I spy Mike and Paul, two of my erstwhile confederates, lurking about  by the service entrance to the big Georgian hall.  

“What are youse lot up to?”  

“Shoosh!” They are listening at the window of the site office.  

“What’s going on?”  

Paul takes me conspiratorially aside. “I was in the office with my  mum this morning, to pay the site rent. Anyway there’s these three  geezers in there talking to old Mr. Rice about ghosts! So I starts to ear-wig and it turns out they're from the Sigh-kick Phenomenal Society and they're coming here to investigate the ghost of Lady Fitzherbert, better knwn as the Gray Lady.

“Oooh, there's great possibilities of a good wheeze looming large here! When are they coming?”

“Friday night, and they’re staying for the weekend.“  

I give Mike, still listening at the window, the thumbs-up and add,  “We must think of a good ruse to fool the Hun.”  

“We will, by crikey! We haven’t had a good wheeze since we got the  flogging.”  

Now, I know the Georgian hall inside and out. I have many times  sat daydreaming on the elegant great oak stairway, waiting for my pal  Mark to come out of his parents’ apartment to play. I’ve always felt curiously at home in this Mecca of silk tapestries, marble fireplaces, Greek  urns, and gilt-framed masters. Alone in the richness of the mahogany panelled rooms, I have watched the sunlight dappling through the huge stained-glass staircase windows in a million prismatic fingers, savoured  the smell of the old beeswax-polished edifices, and l drink deep from  the chalice of antiquity.  

I have never seen the Gray Lady and no credible person to my  knowledge has. “But she’s there!” we are told by the old ones in hushed  tones.  

“Dad, do you believe in ghosts and the like?”  

“You worry about the buggers who walk around this earth on two  feet and don’t be bothering yer head about any old spooks or such  nonsense!”  

Well, that is good enough for me. The plot thins. If my dad thinks  there is nothing to be scared about, then we can enter into our dastardly  plan unfettered by fear of the hereafter. “From ghosties and ghoulies  and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, may  the Good Lord deliver us!” sayeth the ould Scottish prayer.  

Once more the game is afoot!  

Lady Maria Anne Fitzherbert had a secret - and so does the ancient, ivy-  wreathed hall. Although she and the Protestant Prince of Wales, later to be George IV, were secretly married, the union was illegal under the Royal Marriage Act of 1772, and Maria Anne was shunted to the side lines when George made a legal marriage in 1795

Wootton Hall, like so many stately homes of the eighteenth century, has a priest hole! This contrivance manifests itself in a secret underground passage from the hall to the old church. By means of this, the  priest can give the banned sacraments to the Catholics in the household, under the very noses of the king’s militia. Also, if caught in attendance  on the papist sympathisers, he can make his ecumenical escape through  the tunnel, just like a rat up a drainpipe.  

This priest hole, we think would be the epicentre of the psychics’ endeavours, and so we prepare to lay a trap.  I know the layout in the labyrinthine maze of underground passageways that make up the service basement of the old mansion. Oftentimes I have accompanied my dad as he stokes the main boiler  when the caretaker is on holiday. Forearmed with this intelligence, we  will wait until the ghost hunters are set up and then creep in and give  them a fright to remember!  

I have an old McMichael valve wireless that suffers from incurable I.F. instability. The frequency-changer tube has an internal short that,  as it warms up, causes the entire radio set to oscillate in a most ghoulishly entertaining fashion. The resultant unearthly screeches, wails, and  screams would put the heart crossways in the Pope himself.  

Our simple ruse is to preposition this old radio in the priest hole tunnel with a long length of twin flex running back to a mains outlet. Here,  at the crucial time, when they call out “Is there anybody there?” we can  switch on the caterwauling apparatus and run away giggling.  

It is time to do a reccy. We need firsthand intelligence of where and what  our prospective dupes will be doing. Unnoticed, our little team of Paul,  Mike, and myself slips quietly into the service door of the great hall  and presses forward to the inner basement door. Down into the dark  abyss of the cellars we slowly ingress, like three souls descending into  Anwyn, the Celtic underworld.  

There is a long, dank passageway to the right that leads to the priest’s  hole. We turn the corner, and miraculously a light comes on. I look around, but none of us touched a switch. There is none to be seen anywhere. We walk on through the ancient asbestos-lagged perplexity of heating pipes and archaic overhead electrical wiring. Reaching the old well, still full to the brim and incalculably deep we hesitate. For a second we think we can hear the sound of whispers, and not too far off either! lnching forward along the wall, hardly breathing through a bristling silence so profound that the relieved sigh of a defecating rat would be clearly audible, we make our snail like progression toward the door of the priest’s hole.

“This is it!” I whisper, swallowing hard. My saliva seems to taste like frothy lemonade, and my ears are hissing with the crackling excitement of it all. Paul’s huge brown eyes look like dinner plates, and Mike  has a face as white as a ghost’s arse! Lighting our bicycle lamps we swing open the iron door, which replies with a spine-shuddering creak.  

We step over the threshold into the rank smell of decayed soil and the lifeless humors of a long-dead tunnel. Much to my surprise, there‘s  already a wire running along the dirt strewn floor. As we creep nearer I see a thing that I recognized to be a microphone sitting on a tripod.  I reach out to touch it ―

“Aaaaagh! Aaaaaagh! Aaaagggh!” Mike is screaming, his face completely enveloped in a giant spider’s web whose disgruntled owner  still at home and biting.

Paul is already running for the exit, emitting a high warbling whimper. This all put the dread of the Devil into me, and fearing the loss of my immortal soul, I lapse into the old Latin and blurt out, “Pater noster qui es in coelis: santificétur nomen tuum . . .” My teeth chattering chant fades as I flee the accursed tunnel with my terrified companions.  With a rush like a hot spring’s geyser, we erupt into the daylight and stand in a trembling triangle staring at each other. For several minutes we drink in enormous drafts of cold clean air, then without a word shamefacedly, make our way home. This almost became the ruse that never was, but fate had a trick up her sleeve.

“Well, there’s a thing!” Dad is reading the local paper. “Do you remember those loonies from the big city who were looking for spooks  here a while back? Well, they reckon they may have found proof of a murder of a young woman by a Catholic priest!"  

“Go'way! Lemme see!“ says Mam, peering over his shoulder with  interest.  

“It says that the microphone they left secretly in the priest’s hole  recorded footsteps and weird muffled whispers, then the old rusty door  opening, and a woman's horrible screams mixed with whimpering like  a lost soul and to cap it all, the definite voice of a Catholic priest or  old monk chanting away to himself in Latin! Maybe there’s something  in it after all?“  

“Do you believe in ghosts now, Dad?”  

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than were ever  dreamed of in your philosophy!” Dad replies mysteriously, and, as  usual, I have little idea what he is talking about. He throws the Stratford Herald onto the table.  Mam picks up the paper; on page three there’s a picture of the Pope.  “Oh, that’s a shame. It says here that the Vatican is to do away with  the Latin mass. The service will be in the language of the country. That’s  a scandal so it is, a downright shame!”

[This makes it November 1963 or July 1964]