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David Siddon - The ghosts of Chesterfield College


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David Siddon - The ghosts of Chesterfield College

  1. 1. The Ghosts of Chesterfield College.The following are light hearted accounts of strange occurrences at ChesterfieldCollege, some experienced by myself some related by various colleagues over theyears. In matters of the paranormal I’m an agnostic neither easily believing nor beingstrenuously sceptical. But, after over thirty years in the College I think Shakespeareexpresses my opinion best “there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, thanare dreamed of in your philosophy!!” I hope you enjoy this collection of anecdotes andif you’ve had any strange experiences or know of someone that has, please let meknow 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 centurylines would not lead one to believe that you were looking at fertile territory for ghoststories. However, in this you would be wrong. However our current West Block has ahistory that can be traced back to the late 16 th century andgoing back even further intimeour current West Block occupies the site of the former St Helen’s chapel. This wasa holy well that was famed with pilgrims for its curative powers until it was forciblyclosed during the English Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII. At other sites in theUK springs dedicated to saints were adopted by Christianity from earlier pagangoddesses such as Sulis in Bath and Arnemetia in Buxton (giving them their Romannames of Aqua Sulis and Aqua Arnemetia), in both places the invading Romans builtassociated temples to their goddess Minerva. It likely therefore that this HolyWell(surely the stem of Holywell Cross)was similarly dedicated to an earlier paganwater deity whose name is sadly lost to history. Although we now tend to think ofCeltic religion in terms of knot-work tattoos and tree hugging, it is likely that theirrituals involved human sacrifice so there may have been considerable violence on ourcampus, 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-dressingwhere 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 ofeducation 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 Imake no claims for supernatural origin and merely present the facts as experienced orrelated for you to draw your own conclusions.I started at Chesterfield Technical College as a very green biology technician onMonday the 14th of August 1981 and the following occurred late in the afternoon ofthe day we closed for Christmas (most likely December 23rdthe day before ChristmasEve as in true Dickensian style we worked at that time almost right up to Christmas andreturned to work in between New Year, “Bah Humbug indeed!”). In the thenlaboratory in S233 we kept a large fish tank of Guppies and for this reason we also hada tubifex worm culture to provide live food for them. Over the close down we provided
  2. 2. a solid block of food that would slowly dissolve and keep the fish fed but before wewent home Ann the senior technician asked me to fetch a beaker of worms to givethem a last treat.The worm culture was located on the old stone slab benches in the glass partitionedbalance room at the back of the old S208. These had originally been built to put theaccurate mechanical balances on that measure to 10,000 th of a gramme, to do thisthey needed to be free of even the slightest vibration. By this time they had beenmade obsolete by electronic self levelling balances so the room was used as a storeand 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 laband the prep room. S208 was an old, oak panelled laboratory with gothic looking oakfume cupboards up one side with another in the front corner. Up the centre were fourhuge fixed benches twelve by 5 feet with two inch thick Burma teak tops. Looking tothe 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 thedais was the door to the main corridor, as already mentioned at the rear of the roomwas an oak and glass partitioned balance room. The prep room ran the full width ofthe room and had its own separate door to the main corridor. The one main problemas we shall see was that the laboratory only had light switches by the door to thecorridor.It’s tempting to paint a picture where a thunderstorm fitfully lit a fiendish Frankensteinlaboratory as driving rain lashed at the windowpanes and tapped the knurled branchesof a tree like arthritic talons against the glass. Perhaps I should add a howling wolf justfor good measure and a stray but suspiciously strong gust suddenly blowing a windowopen. The truth is more mundane and prosaic, it was just a normal late Decemberevening like any other and my mind was more likely occupied with the spirits I’d bedrinking after work to celebrate the start of Christmas (and the rather pretty office girlI 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 goblundering around tripping over stools with a glass beaker in my hand I decided thatthere was enough light from the windows to make my way down the side to thebalance room. I’ve always had good night vision and this was done fairly easily eventhough at nearly 4.30 it was totally dark outside there was sufficient light fromlampposts to allow me to see, this and a shaft of light from the prep room. I unlockedthe door to the balance room, took the lid off the culture, lifted the slice of bread leftfor 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 anexceptionally heavy tread, you could feel the vibrations even at this distance. Then anelderly gentleman entered, he was fairly short, around five feet two or so butexceptionally broadly built almost giving the impression of being square. The othernotable thing apart from his heavy tread was the fact he wore a bobble hat. I lookedout of the door and called a greeting, not wanting to startle him in the dark but heignored me and went along setting the fume cupboard doors to the same level (aboutfour inches from closed). I assumed he hadn’t heard me or was slightly deaf as he wentout again without acknowledging me at all. And that may have been it, after all I wasfairly new and there were all kinds of folk I didn’t know in such a large college as I beenthere barely 3 months so I thought no more about it. Some months later a member of
