Haunted Black Country Living Museum and its Ghostly Past

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ANDREW HOMER asks why do old haunted buildings, moved brick-by-brick to open air museums like the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, retain their paranormal activity?

Black Country Living Museum
Black Country Living Museum

The Black Country Living Museum started life on wasteland near Dudley in 1976. Since then the majority of buildings on the site have been moved from their original locations. Buildings are taken down brick by brick, piece by piece, with everything carefully coded so they can be reassembled on the museum site. Thus most of the buildings are original but no longer in their original location.

The street over canal in Black Country Living Museum

Logically, it would be reasonable to expect to expect such buildings to be free of any paranormal activity. This is not the case, however, as both staff and visitors have reported experiences which certainly come under the heading of ghosts and hauntings. Are these experiences somehow stored in the buildings themselves?

Many readers will be familiar with the term Stone Tape Theory which suggests that events, particularly traumatic ones, can somehow be stored in the very fabric of the surroundings in which they took place, and subsequently replayed under certain circumstances.

Over the years, Stone Tape Theory has very largely been discredited on the basis that there is no known mechanism whereby such recordings could be stored in, for example, the brickwork of buildings.

Stone Tape Theory is often wrongly attributed to ‘The Stone Tape’, a BBC drama first aired in 1972. The name may well be traced back to this drama but the writer, Nigel Kneale, was most certainly not responsible for postulating the notion that buildings could somehow store earlier events.

In fact, no one person can be reliably credited with this idea. Certainly, the theory is often credited to Thomas Charles Lethbridge an archaeologist and later parapsychologist. In his 1961 book, Ghost and Ghoul, Lethbridge makes the connection between memories and inanimate objects. Lethbridge himself cited work done by Oxford Professor and former President of the Society for Psychical Research, H. H. Price.

It was Price who came up with the concept of ‘place memories’. Detached memories becoming somehow attached to the environment and played back as hallucinations under the right circumstances. In fact, such ideas can be traced right back to the early days of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) which was formed in 1882.

Ghost sightings at Black Country Living Museum

Despite the lack of any evidence for Stone Tape Theory or place memories, there are a number of well documented sightings from buildings at the museum. Early one morning a member of staff was walking past the Chemist shop. She noticed three old ladies in authentic Victorian dresses chatting inside. Assuming they were costumed staff she looked away but on looking back the ladies had vanished.

Chemist in Black Country Living Museum

An entry runs between the Chemist shop and the Chapel. It is here that a tall, slim lady in a period black dress has been seen again by museum staff. As soon as they look away and glance back the lady is gone.

The Toll House, dating back to 1845, is another building where strange occurrences are reported. Very often visitors will ask if one particular room is haunted. It is always the bedroom on the right. On one occasion, a lady asked if she could look in the bedroom as the door was closed. She opened the door and quietly closed it. When asked why she had not gone in the lady said she did not want to disturb the girl sleeping on the bed. The room was empty.

The tollhouse Black Country Living Museum

The Bottle and Glass public house was moved from its original location in Brockmoor to the Black Country Living Museum where it backed onto the canal as it does now.

When the pub has been shut up a man described as having a very round face and wearing circular glasses has been seen peering out of one of the windows. The sound of someone moving around in the back room is regularly heard by pub staff even though they know the room is empty.

The Bottle and Glass Public House in Black Country Living Museum

Staff also sometimes have the experience of someone tapping on their shoulder. Of course, when they turn around there is no-one there. Female staff in costume sometimes have their long dresses firmly pulled as if by a child. This may be the same child who has been seen in and around the pub. The child is said to be ten-year-old Isaac Male.

Back when the canals were busy with horse drawn working barges Isaac worked for boatman James Haines. One very foggy night Haines and two of his men were leading their horse back to its stable. In the dense fog, the horse lost its footing and fell into the canal with young Isaac clinging desperately to its back. The only thing Haines and his men cared about was rescuing their valuable horse. It was something like twenty minutes before they got the horse out of the canal and finally turned their attention to Isaac. It was too late; he had already drowned.

The inquest was held in the Bottle and Glass and a verdict of accidental death was delivered. However, Haines and his men were severely criticised for allowing poor Isaac to drown that night. It seems his mischievous spirit has never left, despite the building being relocated to the Black Country Living Museum.

Other museums of buildings, such as Avoncroft in Bromsgrove, have reported similar paranormal activity. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the Stone Tape Theory?

Spooky Blooper at Black Country Living Museum

Whilst recording another version of the Isaac Male story for a Halloween publicity video in the Bottle and Glass we experienced some unaccounted for noise in the back room. The ‘Spooky Blooper’ can be heard at the very end of the clip together with the author’s reaction! There were only three of us in the pub at the time and all in the back room. Could it be that little Isaac Male was trying to make his presence known?

Andrew Homer’s Black Country Ghosts and Hauntings – a ghostly gazetteer guide to over 150 spooky locations from in and around this area of the West Midlands – can be purchased from Amazon and other online bookstores.

UPDATE (8/10/2023): We got this message from a reader, John Davies, about this article:

Nearly 50 years ago, not long before the museum was first created, I was wandering around an area near the Crooked House pub down Gornal way, and came across an old winding engine house on an old colliery site. This engine house, I believe, was subsequently dismantled and moved to the museum.

Looking around, I discovered that the brick foundations of the engine bed were still in place inside the roofless building, so I clambered up and started walking around the perimeter. The walls were about two feet thick, and several feet high, with an open, rectangular space in the centre. 

All of a sudden I felt confronted by an overwhelming sense of evil, trying to unnerve me enough to lose my balance. Praying, commanding it to get back wherever it came from, I stepped through it, got down and got out as quickly as I could. Whatever it was, nerves or something nastier, the incident left me shaking for several minutes. 

So was there some kind of haunting there? The spirit of an engine tender, killed in an accident? Or what? And, more to the point, has that revenant followed the engine house over to the museum?       

Have you experienced spooky things in these areas? Tell us in the comments section below!


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