Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930) was a man of numerous talents. He was a lawyer, archaeologist, antiquarian, ceramist, curator, author and historian,Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930) was a man of numerous talents. He was a lawyer, archaeologist, antiquarian, ceramist, curator, author and historian, amongst other things. He was founder of the Mercer Museum, which houses Mercer's vast collection of objects from the pre-industrial age, and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, both of which are located in his hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He was also the author, at the end of his life, of an incredibly neglected book of uncanny stories, November Night Tales, which was first published by Walter Neale in 1928.
The collection has just been republished by Swan River Press, with the additional tale 'The Well of Monte Corbo', which was first published by the Bucks County Historical Society in 1930.
In 'Castle Valley', one fine summer day the narrator, Charlie Meredith, encounters his old friend Pryor, an artist whom he hasn't seen for years, painting in the vicinity of Castle Valley Hill. Pryor has painted a view of the hill, and upon the top of it he has placed a castle, without knowing that there once was one, or the beginnings of one at least, in that very spot. A few days later, the two men go exploring the site, and they spy something glittering in the brambles. The object turns out to be a large piece of rock crystal - a scrying stone. But using the crystal brings about unforeseen consequences.
In 'The North Ferry Bridge', the narrator is a young doctor only recently arrived in Bridgenorth. He occupies the house that was once tenanted by the great chemist Dr. Gooch, who killed his assistant, turned rats into cholera-carrying murder weapons, and vowed revenge upon the judge and the town who condemned and imprisoned him. This tale is the inspiration for the dust jacket design.
Pryor, the artist, reappears in 'The Blackbirds'. It is his birthday, but he's been warned by his spiritualist advisor that a calamity will befall him on this very day. Charles Carrington, a dramatist, and his friend Arthur Norton are surprised to bump into Pryor in the street, as they think he's fled town to avoid his calamity. The three men decide to head off to Deadlock Meadow together. But once there, poor old Pryor disappears.
'The Wolf Book', is the story of the discovery, by a certain professor, of a precious but unholy manuscript at the Monastery of Jollok in the Carpathian mountains. In search of lost treasures, the professor purchases what he thinks is a worthless farm ledger, contained within a two foot long cylinder. Upon opening the ledger, however, he discovers a second manuscript - a Wolf Book - which he then has sealed up in a tin for safekeeping. But the professor isn't the only one interested in this manuscript, and werewolves are said to be able to sniff them out... even if they are concealed inside tin cans.
Phantoms and Fiends by Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes was published by Robert Hale in 2000. It contains twenty-one stories and an afterword, 'On Writing and WrPhantoms and Fiends by Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes was published by Robert Hale in 2000. It contains twenty-one stories and an afterword, 'On Writing and Wraiths'. It has an excellent cover design by Edward Miller (Les Edwards).
When the narrator of 'Moving Day', David Greenfield, moves from his flat into the home of his three great-aunts, he finds that they are obsessed with all things related to death, and especially to moving... the thing that has locals hiding behind tightly closed curtains at night and will, according to the local clergyman, bring the newspaper lot beating a trail to their doors if nobody puts a stop to it.
In 'She Walks on Dry Land', it is the year 1812 and Charles Devereux, Fourth Earl of Montcalm, having arrived in the village of Denham with his servant Patrick, demands rooms for the night at The Limping Sailor inn, but the landlord refuses him. Village elder Josiah Woodward warns, 'come nightfall it bodes ill for any stranger found within the confines of this village', but Devereux is far too stubborn to listen.
In 'The Bodmin Terror', James, an artist, is told by his doctor that he must have peace or face a nervous breakdown, so he decides to go on a motoring holiday to Cornwall with his wife Lydia, who is anything but peaceful. When the car breaks down on the way to Lizard, an old woman emerges from the ice-chilled mist and beckons them to follow her, but the old crone has an ulterior motive for coming to the couple's aid.
