The Kidsgrove Hauntings.
There has in the past been reports of paranormal phenomena occurring in and around the town of Kidsgrove. The first one and probably the oldest concerns sightings of a large phantom black dog. Unlike reports I have looked into concerning sightings of the dog in the Staffordshire Moorlands, the origins of this dog seem to be known. It is claimed the Audley family who lived in this area in the past were large land owners, however I have tried to find records of where they lived and the two largest houses in the area, Clough Hall and Eardisley Hall have no record of an Audley family living there in the past. Anyhow it is said that the land belonging to the estate was plauged by poachers after their deer. To combat this poaching they trained a pack of dogs to protect their property, it is said that the lead dog was black and larger than the rest. When the poachers found out about this threat they dug a large pit and it is said that this large lead dog ended up falling into it and suffering a long and painful death, it is said that this is how the Phantom Black Dog originated. Although the sightings were more common a century ago, over the last 50 years its appearance seems to have died out if you’ll excuse the pun. Over long periods of time hauntings do tend to fade away and eventually disappear altogether.
The dog was seen mostly between the years 1860 and 1900 which corresponded with mining disasters which took place in this area around that time, the superstitious miners would attribute a sighting as a bad omen and would be reluctant to return to work for fear of an accident. The dog is said to have haunted the fields of lower ash farm which is now known as Woodshutts farm close to the canal.
I found Woodshutts farm to be semi-derelict, however there is evidence that there is still someone living there. The farm is surrounded by scrub land and it is this land where it is believed that sightings of the phantom dog has taken place. This land is also surrounded by housing estates which have encroached onto the land over the years.
An important sighting occurred in 1866 when a Mr MacGowan who was a prominent man in the area being the Manager of Harecastle Colliery was out walking one day with a companion when they heard the beast approaching from behind them, although they could not see the creature they both had to step to one side for fear of being knocked over as the beast rushed past. Perhaps the reason that MacGowan saw the creature or rather felt its presence was the fact that he was manager of the mine!
Another sighting which took place some time in the past occurred on Boathorse road which I would estimate as being half way between Woodshutts farm and nearby Harecastle tunnel. The dog was seen by the late Councillor Turner who had used to live on nearby Stone Bank road. He said that he had been proceeding along Boathorse road when he starting feeling uneasy, this feeling increased until he was terrified, it was at this point that he became aware of a large animal panting hard and running past him, although he was unable to actually see the animal he heard the noise it was making recede into the distance.
Another sighting of the phantom dog took place at Mow Cop some miles away from the sightings in Kidsgrove. What it was doing in this vicinity is unknown, an ex Police Constable Stonehouse saw it close to Mow Cop church, he claims he heard it approaching and turned to see a huge black dog with red eyes run past him and entered the churchyard, however when he reached the entrance of the churchyard himself he found the steel gate locked and realised the dog had passed through it.
When I went up to Mow Cop to take the picture of the church where the dog was sighted I noticed on the opposite side of the road and built into the stone wall was a well which dates back to the 18th century and called “The Parsons Well”. Perhaps it was this that had drawn the phantom dog to this location. In the Staffordshire Moorlands the Indefont Well and also the Egg Well at Bradnop seem to attract another phantom Black Dog, as many sightings close to these wells have occurred over the years.
Another sighting occurred around 1945-46 when a nurse by the name of A Wrigley was proceeding along Engine Bank on her rounds when she heard what she thought was a farm animal behind her, on turning around she was confronted by a large black dog about the size of a Great Dane, it then turned and passed through the hedge at the side of the road, when she looked to see where it had gone she found it had disappeared.
Other paranormal events which have occurred in Kidsgrove seem to be centred around the Harecastle tunnel.The tunnel is a canal tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Kidsgrove in Staffordshire. It is made up of two separate, parallel, tunnels described as Brindley (2,880 yards) and the later Telford (2,926 yards) after the engineers that constructed them. Today only the Telford tunnel is navigable. The tunnel is only wide enough to carry traffic in one direction at a time and boats are sent through in groups, alternating northbound and southbound. Ventilation is handled by a large fan at the south portal.
It is said that this tunnel is haunted by a Boggart or Buggat as it is known locally. The events which created this haunting occurred over 160 years ago before the age of the railways. It is said that a woman arrived in Kidsgrove after journeying from Liverpool with the intention of carrying on to London where she would join her husband. She foolishly accepted a lift with some of the boatmen who were waiting on one of the boats before entering the Brindley tunnel which runs for nearly two miles between Kidsgrove and Chatterley. While the one man who wasn’t on the boat led the horse towards the other end of the tunnel, the other two men on the boat murdered the woman while still in the tunnel in the hope of finding valuables in her luggage. The boatmen hid her body in a culvert off the main tunnel which leads to Goldenhill colliery and is known as “Gilberts Hole”. It is reported that some days later her body was recovered and it was found that the boatmen had beheaded her.
It is believed that this incident is what triggered many paranormal events around this location. One such incident occurred at nearby Clough Hall in the rose garden, a Mrs Napier observed a woman approaching her who seemed to be walking amongst the flower beds, she experienced an overwhelming sadness as she approached and was horrified to see that she was headless. Just before she vanished by walking through a hedge surrounding the garden she observed that the woman was wearing clothing of a different generation. When I went looking for Clough Hall I was disappointed to learn that it no longer exists, however I did manage to find a tract of woodland and a pool which had in the past formed part of Clough Hall estate.
A more recent incident took place in the 1990s at Harecastle tunnel and involved a ghostly narrowboat, the incident is as follows:
One fine day in 1990 a line of boats was waiting to enter the North end of Harecastle Tunnel. The last boat heading north came out of the tunnel, and the tunnel keeper said it was OK for us to go in. “NO, NO, NO” shouted the steerer of the emerging boat, “There’s an old working boat following us, we can still see his headlamp” so we all waited but no more boats came out. The tunnel keeper looked, and couldn’t see anything, so he phoned the south end keeper who confirmed that there were no other boats heading north, so we all started untying our ropes and got ready to enter the tunnel.
Suddenly the leading cruiser came backwards out of the tunnel again. “He was right” he said, “there really is a boat coming this way”. We all waited, and again the tunnel keeper phoned through to the south end, but again no other boat appeared.
The leading cruiser went into the tunnel for a second time, only to come flying out again at full throttle backwards. The steerer was as white as a sheet, and trembling from head to toe. “Here it comes, it almost ran us down that time” he cried, and stopped to watch as we were all proved wrong. Except that we weren’t proved wrong, and nothing came out of the tunnel.
“Let me have a look” said the tunnel keeper. “I’ll come into the tunnel with you”, and stepped onto the cruiser. Suddenly the steel barrier swung across, right through the cruiser’s window. Six strong men were assembled, but their combined strength couldn’t shift the barrier. “That’s enough” said the cruiser owner “I’m not going into the tunnel”. Silently and smoothly, all by itself, the barrier swung back from the window and placed itself back against the wall.
The cruiser went back the way he had come, and we all set off into the tunnel. The ghost boat with its light had vanished without a trace. We all went through the tunnel, and saw nothing..
Perhaps you think I am making this up, but I swear that every word is true. I’ll never forget the absolute certainty in the voice of the steerer heading north, and the terrified look on the face of the cruiser owner. Just why the Kidsgrove Boggart didn’t want the cruiser in his tunnel will forever be a mystery, but I for one will never, ever again say that I don’t believe in ghosts.