In the mid 1890’s shortly after becoming a member of the Society for Psychical Research, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best remembered as the creator of the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, became involved in his own real life mystery. The strange case of an unexplained haunting in the seaside town of Charmouth was brought to his attention.

So, one rainy day, accompanied by one Doctor Scott of Norwood and a Mr. Podmore, who was an outspoken critic of Spiritualism, they caught a train from Waterloo and set off for darkest Dorset. Conan Doyle later recounted that the case file contained so much information that while the others slept, he spent the entire train journey just reading the accounts.

They finally arrived at a rambling old building, which had been mostly built in the 17th century and had seen much better days. The occupants, an elderly mother and her boy were trapped in the house by having a lease on the property but, being too poor to afford to move out, despite the increasing fearful disturbances they were experiencing.

The old woman and her son were only to glad to invite the trio of investigators to spend a couple of nights at the house. They were also introduced to the mother’s married daughter who had moved back home, to give her moral support. The three guests made their preparations, set out their equipment and worked out their shifts. In the event. no one could sleep with their vigil of the first night passing uneventfully without anything untoward happening. Dr Scott unexpectedly had to return to London the next day, so it was decided that Conan Doyle, Podmore and the son, would maintain a watch that night in the family sitting room.

The ladies had gone to bed upstairs and Doyle again took the usual precautions against fraud, including that of tying threads and bells across the stairs and passages. Having settled down for the night in the sitting room, the men were just beginning to believe that the second night would be as fruitless as the first, when a fearsome unholy noise was heard. Doyle later described it as though someone was whacking a heavy stick across a table. The door to the sitting room had been left open all the time, to give them a view of the hall and the loud noise reverberated down the passage.

Quickly leaping to his feet Doyle rushed down the passage with the other two close behind. The noise appeared to be coming from the Kitchen but when they got there nothing was wrong and the threads were still in place. Similarly, the threads were still unbroken across the stairs, showing neither of the ladies had come downstairs. Returning to the sitting room they stayed awake the rest of the night but nothing more occurred.

In the morning Doyle & Podmore returned to London, none the wiser to the cause of their experience. Doyle felt sorry that he could do no more for the old lady and her son, but they assured him they would be alright and thanked him for his assistance. They felt at least, their stories had been vindicated and his presence had led to a restoration of their credibility among their neighbours. That was all Doyle could say, that the night had gone some way to corroborate some of the other accounts in the file. Doyle did not make a report of the incident to the Society as he felt he could not add anything of value to previous reports, as he was baffled to find an explanation for the events other than supernatural. He was quite dismayed when he later found out Mr. Podmore had submitted his own personal report, in which he laid suspicion for the strange events on the son, even though he provided no evidence and the boy had been in their company in the sitting room at the time. He comforted himself that least this was an internal report and it was unlikely to be read in Charmouth.

Doyle kept in contact with relatives of the family and found out that shortly after his visit to the strange house, it had been burnt to the ground. More disturbingly the skeleton of a small ten year old boy was then discovered in the Garden.

What would Sherlock Holmes of made of it? If all the people were accounted for and the threads were unbroken could the sound have been someone banging on the outside of the kitchen door? Was someone trying to scare the widow and her son from the house in case they discover some dark secret, pertaining to the body of the young boy in the Garden and his identity? Perhaps with the prospect of more investigations by London detectives the perpetrator decided to burn the house and destroy the evidence. Or was it really the actions of the unquiet soul of a young child trying to attract attention?

Perhaps you can throw light on this Mystery?

Dave Hogan
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