Mrs Alfred (Louisa) Baldwin (1845–1925) was one of the remarkable daughters of Reverend George Browne MacDonald, a Wesleyan Methodist Minister. Her elMrs Alfred (Louisa) Baldwin (1845–1925) was one of the remarkable daughters of Reverend George Browne MacDonald, a Wesleyan Methodist Minister. Her eldest sister, Alice, was the mother of Rudyard Kipling. Another sister, Georgiana, married the artist Edward Burne-Jones, whilst her elder sister, Agnes, married another artist, Edward John Poynter, who painted the portrait of Louisa shown here. Louisa married the industrialist Alfred Baldwin, and their only son, Stanley Baldwin, went on to become the British Prime Minister. Her lifelong interest in the supernatural began when she was just a child, when she attempted to contact her sister during a séance. She began writing novels for adults and books for children during the early years of her marriage, but none of them did terribly well. Her first supernatural tale, ‘The Weird of the Walfords’, appeared in Longman’s Magazine in November 1889, and ‘The Shadow on the Blind’ was published in The Cornhill Magazine in September 1894. Mrs Baldwin published only one collection of supernatural tales, and these days she is all but forgotten.
The Shadow on the Blind and Other Ghost Stories was first published by J. M. Dent & Co. in 1895. It contains: 'The Shadow on the Blind', 'The Weird of the Walfords', 'The Un-canny Bairn', 'Many Waters Cannot Quench Love', 'How He Left the Hotel', 'The Real and the Counterfeit', 'My Next-Door Neighbour', 'The Empty Picture Frame', and 'Sir Nigel Otterburn's Case'.
In 'The Shadow on the Blind', Mr Stackpoole, a cheerful and energetic man of sixty years of age who likes to do up old houses, takes a fancy to Harbledon Hall, which has stood empty for seven years. When the old sexton tries to warn him that the previous tenants left in a hurry, 'as if they was running away from the plague', and that ghosts were at the bottom of things, Stackpoole is not put off, despite his wife experiencing a feeling of depressed foreboding. Despite hearing more tales of ghosts once he has taken on the house, he is sure that no spectres will haunt its passages, as he has installed electric lights and banished all dark corners where spooks may once have been thought to lurk. But has he?
The narrator of 'The Weird of the Walfords', Humphrey Walford of Walford Grange, destroys a much hated oak bed that has served his family as deathbed for ten generations. He is hell bent on its complete destruction, but allows his carpenter, Gillam, to salvage two or three beautifully carved panels, as long as he himself never has to set eyes on them again. Then he locks up the hated death chamber, and it remains so until a few years later, when his new wife, unaware of the room's history, insists on using it as her sitting room.
Not After Midnight was first published in the UK by Victor Gollancz Ltd. in 1971, with a dust jacket illustrated by Flavia Tower, du Maurier's daughteNot After Midnight was first published in the UK by Victor Gollancz Ltd. in 1971, with a dust jacket illustrated by Flavia Tower, du Maurier's daughter. The collection contains five tales: Don't Look Now, Not After Mid-night, A Border-Line Case, The Way of the Cross, The Breakthrough.
'Don't Look Now' is the most famous story of the collection, having been made into an excellent film, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, in 1973. John and Laura are on holiday in Venice, trying to come to terms with the death of their five-year-old daughter, Christine. They are having dinner in a restaurant when they encounter a pair of elderly twins, one of whom is blind and psychic. The psychic twin tells Laura that she can see little Christine, and later issues a warning that Laura and her husband must leave Venice at once because there is danger for them if they stay. Receiving news that their son is in hospital, Laura immediately books a flight back to England to be with him, leaving John to drive their car back home. But following his wife's departure, John is convinced that he has seen her in Venice with the twins, and a search for her ensues.
