The English Ghost by Peter Ackroyd

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The English Ghost by Peter Ackroyd

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Category: Spirituality and Religion
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A random, but compelling, selection of ghost stories based on original testimony through the ages.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099287575

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To start with the obvious question, no I haven't - seen a ghost that is. But many people have, and the history of writing about spectacular spooks and suchlike has gone back well over a thousand years, according to the research presented here. A sixth century priest damned a landlord not paying his tithe taxes to the church with excommunication, and ordered all excommunicants from the church. Upon which a ghost upped and started to leave, explaining how a Saxon priest had deemed that man to be excommunicated earlier. He in turn was raised to settle the matter and peace was withheld.

Testimony collected here through the ages come from a surprising number of religious people, who may have been thought to have been against the very idea of ghosts and ghoolies of the unholy kind. But in the first chunk alone there is the Marquis of Huntington, two of the Sitwell dynasty, a friend of Dr Johnson, the rector of Rochester, a curate and fellow of Trinity, Cambs, and the keeper of the crown jewels no less, all giving their version of unnatural events.

That last is a case in point, for it is a famous one regarding a peculiar, moving cylinder-shaped affair of wispy, changing gaseous matter. I've already encountered it while reviewing for the Bookbag A Pregnant Ghost and Other Sexual Hauntings by Colin Waters, and that title offered a supplementary version, which suggested something more like ghostly rape. In Ackroyd's hands, because he uses prime sources and quotes them rather than rewrites them himself, that second document comes across as salacious and a sexed-up add-on. The original is strange enough.

And the strange is certainly prevalent here. There are very spooky instances of manic ghostly noises, and it's hard to say whether those are eerier than, for instance, the silent train passenger Winifred Graham allegedly saw. All the senses are covered, for as the introduction says, witnessing a ghost seems to cover them all, up to and including smell. Animals regularly shy away from ghosts too.

To talk of Ackroyd's part in this book, beyond his obviously inestimable research. There is perhaps too much of the sceptic about some of his editorialising, but also more than welcome summaries of aligned cases at the end of chapters. But what he hasn't satisfactorily done is compiled a book in any particular order. There's no historical progression, or sorting by region. (In fact one benefit of the randomness here is perhaps to disguise how many of the cases come from Devon.)

But he has found some sterling stories, and I can't believe I've not come across The Daemon of Spraiton (from, of course, Devon) before now. There is nothing here to disagree with Kant - while one can be sceptical about any individual instance, the sum total presents a body of evidence that is difficult to ignore. Indeed, the poltergeist section here is a serious gamut of Hollywood effects waiting to happen. I'll refrain from pointing out the bad pun in there being a body of evidence regarding ghosts, and conclude by recommending this book for a welcome hodge-podge of English ghost tales. It's for life, not just for Hallowe'en.

Buy The English Ghost by Peter Ackroyd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The English Ghost by Peter Ackroyd at

Buy The English Ghost by Peter Ackroyd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The English Ghost by Peter Ackroyd at


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