Weird Tales

Gartmore – Sputum and Temper

Psychic investigator Hamilton Coe surrounded by allies and adversaries. Featured characters include Mark E Smith, Vampira, Terry Thomas, Patricia Highsmith, Hayley Mills, Donald Pleasence, Honey Bane, Dennis Hopper, Judge Dredd, Miss Marple and Margaret Rutherford

To Gartmore where I addressed the local historical society on the subject of Haunted Houses – focusing on Ballechin House and Glamis Castle. An attentive and agreeable audience with the exception of a sickly looking character – prominently seated – who coughed throughout, his complexion (already ruddy) turning an increasingly dangerous shade of puce. At one point, completely distracted, I referred to the door between this world and the next, adding that “some of us are already half-way through.” On reflection, this was poorly judged and the rapport I’d enjoyed with the audience started to dwindle – a process of alienation that culminated in an ill-tempered Q and A.

Later, as I waited for Christine to pick me up, I noticed the invalid smoking a cigarette and expectorating a strand of sputum into a drain.

Ballechin House, Near Dunkeld

Psychic Investigator Hamilton Coe surrounded by icons of horror. Featured characters include M.R. James, Dave Vanian, Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Arthur Machen, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney, Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein, Michael Redgrave from Dead of Night, Vincent Price, Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu, Barbara Steele and the Children of the Damned

Built in 1806, Ballechin’s reputation as a haunted house* followed the death of its owner, Major Robert Steuart, in 1876. Most histories of the haunting refer to Steuart by his posthumously accorded nickname, “the Wicked Major”, though his depredations seem to have been limited to a clandestine affair with a housekeeper and a compulsion to fill his home with dogs. Semi-invalid by the time of his tenancy at Ballechin, he had formerly served in India where he developed a belief in transmigration. As he hirpled laboriously around the great house, he frequently repeated the desire that one of the dogs should inherit his spirit. Relatives, to whom, presumably, the Major had failed to endear himself while human, thwarted this ambition by ordering a canine cull within hours of his death. Not surprisingly, among the first supernatural phenomena reported in the house was the pungent odour of dogs. Aural manifestations followed, including the Major’s limping gait, knocks and the sound of voices quarrelling. Visitors to the house complained of a presence in their rooms, some claiming that their bed-clothes had been violently removed by unseen hands. While sceptics suggested the phenomena had less to do with the Major’s ghost than the building’s irregular construction, the manifestations became so pronounced that, in 1883, an annexe was built for the security of the family children.

Glamis Castle

Psychic Investigator Hamilton Coe surrounded by horror icons. Featured characters include M.R. James, Dave Vanian, Lon Chaney, Marilyn Manson, Arthur Machen, Vampira, Peter Cushing, Barbara Steele, Bette Davis Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein, Vincent Price, Children of the Damned

Situated in Forfarshire, some twenty miles to the north of Dundee, Glamis Castle is the seat of the Earls of Strathmore. Reputedly the scene of Duncan’s murder by MacBeth in 1040, the oldest part of the current building can be dated to the latter part of the fourteenth century. The secret chambers for which the Castle is renowned were a relatively recent addition, their creation in the late seventeenth century a precautionary measure by Patrick Lyon, first Earl of Strathmore, whose Jacobite sympathies rendered him vulnerable to the antipathy of the House of Orange. The notion of a ‘house within a house’ has subsequently excited the popular imagination and various theories have been extended as to what might dwell therein.

On W.B. Yeats and the Perils of Automatic Writing

Psychic investigator Hamilton Coe surrounded by icons of horror. Featured characters include H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, Vampira, Donald Pleasence, Pennywise, Joan Crawford, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Dave Vanian, Vincent Price, Pola Negri, Michael Redgrave as Maxwell Frere, Children of the Damned

In 1916, W.B. Yeats, having been rejected by Maud Gonne and her daughter Iseult*, proposed to Bertha Hyde-Lees (familiarly known as Georgie). If Yeats was hoping that one or other of the Gonnes, dismayed by the prospect of his imminent unavailability, would finally surrender to his advances, he was to be disappointed. If anything, both seemed relieved by the apparent transfer of his affections. Worse still, Georgie unexpectedly accepted his proposal with the consequence that within months the poet, chagrined and bewildered, found himself honeymooning with a woman whose very presence was a source of irritation. Having already used Georgie shabbily, Yeats, whose advanced years came without the compensation of sensitivity or experience, had little compunction about confessing the cause of his unhappiness. Understandably bemused by developments, Georgie struggled to compose her thoughts by writing them down. Distracted by Yeats’s self-absorbed interruptions, it suddenly occurred to her that, while she continued to write, the words no longer came of her own volition – she was merely a conduit for some other source of inspiration. Pointing out to her husband the vaguely promising sentiments ” With the bird all is well at heart ” and ” You will neither regret nor repine ” she triggered an obsession that would dominate the rest of their lives.