The narrator of 'Not After Midnight', Timothy Grey, is a rather timid English schoolmaster and amateur artist. He's on a solo painting holiday in Crete, hoping to capture the Aegean seascape on canvas, when he encounters a strange American couple, the Stolls. Having surrendered to his own curiosity, Grey follows the odd pair and ends up receiving an invitation to visit the Americans in their chalet... but not after midnight.
Antique Dust by Robert Westall (1929-1993), first published by Viking in 1989, has just been republished by Valancourt Books as a paperback. It contaiAntique Dust by Robert Westall (1929-1993), first published by Viking in 1989, has just been republished by Valancourt Books as a paperback. It contains seven stories: 'The Devil and Clocky Watson', 'The Doll', 'The Last Day of Miss Dorinda Molyneaux', 'The Dumbledore', 'The Woolworth Spectacles', 'Portland Bill', and 'The Ugly House'.
Robert Westall is best known as a writer of books for children and young adults; he was awarded the Carnegie Medal twice, for The Machine Gunners and The Scarecrows, and won the Dracula Society's Children of the Night Award for his book The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral. The current volume, Antique Dust, is Westall's only collection of supernatural stories written specifically for an adult audience.
The narrator of each story is Geoff Ashden, an antique dealer whose stomping ground is the market town of Muncaster. Westall's tales truly do capture the atmosphere of the antiques trade, with its unusual characters, some of whom can be decidedly less than honest. In an environment where so many old objects are passng from one pair of hands to another, picking up who knows what along the way, the possibilities for hauntings seem limitless.
'Dealers are undertakers of a sort. When a man dies, the undertaker comes for the body, and quite often the dealer comes for the rest... I deal in dead men's clocks, pipes, swords and velvet breeches. And passing through my hands, they give off joy and loneliness, fear and optimism... I have known more evil in a set of false teeth than in any so-called haunted house in England.'
In 'The Devil and Clocky Watson', Clocky Watson isn't a very nice man; he's not a very honest one either. He used to hang around the antique-sales after the War, tampering with the Viennese clocks so he could get them for next to nothing. Then he set up in old Joe Gorman's shop, which collapsed and burnt to ashes one night; Gorman died from the shock. Ashden's always known that Clocky's a bad lot, and he wants to bring him down. And the means to that end comes in the form of a haunted eighteenth century ebony and ormolu bracket clock.
Michael Arlen (1895~1956) was born Dikran Kouyoumdjian in Rustchuck, Bulgaria, to an Armenian merchant family who emigrated to England in 1901. ArlenMichael Arlen (1895~1956) was born Dikran Kouyoumdjian in Rustchuck, Bulgaria, to an Armenian merchant family who emigrated to England in 1901. Arlen was educated at Malvern college before attending the University of St Andrews, where he remained for only a brief period. Disowned by his family, he moved to London to earn a living as a writer. Initially he wrote under his birth name, but as his writing began to attract notice he adopted the nom de plume Michael Arlen. He changed his name legally to Michael Arlen in 1922, when he became a British subject. His early works, such as his novel Piracy, published in 1922, met with some success, but it was The Green Hat, published in 1924, that made him famous almost overnight, both in Britain and abroad.
May Fair was published by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. in 1925. It contains: Prologue, A Romance in Old Brandy, The Ace of Cads, Where the Pigeons Go to Die, The Battle of Berkeley Square, The Prince of the Jews, The Three-Cornered Room, The Revolting Doom of a Gentleman Who Would Not Dance with His Wife, The Gentleman from America, To Lamoir, The Ghoul of Golders Green, Farewell These Charming People.
Not all of the stories in this collection have supernatural or weird elements, so I shall only pass comment on the ones that do. Oh, and Arlen was a witty fellow, so these tales are funny.
In 'The Battle of Berkeley Square', George Tarlyon is busy murdering worms when he begins to feel a pain in his left side. His brother-in-law, Hugo Cypress, arrives on the scene and suggests, as George is most likely suffering from pneumonia, that a pair of pyjamas must be bought immediately. Pyjamas having being ordered, George is then taken to Hugo's house to continue having pneumonia. At the same time, Hugo's wife (George's sister) is in labour in the same house and having an extremely bad time of it. Close to death, George's proximity to his sister brings about interesting results.
