A dark October evening is the perfect time for some spooky entertainment, just in time for Halloween. Last weekend, I attended “Séance Live” hosted by local performer Sam Lupton. Described as “a demonstration of a Séance, an exploration as to what a Séance is”.
Beamish Hall Hotel in County Durham is the perfect backdrop for such a performance. Built in the mid-18th Century, it stands on the site of an original manor house dating back to 1268. The hall was owned by a notable family until 1949 when it was sold the National Coal Board and later became a residential school, owned by the local council.
The drive down to the Hall takes you down a long, dark sweeping country lane, past Beamish Museum, with which it shares some of the land.
Over the years, there have been tales of of ghostly sightings in Beamish Hall. Small children are said to play in the corridors. No grand hall is complete without a Grey Lady and one is said to haunt the building looking for her long-lost love.
Curiously, the day after attending the Séance I received a report from someone whose childhood friend had lived there in the 1950’s. He said his friend was adamant, the Grey lady was last seen disappearing into the toilet next to his bedroom when he was a small boy.
On arrival at the Séance, we were checked in and seated by staff who could not have been more helpful. We were asked if we were scared about the evening’s entertainment. This contributed to invoking the dramatic atmosphere and feeling of anticipation in the guests.
Due to the current pandemic, strict social distancing guidelines were adhered to, temperature checks on arrival and hand sanitiser on every table. Tables were well spaced out, for same households only. It is reassuring that some theatrical performances at least have managed to find a way for the show still to go on, in these strange times.
The Host, Sam Lupton opened the show with an explanation of what was to happen. He explained that the first half would be a demonstration of Victorian Mediumship. The second half was to be an experiment using some classic Spiritualist tricks of the trade.
Sam told the audience that he was a sceptic when it comes to the paranormal. The aim of the evening was to demonstrate how a Medium is able use theatrics to convince an audience that they are communicating with the dead.
He went on to give a little background information on the Spiritualist movement. Detailing the exploits of the infamous Fox sisters, who held Seances in the 19th Century, later confessing to faking the phenomena.
Some of the Mediumship methods Sam demonstrated included automatic writing, speaking to the spirit by using a pendulum and clairvoyancy (of which I was picked as the unwilling audience member – he got me spot on!)
Sam was always completely honest with the audience. He reiterated throughout the first half of the show, that none of his methods included speaking to the dead. It was all done by pure trickery. None of which he explained, which I thought was a nice touch. My cynical 17-year-old, who lives in his own little social bubble of computer games and Netflix, came away scratching his head and asking “How the hell did he do that?
The second half of the show was much darker, literally as the lights were off.
Sam explained that this part of the show would draw upon the history of Beamish Hall and that he could not be certain that he would not accidently call upon a spirit there present. Not much seemed to happen at first. The spirits were called, but none seemed to appear.
Then it happened. A bell, seemingly away from all human interference began to ring all on its own. The table seated next to it screamed in terror. They saw it move and exclaimed that no one was there to move it. It was examined closely afterwards, and no strings attached.
Was the bell ringing a simple demonstration of Victorian Séance trickery? Or was the Grey Lady ringing to let us know she was still stuck in that toilet?
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