The Mystery of the Haunted Fun Fair: Thorpe Park, Surrey, UK


OK, it sounds like a Hardy Boys adventure doesn’t it? Or as Matthew Didier suggests, a Scooby Doo episode. Well I’m a (great?) Dane so maybe I should get down there with a gang of pesky kids? Tom Ruffles meanwhile is counting the clichés, and you can see why…

(UKPA) – 4 hours ago

A new ride at one of the country’s biggest theme parks, in Surrey, has been moved after fears that it disturbed an ancient burial ground, prompting paranormal activity.

An ancient burial ground? That’s cliché number one. (People with very bad senses of humour may enjoy the story of my haunted house, from my other blog.) The cliché is usually attributed to Poltergeist, but in that film the burial ground is not an “ancient Indian” one – as the property developer says, “What’s the problem? It’s not like it was built on an Indian Burial Ground.”  The genre trope actually derives from Pet Sematary I guess, but for a detailed discussion go to the invaluable and well written discussion here at tvtropes.org

Now of course the “built on a burial ground” motif is a common aspect of UK ghostlore and folklore, and I have in the past discussed the persistence of the link between ghosts and human remains, if only in popular imagination, though I am not entirely convinced it is that. Also doing building work or renovation is often said to spark hauntings, or trigger a recurrence– so we need not be too cynical, for the Hollywood cliché that features in a thousand parodies of the building built on the burial ground does reflect earlier folklore, and hence may reflect an actual reality. (We need a “law” for “just because you saw something like it in the movies does not mean it does not happen”?)

I sometimes wonder about this with Vanishing Hitchiker stories. Everyone knows they are foafs (friend of a friend stories), just urban legends.  They appear across many cultures, with versions going back to long before the motor car. Yet can the folklore be rooted in a real experience? If the phenomena was real but rare, we might well see the stories circulate, misattributed and distorted, and hence end up believing it was just urban legend, even if there was a core phenomena reflected in the tales. I don’t know, I’m not a folklorist; but I’d like to explore this one day. Anyone, back on to the rides…

Workers creating the water ride at Thorpe Park for the new season said they started noticing ghostly sightings nearby, including what appeared to be a headless monk.

Log Flume

CJ & Becky developing radical new methodologies for Spontaneous Case Investigation

I love water rides. Here we see two SPR members involved in a recent investigation – oh, ok, it’s Becky & me on the log flume at another theme park, but Alton Towers is meant to be haunted – in fact that forms the basis for several of the rides as I recall? The truth is I am terrified of them — all rides – the Runaway Train nearly killed me, and my first theme park ride, Oblivion, still has me shaking in terror at the thought. I’m even scared of the log flume — but I can cope with that. Where were we oh yes, ghosts!

Well coming from Bury St Edmunds I’m rather used to apparitional monks – in fact my own experience at Thetford Priory was of this type of creature, cliché number two.  Still what is obvious to me is that a headless (cliché three, maybe we should develop a scale for paranormal clichés, the Ruffles Scale, after Tom?) monk dressed in black is actually pretty much indistinguishable from a shadow.  Now having seen a cowled figure dressed in black, I am not one to talk, but why are all monks clad in black? Are they all Dominicans? At least Bury’s ghostly monks wear brown. Why do we rarely hear of ghostly Cistercians in white? Of course I’m surmising, because the monk could have been wearing any colour habit – the story does not tell us.

So why do I think monks in black without heads looks like blobs of shadow? Exhibit Two, your honour…

A headless monk

A real monk - with the head not visible. So a headless monk at night would look like a blob?

Now it could well be that the headless monk was seen in good light, during the day – this is the problem with this third hand way of going about things — but unless Thorpe Park invite me to investigate, which sadly seems unlikely, I may never know. The story is infuriatingly vague, but that is hardly the journalists fault – what the psychical research community want to know and what the readers of the papers want to know are probably very different things. Back to the story —

There were reports of objects being moved, workers feeling like someone was watching over their shoulders and sudden cold feelings being experienced.

The reports of objects being moved fascinate me – this is Polterwotsit after all –  but is infuriatingly vague. the cold feelings (but this is February) and sense of being watched however are very interesting, and I have some ideas based on the science of perception and possible environmental variables that sadly I could only try out on site. So if anyone reading this can get me in to Thorpe Park, I promise to do a proper investigation, as I’m far too chicken to go on any rides! 🙂 Seriously, might be worth checking out with some simple monitoring equipment.

A paranormal detection agency was called in to carry out tests and found that an ancient burial ground or settlement could have been disturbed.

One wonders how? Now I’m a ghost hunter, and I have many skills – but without ground penetrating radar equipment, I’d be loathe to say “hey, look, it’s built on a burial ground”, Sure I could probably call Adam Spring and ask him to do a survey; and get David Sivier on the archaeology — I know the right people for the task.  I’m a pretty good historian with an interest in settlement pattern, and David and I have been experimenting  with map regression techniques (nowt paranormal – explained here) – David is quite skilled, I have just read a few chapter and tried my hand at an area he knows well – but I would lack the confidence to say this. Maybe they found something on an old map or in the historical records– or maybe this was “psychic” information. Well when they write up their report we will know. Sounds interesting though, and i love the phrase “paranormal detection agency” – sounds classy!

Managers relocated the ride to another area of the park and called in a forensic team, South West London Paranormal, to investigate.

A forensic team? This is bizarre; however given that we are now forensic teams (probably down to the journalist not SWLP!) I have had a great idea for a new series featuring the Society for Psychical Research (based in Kensington) —

CSI Kensington: Spook Scene Investigators

The 64ft water ride, Storm Surge, was originally planned for an area known as Monk’s Walk, an old footpath that has linked the ruins of nearby Chertsey Abbey to Thorpe Church since AD666.

