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EEL MARSH HOUSE

Location: Situated in the Northeastern part of England, Crythin Gifford is an isolated seaside community in Northumbria County close to Highway A1. By train, it can be reached through the King's Cross Station to Crewe then changing for the train in Homerby for the branch line on to Crythin Gifford. The remoteness of the village makes access by car arduous but not impossible. Sometimes called the old Drablow House, the structure is located on a eleven and a half acres of island in the estuary near Belford Bay and connected by a roadway known as the Nine Lives Causeway stretching a mile and a half from the main shore which floods between 5PM to 11AM the next day with ten feet high of water, effectively cutting off the property from the mainland.  

Description of Place: Crythin Gifford is a remote village that is so isolated and lost in time that news of the end of World War Two didn't reach town until 1951. Electricity wasn't available until 1963, and residents didn't acquire televisions until 1979. A one-room schoolhouse still schools the local kids. Hidden behind a forest of trees on a rounded island off shore, Eel Marsh House is a two story Eighteenth Century Gothic Romanesque English manor house on a crowded island with an adjacent overgrown cemetery and small caretakers cottage on the grounds. The imposing and creaking Old English interior has six bedrooms, a front entry hall, a library, dining hall and parlor, all in relative stages of neglect and disrepair. Much of the Drablow family possessions and furniture have been left behind in the house including portraits and bric-a-brac. Parts of the house have been ruined by the elements making exploration of the interior dangerous with weak floors and crumbling walls. The overgrown yard is filled with weeds and creeping vines taking over the exterior which looks "as if it it peering back on the living." 

Ghostly Manifestations: Most of the small towns in England have their local legends involving superstition and lost personages. Several of the old highways stretching back to the first Roman conquest and the Saxon invasions involve spirits of dead highwaymen, phantom monks and even ghostly hitch-hikers. Crythin Gifford is no different. Between the 1890s to as late as the 1930s, it was rumored the village was being haunted by a spectral woman in black who appeared near the homes where children were lost in tragic accidents. During the Forties, there was less than three hundred people living in town, and that number is just barely higher today.

First mentioned in print in 1938, the structure has not been lived in since the last occupant passed away in 1923, making a search for reports and testimonies difficult. For almost a hundred years, locals have believed the ghost of Jenet Humfrye, the sister of a former owner, roams the house and grounds. When the causeway connecting the island to the shore is flooded by the rising tide, witnesses have reported seeing the dark figure of a woman roaming the grounds. Others have been terrified by seeing her appear in the windows of the house, but the best resource to read about the ghost is the papers of former land owner Samuel Daily who knew lawyer Arthur Kripps, the first known man to experience the ghosts. Daily wrote about Kripp's experiences in the house in a journal he presented to Judge Joseph Radcliffe in the hopes of barring more visitors to the house. The journal was found in Radcliffe's desk in 1943 and given as a gift to parapsychologist David Ash who published excerpts of it in his book, "Debunked: The Folly of Supernatural Belief," but it later ended up in the possession of parapsychologist Professor Edward Rand, who led the first known investigation of the house in 1951.   

As Dailey describes: "I first met Arthur Cripps on the train from London in the winter of 1923 shortly after the death of his wife. He was an interesting young man. Tall and lean with round brown eyes, dark hair and haunted features, a young lawyer sent from his firm in London to collect and settle the estate of Mrs. Alice Constance Drablow, the widow of a local businessman. I am sorry to report that Arthur's first encounter with my local superstitious inhabitants was not a welcoming endeavor. You see, in those days, the town was not open to visitors. They did not mean to be rude nor discourteous, but they were especially private, less than willingly to open themselves to ridicule of their beliefs as to what they believed was happening in the town. Through no fault of their own is how I came to bond with Arthur, the young lawyer who might have been the son I might have had had my own young son Nicholas survived into adulthood."

"Now, I am not the type to believe in ghosts. I am to believe that there is a place where we are all reunited after we pass over, but from his first day in the house, I knew Arthur had experienced something. He testified to me in secret that he often felt watched in the house for there was something about the edifice that made him feel as if he was not alone. I found him to be intelligent, rational and more lucid in his words that I could not help but believe him. If he had told me that ostriches ran the property, I would have believed him, but to hear he suspected a woman in mourning clothes was lurking through the house as he gathered and perused the Drablow papers and records I cannot find fault in his words. The only question I have is what allows a woman to vanish unseen into rooms and shadows and peer back from empty air without producing her substance.

