PATSY LANGLEY takes a look back at Most Haunted: Michelham Priory
Episode Title: Michelham Priory
Location: Eastbourne, Sussex
Episode Number: 16
Originally broadcast: 2002
Main Medium: Derek Acorah
Parapsychologist(s): Jason Karl, David Scanlen & Vicki Purewal
Summary: Michelham Priory was originally a church built on a medieval island. In 1556 it was transformed into a house where many families have lived through tragedy.
Review: Michelham Priory is situated in East Sussex. It was founded by Augustinian monks and constructed in 1229 as a monastery but was dissolved as a working monastery in Tudor times. It is now a private house. Yvette Fielding opens the programme by introducing the viewers to the location, giving a potted history of the house and also stories of the ghosts and hauntings, which people have experienced. She does this in such a way as to ‘prime’ the viewers into expecting to experience something supernatural themselves. After the short commentary she introduces the audience to the film crew and also the ‘eminent medium’ Derek Acorah. The programme continues with the Property Manager Chris Tuckett, explaining his experiences with ghosts and the unexplained, both in the Priory and the Gatehouse: tales of moving furniture, scratches on the floor, unexplained footsteps and the sounds of a woman crying. He declares that things became so bad that he had thought of moving out. However, nowadays the ghosts seem to have ‘quietened down’ according to Tuckett.
The next segment deals with parapsychology and we see Jason Karl demonstrating ghost hunting equipment and giving convincing details about what parapsychology is. The walkabout with Yvette begins in the Undercroft, the crypt area of the Priory. It was once the place where dead monks were buried but has been converted into a modern dining room. Here, she regales viewers with tales of a BBC film crew having encountered the supernatural before she takes the walk around with Derek Acorah. At one point, she speaks to us from the ‘ladies’, where she tells us that she had a ‘strange experience’ earlier on. This experience involved Acorah slipping into a mini trance after dinner. Luckily for the audience this session was filmed and we see him starting off by picking up on a little girl by name of ‘Rosemary.’ ‘Rosemary’ though, was never known at the Priory so where Acorah retrieved this from, is anyone’s guess. He then begins playing, as if he is ‘Rosemary’ and ends up goose-stepping in trance. One can see that this has fazed Yvette and she is pictured sitting at the dinner table with an amazed look on her face. Later in the trance session, Acorah picks up on two ladies who once lived at Michelham, which Jason Karl corroborates. Chris Tuckett is again filmed as he relates a story of how some nurses arranged to stay at the Priory on a ghost hunt but didn’t finish the night, so scared were they. This was another attempt at drawing in the viewers to expect a scary night.
Night Vigil, 1am to 4.30am
We are taken to the Undercroft, with Jason Karl present. Immediately they enter, a door opens. Acorah claims that it is the ghost of ‘Herbert Pelham’, a former resident of the house. According to Derek Acorah, this spirit beckons them to go through the open door where another spirit named ‘Thomas Sackville’ is waiting. This Sackville was a real person, a poet who once lived at Michelham and they are joined by a kitchen maid named ‘Molly Pearson.’ In true Acorah style, ‘Thomas Sackville’ is now accused of being ‘a pervert’ who ‘got up to things’ with a young girl. It later transpires that the girl is ‘Rosemary’ and is frightened of ‘Sackville.’ Remarkably, ‘Rosemary’ leads Acorah to a hidden staircase where a statue of a Madonna and Child is located inside a cupboard, a kind of shrine. It is here, according to Derek Acorah where ‘Rosemary’ keeps her dolls and where she sometimes hides from the pervert Sackville. So distraught is Yvette by this that she declares that at the end of the evening, a séance will be held to try and help the little girl. Moving on, they enter another room and this time, Yvette is pinched on her bottom by an unseen entity. Acorah claims the room is haunted by a ‘stern woman’ who tells him that the room burnt down in antiquity and had to be rebuilt. Returning to the dining room, Jason Karl claims that in 1993 during a similar vigil, a strange footprint was found on the hearth and later captured on film. A strange whining noise is heard and then the lights go off. Unable to account for this, Karl Beattie (camera) claims to have experienced a ‘tingly’ sensation close to power points and both he and Rick Fielding saw a set of legs covered by a coat, which simply disappeared. Later, the crew split into two groups. Jason Karl armed with the EMF meter (so essential on these vigils) accompanies Yvette and Acorah upstairs. Immediately the meter goes wild and Acorah clams that ‘Sackville’s wife’ is causing it, ‘wondering where her husband is.’ Back in the kitchen the EMF again clicks off the scale; Jason has no explanation for it and neither apparently does Acorah. However, despite this, he again goes into trance, playacting at being a ‘big man’ and keeps bending down. However this passes off and he’s back to his old self. At 4.30am he rejoins Karl Beattie and Ian the cameraman inside ‘Rosemary’s’ hidden stairwell. The EMF meter at this point goes haywire trying to keep up with the sensations and while filming Beattie and Acorah inside the den Ian is mysteriously pushed over, making the camera malfunction and the picture disappear. After a while and having the picture restored, Beattie tells us that ‘Rosemary’ kept her dolls inside a chest that was located inside the room. After seeing some inexplicable lights and orbs, which Ian put down to dust particles, and which Beattie dismissed, Derek Acorah claimed that he’d ‘had a warning about further meddling’ and Yvette said that she heard a ‘manical laugh’ the vigil ended. The programme’s epilogue with the séance that Yvette had promised to conduct for ‘Rosemary’ was featured. She wrapped up the programme by summing up the events of the evening and Derek Acorah did likewise.
