Dale Fort Blog Number 22

25 10 2013

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

There has been a human presence on Dale Point for at least 3000 years.  The original defences date from the Bronze Age and the site was occupied and improved through The Iron Age.  A carbon date of 790 BCE was obtained from the defensive ditch, making this the earliest physically dated site in Pembrokeshire. The site was probably inhabited into the Roman period and beyond.  The Normans controlled the Dale Peninsula during their occupation of South Wales and left evidence in the forms of the local church and castle.

During the First English Civil War (1642) the Dale Peninsula was held by Royalists who were said to have a gun battery on Dale Point, together with lodgings for 50 men.

By 1852 Charles Louis Napoleon had dissolved the Second Republic (of France), launched the Second Empire and begun calling himself Napoleon III.  This alarmed the British Parliament to the extent that it embarked upon a massive programme of coastal fortifications to defend against what was felt to be the imminent threat of a French invasion.  The current Dale Fort was constructed during this period (begun 1853, finished 1856).  The fort was occupied initially by 62 army personnel and ancillary staff.

By 1881 the buildings were occupied by a caretaker and his family and used sporadically for training the local Coastal Defence Militia.

In the 1890s the fort saw a military experiment unique in Europe.  The Zalinski Pneumatic Dynamite Torpedo Gun was installed and tested.  This weapon used air pressure to propel dynamite packed shells at incoming ships.  It worked but was very complex and rendered obsolete by later developments in high explosives.

From the 1890s the buildings were lived in by the Owen-Evans family.  During World War I Mrs. Owen-Evans operated the place as a military hospital.  In 1922 Miss M A Bland purchased the edifice and shared it with several orphaned girls, servants, various animals and Colonel Lee-Roberts, whom she eventually married.

During World War II the complex was taken over by the Admiralty and became an important mine-watching and de-gaussing station with a staff compliment of 15-20.

Since 1947, the fortress has been utilised as a residential field centre belonging to The Field Studies Council.  It specializes in the environmental sciences but also runs a large variety of arts, literary and historical courses drawing on the expertise of permanent staff and using that of external tutors.

Given the long period of occupation it’s hardly surprising that there have been several reports of ghosts and presences.  Some of these give a distinct impression of having been invented for entertainment purposes but there is no denying that both members of staff and visitors have on occasion been genuinely disturbed.

Here are some of the stories related to  or experienced by me over the past 3 decades:

The Face in the Window

In March 1987 Dale Fort was privileged to have the assistance of its first ever placement student. DA came to work for one year as part of her sandwich degree course.  She proved to be a diligent,  able assistant to the Academic Staff and was a popular and trusted member of staff.

In those days I lived on the premises,  occupying a small room on the floor above her.  In October 1987 I was awoken in the middle of the night by a piercing scream followed by a pounding on my door.  She had been returning from the bathroom to her own room and happened to glance at the un-curtained window that opened onto the stairwell. There had manifested a hideously deformed male form which leered and seemed to pass through the glass to approach her.  She ran back up the stairs seeking human company (namely me).  Needless to say, a thorough search revealed nothing and she was eventually persuaded to return to bed.  For the rest of her time with us, she kept the light on and pinned a permanently closed curtain to the window.  The window is still there, the curtain has gone, the rooms are still occupied.

The Headless Chicken of Saint Cadoc

An extremely odd manifestation this one, possibly the only ghost chicken ever reported, occasionally seen running up and down the corridors of C Block. This building was completed in the 1970s on the roof of the old gunpowder magazine.  Maybe somebody once kept chickens on the roof?  There are no reports as to the location of the chicken’s head.  A possible explanation of this bizarre tale is that the phantom bird was in fact a mature black-headed gull that became trapped in the corridor. The white body was seen easily in the dim moonlit corridor but the black head was not, giving the appearance of a headless bird.  Psychic Investigators have suggested that the chicken was called Mona.

ID’s Phantom

On the night of the 5th of February 2002, ID, Senior Centre assistant and Boatman was doing night duty (Dale Fort security and safety systems ensure that help is available to our visitors at all times). This entailed him staying in an unused dormitory room in the main barrack block (A Block). Feeling the need to answer a call of nature, Ian rose at about 1.40am and made his way to the ablutions. As he entered the appropriate corridor he registered a drop in temperature. The hairs (and there are plenty of them) all over his body stood to attention and he experienced a profound sensation of unease. Glancing down the corridor he observed an eerie glowing light. The presence appeared to hover just above the ground. It made progress down the passage and disappeared through the door to the main entrance lobby. Ian informed us that he spent the rest of the night awake with the light on.

In 2004 a visitor who claimed to possess psychic powers experienced perturbations at roughly the same spot.

The Giant Bat of Saint Bride

This unearthly phenomenon terrified a group of 54 GCSE pupils and is interesting as an example of mass hysteria.  They would not enter the accommodation block; they would not even approach the entrance.

THERE WAS A GIANT BAT ON THE ROOF.

No there wasn’t, there was a dustbin liner wrapped around the chimney pot, flapping in the wind.

The Cavalier

In 1984  JL the Dale Fort Cook (who was celebrated for his prosaic outlook and lack of imagination) entered the dim passage behind the dining room to adjust the boiler controls for the kitchen hot-water supply.  Minutes later a shriek was heard and he was seen exiting said corridor faster than anyone had ever seen him move before.  He was found shaking with fear in his room with a half-empty emergency bottle of cooking sherry and this story.  He had just finished adjusting the emersion heater when he looked up and saw a luminous,  exotically dressed figure drifting towards him.  To his horror it seemed to be a Cavalier from the English Civil War.  Before he could move aside it had passed through him and out through the solid wall at the end of the passage.