Ronald Henry Glynn Chetwynd-Hayes (1919~2001) was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, the son of Henry Chetwynd-Hayes (a Master Sergeant and cinema manager)Ronald Henry Glynn Chetwynd-Hayes (1919~2001) was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, the son of Henry Chetwynd-Hayes (a Master Sergeant and cinema manager) and May Rose Cooper. He attended Hanworth Council School, and until 1973 he worked as a furniture showroom manager in Berkeley Street, London. He grew up a film fan and appeared as an extra in a few films, including Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). His first published short story was 'The Empty Grave', which appeared in Reveille in 1953. His first novel, The Man from the Bomb, was published six years later. He went on to write around two hundred short stories and a dozen novels, and his books were always in demand at lending libraries.
A number of Chetwynd-Hayes' short story collections, and anthologies edited by him, were published by William Kimber & Co. during the 1970s and 1980s. Kimber published Ghosts from the Mist of Time in 1985, with a dust jacket designed by Ionicus. It contains seven stories: Time Check, The Wanderer, Prometheus Chained, Doppel-gänger, Cold Fingers, The Echo, Shona and the Water Horse.
The first story, 'Time Check', is set during the inter-war years. It's about five-year-old Rodney Winston, who is just starting Week School. He lives with Mrs Balcombe, who he calls Mumma, and her daughter Rose, who's a religious fanatic. Mrs Balcombe is paid to look after him, because his father ran off before he was born and his mother, who's 'a beautiful brainless butterfly', can't afford to keep him. But little Rodney is special, because he can see and hear things that haven't happened yet... tragic things.
'The Wanderer' is set in Clavering in 1665. Clavering Grange has always had its ghosts... the shades of those who haunted the place in life, who seem unable to detach themselves from it in death. But now it also has a wanderer - a ghost who does not belong, who is drawn to the Grange because of the tainted ground upon which it was built, and who wanders the planes of time only to bring disaster.
In 'Prometheus Chained', Stephen Markham is a writer of weird stories. It is 1984 and Markham is walking along a street when he stumbles and falls... and gets up someone else, in 2164, in a world where fiction has become reality.
A Fire of Driftwood: A Collection of Short Stories was published by William Heinemann Ltd in 1932, a decade before Broster's more well-known volume CoA Fire of Driftwood: A Collection of Short Stories was published by William Heinemann Ltd in 1932, a decade before Broster's more well-known volume Couching at the Door. A Fire of Driftwood is split into two sections, with the first having nothing supernatural about it. The second section is the one of interest here, as it contains: 'All Souls' Day', 'The Promised Land', 'Clairvoyance', and 'The Window'.
In 'All Souls' Day', Mildmay Fane narrowly escapes death after being attacked and left for dead by the Chevalier de Crussol and his henchmen. Believing that his friends have forsaken him, he turns to a life of vice and is about to follow a path which would lead to ruination when he is visited by a ghost from his past.
In 'The Promised Land', Caroline Murchison and Ellen Wright are visiting Siena. Ellen has dreamed of visiting Italy for decades, but the presence of her overbearing cousin Caroline, who is forever arranging things and won't leave her side for a moment, is threatening to ruin the entire trip. Desperate to visit Florence alone, without her cousin's constant talking, knitting and interfering, Ellen is willing to do just about anything for a moment's solitary peace. It is a tale of obsession and desperation, and the effect of both on everyday reality. And to my mind, regardless of the fact that there is no supernatural element, it is the best story in the book.
