The Flat of Ghosts
Monmouth is a very picturesque village, nestled at the neck of the Wye valley. The valley with its forestry covered hills that surround the town and a large river that meanders across the bottom of the valley. The town is on the border of South Wales and England. A very rural place mainly grazing fields with a mix of farm lands that share a rich in history. My Grandfather was a amateur archaeologist which is where I inherited his passion for history.
Monmouth can be traced back to the Roman town of Blestium. The Romans built a network of forts in the area, of which Blestium was one. The Romans eventually had to leave Britain, and the settlement appears to have faded after that. There is little written about it until the time of the Norman Conquest and the Domesday Book of 1086. During this time Monmouth spent the next two centuries ruled by Norman French Lords.
Norman Lord William Fitz-Osbern, built a wooden motte and bailey castle at Monmouth. The initial a wooden castle was built as early as 1067, and later was rebuilt of stone. A Benedictine Monastery was established at Monmouth in 1101. This is where Geoffrey of Monmouth, author of History of the Kings of Britain, was educated.
The town was destroyed in the wake of the Battle of Monmouth. The fight was between the rebels led by Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, and a royalist force led by John of Monmouth. St Thomas Church and the Monnow Bridge were burnt during the struggle with the victorious rebels. Although, the 13th century stone gated bridge still stands, and is the only remaining bridge of its type.
Monmouth Castle was owned in the early 13th century by Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster and son of King Henry III. He made the castle his main residence in the area and put considerable effort into its redevelopment. It was remodelled further in the early 14th century by the 1st Duke of Lancaster; Henry of Grosmont. The castle became a favourite residence of Henry Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV. He continued to spend much time at Monmouth after becoming King and it was there in the late 14th century that Henry of Monmouth, later to become King Henry V, was born at the castle. Henry Vs famous victory of Agincourt is commemorated around the town of Monmouth, with place names such as Agincourt Square.
Monmouth was never besieged or directly involved in the troubles associated with the rebellion of the early 15th century, but it was an important stronghold for Henry's troops, who were involved in many battles in the surrounding areas. King James I granted Monmouth a town charter at the beginning of the 17th century, giving it a town and borough status. In 1610 John Speed made a map of Monmouth which shows a layout of the centre of the town that is still quite recognisable in modern day Monmouth centre.
The Shire Hall was built in 1724, on the site of the original Elizabethan market hall, design to be used as a court house. Looking at the map John Steed made, In the top right can be seen the castle and to the right of that is St Marys church. East of the church which stands on a high mound within its church yard is a row of tall houses built in Victorian times. These houses are on the foundation of pre-existing homes whose cellars go back to pre 1600.
My friend Caroline and myself having had enough of living at home with our own parents decided to stretch our wings and find a flat to share. We found a flat available to rent in the street opposite St Mary's Church. The house was in the middle of a row of tall terrace homes and shops. On the ground floor there was an old book shop and the 2nd floor was converted into office space.
We occupied the 3rd and 4th floors. Going in the front door there were stairs going up and a long hallway which went to the rear garden door. The 3rd floor had a large living room with two big bay windows overlooking the church. The the kitchen nestled behind it with a window overlooking the back garden. Next to the kitchen was the bathroom that's toilet was tucked in under the stairs leading up to the 4th floor which consisted of two small, attic bedrooms.
The back garden was overgrown and unkempt space that was filled with tall bushes, trees, and waist high grass. There was a very old, stone out house, which hid the entrance stairs to the cellar. I refuse to do cellars or lofts so I cannot describe these rooms very well from my one visit down into them. My friend described them as two very old stone walled rooms devoid of anything, except spiders webs and a single dim light bulb in each hanging from the more modern ceiling.
The main door that we used had a strange metal grill with glass set into the pavement outside, so you could look down into the cellar beneath. I hated this ground window and would step over it with my eyes closed. Caroline and I moved in and accounted any weird feelings we both picked up on as leaving home emotions, or new house syndrome. It took a while to get use to all the creaks and groans in an older home.