At first glance this seems absurd.  The current Dale Fort was not built until 1856. However, it is known that during the English Civil Wars most of the villages along the Milford Haven shores including Dale were controlled by Royalists. Dale Castle was occupied by Royalist troops and according to John Barrett’s A Plain Man’s Guide to the Dale Peninsula there was a gun battery at Dale Point. Maybe a Royalist soldier still floats about the place in spectral form?

A later member of staff claimed to have seen a Vauxhall Cavalier estate car disappearing through the same wall. This seems to have been the product of a dimly recalled story coupled with over enthusiastic wine tasting.

Headless Bob of B-Block

Bob was a handy-man at Dale Fort. One of his tasks was to maintain the ablutions in B Block which in those days were extremely primitive. They blocked up very easily. There can be something good even about a situation as dismal as regularly blocked lavatories. In this case it was the joy afforded to the rest of the staff who had frequent opportunities to say things like: “Unblock the B Block bogs please Bob?” and other amusingly alliterative phrases.

One day, Bob was repairing a window in the said B Block and unwisely placed a sheet of plate-glass at the bottom of his ladder. He climbed the ladder to inspect the damage. As he reached the top he disturbed a bat ( most likely Pipistrellus pipistrellus) which flew out and caused him to slip from the ladder and fall on to the sheet of glass. Tragedy ensued because Bob’s head was severed and the force of the impact caused it to bounce into a nearby fire bucket. The ghost of Bob is said (by some) to wander aimlessly about the site of the old ablutions block carrying his head in the fire bucket demanding retribution from the bat (long since dead of course). Can this be even slightly true?

The Mysterious Tomato

Of all the reports of strange sightings at Dale Fort, surely this is the strangest. Not really a ghost, possibly a natural meteorological phenomenon as yet unexplained, maybe inexplicable.  Towards the end of the 1980s three people reported seeing a large red object resembling a tomato drifting about on Dale Point and emitting a bizarre barking sound at passing gannets.  Red spots before the eyes brought on by stress and overwork might be an explanation.

The Incident in the Dormitory

Finally, a recent account of disturbing events that took place in a dormitory  back in July 1962.  Last year I was teaching a large group of sixth form biologists at Dale Fort when their teacher remarked that her father had been a student at Dale Fort in his youth.  I am always on the look-out for interesting pictures or anecdotes from previous years and immediately showed an interest, thinking that there might be some material to add to my history of Dale Fort.  (Scattering Dreams, revised 2011, available from Dale Fort at a mere £5.00).

“That is unlikely” said my visiting staff member “given what happened…..”.

After some persuasion she related this strange tale.

Her father EB had been a pupil at a private school near Gisburn in Lancashire (then in Yorkshire).  The school had been visiting Dale Fort annually since 1955 to learn natural history and geography.  On their second day they had been investigating vernacular building styles and in the remains of an old stone cottage on the fort road had found some bones among the stones of a broken wall.  Their teacher thought they might have belonged to a wild-cat or other small predator.  They put the skull on the window sill in their dormitory.

The four boys occupying the dormitory went to bed rather early (school pupils were better behaved in those days) and were soon asleep.

At some point in the night EB awoke to hear a scratching sound that seemed to be coming from somewhere in the room.  There was a moon that night and the room was filled with pale light.  He could see the white of the skull gleaming on the window sill.

Suddenly the door banged open and a girl dressed in a long white night dress careered in to the centre of the room startling them all wide awake.  She was clearly deeply distressed and began screaming a more or less unintelligible diatribe that concerned someone called Janet (they thought) and a cat.  The boys were understandably a little perturbed by this and began to get out of bed to see if they could help.  Before any of them had managed to do this the girl turned and ran out, the door slamming shut behind her.

They all felt that this girl was in such distress that they should get up and do what they could to help.

EB was first out of bed and made for the door.  He turned the handle and failed to open it.

The door was locked from the inside.

spectral sillinessOxford University MSc Environmental Management students read this blog and were inspired to recreate the events described above.  Dale Fort Placement Student Joe Pitt took this unsettling photograph.

They unlocked the door and began a hesitant search but found nothing.  Everybody else in the block was asleep and all was quiet.  They returned to their room, relocked the door and tried to sleep themselves.  They must have eventually succeeded because they woke in the morning and noticed that the skull was gone.

In the 17th Century it was quite a common, if barbaric practice to imprison a small animal like a cat in a small chamber within the wall of a newly built house in order to deter evil spirits.

The 27th July 1962 was the 350th anniversary of the trial in York of Jennet Preston of Gisburne  accused of witchcraft.

My response to this was rational.  I felt sure that there were no locks on the dormitories until our recently fitted key pads.  Nonetheless I went to check out the relevant room and found that the doors were original and also that they had had their original mortise locks removed.

Most Dale Fort ghost stories are clear nonsense (see several examples above).  This one may also be nonsense but it’s one of the few that sent a genuine shiver up my spine.

In August 2006 the paranormal investigators The Ghost Investigation Team (GITs) spent the night in various parts of the buildings looking for phenomena.  Their findings are available at: www.ghostinvestigationteam.com

Don’t miss the next blog thrill-seekers

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One response

22 01 2014
Create Girl

This made me laugh, cry, shriek, but mostly the latter!

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