ANDREW HOMER takes a look back at Most Haunted: Alton Towers
Episode Title: Alton Towers
Location: Alton, Staffordshire
Series: 9 Episode Number: 119
Originally broadcast: 4 March 2007
Review: Alton Towers is well known as a theme park but also has a long history of reported paranormal activity in and around the largely ruined Alton Towers House. The Most Haunted Team visited here in 2007 and Yvette Fielding introduces the programme by providing a brief history of the site. Originally a fortress for the young King of Mercia, Ceolred, he ruled for just seven years before allegedly going mad and dying in the year AD 716. It was commonly believed that both Ceolred and the ground around what is now Alton Towers were cursed. Yvette goes on to explain how the Earls of Shrewsbury came to own the site and eventually make it their summer residence. The 15th Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles Talbot, took a great interest in the property and set about a major refurbishment of the house and gardens in the early part of the 19th century. By the time the 15th Earl died in 1832 he had created a superb example of Gothic architecture in Alton Towers House. She describes the atmosphere within the house as ‘menacing’ with many varied reports of spirits, some of which appear threatening.
According to Yvette a large man has been seen in and around the music room, footsteps are frequently heard and a lady in a long black dress is seen wandering the corridors of the Towers together with a strong smell of perfume. On one occasion a member of staff approached her thinking she was a visitor but the lady slowly faded away. She also mentions poltergeist activity in the form of small stones being thrown around the building, particularly in the queuing area for the ride Hex, which is built into part of the old building, together with visitors reporting seeing ghostly children playing. This turned out to be quite prophetic for the investigation to come.
Yvette goes on to recount the classic legend of Alton Towers which the Hex ride is based on. Returning to Alton Towers late one night the Earl of Shrewsbury’s coach is brought to a sudden halt when a haggard old woman suddenly appears standing in the middle of the road. The old woman begs the Earl for some money but he angrily brushes her aside. At this the old woman places a curse on the Earl saying that every time a branch falls from the nearby oak tree a member of his family will surely die. That night there was a violent storm and a single branch from the old oak fell. Later the same night a family member died. The Earl ordered his men to chain every branch to the tree to stop them falling and the chained oak remains to this day.
Eye witness Paul Sharratt is interviewed and explains how he was alone in the chapel lighting candles before an event when he heard footsteps. He looked around but saw nothing. On hearing the footsteps again he went outside the chapel to investigate and saw a shadowy figure to his left. Shadowy figures are reported in this area and having investigated Alton Towers House myself I had the experience of seeing two such shadowy figures disappearing around the corner of a wall. Immediate investigation of the area revealed there was no-one there.
Prior to the investigation parapsychologist Ciarán O’Keefe sets the scene by highlighting what he describes as the eerie contrast between the theme park and the Towers. He too mentions visitors to Hex experiencing stone throwing and how the ride and the ruined Gothic building together evoke an atmosphere of ‘spookiness’. The psychic for this investigation is David Wells and he picks up on the activity already mentioned by Yvette including a wafting female figure around the chapel who he describes as being an authoritative governess type of person from the 1800s who is used to taking charge. In the ground floor kitchen he picks up on people buzzing around, ‘tittering and chatting’. In the kitchen tapping noises are recorded which appear to be in answer to questions posed. It is a shame that no attempt was made to track down any possible natural sources of the sounds and it was immediately assumed to be paranormal. In the first floor long gallery David senses a procession here leading out to waiting carriages. Ciarán confirms that this was in fact the original front entrance. David also suggests that objects may be thrown and describes a dark, quite aggressive character. He gets the name ‘Talbot’ but freely admits that this information is very much in the public domain. This is often the problem when working with psychics if information given is already in the public domain and may have been previously acquired either intentionally or unintentionally.
The investigation begins in the queuing or holding area for the Hex ride which we are told was originally the armoury and picture galleries. David once again picks up on the aggressive male. He says he is screaming the word ‘witch’ at him and gets called a four letter word which is bleeped out when he repeats it. At the same time a stone gets thrown, the sound of which is clearly recorded. Yvette asks for another stone to be thrown and this is followed by another. Something brushes past Karl Beattie and he is subsequently pushed. All this happens in a short space of time but it is a shame that no attempt is made to determine the trajectory of the stones or investigate where they might have come from. David holds a séance in the Hex ride itself and tries to contact the spirit of Charles Talbot. The sounds of heavy breathing and footsteps are heard and recorded. However, again there is no attempt made to determine any possible source. Similarly, footsteps or tapping noises heard and recorded in the banqueting hall also go uninvestigated by the team.
At this point Karl and Stuart Torevelle opt to do lone vigils in the Towers whist the rest of the team retire to the crew room. Stuart is in the banqueting hall calling out and something apparently gets thrown causing him to scream. Karl hears Stuart scream from his position on the third floor stairs but does not go down to see what has happened. Stuart meanwhile hears a door shut and a loud bang. At this Stuart has had enough and leaves the building. Karl is still on the third floor alone but thinks someone or something is up there with him. The footage from his camera records Karl groaning in pain and falling to the ground. After Stuart returns to the crew room a search is immediately mounted for Karl who is still in the building. He is eventually found on the floor with a cut head feeling very disorientated. We are told at the end of the programme that Karl is ok and looking forward to the next investigation.
Ciarán rounds up the programme by assessing the night’s events. He points out that the stone apparently thrown in the Hex queuing area could have been knocked by one of the crew walking around with a camera, sound equipment or even one of the presenters themselves. Ciarán is sceptical that this was indeed paranormal. However, he is more impressed with David Wells accurately pinpointing the old entrance to the Towers which is not immediately obvious. Concerning the incident with Karl, Ciarán explains how he, Yvette, David and Stuart found him slumped in a room after a frantic search. Karl has a large mark on his forehead and remembers little of the incident apart from thinking he saw a shadow or something in the doorway. Ciarán presents two possible explanations. Firstly that Karl was assaulted by some sort of supernatural force or that he had turned quickly and banged his head. Either way, Ciarán considers this to be the most interesting phenomena of the night.
In my opinion this episode should serve as a warning to groups and individuals who choose to ignore basic health and safety whilst on investigations. Irrespective of whether or not this incident was stage managed what the viewer sees is someone coming to harm whilst on their own and well away from the rest of the team. Most Haunted unfortunately created a blueprint for investigations which has been taken on board by many of the ghost hunting groups which have sprung up since. Incidents like this are one of the reasons why responsible paranormal investigators are often so critical of the show.
ANDREW HOMER has been investigating anomalous activity for over 20 years and is a member of Coventry Paranormal Investigators (CPI). He has written extensively on aspects of the paranormal and his books include Beer and Spirits and Haunted Hostelries of Shropshire. Andrew can be contacted at ghostauthor (at) virginmedia.com
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