In 'Clairvoyance', Edward Strode is an expert on Japanese swords and has recently acquired a new specimen for his collection, but there is some doubt concerning the authenticity of the tsuba (sword guard). Cynthia Storrington is a seventeen-year-old guest of Strode's daughter, and it turns out that she's a sensitive and susceptible to hypnotism. So, Mrs Strode persuades her husband to have the girl 'willed' to examine the sword, with its live blade, and determine if the tsuba is genuine or not... with devastating results. I found this to be a very clever tale. And, as researching Japanese art and history was my day job for a number of years, it was of particular interest to me personally. Given that most English country houses had weaponry of one sort or another pinned up somewhere when this story was published, I can't help wondering how many people read it, glanced up at the sharp-edged artefacts displayed around their own homes, then vowed never to touch them again.
Dame Daphne du Maurier (1907~1989), granddaughter of the artist and writer George du Maurier, and daughter of Gerald du Maurier, the most famous actorDame Daphne du Maurier (1907~1989), granddaughter of the artist and writer George du Maurier, and daughter of Gerald du Maurier, the most famous actor-manager of his day, began writing short stories in her early twenties. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931. She is best known, and best loved, for her three novels Jamaica Inn (which immortalised an actual inn on Cornwall's Bodmin Moor), Frenchman's Creek and Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier was a very private person, but you can watch a rare interview with her at the BBC web site.
The Apple Tree was first published by Victor Gollancz Ltd. in 1952. It contains six tales: 'Monte Verità', 'The Birds', 'The Apple Tree', 'The Little Photographer', 'Kiss Me Again, Stranger', and 'The Old Man'.
I won't go into detail about 'Monte Verità', as it's difficult to say much at all without giving too much away. It is a haunting tale about the quest for truth... a fantasy, the mystery at the centre of which is never explained to the reader. It concerns a love triangle between two men and one woman: the unnamed bachelor narrator, his friend Victor, and Victor's beautiful wife, Anna, who appears to possess unearthly qualities. The narrator begins his story by disclosing the outcome of events, then we travel back to the run up to the First World War, to Victor's marriage to Anna, their subsequent journey to Monte Verità, The Mountain of Truth, and Anna's disappearance when she climbs to the summit alone to fulfil her destiny. Apparently, Victor Gollancz was bewildered by this tale and insisted that the ending be changed.
'The Birds' is the most well-known of the tales in this book, because it was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963. But the movie and the original story, aside from being about birds attacking people, have little in common. Apparently, du Maurier didn't like Hitchcock's adaptation, in which he transported the tale from the cold, bleak English coastline to a Californian setting, and transformed du Maurier's farmers into polished city folk.
Five Victorian Ghost Novels, a reprint of the 1971 Dover volume of the same name, contains five short novels published between 1846 and 1897: The UninFive Victorian Ghost Novels, a reprint of the 1971 Dover volume of the same name, contains five short novels published between 1846 and 1897: The Uninhabited House by Mrs J. H. Riddell, The Amber Witch by Wilhelm Meinhold, Monsieur Maurice by Amelia B. Edwards, A Phantom Lover by Vernon Lee, and The Ghost of Guir House by Charles Willing Beale.
Mrs J. H. Riddell's The Uninhabited House was first published in Routledge's Christmas Annual for 1875. Mr Elmsdale, a money-lender, is found dead in his library, and the subsequent inquest finds that he committed suicide while not of sound mind. Following his demise, the letting of his house, River Hall, is managed by Messrs Craven and Son, but the property is seldom let for long. One tenant after another abandons the place in haste, and all state the same reason for their departure: the house is haunted.
Colonel Morris and his family agree to rent River Hall for two years, but three months later they, like all tenants before them, abandon the place, resulting in a legal battle between the Colonel and Miss Blake, the deceased owner's sister-in-law, who is a woman of strong character and decidedly frayed gloves. The court case, which is highly entertaining, renders the house unlettable.