The location chosen by ‘Most Haunted’ was a good one. For many years Michelham Priory has had a reputation of being one of Britain’s most haunted ‘hotspots.’ Indeed, during the programme the viewers are left believing that they were witnessing first hand, several supernatural occurrences: the open doors, the strange lights, the pinching of Yvette’s bottom and Derek Acorah going into trance. This might be the first time that viewers ever have an inkling of Acorah’s trances, which would later become a mainstay of later ‘Most Haunted’ episodes and which would provide such delightful entertainment. It would also prove to be Acorah’s downfall, as his relationship with Yvette eventually crumbles and he uses his trances to conduct violent attacks on her. It is well known that both Karl Beattie and Yvette Fielding found Acorah’s trances to be both tiresome and distracting.
Notwithstanding this, the programme at least attempted to make this a serious investigation; maybe because it was one of the first locations in the series we see a semblance of rationality and historical fact. Thomas Sackville 1st Earl of Dorset and MP for East Grinstead was a well-known poet who lived at Michelham Priory in the 1550s. He was also a cousin of Queen Anne Boleyn. It was proposed by Acorah that Sackville was a pervert who fondled and ‘did things’ with young girls; nowhere in the historical record are there any reports of this behaviour so we must conclude that these accusations were peddled out for effect. Later spirit contact could not really be pinned down to either a time frame or to a relevant name. ‘Rosemary’ the child ghost had no historical significance at Michelham but that doesn’t prove that she did not exist – it means that there is no record of the girl being there. These types of accusations by Acorah against long-dead figures would assume higher importance in later episodes of ‘Most Haunted’ without any historical fact to support them.
We see Jason Karl’s involvement a lot during the programme. Even though he is neither a scientist nor a historian he has been engaged by ‘Most Haunted’ to give a resident sceptic’s view and the occasional historic one. However, his involvement comes across as someone there to make up the numbers and to pour doubt on any supernatural occurrences. Jason Karl is an actor who worked on ‘Most Haunted’ but left after Series 1. The pinching of Yvette’s bottom is quite perplexing until we realise that the cameraman Karl Beattie is her husband and both of them liked to get up to mischief on set. It is quite possible that he pinched her whilst out of shot and so we must take it at that value. Equally, we must also conclude that the ‘tingly’ feeling experienced by Beattie might have a natural explanation because he and Rick Fielding were located close to electrical points. Of course, none of this means that Michelham Priory is not haunted or that people have not had extraordinary experiences. Beattie and Fielding both saw the same cloaked legs in the room where this had been before seen and Chris Tuckett relates some convincing tales, which really do not bear out the goings-on with the ‘Most Haunted’ team. This is quite comforting; for if they did, it might have proved that Tuckett’s tales were not worth considering.
PATSY LANGLEY has been interested in the paranormal since childhood, believing that one day the ‘supernatural’ will ‘slot’ into known physics and this may be possible some day with the investigations into quantum theory. A qualified accountant, she has been a teacher of geology and economics and a published author of four books: ‘The Highgate Vampire Casebook’, ‘Raining In My Heart (The Story of Buddy Holly)’, ‘Susan Chick – A Lady Of Bedfont’ and ‘The Ghosts And Legends Of Middlesex’ co-authored with her fiancé Ricky Sorenti. She is currently researching the Highgate case again with a view to a second edition of Vampire Casebook.She has one adult son and two grandchildren.
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