St Stephen's Church, Old Radnor'

St Stephen's Church in Old Radnor - scene of some odd goings-on.

First and foremost, I have not seen sufficiently robust evidence to convince me that ghosts exist as the spirits of dead people, or, indeed, exist at all. That people believe they have seen ghosts there is little doubt, but I have always supposed that an explanation can be found somewhere, to explain a trick of the light or a waking dream, or more likely, an hallucination. There is little to no physical evidence, and fantastic claims need fantastic proof, a useful adage for almost any of the woo-woo theories that currently surround us.

I have had three ghostly encounter in my life, and I was only ever able to fully explain one to my satisfaction. Does this mean the others were real unexplained supernatural phenomena? Not at all. I just witnessed something of which I have no explanation, that's all.

The first was always referred to as 'Jasper's Ghost' and is a family story that seems, on the face of it, to have a plausible 'double blind' test to authenticate it. I was six and we were staying in a friend's large and rambling house in Eire. I remember going up to the empty attic, a large room with a central staircase and big sash windows. I was allowed to play there after I had had my bath as there was a 'rack and pinion' train set that appealed to my techy brain (they still do). I recall a little girl, dressed in white sitting on a stool who said nothing but stared at me. This is true - I can remember it very clearly.

Anyway, the holiday was over, so the story goes, and I didn't mention the 'little girl' until some months later, when discussing the house. My parents didn't know what I was talking about, and the matter dropped - but then my mother meets the host by chance in London, and she comes home for a cup of tea. This then, was the supposed clincher: They ask about the 'little girl that jasper saw' and she exclaims in quiet voice: 'Ah, he saw her too, did she?'. The little girl was indeed meant to haunt the room, but the reason why she was there or any more details are lost.

It's creepy and sort of realistically banal - no big resolution, just an interesting double-blind explanation that would seem to offer proof. The thing is: Did it happen that way, or actually happen at all? I can truly remember seeing her - or the memory of the memory - but that's not to say it actually happened, or wasn't induced into my mind at a later date, or even invented by me for attention. I may have thought I saw something and the host may have said she didn't know or even suggested I saw a ghost, only to have the narrative embellished for greater dramatic effect. Stories and legends get going for a very good reason - entertainment - and it is very likely that the tale went though several entirely innocent explanations before emerging as what you see above. In addition, the 'double blind' part of the story is just too perfect.

I tried to find out the name of the house where it happened, but Mum, sadly, cannot recall its name.

Llandudno in 1977

Llandudno in 1977. I'm not sure why I took this picture, but wish now I'd taken more like it - random shop fronts. The fiat 500 parked behind the Volvo would have been less than five years old.

For the next story we go to Llandudno in North Wales in 1977. I was sixteen, and it was a Geography Field Trip where we learned to do all sorts of groovy things like 'working out the wetted diameter' of a river which I think means figuring out its cross section or something. It was all good wet fun (both in the river and out of it; this was North Wales and it and precipitation are well-known bedfellows) We were staying in an old manor house that doubled as the field centre, and the evenings were usually spent with some sort of games and hi-jinx of the school acceptable variety.

I never liked joining in with the games due to social awkwardness, so watched from the sidelines. As I stood there, someone came and stood next to me, and I was as aware of them as one would to anyone who stands close to you. A peripheral sense, and a presence from the corner of one's eye. I gave them not a single thought until, after five minutes of silence, I decided to say something and turned.

They weren't there, of course, but I recall the shock of their non-existence quite clearly. I totally knew someone was there but there totally wasn't. I'd even opened my mouth to say something. It's quite clear to me to this day; must have made an impression. This time, however, there was no double-blind, no explanation - I don't think I even mentioned it to anyone for fear of sounding foolish.

Not much of a ghost story, really.

unexposed frame

A facsimile of what my camera recorded on that first visit. I shot twelve 5X4 exposures and half of them were blank.

The next unusual occurrence was in 2016. I was working with large and medium format cameras, and taking pictures of ceilings, along with ecclesiastical architecture, a hobby I acquired from my father, who was big into Norman churches and wooden screens, rood lofts and all that sort of malarkey.

St Stephen's is an imposing church high on the hill in New Radnor. You can easily view it from the road driving South from New Radnor toward Kington. Old Radnor is not big, but just opposite there is The Harp, a pub of which I would heartily recommend. I'd clocked St Steve's ceiling few months back on H-Art week, so returned to 'bag a ceiling' as I call it, and photograph the rood screen which is also very fine.

So I pitch up and spend a happy hour or so taking pictures. With Large Format you kind of get a bit more choosy and I shot only twelve images ... half of which didn't come out.


A close crop of one of the images that did come out. It quite clearly shows camera shake - yet the camera was sitting on the ground.

This was annoying and puzzling, as even with my mildly over confident approach to taking pictures, something comes out on the film, not matter how badly I underexpose. It wasn't the dev, either, as I'd processed it all in the same bath and the other six were okay. I tested the camera and found that yes, the shutter could get sticky and make a click sign without actually opening, but I was surprised I didn't notice - I was using the 'T' setting for a long exposure - click once to open, and again to close. But no matter - I had some other pictures that did come out, right?

Sort of. The exposure was okay but there seemed to be camera shake. This was pretty weird too as I generally take pictures of ceilings with the camera resting on the ground. It's a good way to have a secure base, so long as wooden wedges are used to keep it from rocking on the usually uneven surface.

So what had moved the camera? On one occasion it might have been just a wedge fallen out or something, but it was on three of them - and I started to go a all illogical and said to myself: 'Oh I get it, the Church doesn't want to be photographed'. And while that might have a Karmic explanation if I'd not paid for the privilege, I did - a note stuffed in the donations box.

So there I was without a picture of the wooden ceiling. I resolved to return, and did so, two months later.


A 5X4 Large Format Polaroid 55 of the ceiling, taken on my custom made super wide angle camera. It was resting on the floor, and is about equivalent to a 14mm on 35mm format. Polaroid 55 is slow and the church dark - the exposure was 2 minutes: Note figure on left.

Trouble was, this didn't make anything better - it actually made things worse. I didn't notice the curious figure that had seemingly appeared in four of the pictures until I scanned them. The one above is the weirdest. The figure appears in one other - with the remainder having 'foggy blurs'.

I stared at them stupidly, trying to make sense of it. I was 55, and a prosaic thinker, not given to believe something without good evidence - and here I was staring at figures of a person, looking down at the camera.

I was creeped out for a moment, but soon regained my composure, and thought it all through. Given the shutter was potentially not working, I was instead using another long exposure trick of many year's standing - open the shutter manually, then use the lens cap as a shutter. The exposure was 2 minutes long, so I could, in effect, actually walk through the exposure and never be seen in the short time I passed, and that's what I had been relying upon here.

The more I looked at them, the more I realised that's what it was - I must have been wearing a light or white shirt, and even the 1/2 second I had been in the frame was enough to have recorded an image.

Makes me feel a little stupid that I didn't spot this straight away, but I think perhaps, in some way, I was expecting it after the issue with the camera shake. My pragmatic mind does have room for unusual interpretation, clearly.

Needless to say, the next time I visited I got it all right and have some half-decent pics of the ceiling. The 'ghosts in this machine' were entirely due to my over-confident handling of the camera equipment. I'm a lot more careful now.

Mind you, that camera shake is still a little weird.

Recalled exclusively for Jasperland, June 15th 2020

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