John West’s childhood love of ghosts has led him on a life of haunted discovery. He talks to DAVID SAUNDERSON about his new book, Britain’s Haunted Heritage.
Spooky Isles: First of all, the book is an impressive tome. There’s been many books over the years covering all the haunting of Britain – so it’s a hard act to follow. Why did you decide to tackle the entire country?
John West: Thanks, that’s kind of you to say! I have been fascinated by ghosts since I was a child. Over the years, I have read loads of books on the subject. Some of the stories really scared me and when I came to compile the book I chose those that had stuck in my mind as a child as I felt they were more unusual and scarier than your average ghost story. They also happened to be spread out across the entire country and so covering UK hauntings seemed like the sensible thing to do.
What was your process in choosing the hauntings – you’ve picked the big ones but some are more unusual?
I picked those that really gave me sleepless nights as a child. I reasoned that these would be the sort to fascinate the modern reader and maybe also give them the odd sleepless night too! I also made sure that there was a good mixture of hauntings so the reader didn’t just get endless accounts of phantom monks or grey ladies flitting around ruined abbeys or castles.
How did psychic Uri Geller come to do your introduction?
Uri Geller is a friend of mine. We first connected through another mutual friend, the film director and writer, Jason Figgis. Jason did a documentary with Uri on haunted Venice a few years ago and he suggested that I interview Uri for a magazine I write for, Psychic News. We did the interview and I rather cheekily asked Uri if he would like to write the introduction as I know he’s interested in ghost stories. I must admit that I was rather surprised when he said yes as he usually doesn’t have the time to do such things!
What are you favourite stories in the book?
I love them all but I do have some favourites. The one about the stone heads has always intrigued me as it involves a werewolf-like creature. I know some may regard the tale as fantasy but one of the witnesses was a trained academic who had nothing to gain by making her story public. For those of your readers who haven’t heard of the story, it involves two Celtic heads that were found in a garden in Northumbria. Strange things were witnessed around them, including a figure with a wolf’s head.
Another favourite tale is the suicide house of Ealing. The author and ghost hunter, Andrew Green first investigated it. Several people who visited or stayed in the building felt compelled to throw themselves out of a window, including Mr Green. I’m glad to say that Mr Green was prevented from doing so by his father! Another interesting tale is the haunting of Langenhoe church in Essex. The paranormal activity went on for years – the vicar there was even embraced by a phantom naked lady!
Borley would have to be another one. I’ve concentrated on the church rather than the rectory as the church seems to be as badly haunted as the rectory once was. Some have even suggested that the ghosts moved to the church following the destruction of the rectory by fire.
Was there anything you left out that you thought should have been in?
Loads. There is the story of the phantom bird of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a ghostly mummified body that haunts a church in London and not forgetting several interesting tales from the UK’s most haunted city, York. They will have to wait for volume 2!
What’s next for John West, in terms of the paranormal?
I plan to write another book on British ghosts but this time I’ll include some stories from Ireland. I also write for Psychic News magazine – ghost stories and interview with psychics – and will continue with that. I’m also a film producer and have teamed up with Jason Figgis, who I mentioned earlier, to make films and documentaries. Jason made a documentary about the photographer, author and ghost enthusiast, Simon Marsden, and I’m featured in that. I was also the executive producer on the project. The directors cut is due out on DVD this year.
I also produced and appeared in an M.R. James inspired ghost story, Winifred Meeks. It was written and directed by Jason and was filmed in Suffolk.
It stars film and TV actress, Lara Belmont as a writer who finds herself staying in a haunted house. Julie Abbott, a newcomer to the screen, plays the ghost.
That’s also due out later this year. Jason and I also hope to make some documentaries on British hauntings… when we get the time!
My website is www.johnwestmedia.com if people want to have a look at what I’m up to.