In Haunt

Image credit: Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent – Wikimedia Commons

A ghost walk on a Saturday night in the bright sunshine, sounds like a surreal thing. And all the better for it, as tour guide and spook-hunter extraordinaire Flecky Bennett leads his popular ‘Saturday Night Ghost Walk’ every month, with places available online which sell out quickly. HAUNT’s Emily Oldfield, decided to get involved…

The walk itself begins from outside Lock91, a historic drinking spot close to Deansgate-Castlefield tram-stop. Over 30 people had signed up for this particular walk, which was set to take in the scary sites of Campfield, Castlefield and along the canal, over the course of an hour and a half.

Ghost host Flecky Bennett was there from the onset – an eccentric figure with lashings of dark hair and unnerving red eyes.  The tour began promptly at 7pm, Flecky leading the crowd round to the base of The Beetham Tower, Manchester’s iconic building, 47 stories high. Here we were treated to the tale of ‘The Beetham Banshee’ - the name given to the screaming sound which erupts from the building in high winds. Flecky even had a recorded version he could play to the crowd, to much amusement.

After following the ‘Green Demon’ (a ‘walk’ crossing sign) over the road, the tour proceeded into the Campfield area – which Flecky explained is named so, as it was here the Roman camps were set up when the city was founded. Already at this stage of the walk, Flecky’s in-depth and detailed historical knowledge was evident, as well as the warm humour and wit necessary to keep a very varied crowd entertained. A winning combination for any walking tour.

Once in the Campfield area, close to where The Museum of Science and Industry now stands (just off Liverpool Road) we learned about the eerie-looking Campfield Market building, as well as the ‘scariest office block’ – that of Castlefield House. Flecky explained that this unassuming-looking block was the site of spooky-sounding activity as well as video footage in 2012, which included a door handle turning for five hours, cabinets opening and papers being rifled through. Now, that’s a different kind of office pest… perhaps even a poltergeist.

Flecky added to the energy and enthusiasm of the trip by incorporating sound effects, as well humorous asides to members of the public as the tour was passing, including ‘I don’t know why these people are following me’. Humour blended with horrible histories mean that an audience take in information without even realising – as the amount of material in this write-up illustrates. For people who think history is just a school subject and dusty textbooks, Flecky is the character to make you think again.

Another stand-out positive of a tour with Flecky, is that the walk moves on at a timely place, delivering great nuggets of information as he goes – never seeming too sluggish but neither too rushed. So many facts are packed in, as we also learned that close to the site of where Deansgate Station now stands was a former cholera hospital – with cholera being a deadly killer of city citizens in the 19th century especially. After all, a shocking 22,000 people are buried under the ground of St John’s Gardens, where the walk also passed through.

The area around St John’s Gardens, including St John’s Street is named after John Byrom, the Manchester maverick who was born in 1692 in the area where the Old Wellington Inn stands (The Shambles close to Exchange Square). This was also revealed by Flecky – a guide keen to keep up the  historical detail, as well as exploring the eerie aspects of the area. History lovers will not be disappointed. Another skill is how Flecky connects the city’s creepy past to a wider context; as John Bryom not only reportedly served some time as Queen Elizabeth’s secret agent, but was also fascinated by the occult and set up the notorious, extravagant members club – a kind of 'Hellfire Club' – which has since changed its name to ‘The Cabala Club’ and now has members including Madonna.

The tour proceeded with Flecky telling stories all the while, including a particularly grisly tale about a drunken landlord who tried to juggle babies – only for them to be washed down the Campfield sewers and never seen again. Or perhaps they became some of the city’s reported ‘Rat People’?

Image credit: Michaelmazr, Wikimedia Commons

For Manchester is a city with secret histories and scary insights, as the audience discovered at the next stop at Old Granada Studios. The impressive building and area was once the home of famous sets including the original Coronation Street, though it is now an event area which includes The Crystal Maze experience. It isn’t without its eerie occurrences, as Flecky revealed that before last year’s James gig at the Castlefield Bowl, the band were practicing in the vicinity… only for a guitar to levitate across the room.

Perhaps it is connected to the pauper graveyard which was originally built in the area? Again, Flecky revealed an unnerving historical fact which could connect to the ghoulish goings on. Then the tour continued, in an interestingly varied walk of mixed terrains which took in roads, canals and even Roman forts. This included the original Roman foundations of Manchester - ‘Mamucium’ - named so as the Romans believed the hills framing the area looked like breasts or mammary glands. This was another informative burst from Flecky, as well as tales of Sir Tarquin and Lancelot, topped up with the facts that Manchester indeed was the site of one of the first passenger railways and public canal.

Indeed, Flecky Bennett provides a tour which is celebratory of the city’s past, as well as spooky. A stop in Castlefield by the waterside included the tale of the ship ‘The Emma’ which sunk close to the area, claiming 47 victims in the 19th century… and likely leading to a number of horrific hauntings.

The final stretch of the tour carried on along the canal, where Flecky gave a gory story about the notorious ‘Manchester Pusher’, an assumed serial killer potentially responsible for pushing people into the canal over the course of the 20th and 21st century and leaving them to drown. Flecky explained this may be connected to the Reverend Sutcliffe, the man who conducted the marriage ceremony of Charlotte Bronte – no less, who tragically fell into the canal and lost his life back in the 18th century. His ghost still could haunt the area today, doing dark deeds to people who walk beside the water – a point the audience pondered during the walk back to Lock 91.

In short, this was a spooky circulator crammed with historical richness backing up every creepy tale, involving plenty of local history and an interactive, approachable guide. This is not just a walk, but a meaningful Manchester experience. The ‘Saturday Night Ghost Walk’ is bookable online as well as a range of other walking tours from Flecky Bennett, including ‘The Original Manchester Ghost Walk’ and the ‘Chorlton Chiller’ – which incorporates some supernatural elements too. No wonder he’s a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2014, 2015 , 2016, 2017 & 2018 Winner.

- By Emily Oldfield

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