The Galleries of Justice, Nottingham. March 2007
It has been almost ten years to the day since what I am about to tell you happened. Despite the length of time that has passed since that night, I still have clear and vivid memories of everything that happened to us and we frequently recall the events. If, after reading this account, you decide that you don't believe it - I won't blame you. If I hadn't experienced it first hand - I wouldn't believe it either.
In 2007, I was manager of the Livingwell health club at the Hilton hotel in Nottingham city centre. Myself and a colleague (Carl Bennett) one day began discussing supposed 'spooky' happenings that were frequently reported by guests and staff of the Hilton. We were skeptical to say the very least and our only purpose for these discussions was to have some fun and to give ourselves a break from our daily work routine.
One thing led to another - and a random Google search regarding Nottingham ghosts led us to discover that people were being sponsored to stay overnight at the Galleries of Justice. After casually mentioning this to a couple of colleagues and members of the health club, we were soon being 'dared' to take up the challenge. To reiterate - we couldn't have been more skeptical of the existence of ghosts and only agreed to go through with the event to help to raise money for charity and to have some fun.
At the time, I was living in the Lace Market close to Trivett Square and literally only a couple of hundred meters away from the Galleries. It was warm & sunny on the Saturday evening in question and just before 8pm we walked the short distance to the venue.
On arrival, we helped ourselves to tea/coffee and waited until everybody who was taking part in the activities had arrived. We chatted to various other couples and groups and found that people had driven from well over a hundred miles to take part. In particular, we 'befriended' two girls from Birmingham who were equally as skeptical as ourselves and also there just to have some fun.
Once everyone had arrived (There were about 20 of us in total) the organizers addressed the room. It was explained that at times we would be separated in to smaller groups and taken to various locations around the site at different times. The place was quiet and still, and the only noise was of that coming through from the Tapas bar next door.
It was made very clear to us that there was a high probability that we would neither see nor hear anything during the course of the night that would be proof of the existence of ghosts or the like - and under no circumstances would these people be prepared to jeopardize their status as 'experts' in the field by trying to convince us or pull the wool over our eyes in an endeavor to create a scare. Once we were all convinced that this wouldn't be a staged event - we were split up into groups of about 7 and headed off in different directions - each group led by a guide.
I had visited The Galleries on two previous occasions and although these visits had taken place in the daytime, and while the building (by design) couldn't be described as a welcoming place, I hadn't felt it to be in anyway spooky or uncomfortable. As we made our way from the old courtroom and down into the first part of the gaol, despite it being dark, I felt no more uncomfortable than I had on my previous visits.
Prior to our arrival, we had all been instructed to bring torches along with us for the night and with the main lights being switched off, this is how we would navigate our way around the site during the course of the next few hours. Despite assurances that the evenings events would not be staged, yes, the flickering beams from the torches did certainly aid the sense of drama, although to be fair a 'ghost watch' under bright fluorescent tubes would neither have been practical or welcomed.
Our first point of interest were the cells. They were as to be expected. Cramped, dank and uncomfortable. While it was easy to feel some pity for the poor souls who had been locked up here for such petty crimes - there were no feelings of unease or of anything 'ghostly'. We wondered if this would change, as two or three of us at a time were invited into the condemned prisoners cell and the door loudly slammed shut behind us. We spent a few minutes in there with the torches switched off - and while I certainly wouldn't have been happy to have been in there alone - there was still no feeling of unease.
From the cells, with our torches once again illuminated, we were led along what I can only describe as a tunnel or corridor made from stone and dirt. It was not much more than a meter wide and two meters high and a little claustrophobic. Myself and Carl found ourselves at the back of single file the group - and after just a few minutes of walking, I felt something hit the back of my Achilles. It was nothing particularly painful, just like a stone being kicked up perhaps from my other foot. I stopped walking and pointed my torch downwards to see a pebble an inch or so in diameter just coming to rest. As I began to realize that I must have kicked it against myself - a second pebble - similar in size, shot past me and struck Carl in the back of the leg. He spun around, with an expression as if to ask me what I had just thrown at him - when a third and fourth pebble were hurled towards us at a low trajectory and at great speed. The obvious answer is of course that someone was throwing them at us. But we both immediately shone our torches back down the tunnel and it honestly would have been impossible for anyone to have been able to throw the pebbles and then vanish behind us without us seeing them or hearing them.
We hurried and caught up with the rest of the group and without making too much fuss (through fear of being disbelieved) we simply explained that we thought we had just had some stones thrown at us.
As we continued to walk, we were taken to an old wash room; a deep pit where prisoners were literally thrown into and left to rot; and the exercise yard complete with replica gallows. Once again, while none of these areas were pleasant they were equally not in any way frightening.
After an hour or so of exploring and learning about the history of the site, we made our way back up to street level and to our original meeting room. We had a coffee and a chat with the Birmingham girls, explaining to them in more detail about the pebbles. I'm not sure they believed us - but without fabrication or embellishment, we described exactly what had happened.
After a short coffee break, we were taken as one large group down into the deepest part of the gaol. This was simply rooms and walkways that had been carved out of the rock. Despite the pebble incident (and I know I'm speaking for Carl too) we still weren't feeling particularly scared.
