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An Interview With Andrew Homer
Following the recent release of 'Haunted Hostelries of Shropshire', published by Amberley Press and featuring some of the best haunted pubs and hotels in and around the county, I took the opportunity to put a few questions to its author, Andrew Homer, who I've known for several years now after we served together on the board of directors of ASSAP (The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena).
How did you first become interested in the paranormal, Andrew?
I remember it very well, Ian. I was about 8 years old and watching the local news on television. This would be about 1963. Giving my age away there! There was an item concerning a group investigating a haunting in local stately home. The image that sticks in my mind is someone standing behind a camera in front of a staircase waiting for the ghost to put in an appearance. I knew then that that was what I wanted to do. Of course I’ve stood behind the camera many times on investigations now but am still waiting for the ghost to appear!
Are you still actively investigating anomalous phenomena or just concentrating on writing now?
I have never lost my interest and enthusiasm for actual field investigation. I am a long term member of ASSAP (The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena) and also a member of local research group, CPI (Coventry Paranormal Investigators). I think this background in field research has helped a great deal when researching potential stories for my books.
What has been your most memorable experience over the years?
I consider myself fortunate as I have had many. On one occasion we were investigating at The Ancient Ram in Gloucestershire which is fairly well known for reports of hauntings. My colleague Steve Willis, a serving Police Officer at the time, and myself were carrying a large box of infrared camera equipment through a bar known as the ‘Gentleman’s Kitchen’ and on upstairs to the Bishop’s Room. As we entered the bar we both clearly saw a ball of yellow light about the size of a large light bulb moving silently across the darkened room just below the ceiling. It travelled slowly for a couple of metres across the room and then suddenly disappeared. We both saw it but have no idea what caused it. A great shame the low light recording equipment was still in its box of course!
Both of your current books have concentrated on haunted pubs. Why is this particularly?
Well, pubs are such a rich source of stories. Perhaps it has to do with the number of people who share something of their lives in these properties over the years. ‘Haunted Hostelries of Shropshire’ in particular serves as a fascinating record of such stories often told by the very people who have experienced the phenomena. Older properties also often have more traditional tales associated with them which get passed down through the years. ‘Haunted Hostelries of Shropshire’ and indeed the previous book, ‘Beer and Spirits’, hopefully strike a good balance between the traditional and the contemporary.
Do you have any favourite pubs from your new book?
That is a very difficult question to answer. There are so many interesting pubs and hotels in the book and I like to think there is something for everyone. Apart from the ghost stories the book also touches on historical links, architecture and, of course, real ales. For those wishing to spend a night in a haunted bedroom there are plenty to choose from here!
Isn’t a good ghost story almost mandatory in an old pub or hotel these days?
Well, in doing the research for this book I interviewed literally dozens of publicans, staff and customers. I can honestly say that I never got the impression that anyone was making it up just to get into the book. In fact, if anyone had been that creative maybe they should be writing books instead of me!
How did you find so many previously unpublished stories?
Apart from my own researches and contacts a surprising number of stories came about through people I was interviewing telling me about other haunted properties. On one occasion in Ironbridge I only called in somewhere for a coffee and a casual conversation led to some of the most intriguing stories in the book.
Have you previously investigated any of the properties included?
Yes, I have been able to draw on my own previous investigative experiences to add personal anecdotes to some of the locations. One of the most notable I suppose would be the now famous Wem Town Hall, ‘girl in the flames’ picture which I have been able to bring bang up to date and provide some previously little known additional details about the case.
Did you have any unusual experiences whilst researching the book?
Yes, just one. It was at The Tontine Hotel in Ironbridge. You will have to read the book to find out what happened though!
I can’t let you go without another of your personal experiences, Andrew.
Well, a few years back I got invited to do a last minute investigation at Mason’s Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent. The pottery had shut down and a paranormal research group working up there had obtained permission to investigate on the weekend before it was due to be turned into a car park. The factory was large and the power was mostly off throughout the building. At around 11.45pm Matt from the local group and myself were seated in the Guilding Shop in almost total darkness as we had no mains power. The shop was a long narrow room and, as the name suggests, is where gold used to be applied to the china ware. Most of the reported activity in this area was auditory. We had a battery powered infrared camera running about half way down the shop some metres away from us. Behind us was a locked metal door which led to another part of the factory which we had full access to. All of a sudden this door was rattled violently as though someone was checking that it was actually locked. We turned on our torches and dashed towards the sound. Unfortunately as soon as we reached the door the noise stopped. Everyone was accounted for and this was an internal door. We never found a satisfactory explanation for this. Incidentally, although quite a long way off the sound was clearly recorded on the camcorder. I have often wondered what would have happened if the door hadn’t been locked!