Salford’s impressive Ordsall Hall and Rochdale’s neo-Gothic Town Hall were recent locations for immersive Haunt Manchester events as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019. Haunt Manchester seeks to celebrate hidden heritage and as part of the seventh edition of the Gothic Manchester Festival, was keen to continue exploration out into the boroughs; choosing to focus on two historic halls.

Tuesday 29 October saw ‘Haunted Spaces’ at Ordsall Hall, an evening event (7.30-10pm) in which academics from Manchester Metropolitan University and Haunt Manchester discussed the links between haunting, place and architecture, with some examples from literary and popular culture. Why are ghosts associated with certain spaces and not others? Does the age of a building affect our perception as to whether it can be haunted or not?

Haunted Spaces

An eager audience sat in the stunning 16th century surrounds of the timber-framed Great Hall to listen – and Ordsall Hall certainly is an inspiring setting.  It is the oldest building in Salford, with over 820 years of history in its current location, with many reported ghostly stories attached to the place itself.

Beginning the evening was Dr Emma Liggins (of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies) with a talk on 'Ghost stories in War-time' – considering how periods of historic conflict perhaps influenced the types of ghost stories that would be told. She presented a number of slides, exploring the 'Architectural Uncanny' and the 'Geography of Haunting' in particular. This also involved a consideration of ghost story motifs such as doors, passageways and even haunted nurseries – an uneasy combination of the domestic meeting the potentially dangerous. A ghost story example was H.D. Everett’s ‘The Whispering Wall’ (1916), with Emma reading some excerpts to the fascinated audience, as well as further detail on the work of Elizabeth Bowen.

Dr Matt Foley (also of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies and the Academic Lead for Haunt Manchester) then followed, with ‘Ethical apparitions that speak to and guide us'. Matt brought a combination of familiar faces onto the screen; from literary figures like Hamlet to much-loved film icons such as Obi Wan Kenobi and Mustafa from Disney's The Lion King. All of these examples have a ghostly quality in common, and this was further discussed by Matt, in terms of their appearance and how they haunt in the texts. In a highly engaging talk, Matt elaborated on examples of ‘ethical apparitions’ entering the home and personal space, the messages (and even guidance) ghosts may have for us and invited the audience to give their own examples from popular culture, as well as pondering ‘what might the ghosts of Ordsall have to say?’.

Ordsall Hall

Ordsall Hall’s own Caroline Storr also gave a short talk, unpacking the fascinating history of the building further. She revealed that not only is Ordsall Hall the oldest building in Salford, but has a number of fascinating stories and interesting accounts attached to it. Caroline’s passion for the place was clear and her discussion added to the historic immersion in the evening’s proceedings.

The second half of the evening then plunged guests into an interactive encounter with the building itself, with an opportunity to explore its rooms via a tour, including the fascinating Star Chamber (built by Sir John Radclyffe in the 1360s) in the oldest wing of the Hall. This is also the room that Sir John’s ghost is said to occupy – with more ghostly stories reported throughout the building over time, including the tale of a ‘white lady’ thought to be the spirit of Lady Margaret Radclyffe. The building is actually fitted with its own ‘Ghost Cams’, to monitor potential supernatural activity! Guests even had an opportunity for an encounter themselves as Dr Ken Drinkwater (Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Cognitive and Parapsychology at Manchester Metropolitan University) not only provided a further framing talk but presented a parapsychology experiment as the darkness developed outside. This was an evening both allowing for historic engagement and encouraging people to consider the hidden stories of a local place in a whole new way: attendees staying until 10pm and even later.

Rochdale Town Hall

The second Haunt Manchester-associated event of the week was ‘Haunt Manchester at Rochdale Town Hall’ – not only again an element of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019, but also part of the brand new Rochdale Town Centre Halloween Festival. On the day of Halloween itself, from 4-6pm inside an impressive ground floor committee room of the Town Hall, a team from Haunt and Manchester Metropolitan University presented a range of talks and spooky stories to a public audience.

An iconic building, Rochdale Town Hall was constructed between 1866 and 1871 – considered to be one of the finest examples of neo-Gothic architecture in the whole country, designed by William Henry Crossland. It is perhaps no wonder that it received a Grade I listing in 1951: a point that Haunt Manchester’s Editor Emily Oldfield elaborated on in her talk, having been introduced by the Academic Lead for Haunt Manchester Dr Matt Foley (Lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University and of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies). Matt also expressed his thanks to Rochdale Council and also Paul Ambrose and Rochdale BID – the organisation significantly behind the impressive Rochdale Town Centre Halloween Festival (running from 9 October to the 2 November) involving a variety of local businesses, creatives and communities.