We walked as far as we possibly could, along and down the tunnel until we came to two adjoining caves that were dead ends. The caves were each about ten meters' square and approximately 15ft high. We explored for just a few minutes and with the beams from twenty torches easily illuminating the rooms, and apart from a vast number of small bones that we believed to be the remains of rats and pigeons, and some ineligible scrawling's on the cave walls, there was nothing to see. We gathered around and as one of the guides began to explain that we were going to try a kind of séance, a guy to our left suddenly and in a startled voice, exclaimed "F**k this. That's enough for me." Of course, everyone immediately turned to face him and the poor man not only looked as white as a sheet, but something had visibly upset him. One of the guides tried his best to reassure him, but he was clearly wasting his time. The man was naturally asked what had happened or what he had seen but his only response was "I can't tell you... It was like a brazier... But it was definitely there." Despite pleas that he stay with the group, he was adamant that he was leaving. One of the guides along with the person who had accompanied him on the trip all left and made their way back up the tunnel and to the coffee room.
Not withstanding the fact that we had just watched this seemingly sane person suddenly become so emotional, the fact that we hadn't seen anything ourselves in the 'empty' cave (and the fact that I didn't know what a brazier was) once again we pretty much shrugged our shoulders and got on with it.
The guide invited us all to stand in a circle, and told us that we would need to switch off our torches and hold hands tightly with the people either side of us. If I'm completely honest, most of us found this all a little far-fetched and there were a few smirks and giggles which were met with looks of annoyance from the guides.
Once the torches were all switched off - and everyone was holding hands, one of the guides began to ask if any spirits were present, and if they would make themselves known to us. Nothing happened. He repeated the question and after a couple of seconds a girl to our right gave out a noise that wasn't quite a yelp or a scream but was disturbing enough for us to jump as it broke the silence. The torches all came on and while she was clearly distressed and she explained that she had "Felt someone very large standing behind me and I could feel their breath on my neck." I have to say I wasn't convinced. I believe she believed it, but my skeptical mind told me that because she was standing pretty close to the tunnel, it was more likely to have been a draft from there that felt like breath rather than anything ghostly. Once everyone was composed the guide instructed us to turn off the torches once more and he repeated the question again on two or three occasions without there being any signs that someone or something wished to communicate.
He then asked for a volunteer to try and communicate and one of the Birmingham girls stepped forward. He also asked if anyone had a red filter on their torch and explained (I don't remember the reason) that apparently, spirits are attracted to a red light rather than a white light. The torch was placed in the middle of the cave and we all encircled it, standing a couple of meters away from the red glow - holding hands and listening to the girl as she repeated the question "Are there any spirits here that wish to communicate." Nothing happened. She repeated the question a second time - spontaneously adding "If there is anyone here - can you make the light go out?" Immediately, as the last word came out of her mouth - the cave fell into darkness. Darkness filled with screams. The red torch had gone out. Eventually as the regular torches began to turn on and with heartbeats racing, the guide managed to regain some kind of decorum. People all around the circle, us included, were looking at each other and cursing whilst wearing nervous smiles.
Once there was relative calm, the guide explained that this could simply have been a coincidence or a torch malfunction - however the latter was quickly dispelled by the owner of the torch. He flicked the switch on - then off and each time it responded perfectly. "Okay, we'll try it again." he said asking the girl if she was happy to continue. He placed the torch upwards sending a red glow to the top of the cave, then stood back. We all held hands and while some stared at the torch, the rest of us looked at the girl as she began to speak. "If that was you, can you do it again." The last syllable of the last word had barely left her lips when once more we were thrown into darkness. This time the screams that accompanied the dark were less jovial. We were scared.
One by one the torches again started coming back on and the guide tried his best to calm everyone down. He spoke about how in his opinion, he was convinced that we had made contact - or visa versa, but he didn't want us to outstay our welcome and provoke anything that could be unpleasant or even violent. It was while he was talking that I looked around at the group and noticed that most, if not all were staring in the direction of myself and Carl and either smiling or chuckling. It was then that I realized that out of the whole group - the two big strong fitness instructors were the only ones who were still holding hands with each other. (Sorry for sharing that part Carl).
Following further explanations of why certain light and noise can attract spirits and examples of previous experiences the guide had encountered, we then moved on, through the washing room to some 'living' quarters. The room was no more than ten meters square and in one corner was a large wooden bed. At this point, everyone had their torches turned on and the room was clearly illuminated. (Before I continue, I need to stress that Carl was the nearest person to me - and he was standing, clearly visible on my left shoulder. There was nobody for a couple of meters in front or behind me.) Suddenly and completely out of the blue, I felt as if somebody had grabbed me hard between the legs. Immediately the pain radiated to my stomach to the extent that I held my belly and almost doubled over. The more considered part of my brain was telling me that it could be a reaction to nervousness that I was subconsciously feeling - although I was just shocked and actually a little concerned at how suddenly it had come on. I said nothing to Carl, just listened as the guide spoke. What came out of this mouth next - will stay with me forever.