  3. 3. the science staff retired and I got talking to another old hand and happened tomention 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 whathad happened a thoughtful look came to his face and he said “well if I didn’t knowbetter 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 andwalked the peaks at every opportunity and he only owned one pair of footwear, hobnailed walking boots that meant his tread could be heard long before he was seen. Italso seemed that Fred was bald so always wore a bobble hat almost the entire year; hewas also short and thickset. Another interesting fact was that for a time he’d actuallylived in the prep room when he’d run across hard times. The college was a verydifferent community then and the caretakers and management had turned a blind eyeto their unofficial lodger in fact the washing line that he strung across the sink to dryhis smalls was still used for drying chromatography papers right up to therefurbishment last summer.So that was my experience of S208.It turned out that the room had a reputation of being haunted long before myexperience. Over the years there had been several other incidents so much so that thecleaners always worked in there as a pair rather than alone as was normal for theother rooms.One lecturer walking past S208 on their way home after teaching an evening class wasstartled to see a man walk through the locked door from the darkened lab straight infront of her. It must be stressed that this was a mature Programme Manager who wasnot given to wild flights of fancy or exaggeration. Right until the time she left theCollege she stuck entirely to her story and henceforth avoided walking past the roomon her way home.On another occasion a curious caretaker locking up one night pressed his face to thewindow 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 thepoor 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 seniortechnician took her radio to keep her amused while doing this. At the end of the dayshe returned to our prep room vowing never to go into S208 again, it would seem thatwhen she turned the radio off there was an annoyed harrumph from the prep roomand the door slammed violently shut with a resounding bang, even though the roomwas empty and the door to the corridor locked.A short while later a female technician came to work in chemistry and it wasn’t longbefore she talked of hearing Fred pottering about in the lab next door but as heseemed quite benign they rubbed along well enough together. She also pointed outthat no matter where the fume cupboard doors were set; they were always put to thesame 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. Shephoned me at the end of the day and asked if I’d come over to the chemistry preproom but would say no more. Mystified I walked round. When I got there I was met onthe corridor by an ashen face technician clutching her bag and coat, “can you turn the
  4. 4. light off in there” I was asked? When I asked why she merely said “you’ll see!”. Againthe light switches in this old part of the college were awkwardly placed as the originalbuilding had been lit by gas (there was still a gas mantel in S203 up until recently), andinvolved walking over to the other side of the room. I turned the switch off and turnedto go out as I did so the light came back on, as I reached to turned it off again it wentoff before I could do so, only to relight as I turned away. The switch itself wasn’tmoving but I’d had enough and told the technician to go and I’d report it as a wiringfault. Needles to say for narrative tension, no fault could be discovered the next dayand 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 itwas the disturbance, noise or whatever but all this seems to have been too much forFred who moved out and was never heard of again.A post script to this tale is that the physics technician was entirely sceptical of thewhole haunted laboratory idea and explained the self-levelling fume cupboard doorsby 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 itwas apparent from the thick layer of dust that the sash cords had rotted through andthe weights sat in the bottom of their wells for at least twenty or so years. So bangwent 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 fordisposal. The firm had arranged for collection early on a Saturday morning and ratherthan make a special journey over from near Doncaster, Bob tempted me to see to theloading of the wagon with promises of overtime for Christmas. We’d collected trolleysfrom all over and put the chemicals on these and stored them last thing Friday in S222to allow easy loading of the goods lift the next morning. The Saturday proved overcastand dull and at 6.00 it was still fairly dark. The caretaker let me in then retired to hisoffice; I had the entire south block to myself. I took the first trolley and stood it in thegoods lift door to keep it open whilst I loaded the others. Now if anyone has been inthe college when it’s dark you’ll know what I’m talking about here. On the ground, firstand second floors the corridor by the lifts are very long. Sometime you can giveyourself a fright by seeing your repeated image in the progression of fire doors alongits length, especially if you’re wearing a white lab coat. The impression is of a slightlytransparent figure walking towards you. As I took out the last trolley I glanced up thecorridor 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 trolleyonto the lift that I realised I wasn’t wearing my lab coat. Now with a real touch of thejitters I pressed the lift door close button and with relief watched it slide to, only at thelast minute for there to be a beep as if something had been inserted in the way andsee 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 thedoor runner to see if anything was in the way, nothing. A last my temper gave way andI shouted “oh stop ####ing about!!” immediately at which the beeping stopped, thedoor closed and the lift descended.
