Posted on 06 September 2010, 21:47
I don’t know when you last saw a ghost. But if you feel you’ve been missing out then it’s time you took a trip to the south coast to visit some haunted streets in Brighton.
The Lanes, as they are known, are the oldest part of Brighton. They were once the fishing village of Brighthelmstone, before the royal patronage of the Prince Regent made the town fashionable in the 18th century. Today, the fishermen are gone and replaced by trendy shops - quirky, pink and pricey. But maybe more of the past remains there than we imagine.
Recently, I went on a Lanes Ghost walk. An actor has turned its murky past into a business. He arrives in black Victorian coat and hat, and ringing a bell leads his flock, paying £5 a head, from site to gruesome site. There’s the Cricketer’s pub for instance, a fine hostelry we’re told, and where Graham Greene, in an upstairs room, wrote much of ‘Brighton Rock’. But our interest here is that according to locals, it’s haunted by the ghost of Robert Stephenson, a one-time patron. Robert Stephenson, a former army surgeon, is the most likely identity of Jack the Ripper.
And then there’s the unfortunate John Robinson, who gave a police man a bit of a shock. Robinson was an eighteenth century adventurer and soldier of fortune whose luck ran out in Persia - his eyes were burnt out with hot irons after supporting a failed rebellion. A sympathetic merchant helped Robinson return to England; and the adventurer finally made it back to his home town of Brighton, only to die there. John’s phantom was seen lying in the road by a police officer who was physically sick after looking at his face, and also by a woman, so appalled by the figure’s appearance that she spent a night in hospital.
And we must not forget the Grey Nun of 14th century Brighthelmstone, who fell in love and attempted to elope with a soldier guarding her monastery. They were captured by the Order and the soldier was hanged; the nun’s fate was worse, however. She was bricked up alive in the monastery walls, to die a lingering death, because, we are told, the church did not want her blood on its hands. The Grey Nun still walks The Lanes, revisiting the site of her tragic arrest.
The ghost walk is billed as ‘Frightening!’ as folk do like to be a little spooked; but it’s more sad than chilling. The actor does his best to thrill, playing always for the scream. But really, as the stories unfold, there’s little to do but cry and wonder as unresolved pain makes a nonsense of boundaried time, and walks unbidden through the centuries’ walls in search of relief.
As the eras melt before our eyes, and past and present unite in strange union, we stand in the eternal now, present with those before us, and with those still to come. It’s a haunting experience, if not the one I was expecting.