Friday, October 28, 2016

The Haunting of New Street Station

I wasn't going to write a blog post about the notoriously haunted Birmingham New Street Station, for the simple reason that other people have already written about the subject to exhaustion, but since the station has rightly made it on to a list of the most haunted in the British Isles ahead of Hallowe'en/Samhain, I thought I would weigh in and try to draw the reader's attention to the best resources on the haunting.
Ghosts were very much my own introduction to the call of the weird, as a very young baby witch. I have only recently discovered that other people read my childhood books as obsessively as I did myself ( and that those same books seem to have engendered an enduring fondness among the people brought up on them. My father collected clocks, and I remember being terribly excited the night one of them struck thirteen at midnight, which was of course through some mechanical fault. As a teenager I discovered Harry Price's books about Borley Rectory in the library, and have never looked back. I can truthfully say that the only book about Borley I have not read is James Turner's My Life With Borley Rectory, and that is just because opportunity has not presented itself.
I do really believe that lives, emotions and events can imprint themselves on a place. I would lean towards the theory that most 'ghosts' are embedded residual energy rather than the 'spirits' of dead people. That said, I do believe that I have encountered the spirits of dead people, some of whom seem to be bound to a particular place for some reason. I have no evidence for this assertion whatsoever. I am not clairvoyant; I just know that that energy is there, for absolutely no reason, and while sometimes it is bizarrely confirmed by someone else encountering the same thing, as a rule these experiences will never be susceptible to empirical scientific proof, which is exactly as it should be. I mean, if I was dead and pissed off enough not to want or be able to move on, I'd hide if any investigators appeared, wouldn't you?
But first let me step aside and let Andy Foster give you the vanilla history:
'New Street station was built in 1849-54 as a 'Grand Central' station for through services, to replace the termini of the London & Birmingham, Grand Junction, and Midland railways on the edge of the town - Curzon Street, Vauxhall, and Lawley Street. The site was densely built up with shops, chapels (including the Old Meeting of 1689 and 1795) and some of the town's worst slums. The station was owned by the London & North Western Railway - the amalgamation of the London & Birmingham and the Grand Junction - but Midland trains used it from the start. The station buildings facing Stephenson Street, designed by John Livock, were a handsome restrained block in the Italianate style of Charles Barry, incorporating the Queens Hotel. A public footbridge across the platforms replaced the lost streets of Peck Lane and Lower Pinfold Street.
'In 1881-5 the station was extended southwards and Station Street, aligned on the W entrance of the Market Hall, built along its S side. In its final form, the N, North Western side was separated from the S, Midland, side by a road, the Queen's Drive. The North Western side had a single-span iron trussed-arch roof with a maximum width of 212 ft (65 metres), the largest in the UK when built. It was designed by E.A. Cowper of Fox, Henderson & Co., the firm which built Paxton's Crystal Palace. After the Charing Cross station roof collapse of 1905, Cowper's roof was strengthened with additional tie bars in 1907. It was destroyed by bombing in 1940. The remainder of the station was demolished in 1964-6.' (Andy Foster: Pevsner Architectural Guides: Birmingham. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, p.110)
New Street Station actually presents an interesting energetic pattern, and in fact one in which it would be a bit difficult for its history not to lead to a great haunting, since all the elements of the myths are there. The original station was built on the site of a teeming slum (check), which was actually cleaned up on purpose to build the station because it was so lawless and dangerous (check). The area of the town was called the Froggery because it was a naturally lower part of the plateau on which Birmingham stands, it was notorious for its damp unhelathy coniditions (check) on land which would in any other circumstances not have been considered very desirable (check) and its lower positioning made it a natural connection to the rails coming from the surrounding areas. A Jewish cemetery was displaced (check) to build the station, and there have been a number of suicides at the station (check). Of course a railway station is always naturally a place of transitions and strong emotions (check). That upstart tale of Borley Rectory (which was anyway too good to be true) fades into significance as a ghost story in comparison to the sheer amount of classic ghost story material in New Street Station.
I am heavily indebted to Mike Lockley's article on the ghosts of platform four (address below) for this information. Lockely paints a wonderful picture of the deceased engine driver Walter Hartles sitting on the platform, who shot himself in the chest with a revolver at the age of sixty-eight. He was found in a waiting room with the gun at his feet, and this amount of detail is available because his great granddaughter went on a ghost tour of the station and realised that she was related to the person being talked about.
The famous ghost is of course Claude who poisoned himself and is often seen on trains bound for Crewe. He poisoned himself. These two gentleman are only two of the four suicides on platform four.
I should say that I myself have never seen either of these entities. A more common experience, which I have had there myself, is a feeling of a presence behind you, and when you turn round there is no-one there. The difficulty is, of course, is that while a busy railway terminal provides the perfect energetic conditions for all sorts of odd entities to cling onto, it also provides the absolutely worst conditions to experience them, let alone in any sort of controlled way. I think the best time to do so is on a weekday evening after 11pm. The shops are shut and the few remaining passengers are concentrated on getting the last train to their destination. The station takes on a different atmosphere at that point, and you are more likely to pick up on the remnants of previous events with the corner of your mind's eye. The only concern I would have is that given the sheer volume of history there, you may find yourself picking up on a real nasty...
Credits: for the information about people's experiences on platform four. for the image.

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