Believing that someone is up to no good and wishes the house to remain empty, Miss Blake says she will give fifty pounds to anyone who can fathom the mystery of River Hall, and the narrator, Henry Patterson, a clerk at Mr Craven's firm, offers to live there and do just that. It is at this point that the tale becomes more serious, as Patterson goes about investigating the cause of the curious goings on at River Hall... the apparition on the stairs, doors that open and close by themselves, and the regular visits of a suspicious, slightly lame figure who watches the house after dark.
In his introduction to the book, E. F. Bleiler says that Riddell was 'in many ways the Victorian ghost novelist par excellence,' and I can certainly see why she was such a popular and successful writer of her day. It's a very sad thing that she's almost forgotten these days.
George Herbert Bushnell (1896~1973) was librarian at St Andrews University from 1924 to 1961, and he lived in St Andrews throughout that time. He wrotGeorge Herbert Bushnell (1896~1973) was librarian at St Andrews University from 1924 to 1961, and he lived in St Andrews throughout that time. He wrote a number of non-fiction books, mainly concerning the history of the book. The ghost stories contained in his only published fiction collection, A Handful of Ghosts, all of which are set in and around St Andrews, were written for the entertainment of the Celtic Society, to be told 'by candlelight on winter night' during the blackouts of the Second World War.
A Handful of Ghosts was originally published by the University Press of St Andrews in 1945. A paperback edition, which is the one shown here, was published by St Andrews Preservation Trust in 1993. It's a slim little volume of just sixty-one pages and includes only five tales.
The narrator of 'The Closing of the Cloisters' is researching the history of the book-trade in St Andrews when he comes across some information, from the 18th century, relating to the closure of the Cloisters behind the Chapel College. In 1750, a student who had taken to pilfering books was hauled before the Senatus for his crimes and found guilty. One member of the Senatus, referred to as Professor X, was all for forcing the student to spend the night tied by a rope to a hook fixed in the Cloisters. The other members of the Senatus rejected the idea, but challenged Professor X to spend the night there himself. The professor, who wasn't a nice man, had no fear of the dark, but as the lights went out and silence fell he heard creak... creak...
'The Closing of the Cloisters' appears to have been inspired by events which took place in 1707, when David Murray, the University messenger, took his own life by hanging. As punishment for his sin, the University Court decreed that the poor man should be dissected, and his skeleton articulated. The skeleton was put on display in the spot where its owner had committed suicide, but by 1889 it had been hidden away. Bushnell was one of two men who located the skeleton and reopened its box for the first time in many years in 1941.
Jerome Klapka Jerome (1859~1927), author of the comic masterpiece Three Men in a Boat, needs no introduction. But many who admire his humorous classicJerome Klapka Jerome (1859~1927), author of the comic masterpiece Three Men in a Boat, needs no introduction. But many who admire his humorous classic are unaware that he wrote a number of ghost stories.
Told After Supper was Jerome's only volume comprised solely of ghost stories. It was published in 1891 by The Leadenhall Press and contains linked tales, interspersed with more than ninety wonderful illustrations by Kenneth M. Skeaping, one of which you can see below, all printed on thick pale blue paper. It really is a lovely book, and a very funny one; these tales are intended to make you chuckle in amusement, not scream in terror.
The narrator tells us that it is Christmas Eve at his Uncle John's, at no. 47 Laburnum Grove, Tooting. Christmas eve... the only night in the year on which it is considered correct, within the regulations of English society, to tell ghost stories. Indeed, the only night on which most ghosts think it fit that they should appear. Generally speaking, we are told, ghosts do not go frightening people on Christmas Day, mainly because they have worn themselves out haunting people the night before.
'Christmas Eve is the ghosts' great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fête. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody - or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody - comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about and display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticise one another's style, and sneer at one another's complexion.'
The party consists of the narrator, old Dr Scrubbles, the local curate, Mr Samuel Coombes, Teddy Biffles and Uncle John, all of whom have been at the punch and are much the merrier for it. Somehow or other, they find themselves telling ghost stories.