Craven Street Ghosts

Is the College of Optometrists haunted? Some people claim to have seen things.

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George and Mary

On 13th March 2006 a decorator at the College claimed to have spotted a man in a blue coat and a tricorn hat in the corner of the museum's Sutcliffe Room. This was not an apparition as such, rather the decorator claimed to be 'sensitive', a gift he had inherited from his dead grandmother.

The figure apparently spoke to him asking 'Where's Mary? I can't find Mary'. He sensed this man's name was George. A day later he spotted the same figure, this time leaning against the marble fireplace in the Giles Room (just through the wall from the previous spot). George was still seeking Mary.
Subsequent research revealed that a George McCummins and a Mary Berringer had been leaseholders of a block on the east side of Craven Street in 1754. Could there be a connection?

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Ghost hunters

Considerable interest around the world was aroused by this report, not least due to coverage on the 24 Hour Museum website. An investigator from Malaysia turned up with his temperature probe within days but found nothing except a slight temperature discrepancy in the fireplace. On Friday 13th (when else) October a small-scale but markedly more scientific paranormal investigation took place at the College. Subsequently a full report was received from the experienced ghost hunting team at Southern Paranormal arriving, would you believe it, on Halloween. They concluded that, on balance, there is paranormal activity going on in the lower reaches of the College building.
They didn't find George or Mary, but they did find Anna, Hannah, Joseph and Will (known as Bert). There was one alleged sighting of a grey man in the sub basement and some people felt they had been 'touched' in the dark.

Southern Paranormal Investigation Team

The team of six was led by Kerry Price, a librarian and also included a disc jockey, a website designer, a caretaker, a medium and a minister from a Spiritualist 'church'. Apart from their matching 'Ghost Hunt' t-shirts their appearance was that of ordinary people. Only Kerry knew of the previous reports of spirits. It was important that the objectivity of the rest of the team was not affected by prior suggestion.
The team carried out temperature, EMF (Electro magnetic field) and EVP (electronic voice phenomena) tests. They established vigil areas and filmed events on a camcorder. Some doors were sealed and motion sensors placed across their thresholds.
They concluded that the Giles Room had once been a storeroom for furniture and may have also been a school room at one point. A boy may have starved to death here. He must have been small because the unusual temperature readings only occured to a height of about four feet. At 12:25pm the female medium Val was 'given' the name of William Connor whom others called Bert. She said 'I felt as though a man was watching me, he was a scruffy man who didn’t smell all that pleasant, it was the smell of unwashed feet. I got the name of William but he was nicknamed Bert and also the name of Connor. I could see candles burning very low'. All agreed on the 'oppressive' nature of this room. Val concluded by telling Neil the curator 'All I can say is that we shouldn't be here'.
In the main display area, the Sutcliffe Room, Val picked up on the name of Anna or Hannah, a girl not born in London but from the country, and could 'see' bodies and blood. She began questioning this spirit out loud: Was you hurt here? Did you die here? Were you strangled? Did you know Joseph? Did you love Joseph? Did Joe kill you? Were you smothered? With each question the buzzing of the EMF meter went ballistic. Significantly Val believed that what she was picking up on was whatever had been on this site before the current building. That makes sense because she envisaged a bedroom with four-poster bed and there is no way a basement room in a Georgian town house would have fulfilled such a function. Val reckoned that Anna had enticed men into this place and that Joe had then done his dirty work. She felt that there were 'a lot of knives involved' and that Anna had later been hanged or knifed to death, taking the blame for all the macabre misdeeds.The male medium, Keith, believed that Hannah died in this room, possibly in childbirth. He 'saw' two women here, an old lady and a young woman of about 18 years who was Hannah. With the  hairs on his arms rising he walked through to the other room and immediately felt dizzy. Research has shown that in Craven Street's earlier incarnation as Spur Alley (pre-1730) it was infamous for sheltering many people who were on the wrong side of the law and was also filled with inns and all the vices that went on inside them. Even once the Earl of Craven laid out his genteel street there remained many unlawful residents in the houses, most of which comprised rented rooms. Many people must have passed this way.
It's certainly a room that has an effect on people. Kerry felt someone touch her neck. Ken who had arrived with a painful abscess in his mouth said the pain had suddenly gone but that it returned when he left the building. At one point Kerry felt a pain in her stomach and jaw.
Down into the cellar they went. Quite why is unclear as the decorators had reported nothing untoward down there. Kerry knew of the famous Craven Street bones beneath number 36 but it is unlikely the burial site stretched this far. They could however plunge this area into complete blackness and use the infra red camera. As Ken was filming he felt someone brush against his left arm although he was standing on his own. (Eek!) He had a general feeling of uneasiness. Ghost hunter Jim saw a figure of a grey-haired man which he thought at first was Ken but then Ken denied it was him. Keith picked up the name 'Baker'. Neil showed him a picture of former BOA President Bill Barker (just one letter out) in the museum which, significantly, had been turned to the wall when they had been in there previously. He thought it might have been that man he saw. Certainly some of the objects stored down there would have had personal associations with Bill Barker.

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So what next?

The team recommended more extensive tests be conducted over a longer period, perhaps negative ion tests or infrasounding. Believer or sceptic, you can be sure of an interesting visit when you come to the BOA Museum and you might see something you didn't expect!

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Spook Update

The latest 'sighting' of the little boy took place in the Sutcliffe Room when a visitor and practising dispensing optician reported her encounter on 15 November 2017. In common with other encounters the report was made by a person claiming prior sensitivity to such phenomena, who experienced what she did quite individually, despite the presence of other visitors in the room.