  5. 5. By now the lorry had arrived and we quickly loaded the various barrels with thechemicals. When I was done I decided nothing would entice me to return to thesecond floor (not even time and a half) and I’d leave taking the empty trolleys up untilMonday. When I went to inform the caretaker that the job was done I mentionedseeing the figure on the second floor but strangely he didn’t seem inclined to check iteither! (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 justunlocked the front door. The figure walked through reception and into what had beenthe old engineering labs through a locked door. He said the individual was plainlyrecognisable, however it was impossible for it to be the person in question as he’d diedin rather tragic circumstances a few years earlier. In the days of coal fired heating itwas necessary at the weekend to make sure that the fires were still in and that the coalwas feeding onto them correctly, especially during cold weather where burst pipescould result. He often had to go to an empty College and talked of frequently hearingfootsteps 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 themezzanine of the library with doors opening and closing without being touched andthe sound of footsteps.I have also recently been told that it was common to hearsounds as of pages being turned or books being moved from shelves even though thelibrary was empty.It’ll be interesting to see if our recent extensive revamp of the areahas scared this particular spectral resident away.Several people have also talked of seeing poltergeist like activity in the refectory withitems dropping off tables or skimming across the room, this when it was virtuallyempty and no one was near to the items in question. One person noted when the areawas used for enrolment that whenever they came back after a break or first thing inthe morning the forms were scattered all over the floor.One strange incident which I was reminded of recently by a colleague was a periodwhen folk reported seeing a black cat wandering the corridors of the College althoughit was never apprehended. There was genuine concern that a cat had somehowbecome trapped in the building. However should anyone attempt to catch it theywould see it dash round a corner only to be presented with an empty corridor onfollowing. For a short time it was reportedly seen all over the College and itdisappeared just as suddenly and mysteriously as it had appeared, so far never to beseen again.Some years ago just after the bypass opened there was a spate of call outs due topolice 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 offorced entry apparent. Around this time there were also wild goose chases for folkseen during the locking up of the College. Although it isn’t unknown for excessivelyconscientious staff to occasionally get locked inside, in this particular case no one wasever caught even though escape was impossible due to all the exits being locked.
  6. 6. One member of staff who regularly worked late into the evenings on the 8th floor toldme they had frequently heard disembodied footsteps passing along the parquet floorfrom the staff lift through the lift vestibule towards the lantern staircase. Describingthem as having a strange precise click, perhaps of stiletto heels or hob-nailed bootsany 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 backdoor, this was because when it originally opened onto the 8 th floor the back dooropened onto the kitchens for the then refectory, this being before the current one wasbuilt in the mid-1960s. If you look carefully at the parquet on the 8th floor you will seewhere the railing for the serving area were fixed and the fact that the whole floor isheavily and extensively pock-marked by years of student and staff stiletto heels.West block.Other people have also reported seeing ghosts, one cleaner frequently claimed to seea young child wandering the corridors in west block. She said he wore a tall Eton collarand very old fashioned suit. She talked of seeing him in various parts of the buildingand occasionally saw him looking out of one of the windows. As he seemed entirelyoblivious to her presence she wasn’t particularly scared and was content to leave himto his perambulations.In the rambling warren of staff rooms up in the attics a member of staff talked offrequently hearing the sounds of activity in adjoining rooms which they alwaysassumed was a colleague busy at their desk. Unsurprisingly on investigation it alwaystranspired that the rooms had been unoccupied all the time.Another member of staff worked in the same third floor attic offices at a time whenthey were sub-let to a charity around 2004/5 and she described a strange sensation ofvertigo and the visual feeling that the banisters were lower than they actually wereand the fall down the stairwell far higher than it actually was (for a similar case look upthe 16 Montpellier Road haunting) this, accompanied by the strange impulse to crawlon her hands and knees whenever she was on that particular landing. It must bestressed that this person has no particular fear of heights and has never before orsince suffered from vertigo. She and her colleagues were always the last to lock up andleave the building after which they would walk together to the St Helen’s pub wherethey parked their cars. Glancing back on one occasion she distinctly saw the face of ayoung boy looking out of one of the upstairs attic windows. At first she assumed itmust have been another workmate until she saw them walking towards her andrealised the building was already locked and empty. She recently had occasion to goover 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 pupilsliving in the end section up in the attics which up until recently were occupied by ourAccess staff. Perhaps this is the sad shade of some lonely child dreaming of home.Tapton Campus.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. Whenthe building was still used as a school a terrified cleaner was confronted one morning
