Arrgghh! Haunted Ipswich

Crikey. Anyone living or working in Ipswich might be a bit nervous about venturing out (or even staying in) after reading this book and discovering how haunted the place is. Apparently. Steven Russell peeps from behind the sofa

THE ghost Pete Jennings would most like to meet in Ipswich apparently haunts Christchurch Mansion – one of several spirits said to reside in the 16th Century building. It’s in the upstairs picture gallery, Pete reveals in his new book. “I have heard reports from three independent sources and each informant has emphasised how charming this particular apparition is.

“It is a lady described as being in her late twenties to early thirties. Her hair is piled up and she wears a long, straight, possibly Edwardian dress. She holds the hands of two children in her own, and they are dancing round.

“Although no sound is heard, she is leaning backwards and clearly laughing. One old gent who saw the scene told me he wishes he was an artist, commenting ‘If I could capture that scene I would sell a thousand copies!’”

Christchurch Mansion supplies ample material for local ghosthunters. Only last month Steve Parkes, an assistant there, said he witnessed a painting rising off the ground and flying six feet across the room. In 1995 there were reports of paintings turning themselves around and a Victorian woman walking through glass doors.

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Pete believes in the supernatural but doesn’t consider himself a soft touch and doesn’t swallow every ghost story he hears. “Some are genuinely mistaken interpretations of natural events, others the results of too much alcohol, whilst there will also be the odd individual making up tales deliberately,” he concedes. “However, even if one discounts 90 per cent of all the tales one encounters, there still remains that 10 per cent that intrigues and stimulates the mind to wonder ‘what if?’”

He’s written several books – Supernatural Ipswich, Mysterious Ipswich and Haunted Suffolk – and adds another to the shelf with Haunted Ipswich. Pete’s also been a key figure in the Original Gemini Ghost Tours of his home town since 1996, along with friend and colleague Ed Nicholls.

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People he meets often pass on their own ghost stories – sometimes scraps that can be researched and fleshed out. Many of his sources want to remain anonymous because they fear being ridiculed. “I don’t blame them, and respect their choice, especially since some have responsible positions – including policemen, doctors and teachers.”

Pete himself has been collecting local stories for more than 40 years. “We certainly have no need to make up stories for our ghost tours – there are too many already to fit in...”

His latest chronicle provides a few appetisers in the early pages before launching into the main course. He mentions, for instance, frequent sightings of a female photographer at Rose Hill School’s assembly hall in the 1940s, and a policeman who stopped a suspected burglar leaving Chantry High School in the 1970s... only to see him fade away.

The decade before saw reports of a child in a nightdress at a house in Waterford Road, along with the sound of footsteps upstairs and a mysterious mist.

The Great White Horse Hotel building is said to have a female ghost who walks across one room and through the wall. “It is believed that it is the spirit of Flossie Fluyd, who died in the early 1920s during one of two serious fires at the hotel.”

There are tales about moving shadows in the Buttermarket shopping centre car park and interesting speculation about the identity of the woman said to haunt the Ancient House.

For many years the building was a bookshop. The author remembers relishing going there as a child. For sixpence you could enter a priest hole containing a wax effigy of Charles II.

The 15th Century Church of St Stephen, behind the Ancient House and now a tourist information centre, allegedly has two female ghosts who favour appearing between 3pm and 4pm.

Pete says they could be Ruby and Mimmie Humblestone, who lived in Woodbridge Road and kept the church ticking along after it lost its minister.

“Eventually the church authorities refused to fund the building any more. The sisters were devastated, and died not long afterwards. In telling the tale, visitors to our ghost tours have given us more details about them. A fishmonger told me how he sold them cheap fish on Saturday teatimes for their many cats. A florist said that they purchased flowers for the altar every Thursday.”

Another public building, the Corn Exchange, isn’t left out. Dating from 1878, and converted into an entertainment venue nearly a century later, it’s built partly on the site of St Mildred’s Church. Apparently a ghostly monk has been seen at the back of the basement film theatre, and there’s also allegedly the spirit of a small child.

According to Pete, there’s also former employee Jack.

The author met him in the 1970s when he, Pete, was a disc jockey at Monday-night discos. Bachelor Jack was a happy staff member, always holding open doors as the crew lugged equipment in and out.

