Islington Tribune - UK
Ghost hunt at the old courthouse
If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood... who you gonna call?
The Islington Tribune of course, writes Mark Blunden
12 January 2007
The organisation opened up the Central London Masonic Centre in the Old Sessions House, in Clerkenwell Green, to The Tribune’s own amateur ghost hunter, Paul Cowling, to see if there were any traces of paranormal activity.
He hoped to find a few lost souls trapped in time from the building’s past life as a 19th-century courthouse.
But a session at the Freemason’s headquarters proved less frightening and more fascinating as our guides unlocked room after room of exotic Masonic paraphernalia.
The items left on display included ceremonial axes, gavels, prisms and mystical icons depicting ancient Egypt.
Opened in 1782, the building was the largest courthouse in England.
It was a time when many Clerkenwell people lived among open sewers and seven-year-old children could receive a 10 year jail sentence for stealing a joint of beef.
Many adults would often hang for their crimes or be shipped to Australia.
Indeed, the Tribune’s ghost hunt follows a similar exercise last year a few hundred yards away at the House of Detention where hundreds died awaiting transportation down under.
On Friday night, the Tribune was granted unfettered access to every room in Old Sessions House, the majority of which are regularly used for rituals.
Andrew Wadl, the building’s operations manager who is not a Freemason, recalled seeing a deathly figure on the stairs.
He said: “I was scared stiff. It was a man wearing Victorian clothes, but he just disappeared.
“Sometimes when I’m last to lock up at night I can hear doors slam.
“Two days ago, a security guard tried to open the door of the Waterloo Room, but somebody was apparently holding it on the other side.
“When he managed to get it open, there was no one there.
Catering manager Walter Rudolf, a relative newcomer to the Freemasons, is number two on a rung of some 30 in the organisation’s hierarchy.
Masons go up a further grade each time a new secret test is passed.
He said: “The rooms are only closed when they are being used by Freemasons to study.
“Studying is essentially what Freemasonry is about. There’s no mystery really, it’s much like attending university and bettering yourself.
“But it can be quite expensive with people paying a certain portion of their wages towards the organisation.”
The modern day grandeur of the Old Sessions House – for it is now a conference facility – is a far cry from the 1800s.
Only a few clues to the building’s past remain, such as the tiny prison cell which is now a laundry room and a dungeon that has become an upmarket drinks bar.
The splendour of the lofty old court rooms, now used for Masonic ceremonies, is still evident. As for ghostly activity, it was disappointingly thin on the ground.
Mr Cowling, a life-long hunter of the paranormal, said: “There was an interesting door slamming on the second floor but not much else.
“I spent as much time as possible on my own in the condemned cell. “The heavy metal door is the original and icy cold to the touch, but the cramped space is now a linen cupboard.”
But our fearless apparition-seeker was not put off by the lack of activity on this occasion. He hopes to go back to the Old Sessions House for another crack of the paranormal whip before the summer.