Haunt Manchester

Emily Oldfield’s talk further considered Haunt Manchester’s existing connections in Rochdale and examples of previous written coverage on the website – including the Town Hall itself (in an article collaboration with Professor Dale Townshend, of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies), The Flying Horse Hotel, The Curtain Theatre and a full-length photo article inspired by walking the stretch of the Rochdale Canal from Rochdale to Manchester! One point expanded on in the talk was the terrifying fire which engulfed the Town Hall spire in 1883 –  with little hope of it being saved, considering it was made from wood. It was then Alfred Waterhouse, also the architect behind Manchester Town Hall, who designed the tower people can see today. Celebrating hidden histories and concealed culture is a key consideration for Haunt Manchester, especially in its connection with the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage, and plans are already afoot for further Rochdale coverage in the future.

Following Emily’s talk was Dr Ken Drinkwater, who delivered a presentation on the themes of The Paranormal, the supernatural and the anomalous – inviting the audience to consider popular examples of ‘paranormal figures’, such as the ghosts of children’s cartoons and how these connect with our experiences in reality. In this talk, Ken described himself as a ‘compassionate sceptic’ – in that he has not experienced the paranormal himself, but is fascinated by people’s accounts and reports… experiences that often remain anomalous. This is a key focus of Ken’s work, as he reflects:

Ken Drinkwater“Hearing so many stories that we are not in a position to explain leads me to believe that you can remove the erroneous variables (those obvious examples of extraneous variables that might explain certain phenomena or misjudgements) and whatever is left is indeed anomalous.

 “This sounds like the great Sherlock Holmes pronouncement i.e., '…when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'”

He also asked the audience if anyone would like to share their own accounts… and someone mentioned mysterious activity historically associated with Rochdale Town Hall itself, including orbs seen in a number of areas!

Ken told us more about his research:

"To explain, I feel that the research that we conduct examines many of the individual differences specifically, through cognitive processing, irrational thoughts, thinking styles and beliefs. The cognitive processes that underpin the way people perceive and interpret the world fascinates me, and drives my research forward. Currently I am involved in three pieces of research.

"The first project explored differences in thinking styles and cognitive processing between a normal population sample (those people who claim to have no psychic abilities) and a sample of both mediums/psychics who do claim to have some form of ability. The second project designed a new measure of conspiratorial ideation using psychological scales, which are designed to assess level of certainty and feelings to reach conceptual consensus regarding the nature and structure of conspiratorial thought. The third project explored cognitive processing and that affects what people see, specifically the cognitive basis of anomalous beliefs and pareidolia: An integrated model. This investigates how the interaction between personality factors and thinking style influences anomalous beliefs (i.e. beliefs that deviate from the accepted social norm), and effects perception of visual and auditory information."

Rochdale Town Hall

A short break allowed guests to enjoy tea and coffee in the impressive vaulted reception and exchange area of the building – a key Gothic feature – before a range of song and stories from Dr Jennie Bailey, dressed in an enchanting costume and clutching a book ‘Spooky Tales of Rochdale’. Jennie is a former PhD student of Manchester Metropolitan University, having studied Place Writing, with a focus on Rochdale itself within her work. She also has helped to inform previous Haunt articles on the area; also involved in walking the Rochdale Canal with Emily Oldfield.

In just under half an hour, Jennie captivated the room with resonant readings and beautiful song inspired by local folk tales, including ‘The Goblin Builders’ associated with St Chad’s Church just above the Town Hall and also ‘The Baum rabbit’. Believe it or not, tales of a ‘were-rabbit’ are associated with the area! This provided a unique and immersive way of engaging with local history, underlined with Jennie handing out handcrafted butterflies to each of the audience members, cut from paper bearing the text of gravestones from St Chad’s!

Jennie Bailey

Dr Matt Foley then drew the proceedings to a close, thanking the audience for being part of such a special event and also giving more insight on the Gothic Manchester Festival, with many in the crowd taking home a programme, as well as RAH! – Research in Arts and Humanities at Manchester Met merchandise.

There also was the option of an hour-long tour (tickets available separately) of the Town Hall from 6-7pm; a unique opportunity to explore the best parts of the building and its interior with an experienced guide, as darkness fell outside. This included the beautiful Great Hall, with its stained-glass windows bearing every member of the  English monarchy throughout history (and also the rather radical inclusion of the regicide Oliver Cromwell!) and a range of other fascinating interior spaces were also explored. 

Rochdale Town Hall

 A number of attendees then went on to The Flying Horse Hotel afterwards – a historic nearby pub voted the best in Greater Manchester (according to CAMRA) for the second year in a row – where there was 10% off food for the audience at the Haunt event. Some also went on to join Colin Meredith’s special Halloween Ghost Walk, which set off from The Baum pub at 8pm, providing guests with even more gritty, ghostly and historically-loaded tales about Rochdale.

In all, an exciting exploration of two Greater Manchester halls loaded with history and mystery, at a particularly spooky time of year – celebrating both the Gothic Manchester Festival and Rochdale Town Centre Halloween Festival - with more coverage to come.

Rochdale Town Hall

Photography: with thanks to Elaina Daley and Alannis Barnes, except Ordsall Hall images - used in previous coverage of the Hall, including the earlier Haunt Manchester article here. Image of Dr Ken Drinkwater - provided by Ken himself.