One night, after a show, he was found dead in a chair.

Pete says a lady working in the box office told him that Jack – known for his practical jokes – hadn’t altogether left the place he loved...

“It seemed he carried them on after death. One would happen whenever she got out a reel of tickets to replace a roll in the machine: when she turned round, she would find they had gone, to turn up on the shelf behind her.

“There was another jape he played: often the lady would be working alone in the box office and have to wait for the queue to disappear before she could go off to the loo. Returning, she would sit straight down onto her stool and find her nose level with the counter. Jack had been by and given it a whirl to decrease the height whilst she was gone.”

Pete has had his own supernatural moments. Househunting, he visited a place off Norwich Road that appeared to tick all the boxes. “I suddenly felt an overwhelming sensation of dread. I did not even go through to the kitchen area or upstairs, but asked to leave straight away.

“Outside in the car I apologised to the agent for wasting his time, but did not give the reason. I did not need to. He told me I was the third person he had taken there who had reacted in such a way. A friend who lives in that area later told me that the house, despite its good position, frequently changes hands.”

Pete, born in Ipswich in 1953, says he’s seen only one ghost – and that not locally, and only after nearly 40 years of fruitless exploration!

He believes everyone has some psychic ability, but many people suppress their gift “because they are frightened of it, are cautious of being labelled a loony or have simply been conditioned as a child ‘not to tell lies and fancy stories’.”

If it hadn’t been for his mother, he might never have become interested in unexplained happenings. Mum was a down-to-earth lady not prone to over-reaction, he explains, so as a 12- or 13-year-old he believed her when she told him about something that happened when she was in service.

Before marrying, Phyllis was a cook for the Zagni clan of Ipswich – the folk behind Peter’s Ice Cream. The family also ran Zagni Asphalt Co and had a house in Hutland Road. She told her son how one day she’d walked into the kitchen and found a man sitting there. “He was reading a newspaper, which obscured his face, but she noticed that he had his feet drawn up to the seat of the chair.”

The figure faded and then vanished as she drew level. “Screaming, she ran into the main part of the house.”

Mrs Zagni did not seem too surprised. “It sounds like my late son-in-law,” she explained. He’d developed TB and, before he died, often sat in the kitchen... with a habit of curling up his feet onto the chair.

“You must have the second sight,” Mrs Zagni told her frightened employee. “On your day off we sometimes hold a s�ance here. Maybe you would like to join us?’

“Not blooming likely!” Phyllis replied.

The most haunted building in Ipswich is a certain pub, according to Pete, but we’ll keep its name under wraps so as not to worry customers! Anyone wanting details will have to look at the book . . .

Pete says people leaning their heads against its thick sidewall claim to have heard a human heartbeat throbbing within.

One night, 10 glasses were smashed near the bar. Pete has seen CCTV footage featuring the pyjama-clad landlord armed with a baseball bat because he feared intruders. “Even if someone had hidden in the bar, I would find it inconceivable that they could smash ten glasses in a line and hide themselves effectively in the twenty seconds that elapsed from one camera shot to the next. It remains a mystery, along with many other phenomena at the pub.”

With this, as with many reported episodes, Pete retains an open mind.

“Who knows what a ghost is? The only true authorities are the ghosts themselves – and they are not telling.

“It is notable, however, that most of the world’s varied religions do talk of an afterlife of some description.

“From a scientific basis, nothing is ever destroyed: it is merely changed in form, so our rotting bodies feed plants, which in turn feed animals, which often feed us, I guess. We are also creatures of energy, and we are taught it also cannot be destroyed, so what happens to the electricity that powers our brain and nervous system? What form it takes after death is an interesting question that as yet seems not to have a set of satisfactory answers.”

• Haunted Ipswich is published by The History Press at �9.99

Peter patter

Pete Jennings is a grandfather and lives close to the Suffolk-Essex border, near Sudbury

He has worked as a telephone engineer, a sales manager and a community support worker and counsellor

Pete had his own folk show on BBC Radio Suffolk until seven years ago, and used to play in folk and rock bands

He qualified as a social worker a couple of years ago and specialises in adult learning disabilities

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