In the first of a three part series Roger Goodwin reveals the ghosts which haunt Fulwood Barracks, in Preston
Best documented of the ghosts of Fulwood Barracks is the “presence” which haunts – or used to haunt – the old Officer’s Mess in Block 57.
This account first appeared in The Lancashire Lad, then the journal of the old East Lancashire Regiment (30th Foot), in 1935, but it relates to a series of incidents which took place just about a century ago, in the years just before the First World War…
It was in February, 1910, (writes “M.A.R”) that, being then attached to the Depot of the 30th at Fulwood Barracks, I had my encounter with the apparition which I afterwards ascertained was already a fact accepted by those who had more intimate knowledge of the place.
I remember that the quarter occupied by me was on the ground floor next door to the Mess, and that the room was distinguished by having a stone or marble mantelpiece, it having at some time formed part of the actual Mess premises.
Well, I had paid a hurried visit in the evening – a Sunday – to Lieut (Qrmr.) and Mrs Williamson’s, genial souls, and had gone to bed quite in my right mind, and not meriting the witticisms and pointed remarks of the other members of the Mess on their hearing later of my experience of that night. This statement you must accept if you purpose continuing with this slight narrative.
By eleven o’clock, when I was tucked away in bed, a heavy gale raged (and, incidentally, much damage was done to public buildings in Preston), and I was forced to get up and close the shutters to deaden the noise of the wind and clattering of the windows.
Then I went off to sleep, to be awakened by what sounded like a loud clap of thunder. I was so awake that I sat up in bed to get a better idea of how the storm was progressing, and my eyes travelled over the darkness of the room, to be arrested by what appeared to be a phosphorescent figure standing between the foot of my bed and the fireplace. I looked hard, and there it certainly was. It seemed to be wearing some kind of belt, and with a gasp of surprise I sank back on my pillow still watching, and before my eyes the figure gradually faded away.
Satisfied that I had seen something quite extraordinary, I leapt out of bed and dashed into the adjoining quarter of Lieut A A Sharland, disturbed his dreams of “Rubio” winning the National, and invited him to “step this way”. But either he knew something or was perfectly comfortable as he was. At any rate, he refused to budge, and just kindly invited me to doss down for the remainder of the night on his camp bed, and this I gladly accepted.
As might be expected, I was badly ragged when the story got around the next day, but I think that the consensus of opinion was with me in that I had seen “something,” and Lieut Harrison, of the Loyals, after a very prolonged sitting over dinner was dared to take my place in my quarter on that night following, and accepted, and, of course, slept like a log.
The little local excitement died down, and was not revived for me until one day about three weeks later, when Lieut Walmsley, of the Loyals (TA), who was also attached for training, returned from a trip to Accrington. He related to me that there he had met a senior officer in the Territorials, and in the ordinary course of conversation Lieut Walmsley remarked that he was doing a course at Fulwood Barracks. Thereupon his friend announced that he also had been at Fulwood for two years during the Boer War, that he had occupied quarters in a room, with a marble mantelpiece, on the ground floor next door to the Mess, and that on occasions he had seen “something” in that room. A strange coincidence.
Afterwards, of course, in about 1911 or 1912, there was the incident of Lieut James, then lately posted to the Depot from the 59th in India, and when returning by night from “visiting rounds” drawing his sword and having a cut at a “something” standing in the passage above my old quarter.
Soon after my strange experience I left Fulwood Barracks, but I understood that the distinguished veteran Chaplain, the Rev Smith, of Zulu War fame, who in those days lived just outside the Barrack gate, interested himself in the matter, got into touch with the Psychical Society in London, and said prayers in my room.
Perhaps it is fitting to mention, in conclusion, that the oldest inhabitants of those days had it that prior to being an infantry mess a cavalry regiment had been stationed there, and that a tragic fatality had taken place in that very room, which was then part of the Mess. But, occasion also being the father and mother of invention, to this one cannot attach very much credence.
And, in any case, what does it matter?