"Arthur told me he could hear screams and cries from an accident on the causeway and upon rushing out there he would see nothing. Nothing but the fog and mist coming off the shore and the distant sounds of the city on the wind. He described for me the hysterical cries of a woman, and although they might have been a bird I would like to add I have yet to see any birds near the island or around the causeway, and if it is this unseen bird, why would it be screaming for help with a woman's voice?

"The most terrifying part of Eel Marsh House is not just the ghosts, but at night, you cannot leave. If I saw a strange woman in black in my house, you would be sure my wife and I would be very quickly in London, standing in our night clothes in the train station and buying tickets for the most sunny ghost free city in America. It is most startling that Arthur claims in his one night stranded on his island he took the assistance of a local man's hound for company, but what good is a dog that whimpers at empty rooms and cowers under furniture from vacant corners. While brief shades and glimpses of a person eluding detection is enough to terrify myself, Arthur tells me that after midnight he was following footsteps he heard upstairs and broke into the the children's room which had been sealed since before his arrival and was suddenly and quite take aback by the presence of a woman hanging and bobbing on a beam before the window who appeared and suddenly vanished. I tell you, Judge Radcliffe, if it had been I to have seen this unearthly specter, it would have likely young Mr. Cripps writing this from my words and not the other way around!

"Truth be told, I have been to the house on few occasions, and there is enough to ply and coax the imagination to see and hear all these things and more, just as my grandfather's house once did, but I have grown up and the old man's domicile no longer terrifies me, but for some reason, Eel Marsh House still to this day makes me feel like that terrified young man screaming for his father. I have seen ghastly faces in the windows that vanish when I turn my head to them. I have felt watched there, and although the house is barred and locked and I assure you very difficult to enter, I have heard the sound of a child's music box inside the house still playing without its owner..."

After Arthur Cripps left the house, the house became the property of his law firm who struggled to sell it. While it was possible the remoteness had something to do with it, the reputation of the house evidently had a factor in its resale. Stories and gossip of the house soon spread as far south as Whitley Bay and as far west as Newcastle. It was eventually sold sight unseen to the Watson family of Rolling Green in Yorkshire County.

"I heard my father tell the story about the Eel Marsh House several times growing up, I eventually had it memorized." Helen Packert, Ronald Watson's daughter, was three years old when she was taken to see the house in 1925. "The law firm used photos of the house when it was in its prime and and in better shape to sell it. It was a deceitful and despicable thing to do, and they knew it, but father was a contractor and thought the house could be restored. Instead of moving into the house, we were put up with family friends in nearby Bellbrook, and workmen were hired to clean and prepare the house, but what was expected to be a week stretched to a month and a few weeks became almost a year. The workmen would only work in the house during the day, and even then, they never stayed very long. Tools vanished, they were touched by invisible hands, they felt watched and reports of being supervised by a woman in black wandering around the property were repeated. 

"Just as restoration was nearing its eventual end," Helen adds. "My mother went to the house to look it over and decide how many servants she would need but instead she suddenly decided she couldn't live there. She claimed she felt a presence there, and despite all the haggling, my father eventually decided to default on the house, claiming the foundation was sinking and the island dissolving into the bay around it."

Despite those claims, Eel Marsh House stood around until 1947 when it was finally sold again to Richard Felty, a British anthropologist, who had noticed the house while in the RAF and flying runs over it during the war. Although it was partially restored, successive storms had taken their toll, and the location was once again falling into a decrepit state. While removing furnishing from the house, he reported seeing the figure of a woman in long dark dress approach the house from the woods, come up the path to the front doors and enter the main hall. Descending to see who his guest was, he found the house empty. More intrigued than scared, he stayed in the house off and on, sometimes for a few days on hand. His relatives joined him on occasion, but at several times, they heard the sounds of whispering, cold drafts from sealed rooms and a feeling of being watched. Most of the activity came from the child's nursery.

Today, bored teenagers and illegal vandalism torment the island now that motor boats and fishing crafts go up and down the waters of these frozen North Sea waters. Fishermen hauling in lobster nets feel a strange urge to look up to the back of the house as if they are being watched, and teenagers swear they get within feet of entering the house before screams send them scrambling for shore. While not all these stories can be confirmed, it is the tales of the more reliable locals which take the priority over others. 

