Letchworth Garden City may not be your typical haunted town, but dig a little deep and there’s lots of spookiness going on, says JAY HOLLIS
One name that doesn’t spring to mind quite so readily, if at all is Letchworth Garden City, although I would hope that some Spooky Isles readers may recognise the name as being the birthplace of the author, broadcaster and parapsychologist, Peter Underwood. He was born at Westholm Green, on the northern edge of Norton Common in 1923.
I moved to Letchworth Garden City, commonly referred to as just Letchworth a little over 10 years ago and didn’t imagine the North Hertfordshire town would have much going for it in terms of paranormal activity, given that it’s less than 120 years old.
The town was founded by Ebeneezer Howard in 1903 based on ideas he had set out in his 1898 book, Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Reform.
It was the world’s first garden city and was built on land bounded by the villages of Letchworth and Willian, to the south and Norton to the north east. Save for a few farm buildings, there wasn’t much here before then. And it’s in one of those old buildings that we find our first ghostly encounter.
Scudmore, Letchworth Garden City
Scudamore is an early 17th century farmhouse that had been split into three cottages before being converted back into one property in the 1920s.
One night in 1946 the owner, Mrs Walker was alone in the house when she heard a loud thudding noise coming from an upstairs bedroom.
This was then followed by heavy footsteps that sounded as though they were heading towards the bedroom door. Fearing an intruder had broken into her house she rushed upstairs to investigate but found nobody and there was no visible evidence of a break in.
Had this been an isolated incident Mrs Walker might have accepted her son’s suggestion that the noises were caused by the house’s old wooden beams settling but the same noises continued every night, always at half past 10.
Mrs Walker’s border collie also refused to enter the room once the disturbances had begun, even when she attempted to push him into the room. Mrs Walker came to the conclusion that her house was being haunted by the ghost of the former owner, who had converted the three cottages back into one house. His final visit was in the following year, 1947.
Scudamore is probably the oldest building within the boundaries of the garden city. A much more recent building that has also seen paranormal activity is the public library, opened in 1939.
According to an article by Gill Clements on the Herts Memories website, staff at the library have been reporting strange activity there for years, most commonly books flying off the shelves.
The apparition of a young man was once seen by two members of staff in the 1970s walking across a freshly varnished floor. The library was closed to visitors on that day to allow for the work to be carried out and no one was allowed to enter the room whilst the floor was still wet.
The two staff members were admiring the newly varnished floor from outside the room and were shocked to see the man walking past them inside the room. They called out and one of them ran round to a side door to intercept him, but nobody was there. The room was empty and no footprints had been left in the wet varnish.
The Cloisters in Barrington Road must be one of the most unusual looking buildings in Hertfordshire. It was built over the course of two years from 1905 by Miss Annie Jane Lawrence as an open air school dedicated to Psychology and Meditation. Its unique design had apparently come to her in a dream and it was constructed in accordance with the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Architecturally it’s a bit difficult to describe, but to my mind it looks like a Hollywood set designer had been given a brief to build the sort of house you would imagine to be haunted and then got carried away.
I can imagine it not being to everyone’s taste but I like it! It has been the home of North Hertfordshire Masonic Center since 1951 and may be hired for weddings and other events. Miss Lawrence died in 1953 and it is believed to be her voice that members of the bar and kitchen staff have heard calling out greetings late at night.
The three villages on the outskirts of Letchworth Garden City all have their share of ghostly residents.
Haunted pubs of Letchworth Garden City
A woman dressed in black has occasionally been seen in The Three Horseshoes pub, a 300 year-old former coaching inn in Norton, and The Fox in Willian is also haunted by the ghost of a lady that has been described as a calm presence rather than a frightening one.
In Ghostly Hertfordshire (2005), author Damien O’Dell tells us that she has been seen in various parts of the pub and likes to keep the place tidy – beer mats being found mysteriously stacked in neat piles, for instance. O’Dell also reports that the neighbouring post office is also haunted by a smartly dressed little boy, wearing a bow tie and that the sound of children playing has been heard coming from Willian’s former schoolhouse, now a private residence late at night.
A malevolent, sneering jogger dressed in a white vest and shorts with a red stripe down the sides has been seen at various times running along the hedgerow bound road that approaches Willian. In each case he deliberately veers into the path of oncoming vehicles only to disappear at the point of impact, or what should be the point of impact, leaving drivers bemused and shaken. Damien O’Dell recounts a very detailed description of one such incident in Ghostly Hertfordshire which is well worth the read.
The Garden City takes its name from the village of Letchworth, which was established long before the Norman conquest.
Its former manor house, Letchworth Hall (now a hotel) is haunted by the ghost of the Reverend John Alington who inherited the Hall in 1838 and lived there until his death in 1863. He was the rector of Little Barford in Bedfordshire, rather than Letchworth but being very wealthy he decided he had no need to fulfil his ecclesiastical duties and barely ever set foot in his parish, preferring instead to hold his own sermons at Letchworth Hall.
There, dressed in a leopard skin and often drunk, he handed out free beer and brandy and preached a doctrine of free love – he sounds like my kind of priest! ‘Mad Jack’ Alington was certainly a man who practised what he preached and his sermons would normally descend into bacchanalian debauchery! Unsurprisingly, the Church removed him from his position but he continued his sermons anyway. Alington’s ghost has been seen on the stairs and in the ballroom at Letchworth Hall.
In my search for ghosts around Letchworth, I found a social network thread about peoples’ haunted experiences and one road name kept cropping up; Ridge Avenue.
Details are sketchy but there seem to be a number of houses along Ridge Avenue where people have had repeated encounters with the supernatural. It seems there are more ghosts in the world’s first garden city just waiting to be revealed.
If you know of any, please add them to the comments below.