Fortunately we both had full time jobs in different supermarkets, and being nineteen years old, Fridays and Saturday nights were spent out having fun. Sunday's were different, we alternated weekends between inviting our mums and other kin to Sunday dinners at the flat. These were lazy afternoons and evenings in front of the TV, or just chatting. My Mum, being an ex-smoker noticed the aroma first. Since we didn't smoke Mum did the Mum thing and asked casually if we had a new boyfriend that was a smoker. She explained that it was because she could smell the strong scent of piped tobacco.
When we said there was nobody new it started a hunt for the origin of the smell. With our noses in the air or down near the ground we all sniffed and searched, and eventually agreed it was pipe or cigar smoke concentrated in one corner of the living room. Though strange, we thought maybe the book keeper was in the shop and the smell drifted up from below. He did look the sort of man that would smoke a pipe. Educational professor type, always wore a shirt tie and jacket with leather elbow patches. Long beard and eyes that stared off into the thought provoking distance.
The following Sunday Caroline's Mum and her sisters came over and again after dinner the pipe smoke drifted around the room. This time we checked the offices and book shop and no one was around. Going back into the living room you could see the haze of tobacco smoke drifting from the far corner window seat. Out of the corner of your eye, just occasionally if the light was right. A small smoke ring would drift across the room, to dissipate amongst the other hazy pipe smoke lingering near the ceiling. The heady pungent aroma of Cuban leaves smouldering would fill the room with its aromatic fumes. We grew accustomed to our Sunday dinner guest or maybe he grew accustomed to us staying in his home.
He wasn't the only apparition in that house or our flat, after a few months of living there we started noticing some other strange happenings. It wasn't our smoker, he only appeared on Sunday and just sat and smoked his pipe for an hour and always left when the sun disappeared behind the roof of St Mary's church. This other character, ghost or spirit was young and a very mischievous minx. She I guess it was a her, it felt feminine, was a comic joker or trickster.
Things in the flat would disappear and reappear in strange places. I know that often happens, either of us could have moved the item and put it down in an unusual place. Forgotten until found, it happens in all homes. We kept a box under the kitchen sink and in it were all sorts of utensils and bits of DIY tools. We put up some shelves and curtain rails when we moved in, and had begged and borrowed from family for the stuff we needed. One of the items was a spirit level that Caroline's relative came up with. A very old, and heavy wooden plain, used for shaving wood, that had a set of spirit levels in the top and side. It was nearly two foot in length and 5 inches wide with two protruding knobbly handles on its top. It was kept under the sink waiting to be returned to its owner.
One day I went to put a load into our automatic washing machine. It was a side loader with a small circular glass door in the front. Grabbing a load I shoved in a handful of the dirty wash, and my knuckles rapped on something hard that shouldn't be there. Pulling out the clothes, I peered in, and there, lying across the width of the metal drum was the wooden plain. I laughed and went into the other room chuckling at Caroline saying, “Funny joke. Now come and get it out.” Her returned gaze and puzzled look of what are you talking about frown showed she obviously didn't have a clue what I was on about.
We struggled, pulled, pushed and wriggled that damn plain every which way, but it wouldn't come out. It was way bigger than the door and it was jammed tight to the sides of the round drum. It took two very bemused engineers, three hours to take that washer apart enough to get that thing out. How it got there we will never know, but it wasn't the only unexplainable thing to happen.
Food items vanished from the cupboards to be found later in beds or placed in a slowly filling bath tub. The washer was subjected to other items placed in it, but never anything that wasn't easily removed or washed clean. Our Mums became more aware of this ghostly minx one rainy Saturday in April. It was grand national day, the English major horse race of the year. We all sat or knelt around the main table where the days newspaper carried a main centre spread of the races, runners and riders.
We were all going to pick a horse and have a little flutter on our hopeful winners with the local bookmakers. The doors in the house were of the old wooden sort with a large lock and key. The living room lock had been painted over so many times the key in it was immovable. It wouldn't turn even with the two of us trying to twist it with pliers. So we had left it wedged in its lock on the living room side of the door and had hung a pretty glass ornament containing scented petals from it.