History: Built sometime in the Early Nineteenth Century, Eel Marsh House was the summer retreat for several generations of Drablow family members. The last fulltime residents to live there were Gerald and Alice Drablow who had no children. It was then the property of the Bentley, Haigh, Sweetman and Bentley Law Firm in London who sold it to the Watson family from Yorkshire in 1925. Partial restoration of Eel Marsh House began afterward and eventually halted. After World War Two, the house was owned by the Felty family, but by then the condition of the location was debated to be a lost cause and they tried carrying off as many of the fixtures and furniture that they could get. Today, the house is owned by Matthew and Ronald Lynch, two contractors from Edinburgh, slowly trying to restore the house and grounds as the tide will allow. When they stay overnight on the grounds, Ronald sleeps with a hunting rifle by his side filled with rock salt.

Identity of Ghosts: Jenet Humfrye was the sister of Alice Humfrye-Drablow, the wife of John Drablow, the last of the Drablow family members. Although they were childless, the Drablows were able to adopt her son, Nathaniel, and raise him as their own, but shortly after giving birth, Jenet decided to keep the child and fought hard to try and keep him. John and Alice had her committed when they feared she was too unstable to raise Nathaniel, but on October 18, 1889, as the Drablows were returning to the house on the causeway, they misjudged the timing of the tide and their carriage was swamped by the tide, drowning nearly everyone present. Nathaniel's body was never found, and the inconsolable Jenet returned to the house heartbroken, hanging herself in the nursery. Her ghost is believed to haunt the house.  

Investigations: To date, there have been only two investigations here by accredited researchers. The first one was on November 11, 1951 by Professor Edward Rand and his team from the Royal Academy of Paranormal Research using the talents of Benjamin Fischer, a young psychic. Exhaustive in their scientific and psychic pursuits, they conducted and recorded hours of audio activity in the house that ranged from rapping sounds, footsteps, knockings and the sounds of possible voices in the study, foyer and the top landing. Having exhaustively analyzed the written accounts of the Dailey journal and filmed an interview with Helen Packert, Rand employed Fischer to try and contact Jenet Humfrye. Fischer called her "certifiably insane and unpredictable, given to moments of extreme melancholy and depression and the next lashing out with extreme hatred." During the investigation, assistant Evanna Lewis took a very bad fall from the top landing of the main hall. At the time, she felt she had been pushed by two icy cold hands, but a year later, she speculated a cold breeze had distracted her into stumbling on the carpet.

Fischer also described the spirits of several young children in the house, none of them older than eleven, somewhere between twelve and fifteen in number. He said they were young and carefree, playing on the island and hiding in the shadows, but he wasn't sure why they were there, but he did name one of them as Nicolas Dailey. Speculation is Jenet collected their spirits or was somehow responsible for their deaths.

On October 3, 1989, Dr. James Harvey from Maine joined members of the London Society for Paranormal Research. His associates included parapsychologists Dr. Gerald Frid and Professor Margaret Selby, sound engineer Lara Karlen, structural engineer David Weasley and photography analyst Craig Longbottom. Inundating the location with cameras, microphones and temperature gauges, they recorded changes in atmosphere, weather patterns, readings in the energy patterns and conducted hours of EVP sessions. Their experiences included strange shut-downs in their gear (the camera in the nursery always went out), inexplicable sounds (a high-pitched electronic scream over their detectors) and light anomalies (orbs and patches of fog in the majority of the photos). Harvey believed he saw Jenet's form twice lurking around them from a distance, and Parker experienced a dark presence staring back at her from an empty bedroom as she was investigating the upstairs. However, Frid has been frustrated by the local town council from conducting further investigations.

"Too many sensible people have seen things, and the phenomena has been going on for too long for this to be just imagination. There's no doubt whatever that this is one of the most active locations in England, and we must be allowed to do a serious investigation over a long period of time." Frid asserts.

Source/Comments: The Woman In Black (2012) - Activity based on scenes from the movie and from Downe Court Manor in Orpington, England, Raynham Hall in Fakenham, England, Berry Pomeroy in Totnes, England and Taunton Castle in Taunton, England.


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