Ah, so that’s how they knew! Well explains why monks were seen I guess. I like the 666AD – that is simply the year Saint Erkenwald founded Chertsey Abbey, not a journalistic cliché – sorry Tom! – but the Church si more modern. However those naughty Danes sacked the monastery in the 9th century, so maybe the headless monk dates from that outrage? (And why did us Danes sack monasteries? Hardly carry off the women… :))

The ride’s foundations would have been over 15 metres deep in an area of the park where stone coffins have previously been excavated.

So the cliché was not a cliché – there really was a burial ground here.  Stone coffins are certainly in keeping with the period and location, so assuming the press is right, yes could have been a graveyard here – with I would have thought a medieval burial, though stone coffins can be found in some wealthy burials from the Roman right the way through to early modern times.  Well stone coffins (probably containing abbot’s based on my experience of the archaeology of Suffolk) were dug up at the abbey itself in 1865; whether they were found near the ride will need someone to go to the Sussex Archaeology Unit to establish I guess? Might well be a different coffin find, but it will be noted somewhere.

Jim Arnold, of South West London Paranormal, said results were picked up immediately, with orbs, ghostly images in photography and ouija reaction results being strongest around the site where Storm Surge was to be built.

He said: “The results were so strong, we felt the only explanation could be that an ancient burial ground or settlement was being disturbed, prompting the extra paranormal activity.”

Hey I really should read the article first shouldn’t I, then I would not wander off in to ground already covered, or if you will pardon the pun in this case, uncovered!

Forensic geophysicist Peter Masters, of Cranfield University, called in to analyse the site using deep ground radar, said: “From the preliminary investigations, we have picked up signatures similar to that of a burial ground – possibly ancient.”

There goes my idea of getting Mr Spring down there with his equipment, but hats off to Cranfield Uni for being so quick on the mark. Well that’s where the story ends, and while Google are reporting 184 versions, I think they are nearly all based on this Press Association release. I’d be interested to hear more – the claim to poltergeistery seems weak, its a traditional spook in many ways, but they burial ground bit is fascinating, and what looks at first glance like a clichéd publicity grab may actually mask an interesting little case. I’d love to hear from any witnesses, and go down to take a look and talk to people from the archaeology unit, Peter Masters and the original witnesses.

Many thanks to Vicky Eveniss and Tom Ruffles for drawing my attention to this one. Oh and if you have experienced anything odd yourself, do fill in Becky’s survey at http://www.strangesurvey.com/

(And just to note there is now a follow up article on the alleged paranormal events of 2009 at the theme park)

cj x

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4 Comments

Filed under Poltergeist Cases

4 responses to “The Mystery of the Haunted Fun Fair: Thorpe Park, Surrey, UK

  1. Nice post, Chris, digging (heh heh) a lot deeper than the superficial assumption I made that it was at heart a publicity stunt to drum up business for the park. I stand corrected on 666AD, it just seemed too good to be real. I still reckon it was a really bad year to found an abbey.

  2. JG

    Orbs? I didn’t think there was a paranormal research group left that paid any attention to orbs. My mistake!

    And even if there IS a burial ground at the site, so what? In my experience, cenetries are no more haunted than any where else.

    • Chris Jensen Romer

      Well the discovery of a Saxon cemetery (or even a medieval one) at the site would be a pretty good reason to not stick a 45′ deep foundation over the area until rescue archaeology had been done. I’d need better maps, but it is some distance from Chertsey Abbey, so I am intrigued. Cemetries are not particularly haunted, nope, totally agree. And as to orbs, ouija boards etc, I declined to comment on the grounds I may incinerate, er sorry, incriminate myself, but as you may have gathered it’s not really my scene. 🙂

  3. Armin

    Sorry for commenting your 3 posts from 2009 but I would like to thank you for those articles as the quite well correlate with my own impressions. I have been at Thorpe Park this Tuesday and Wednesday with my daughter and a friend of hers and spent the night in the Shark hotel and was eating at the 360 bar in the dome and then standing outside smoking a cigarette and watching the park in the night – and I must say that the noises you hear, most problably from the huge constructions of the rides, are quite spooky indeed.

    I like the tone of your posts as you don’t just dismiss the possibility of ghost appearances at Thorpe Park, don’t just laugh at it. I for myself cannot decide myself if I believe in ghosts or not. One thing I would like to mention is that I don’t believe that this was a publicity stunt by Merlin. Maybe the timing of the report to the press was, but getting the Southwest Paranormal people in to check on ghosts I personally believe was really due to the reports by workers while building the attraction.

    My position is that IF there are ghosts and IF the park was a burial ground then it would make sense for some of them to “party around” there.

    I appreciate people who are sceptical about paranormal stuff as I am myself somewhat, only sometimes these people seem as blinded on their point of view in not ever believing in the paranormal as believers always seem to see paranormal activity. As you mention, it would have been nice to be able to interview some of these workers about what they experienced.

    Anyway this park and these quite impressive rides – of which I only tried the very easy ones excluding anything to challenging, yes, I am somewhat fearful and I don’t like being high up in the air – has something strange, specially in the night. So, something in me got a feeling that the headless monk has actually some truth to it. Although the paranormal hunter agency did clearly mention that they have not in any way seen any headless monk, but as you mentionned from their site – which I read before finding your blog – they experienced some other strange stuff.

    But what is true is that your posts where the only interesting content I could find on this story – and well written, and well balanced. Thank you for that!

    Armin

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