Ghosts of Sudbury Hall Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire

17 05 2010

After perusing the National Trust gift shop and dodging the April showers my son and I ventured into the Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire.  A jolly lady checked our tickets and suggested we take a map of the complicated layout, which I discarded after a while as it was so large and it was easier to follow our noses through the rooms of interesting displays and fascinating cabinets of childhood artefacts, ranging from war time to present day.  One room had a fascinating Alice-in- Wonderland type ceiling with upside down child’s bedroom, complete with furniture, toys and even a half ajar door!  We stood craning our necks, in awe of how the talented creators of such a masterpiece could have stuck everthing to the ceiling without it falling on their visitors’ heads!  I was particularly reminded of my own childhood when I spotted an orange bouncy ball with ears which had been determinedly grasped by the chubby hands of my little sisters as they’d jumped up and down on their ‘space hoppers’!  My slightly older sister and I felt much more grown up on the high stilts my father made us, after which all the neighbourhood children lusted! (And to his credit, my father made several more pairs to give away to them!)

Totally absorbed in reminiscing, I did not become aware until the third such room of treasures that little ghost children were running around us, giggling and enjoying themselves.  As two living humans we were otherwise alone and I glanced round for cover as I removed my trusty dowser from its holster in my jeans pocket.  These little ones were ‘evacuees’ from war time who had ‘missed the train home’ again and they were quickly joined by melancholic grown-ups of various eras who were connected in some way with the toys in the displays, spanning many generations.    In other words, the owners of the old toys who had not managed to leave this world naturally, were pouring into the vortex of light created by my rescue mission.

Whilst my son kept an eye-out for any living people wandering into the room, I did my best to make a mental note of those (mostly polite) souls who tipped their caps at me before leaving – happy to have been milling around the museum of childhood, but oh so grateful to be reunited with their loved ones.  At such times I feel a maternal gush of empathy and joy at their release!  After approximately 25 souls had been safely returned in this manner, my son and I wandered through many more rooms until we came to the recreation of a Victorian schoolroom.  A ghostly ‘Arthur’ sat at one of the desks, slate board and chalk in his hands, poorly looking, underfed, his nose running….he had died of diptheria…and in a trice a little girl named Tilly appeared from the otherside and took his pale little hand.  Such joy knows no bounds!  As I typed this information into my blog another 30 or so souls who had also died of diptheria and not completed their journey’s home were passed over safely.  Like attracts like.

A row of desks were lined up outside this room, each containing information for visitors.  Something made me close the lid of the end one and to my delight I saw that someone had scratched the words ‘JB WOZ ERE’ on the top – JB being the lifelong nickname given to me by my father and also used by my husband (JanieBold).  My son was greatly amused by this and cajoled me into posing for a photo opportunity!  After trying on some silly hats from a toy box and larking about in the ‘nursery’ (well nobody living was there to see!) I dowsed a ‘clown’ and a nanny/governess who enjoyed reading ‘ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’ – and many more who had been attracted by the banter….As my dowser continued to swing in a whirlwind of joyful crossings, a member of staff entered the room (I snatched the gypsy scarf from my head but she just laughed, probably used to such childish antics by visitors!) and didn’t seem to notice the frantic spinning of my crystal….

After noshing on a Magnum each, we dashed to the Hall itself – ‘last admissions’ being 4.15 pm and, although very attentive and polite, it was obvious the half a dozen volunteers with only us to usher through the many rooms were keen to get home.  In the Long Gallery were over 20 portraits of family members but none of them were restless souls – I had gathered many on a visit many years previously and the details were safely stashed somewhere in an old notebook.  I remembered, however, that it had been the downstairs servants quarters that had been particularly spooky, with some dastardly deeds involving a fall (or push) down the stone steps and much blood from a knife wound (accidental or otherwise).  However, a modern art display entitled Celebrations clashed strangely with the ancient artefacts and portraits of the Long Gallery and the volunteer explained that the artist invited the public to add a written card to this long table, stating one’s hopes and celebrations.  I took a pencil and wrote ‘the publishing of my latest book’ and propped it against a book shaped jigsaw cut out, decorated in curly material/shavings which were apparently inspired by this room.

Another volunteer showed me portraits of one man and his three wives (one of whom was his first cousin), saying there was ‘madness’ in the family due to the ‘gene pool diminishing in size over many generations’….most interesting.  After an embarrassingly brisk trot through the interlinking rooms, all six volunteers stood with their coats slung over their shoulders, ready for the off.  However, one curious gentleman could not resist asking me what my book was about…..(‘Prepare for the disinterested looks once you’ve told them’ I said to myself!)  To their credit though they listened politely, asked me what the book was called, and one or two (ladies) said ‘how fascinating!’ – and as one man showed us down the stairs to the door he whispered ‘my wife has felt ghosts in here in the past….Just a feeling‘ he said.

Light showers turned to thunderous rain just as we made it safely back to the car park and retraced our journey home.  A few minutes later I had occasion to tick off a bad driver for cutting me up, and my face tingled as it does when we have a spirit visitor or two in the car with us.  Keeping my eyes on the road, I told our son that a ‘gamekeeper‘ was sitting in the seat behind him, and he looked curiously round, unable to detect anything but keen to know more.  This ghostly gent told me he had lived in the Hall (1896 – perhaps the year of his death?)  He wore a brown jacket and trousers pulled up very high with braces, a large trilby-type hat covering his bowed face.  Despite the static electricity buzzing round my cheekbones I had to concentrate on peering through the manic wipers as well as opening up the vortex for him to pass.…and then I became aware that he had a little girl sitting either side of him.  These were two orphans he took it upon himself to keep beside him after discovering they were also ‘lost ones’… His wife was now beckoning from the other side and in a flash all three of them were gone!  When I later asked what had been his cause of death, he simply replied “sneezing,” – (which meant  ‘influenza’) followed by “Bless you!” – making me smile.  And the little orphans?  “War zone.”

Another interesting day of Celebrations – helping lost souls to move through the Long Gallery of light to their rightful places beside departed loved ones!

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