I had been living in the halls of St. Mary’s College, Twickenham for just over a month back in 1988 when the events I’m about to mention occurred.
The college was set in the grounds of Horace Walpole’s famous house in Strawberry Hill. He was an 18th Century socialite and writer of the first gothic horror novel. He’d built the house, which is seen by many as a gothic castle, in a number of varying architectural styles and it was the first of it’s kind in the world. The most striking part of the house, the Round Tower, was to become it’s most macabre and portentous. It was said that Walpole was a necromancer and that he built the tower to be as close to perfectly round as possible, with window frames and glass to fit, purely because it was believed that this would provide the best conditions to be able to summon the devil.
It didn’t take long after starting my Classics and History degree at St. Mary’s before I started hearing a number of terrifying stories linked to Walpole’s house and the college that had been annexed to Strawberry Hill. Tales of strange deaths and bizarre suicides along with a number of wardens, who were Catholic priests, going insane after supposedly seeing terrifying sights, were all very quickly on the lips of most students. One name that kept cropping up was Lady Waldegrave. We were informed that she had killed two of her husbands and her own children in early Victorian times when she lived in the house after Walpole’s death. It turned out that it was tradition within the college to go on a ghost hunt and search for Lady Waldegrave, who was supposedly known to appear on 23rd October, which was, I was told, the date of her own death.
That very night came and, as expected, a large number of students prepared to meet and walk around the grounds of the college in hair-raising hope of seeing a ghost! The clocks had gone back the weekend before and the days were getting shorter so we met outside the church around 8pm when it was suitably dark. We headed off in groups of five or six, some with torches and others determined to stick to the dimly lit paths. All of a sudden, the famous fog from the Thames came rolling in and enveloped the grounds. This was particularly eerie as it was the first night that this had happened. Everyone’s pulses started to race that little bit more. After five minutes or so I told my mates that I had had enough of ghost hunting and was going to walk over to see my girlfriend near Bushy Park instead. I headed off and left them to wander around in the thickening fog and disquieting darkness.
The following morning I headed to the refectory for breakfast before my first lecture started. The whole place seemed to be full of dark murmurs and whispers. I sat down and it seemed that everyone was talking about the ghost hunting the previous night.
“Did you hear it?” was what everyone seemed to be saying!
“Hear what?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah! You’d gone off to see Helen hadn’t you!” exclaimed one of the lads. “It was unbelievable man! Not long after you’d gone everyone suddenly heard this weird, spooky wailing sound. No one could tell where it was coming from and it seemed to be everywhere. It nearly shat myself!”
“Don’t be daft” I laughed, “what are you on about, a wailing sound?”
“No, he’s right!” said another one of my mates, “I heard it. It was scary man, like a ghost crying in the fog. It was so eerie. I’ve never heard anything like it.”
“Some people just ran away in fright and the girls, well, some were screaming! Most of us were just so shit scared we didn’t say anything at all but just got out of there!” gasped another lad.
It was the talk of the college for a week at least and when I met up with some of my mates on reunions that night was often mentioned and the lads said that they’d never been so scared.
Well, last year we had a reunion and I explained to the lads, with a cheeky grin, that I did go to my girlfriend’s place on that unearthly night, but I didn’t go straight there. When I walked off from the ghost hunt I waited until I was out of sight and then ran up to my room on the 2nd floor. I went in but didn’t turn the lights on and pulled up the old window frame and placed my Fender guitar amp on the ledge. Two days prior to this day of doom I’d gone to Denmark Street in London and purchased an E-Bow with part of my student grant. This is an electro-magnetic device that you place over the strings of a guitar and it vibrates the string producing a sound that may be described as a the cry of a whale or indeed the wail of a ghost crying from the depths of hell! I plugged my guitar in and switched on my digital delay pedal to add echo to the sound and started playing the guitar with my new fiendish toy!
I could hear people crying out all of a sudden things like “What the f*** was that?” “Oh, shit, what’s that?” “I’m getting out of here” and other similar phrases amongst the screams of the girls, and some of the boys!
My prank had worked a treat and the lads couldn’t believe what I was telling them. I’ll not repeat what they called me!
But that isn’t the end of the story.
The night after that grisly ghost hunt I again went to see my girlfriend but came home earlier than usual as she had extra work to do. I walked back through Teddington and down Waldegrave Road to the college and headed for my halls. I entered my room and decided to have an early night so got sorted for bed. As I turned my light out I noticed that it seemed foggy again outside but it strangely seemed as if the fog was just outside my window and nowhere else. I discounted this and turned to close my eyes and try to get to sleep. I suddenly felt a chilling shiver all of the way through my body. I turned to get out of bed and close the window but stopped dead, frozen still before I even got a toe out from under the covers. At the bottom of my bed, looking directly at me with black rimmed menacing eyes, was a wizened old woman dressed in what looked like a garish white night gown. She didn’t move and neither did I at first. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I was petrified at first but then did what any self respecting young lad would do in that situation. I pulled the covers over my head and hid!
I eventually peeked out from under the covers, my fingers almost white from gripping so tightly. There was nothing and nobody there anymore. I got up immediately. No one could have got into my room because the door was still locked and no one would have been able to climb up the wall to my room from outside because there was no drain pipe or anything to hold onto to.
All that I could think was that it had been Lady Waldegrave, the Ghost of Strawberry Hill, appearing to warn me after my antics the previous night!