By Lorna Prichard, North Wales correspondent
Local clubs are often struggling for new members, but this was a club with a difference.
The North Wales Paranormal Group was advertising in a local newspaper for new recruits. I got in touch with them to find out more. Not, I hasten to add, because I’m looking for a new pastime and bridge just doesn’t do it for me, but because I thought they might make an interesting feature for Wales Tonight.
The group said they’d be very pleased to allow me to come along on one of their ghostly investigations, but asked me not to publicise the fact they’d been looking for new recruits, as the newspaper ad had generated interest from far more people than their small group could accommodate.
These days, many people are interested in paranormal activity, and who knew there was a thriving group of ghost hunters in Wrexham? I suggested instead, we wait until Halloween for a seasonal feature on their work. Yes, that was fine with them. Though, they emphasised gently, ghostly goings on are not restricted to one night in October, but happen all year round, in the most unlikely of places.
The North Wales Paranomal Group (NWPG) go wherever they’re needed, answering calls from people across Britain who suspect they are giving shelter to a spirit that’s never going to pay rent. They’ll also research places known literally as local haunts and seek permission to visit. They are non-profit, they don’t charge for their services. They do it out of a genuine interest in the afterlife, and in helping spirits let go of this world and go on to the next, they tell me.
I’m invited to join them one night at the Black Lion Inn in Babell, near Holywell. The landlady Jane Forking-Russell and many of her staff are convinced the 13th-century bar and drawing room is frequented by a mischievious poltergeist.
The CD player changes volume unaided. A mantelpiece clock is found some mornings on the floor in the middle of the room “as if it’s been placed there”. A brass toasting fork also adorning the mantelpiece hurled itself at a passerby once, despite being nailed in place.
Jane says: “Various people say they’ve seen shadows and whooshes beside them and the predominant feeling is that they’ve seen something and that it was a lady.”
So 10 members of NWPG turn up to investigate, as well as Mark Doleman, the cameraman and myself. We’ve made a pact with each other not to stay in a room alone, and not to play tricks on each other during filming. On the way there, I joke to him that the premise of a camera crew and reporter going to film a feature about a group of ghosthunters at an old inn has the makings of a classic horror film. Neither of us laugh very much.
Despite our healthy levels of journalistic skepticism, we are both a little nervous. If I were a ghost, I would probably feel obliged to act up a lot if a camera crew turned up intending to broadcast my coming and goings on national television. And I didn’t particularly want to be at the receiving end of that sort of showing off.
Jimmy Ellis, founding member of the NWPG, reassures me that most spirits only make contact with people because they have something to communicate. A poltergeist like the one apparently residing at the Black Lion, simply wants to talk to people, and can’t make itself understood unless it is moving things around.
Using a Frank’s Box (as seen in the Spielberg classic ‘Poltergeist’) three investigators say they’ve made contact with two spirits. The dial on the box lights up when a spirit is talking to them, and the speakers broadcast the noise made by the alleged ghost. All I can hear emitting from the device is whistles and whirrs that sound like microphone interference, but we leave it to the experts.
They tell us two spirits have been in touch. A further two ghosts at the pub have been in touch with Mike Griffiths, the group’s medium. One is the ghost of a Canadian airman from the second world war, the other is a Victorian woman who used to work at the Black Lion. Hasn’t she got better things to do than hang about work in the afterlife, I privately wonder. But anyway, it’s getting far too crowded for me, so I’m keen to wrap up the filming as quickly as possible.
I grab a chat with Nick Frapoint, NWPG’s researcher. He tells me he’ll take away the information gathered tonight and try to verify as much as possible by looking into names, dates and local history – to confirm that the spirits they’ve made contact with were real people.
I ask him how he responds to cynics, and he says: “I have a healthy dose of skepticism myself. I don’t accept everything at face value,” which is why he likes to conduct thorough research into what a night of investigation has uncovered. Jimmy challenges cynics to come along on an investigation with an open mind, saying that many people are afraid of what they don’t understand. They are satisfied with what they’ve gathered, and already talking about their next haunted gig when we wave the group goodbye.
Finally, Mark gets two shots of the clock and toasting fork resting above the mantelpiece — examples of things that have moved of their own accord, if Jane and her staff are to be believed. And something a little strange happens. Mounted on a secure tripod, his camera crashes to the floor. Mark swears he is nowhere near it. While he is running to grab the camera, part of his lighting kit crashes in the other direction, and smashes.
It could have been nothing, and a night of paranormal investigating is bound to make you jumpy, but we both hasten our goodbyes and are pleased to drive away from the inn. Leaving Jane — and whatever else shelters under her roof — in peace.