  7. 7. by an old gentleman in a nightshirt emerging from the room at the head of the stairsand demanding in a strong North Eastern accent “where’s my hot water?” I also hadfurther confirmation that it was haunted during its time as a school from a member ofstaff who was an Old Taptonian. She vividly recalls walking down the staircase in thecorner 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 humanagency visible to cause them. It was one of those occasions when you find out just howfast you can run!!In the time of the college’s tenancy there have been reports of footsteps and openingdoors when there was no one else in the building. One notable feature of severalaccounts is that although Tapton Campus is thickly carpeted the footsteps sound as ifthey’re walking on bare surfaces. One member of staff on hearing conversation in finefront parlour they were to teach in politely knocked before entering only to have theconversation die immediately on opening the door to an empty room.One member of staff talked of hearing someone entering the second floor ladies toiletand occupy the cubicle next to them (although she later recalled there were nofootsteps). But on leaving she noted that although the door had shut it wasn’t lockedand the cubicle was empty. I think on this occasion we can definitely say that thisparticular haunting shouldn’t be attributed to George Stephenson if only to preservethe old gentleman’s reputation.Tradition also has it that the ghost of Charles Markham, another tenant of the househas, from time to time, been seen strolling around the grounds cutting and Edwardiandash in his plus fours.Junction 29a Logistics Training Centre.You would suppose that a brand spanking new building would be immune fromhaunting but there are persistent rumours that our Junction 29a centre has its ownshare of spectral residents including an area of the conference room where peoplehave talked of a cold spot and feelings of uneasiness and dread (these being entirelyunconnected with those commonly felt during College management briefings!!).There have also been reports of the sounds as of heavy items being moved or draggedaround in the same room mentioned previously even though it was unoccupied withthe building virtually empty and the adjacent unit closed.Of course rationally it could be that the air-conditioning cools that area unequally ormaybe some item of plant is emitting ultra-low frequencies which have been used andproven to cause unease in humans even though we can’t hear them. As the siteoccupies reclaimed Colliery land a certain amount of ground settlement can’t be ruledout as a potential cause of noises as well.Certainly as the location of the former Markham Colliery it has known its share oftragedy with an underground explosion claiming 79 lives and injuring a further 40miners in 1938. There was also the Markham Pit Disaster on the 31 st of July 1973where a brake rod on the winding drum fractured due to metal fatigue and the pitcage descended out of control to the shaft bottom. On that occasion 18 miners losttheir lives and 11 otherswere horrifically injured. Perhaps some of that dread andhorror has soaked into the surrounding area. Certainly whilst the pit was open therewere reports of ghosts underground in the workings including and ostler who died on
  8. 8. duty and was frequently seen tending the pit ponies thereafter. Alsothere weresightings of a pit deputy who often turned up in the older sections of the pit to watchmaintenance crews working on the pumps.Clowne Campus.Although we’ve now sold off our Clowne Campus I was also told of poltergeist likeactivity in the Hair and Beauty Reception where the perpetrator had a particularfondness for rearranging the Wella products in a locked display cabinet. Despite thereceptionist being the only person with a key to this cabinet she would always find theproducts in question turned with their labels facing inwards rather than legiblyoutwards as they’d been left. Most intriguing was that of all the brands on sale it wasonly the Wella ones that were moved. On one occasion she gave students the key totidy the cabinet up, when this was returned she went to check that the task had beencompleted only to find that in the few minutes that had elapsed the products hadagain been turned around. Whilst working alone in the area they also talked ofrepeatedly hearing a sound rather like the plastic lid off a spray can clattering acrossthe tiles although they could never trace a source for the sound.Various suggestions were put forward from vibrations to a nearby door hitting thecabinet but any such causes should have effected everything in the cabinet not justone particular brand.As the salon was open for members of the public it had a large plasma screen in thewaiting area which looped College promotional material. Sound was provided normallyby Radio 1 or Radio 2 which was usually fine. However, when a CD of ABBA was loopedthe volume would slowly creep up to ear-splitting or barely audible without anyphysical intervention. This dispels the theory that poltergeists are intelligent as thesmart option with ABBA would have been to turn it OFF!!!As an aside there are current theories that link poltergeist activity with areas of socalled geomagnetivity. Hot spots for hauntings frequently have underground watercourses or some geological instability and it may surprise several of you to realise thatmost of our sites fit into these categories.Infirmary Road has several springs culverted under the site a hint being in the oldname for the area “Sunny Springs” and our Estates team regularly have to pump outthe lift shafts which sometimes flood with excess ground water.Our dearly departed Clowne Campus and Junction 29a both sit on the sites of pit shaftsand occupy land extensively undermined and liable to subsidence.Perhaps not appreciated is that Tapton in the late 19 th and very early 20th centurieswas also the site of extensive coal mining with half a dozen collieries within a shortradius. One only has to walk round the exterior of Tapton House to see that the oldbuilding 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 thestrange stories of our College. Whatever the explanation it would seem we have morethan our fair share of spectral residents, it’s just a pity we can’t enrol them asretention certainly doesn’t seem to be a problem!
  9. 9. I hope these accounts have entertained and I beg you not to be scared or afraid by anyof what you’ve read, as my grandmother always said “you’ve far more to fear from theliving!”So, when you’re going home tonight and you see someone approaching you, just makesure…………………………………………………………D.E.Siddon.This account is the intellectual property of the author and Chesterfield College. Publication of this this material either entirelyor in part is solely by the permission of the owners and subject to copyright © MMXII.