He explained that at any given time, between twenty and thirty women were forced to live in this one small room. And while this was bad enough, he further went on to explain that it was regular practice for jailers, drunk on rum to regularly rape the poor women who were locked up here. He then said... "On occasion, some of the male members of our tour groups have either been attacked or actually grabbed by their privates." He paused then asked, "Is anyone experiencing anything like that?" There was simply no way I was going to share what was happening to me with this group of complete strangers - I wouldn't have believed it if anyone else had said it - so why should they. I did however tell Carl as soon as we left the room what had happened - and only a few minutes of leaving the room the stomach pain disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
In the early hours of the morning and following another coffee break, a number of the participants decided that it was late enough for them and with their departure, our numbers dwindled. Four of about a remaining eight or ten of us were taken, with a guide to the courtroom where we moved about freely and took photos of empty viewing galleries in the hope of capturing the image of - well something. A number of us did catch what we thought were very interesting orbs - however these were dismissed by the guide as simply particles of dust caught by the flashes of the cameras. (Once again, before I continue - I need to reiterate that we had walked all around the courtroom, between benches and tables - and the four of us, along with the guide were without any doubt the only ones in the courtroom at that time.) We gathered close to the Judges' chair and decided to try once more to communicate. The torches were switched off and while it was relatively dark, the light filtering through from the streets allowed us to make out the images of each other and that of the close vicinity. We stood in silence for a few minutes waiting for something to happen - then from just a meter or so behind me we clearly heard slow footsteps. Wooden shoes on the wooden floor of the courtroom simply walked from behind me, next to me, in front of me then faded into the emptiness of the dark room as they got further away. Every single one of us heard them as clear as day. If our eyes had been closed we would have believed that somebody had just walked slowly past us. The interesting thing, was while we had no doubt that we had just experienced something 'ghostly' not one of us felt uncomfortable or scared by it. It was more a case of "Wow, did that just happen?"
Because we were all rather excited by this, we decided to fall silent again to see what, if it would happen again. There were no footsteps - but a tune was whistled from about five meters away from one side of the court. We all glared at each other of course with eyes wide open. "Was that from outside?" We whispered, "Shush shush". We waited in silence and just a few seconds later it happened again. It clearly wasn't coming from the bars outside - it was just in front of us in the courtroom. It was at one point suggested that it was just the wind - but that wasn't possible - it was clearly a tune. We waited quietly for it happen a third time and when nothing happened for a couple of minutes, one of the members of our group whistled a four-note tune. Immediately the tune was mimicked from the darkness only a couple of meters in front of us. Our eyes were now accustomed to the light and we could see well enough to know for sure, that there was simply nothing there to make the noise. The mimicking happened on one more occasion, but following that, despite our continued efforts, there was nothing - and it was time for a final coffee break.
It was almost 5am and we were told that for the next 30 - 45 minutes we could wonder off unguided to the areas we had visited during the night on the understanding that we didn't touch any of the exhibits. We were all excited and the remaining members of the group soon disappeared in various directions. Myself and Carl decided that we would head back down the tunnel where the stones had been thrown - and to the cave at the end where the guy had seen the brazier (whatever it was).
We walked through the courtroom and down the iron, spiral staircase that led to the first level and the newest of the cells. We had been in this location at least four times during the night and I had also been there on my previous visits to the Galleries. There is a simple cardboard display offering information about deportation, but nothing in the slightest that is scary or threatening. As we passed the display and reached the condemned cell, we were about to turn left and head down the tunnel, when in perfect sync - we froze. Not just scared but frozen with fear. We both immediately felt sick to the stomach and were sure that if we had taken another step, something bad was going to happen. Something was there - and it didn't want us there. It was like nothing we had felt at any stage during the course of the night. We felt petrified, vulnerable and actually had serious concerns for our safety. We wanted to do nothing more than back out very carefully, almost apologetically but as quickly as we could. (As a side note, the only time that I have ever felt anything remotely similar to that sickness in my stomach was on a trip to Alcatraz in 2005. It didn't happen in any of the cells, corridors, the hospital or the morgue that were supposedly haunted, but outside in the exercise yard. Under the San Fran sunshine, I felt the same uncomfortable sickness that convinced me that 'something' was there and it wasn't happy that we were there.)
At about 5:30am, we decided that whatever we had just experienced, was enough to convince us that it was time to leave. We walked the two hundred meters back to my apartment in The Gatehouse and discussed the nights' events over a couple of beers from the fridge. Carl left at approximately 8am and I dropped off to sleep on the sofa. I woke and watched whatever the football was on that particular Sunday afternoon but didn't do anything any more energetic than making a quick bite to eat.
On the Monday morning, I woke up to go to work as normal but found myself so weak that I was almost paralyzed. I dragged myself past the Ice Arena and up to the Windmill Surgery in Sneinton where I was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia. Just 36 hours earlier I was in possibly the best physical shape of my life due to training almost every day - However, over the next two weeks I inexplicably lost two stone in weight.
I continued to live in the Gatehouse for several years after that Saturday night, but from then on I was never comfortable walking past the steps of the Galleries of Justice - especially after dark.
Rich Watson (3rd April 2017)