fours.
Junction 29a Logistics Training Centre.
You would suppose that a brand spanking new building would be immune from
haunting but there are persistent rumours that our Junction 29a centre has its own
share of spectral residents including an area of the conference room where people
have talked of a cold spot and feelings of uneasiness and dread (these being entirely
unconnected with those commonly felt during College management briefings!!).
There have also been reports of the sounds as of heavy items being moved or dragged
around in the same room mentioned previously even though it was unoccupied with
the building virtually empty and the adjacent unit closed.
Of course rationally it could be that the air-conditioning cools that area unequally or
maybe some item of plant is emitting ultra-low frequencies which have been used and
proven to cause unease in humans even though we can’t hear them. As the site
occupies reclaimed Colliery land a certain amount of ground settlement can’t be ruled
out as a potential cause of noises as well.
Certainly as the location of the former Markham Colliery it has known its share of
tragedy with an underground explosion claiming 79 lives and injuring a further 40
miners in 1938. There was also the Markham Pit Disaster on the 31 st of July 1973
where a brake rod on the winding drum fractured due to metal fatigue and the pit
cage descended out of control to the shaft bottom. On that occasion 18 miners lost
their lives and 11 otherswere horrifically injured. Perhaps some of that dread and
horror has soaked into the surrounding area. Certainly whilst the pit was open there
were reports of ghosts underground in the workings including and ostler who died on
8. duty and was frequently seen tending the pit ponies thereafter. Alsothere were
sightings of a pit deputy who often turned up in the older sections of the pit to watch
maintenance crews working on the pumps.
Although we’ve now sold off our Clowne Campus I was also told of poltergeist like
activity in the Hair and Beauty Reception where the perpetrator had a particular
fondness for rearranging the Wella products in a locked display cabinet. Despite the
receptionist being the only person with a key to this cabinet she would always find the
products in question turned with their labels facing inwards rather than legibly
outwards as they’d been left. Most intriguing was that of all the brands on sale it was
only the Wella ones that were moved. On one occasion she gave students the key to
tidy the cabinet up, when this was returned she went to check that the task had been
completed only to find that in the few minutes that had elapsed the products had
again been turned around. Whilst working alone in the area they also talked of
repeatedly hearing a sound rather like the plastic lid off a spray can clattering across
the tiles although they could never trace a source for the sound.
Various suggestions were put forward from vibrations to a nearby door hitting the
cabinet but any such causes should have effected everything in the cabinet not just
one particular brand.
As the salon was open for members of the public it had a large plasma screen in the
waiting area which looped College promotional material. Sound was provided normally
by Radio 1 or Radio 2 which was usually fine. However, when a CD of ABBA was looped
the volume would slowly creep up to ear-splitting or barely audible without any
physical intervention. This dispels the theory that poltergeists are intelligent as the
smart option with ABBA would have been to turn it OFF!!!
As an aside there are current theories that link poltergeist activity with areas of so
called geomagnetivity. Hot spots for hauntings frequently have underground water
courses or some geological instability and it may surprise several of you to realise that
most of our sites fit into these categories.
Infirmary Road has several springs culverted under the site a hint being in the old
name for the area “Sunny Springs” and our Estates team regularly have to pump out
the lift shafts which sometimes flood with excess ground water.
Our dearly departed Clowne Campus and Junction 29a both sit on the sites of pit shafts
and occupy land extensively undermined and liable to subsidence.
Perhaps not appreciated is that Tapton in the late 19 th and very early 20th centuries
was also the site of extensive coal mining with half a dozen collieries within a short
radius. One only has to walk round the exterior of Tapton House to see that the old
building has suffered badly over the years from considerable subsidence.
I don’t claim that this theory is the answer but it’s certainly an answer to some of the
strange stories of our College. Whatever the explanation it would seem we have more
than our fair share of spectral residents, it’s just a pity we can’t enrol them as
retention certainly doesn’t seem to be a problem!