Organisers of a paranormal investigation at one of Shaftesbury’s oldest buildings will host additional events after their first evening sold out in 24 hours. Alfred met the Stranger Nights team and heard about their scariest experiences so far.
If you could determine whether a building was haunted from its appearance alone, King Alfred’s Kitchen could be a contender. The only structure with visible timber framing still standing in Shaftesbury dates back to 1615.
Paranormal investigator Karen Philpott has not heard any stories of spooky activity inside the High Street premises and that’s why she’s intrigued. “This place, as far as we know, hasn’t been investigated in the past, so it’s a new experience for us and other people that live in the area,” said Karen.
Karen has been checking out historic buildings across the west with her business partner, Bev Cherry. The two friends share a fascination for the unexplained. “We met in August last year, helping another team with their investigations. I’ve been interested in the paranormal since I was ten. I am nearly forty now,” laughed Karen.
“I’ve been into the paranormal since the day dot,” added Bev. By day, Karen works in care and Shaftesbury resident Bev is a joiner. She seemed almost as interested in inspecting the wooden beams in King Alfred’s Kitchen as she was in the prospect of recording a paranormal presence. The friends hope their business will become their full-time work, one day. “When we’re not doing our day jobs, we’re looking at locations to go on our days off. It is highly addictive, but it is also rewarding,” said Bev.
The women don’t claim to be psychic. They are more interested in science. “We’re not ghost hunters. And we’re not spiritualist mediums either,” said Karen. “Me saying, ‘I could feel such and such’ is my opinion. I can’t expect people just to believe my opinion. I have to be able to evidence it.”
“It’s already been proven that you cannot prove a psychic or medium,” continued Karen. “Too much has given them a bad name. Using the equipment and being able to link that with documented history and to make a bigger picture is the route that we’re trying to go down.”
Bev says the Stranger Nights crew use instruments to take readings in rooms. “We’ve got a range of equipment. A spirit box scans radio AM and FM radio frequencies. It generates white noise and it is said that the paranormal can manipulate that white noise into sound. We also have K2 meters, which detect disturbances in the electromagnetic field. We use simple things like cat balls and motion detectors. Touch them and they light up. We put them in a divot, so they can’t roll,” explained Bev.
Karen says King Alfred’s Kitchen’s construction could help their research. “Wood and stone hold a memory of an occurrence or something where there’s a really strong emotion involved. Usually, it comes down to someone having been murdered or passing away in strange circumstances. Perhaps they were incorrectly accused. That’s why prisons are haunted,” said Karen. She says unfairly judged spirits hang around to protest their innocence. “That memory is believed to be potentially stored in natural materials. There is so much wood and stone in here, we’re hoping that there could be something.”
That was gloomy, but Karen says some spirits remain in cherished places. “They are memories – a playback of something that’s already happened”. And despite popular myth, paranormal investigations can be held in daylight. “Removing the light and having it at night increases your other senses. That’s the theory behind it. We’ve done investigations in the day and that got us just as much activity.” Although she says nighttime events do benefit from an added ‘atmosphere’.
Of course, science has not found definitive proof of paranormal activity. That would have made the news. But Bev says the pair have collected thought-provoking evidence. “Recently, we had some good ‘EVP’ or electronic voice phenomena. At the time, we didn’t hear it. We record our EVP sessions and when we get home, we run it through the laptop. My name and Karen’s name we’re both spoken. The voice had a Scottish accent. We had three names come,” said Bev. “We went back three weeks later, and the same names came through.”
Some critics, particularly those with strong religious views, might condemn the investigators’ activities because they are encouraging others to take part in something science doesn’t understand. “I totally understand,” said Karen. “Anything unknown is scary. It’s like trying to split the atom. We could have blown ourselves up. If we don’t try, we’ll never know. We will protect them as much as we can. But they choose to come.”
Bev admits that she has been scared at times during her research. “In a prison, which we investigated, I was walking down a corridor with a guest who was by my side. There were doors on the left-hand side. A person popped their head around a door, looked at us and then popped back. It was clear as day. I looked at the customer. They looked at me. I asked, ‘Did you see that?’ The customer did. We turned the other way. All the three doors were locked,” said Bev.
Karen was also unsettled during her investigation at Scarborough’s Grand Hotel. “It was three o’clock in the morning. Nothing was happening. Then, all of a sudden, every single one of us around the table said ‘I’m getting cold. The air is getting heavy’. Then it got hotter. Most people assume it’s going to get colder. There was this almighty bang. That was the only time I’ve ever screamed in my entire life. We had to go and investigate. A door had come off a wooden unit. I spoke to the staff and they said it had never happened before,” said Karen.
After that, many people would have called it a night. Instead, Karen stayed for more research. She grabbed a cat toy that features a light controlled by a motion-sensor. Karen placed it on top of the unit. “In the many tests we’ve done, they do not flash if you do not move them. It started rolling across the top of the unit, flashing away. We left. There are times where you think, ‘actually that’s enough’.”
Stranger Nights approached the owner of King Alfred’s Kitchen, Conrad Sandison. He agreed to put on his popular tapas for an investigation event. The first exploration, on 4th April, sold out in a day. Bev says more events will be held there and they will follow a set format. “It will start at 7.30pm. We will have two hours for a meal. At 9.30pm we introduce the kit. Then we will split into two groups and investigate different areas.”
“It’s quite structured,” added Karen. “You have a host with you the whole time. There will be breaks for tea and coffee and it’s an enjoyable evening. If you come with a group of friends or for a party or a birthday, it just extends your evening into the early hours without having to go out spending a lot of money.” The investigations will end at 1am.
Karen encourages people who voice doubts over the existence of paranormal activity to go along and cast a watchful eye over the proceedings. “The sceptics that we have on investigations are the best. They debunk everything for us,” said Karen. “I think they keep the group grounded as well,” added Bev. “You can get a group who are very into it and can maybe get a little bit carried away. The sceptics say, ‘Maybe it was this?’”
Dealing with enthusiasts who are desperate to find proof and who become excitable, can present a challenge. “That’s where the hosting comes in. They’re not running around on their own, guessing and screaming at every creak. If we do hear a creak, we go and find out what it was, or we put a piece of equipment there. We don’t just assume the first noise we hear is paranormal,” said Karen.
She hopes that one day, the group will record compelling evidence. “Everybody dreams of the full-body apparition standing there looking at you and interacting with you. Apparently, it happens. But not for us yet. I want science to be able to accept paranormal occurrences,” she said.
Karen wants to manage guests’ expectations of their Shaftesbury events. “We can’t guarantee anything is going to happen. It could just be a dinner and a little chat, but that’s not what we’re aiming for,” laughed Karen.
More King Alfred’s Kitchen events will be arranged as required. “As long as there’s a minimum of twelve, then if you contact us and give us a date, we will make all the arrangements for that with Conrad,” said Karen.
You can find out more on the Stranger Nights Paranormal website.