DR FIONA-JANE BROWN tells of ghostly goings-on in an Aberdeen manse …
At the lower end of the Chanonry, by St Machar Cathedral stands a large stone house with the outline of a door or gateway in the wall. Above the capstone is a brightly-painted coat of arms, that of Gavin Dunbar, Bishop of Old Aberdeen (1518-32). The gateway was once the Bishop’s Port, the main northern entry to the burgh and the house was the Chaplains’ Court.
Although likely denuded of its original turrets and having lost the open central court, this is still the same building, which Dunbar had built in his first year of office. The chaplains, 20 in all, did the secretarial work for the bishop, and sometimes would deputise for the priests during services in St Machar’s Cathedral.
After the Reformation, the burgh was run a secular administration; the Chaplainary as it was also known, became home to teaching staff at the university. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became the church manse. Occupants reported hearing the sounds of male voices in what would have been the central square of the building – the very place the chaplains would have sat down to dine at a communal table. The spirits of the past did not settle easily.
In the 1920s, a Reverend Baird, his wife and son lived in the manse. Master Baird gave great upset to his mother as he refused to sleep without his pet dog in his bedroom. Even when Mrs Baird waited till her son was asleep and removed the dog, the boy would wake up and scream there was a man sitting asleep in the chair by the fire. Try as they might, neither could convince him that it was merely a dream.
Mrs Baird was horrified to discover that many years later, when her son had grown up and left home, that their lodger, a nurse, also experienced a supernatural presence in the boy’s old room. The nurse was not frightened, but described breathing sounds of an otherwise invisible sleeper. Mrs Baird, despairing, contacted the newly-established Edinburgh Psychic College, an organisation (still in existence) which researched supernatural occurrences.
Enter Spiritualist, William Reid. Reid was able, by means of his spirit guide, to report that the ghostly presence was Professor Johnston, a former Divinity lecturer from the previous century. The prof was upset that he had frightened Master Baird all those years before. That had been his favourite room in the house, and he liked to return to read his books and relax. Sometimes, even in spirit form, he would tire and fall asleep. Johnston’s identity was confirmed by another member of staff who recognised the description given by Reid. Sadly the prof was never heard of again and Mrs Baird’s burden was finally lifted.
DR FIONA-JANE BROWN is a folklorist and tour operator in Aberdeen, North-East Scotland. Her company, Hidden Aberdeen Tours, specialises in historical walks around the city and runs ghost tours around Halloween. Its website is here and its Facebook is here.