It seemed as though the joking ghost, waited for a quiet moment in all our excited chatter to proceed with her prank. The sound of the glass hitting the floor made us all turn to look at the door. We watched as the key smoothly and slowly turned in the lock. The sound of the lock clunking into the door frame broke our silence. I jumped up and approached the door, everyone else close behind me. I grabbed the door handle, it was freezing cold to my touch. Pulling the sleeve of my cardigan down as a glove I tried the handle, the door wouldn't open. We never locked that door we couldn't.
My Mum using her sleeve grasped the key and it turned easily and smoothly. The click of the lock returning into its unlocked position made us all jump and gasp. I opened the door and closed it again and tried to lock the door with the key, it wouldn't turn it was completely solid and immovable in its painted layers. We stood there looking at each other until my stuttered words broke the mood, “OK, so we live in a haunted house.”
Friday night of the following weekend, I woke up in the early hours of the morning to a hand shaking my shoulder and an angry high pitched childlike voice shouting “wake up, wake up,” in my ear. The breath of the person was putrid smelling of old wet dirt and death its stench making me awaken fully. When I reached out my arm, fingers fumbling for the light on the bedside table. The shadowy figure vanished and my bedroom was empty. Was it a dream possibly, but that smell lingered in my bedroom for days after.
The final incident before I moved back home, occurred on a Saturday night. My friend and I got dressed up in our posh frocks. At the front door I turned to lock the door and my new shoes with their high heels sunk into a small hole in the cellar grill and glass. Tugging and twisting my foot wouldn't release the shoe I had to look down.
As I have said before I hated looking down into that dark sunken room. Fear rode through me and panicking I shouted for Caroline to release my shoe before something came out of the dark and grabbed me. Later that night when we came home from the club, and sober, you can imagine our shock when looking down, a light was coming from that cellar window below our feet.
Being the brave young woman we are, we phoned for the police. We lived in a sleepy quiet town, there wasn't a lot for the local police to do. Three of them turned up several minutes later. All of them, were tall, very broad shouldered and looked extremely macho. They were just the right type to send into a spooky haunted house of two terrified women.
They peered into the cellar window and agreed it needed looking into why the light was on. We unlocked the door and led these burly policemen out into the garden. Very courageous macho men these policeman letting two young ladies lead the way. The only light in that shadowy garden was from their torches and a very dim light peeking out from the cracks around the cellar door.
That's when I found out big men, are not always that brave, all three men hesitated at the door urging each other forwards. Eventually one cop pushed open the door and we all crept down the old worn stone steps. Our foot steps echoed loudly reverberating back at us from the old underground rooms.
The bulb in the first room was dull and dingy as it swayed slightly in a breeze making the shadows of our body's dance across the stone walls. So cold and damp I couldn't help shivering and clutching at the policeman's hand, who stood next to me. The rooms were empty, but for some reason none of us wanted to stay down there a second longer than we had to. The cellars were thick with silence just the sound of our ragged breaths and the foreboding whisper of the night air as it whistled gently through the cracks of the pavement window.
Then it happened. “BOO” Caroline shouted, I screamed, spun on my heels still holding tight to the policeman's hand. I raced up the stairs and out into the garden, dragging the policeman behind me. The stomp of boots and high heels echoed behind me, They all followed me out at a break neck speed. We stood there in that dark garden grinning stupidly at each other and our strange reaction to the spooky cellar rooms. The group of policeman very nicely checked the whole house and flat for intruders, and found nothing. They stayed for coffee, regaling each other with spooky ghostly stories, until a radio call sent them rushing away.
The police officers came back every so often to make sure we were OK, and get some coffee, but a few weeks later I was sacked from my job with no warning. I had to give up the flat and move back home. Caroline stayed a few nights alone, but couldn't afford to live alone, so she moved back with her mother. I never really think much about the time in that house. I do not believe in ghosts, but I cannot truly say they don't exist after what happened. Was that house haunted or was there simple explanations to all the strange occurrences. I will probably never know the answer, but to this day I still hate entering attics or cellars.
By Tracey Owen & R.B.Rueby
copyright May 2011