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Guildford ghost tour - fright night!

PUBLISHED: 18:02 26 October 2010 | UPDATED: 12:11 07 October 2014

One of the county's leading experts on the paranormal, Philip Hutchinson

One of the county's leading experts on the paranormal, Philip Hutchinson

One of the county's leading experts on paranormal activity, Philip Hutchinson also leads the popular Ghost Tour of Guildford. Alec Kingham met up with him to hear his fascinating theories on the supernatural - which are not quite what you might expect...

Originally published in Surrey Life November 2007

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The sun slowly sinks on the horizon and I'm cast in cold shadow beneath the looming silhouette of Holy Trinity Church on Guildford High Street. A bell tolls eight times and my hackles rise as behind me a man appears in the churchyard, resembling a Dickensian clerk, in black waistcoat and cap. I'm sitting atop a set of stone steps, about to embark on the popular Guildford Ghost Tour, and the sombre presence of this fellow is disturbing enough to warrant scuttling back down to street level.

Over the next two hours, 13 strangers and I are led around some of the creepiest locations in Guildford as our consummate, albeit a little sinister, tour guide Philip Hutchinson unearths the town's dark past. Philip is a council member of The Ghost Club, Britain's oldest ghosthunting society, founded by Charles Dickens in 1862, and has seen more than his fair share of haunted premises.

One might expect a ghosthunter to be agitated, with dark rings beneath shifty eyes, but surprisingly, for someone who has spent years investigating the supernatural, Philip is composed and articulate. Even when one of Guildford's drunken Friday night revellers gatecrashes our spine-tingling tour, Philip remains unruffled.

Bizarrely, his interpretation of ghosts doesn't match most people's understanding of them as lost souls of the departed.

"I believe in ghosts, but not in the conventional sense," he says. "I don't believe they're the spirits of the dead. Electro-magnetism has a lot to do with apparitions."

Philip contends that paranormal activity can be summed up into three main areas: time-slip and stone tape theories, and poltergeists. The first two cover the repetitive behaviour that most ghosts seem to adopt. The former proposes that there are occasional slips in time, which allows us to witness events that have either occurred or will come. The latter theory is centred on walls and certain environments absorbing electromagnetic activity, much like recording machines such as tape players or video cameras. When the conditions are replicated, the event will replay itself.

Of course, these theories have their flaws. For example, why do people who died in unpleasant circumstances dominate ghostly goings-on, rather than those who lived routine lives?

The third explanation for the paranormal, poltergeists, are far more complex entities and not easy to summarise. Often associated with children, and popularised in horror films, Philip asserts, "Poltergeist activity isn't actually linked to dead people." Instead, he believes they are to do with the living - the power of mind over matter.

At Ham House near Richmond, which Philip declares is "the most haunted building in Surrey", there is apparently a resident poltergeist. In the Tollemarche room, a wheelchair has been reported as moving about of its own accord - and the Ghost Club has undertaken scientific investigations to prove it.

"I've never seen that building in daylight!" Philip jokes, when describing the Ghost Club's experiences within. (See the report of their findings at: www.theghostclub.org.uk). "They close the premises up for a month during winter and the wheelchair goes walkabout - sometimes out into the corridor!"

If that sounds far-fetched, Philip explains that the Ghost Club put motion-detectors beneath the wheels, marked out its location and locked the doors, returning later to find the sensors triggered and the chair moved.

So, if no one is present to influence the wheelchair's motion, and it doesn't conform to the aforementioned time slip and stone tape theories, how is this rationally explained? If the force is malevolent, I'm not sure I want to know...

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Ghost Tour of Guildford 2014 dates
Philip Hutchinson leads the Ghost Tour of Guildford every Friday night from Good Friday to the end of November (including October 31st) in Guildford town centre. For more details, visit www.ghosttourofguildford.co.uk

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Reigate Ghost Walk takes place on various dates every October. For more information, visit www.reigateghostwalk.co.uk

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