I suppose that this 'Beech Barn' incident was the first experience that I can truly remember concerning ‘something extraordinary’. To make the story more clear, although the incident happened in the English spring of 1950, I shall briefly explain how myself, my sister, and my friend, Tommy, came to be in the building where this weird event took place. To do that, we have to go back to September 1946. (Or go to Chapter 2 of my life story on this site for more details.)
World War Two had only been over for a year. Many families had lost their homes due to the bombing of our larger towns and cities and there was a shortage of homes to rent. At this time, my mum, my younger sister, Valerie, and myself, were lodging at the home of a woman (who Val and I called ‘Auntie Julie’) in Plantation Road. Amersham. Buckinghamshire. Although, at my age during that time (I was nearly four years old) the house was just a home to me, we were jolly lucky to be taken in by ‘Auntie Julie’. A few months previously, we’d been living in a tiny caravan with my (real) Uncle Frank and his family (my Auntie Joyce and their daughters, Kay and Shirley). It had been a terrible crush, especially at mealtimes and at night.
One day during that September, mum was told of a nearby army camp where Polish soldiers were being sorted out and moved on, leaving the huts in that camp empty. Families were moving into the empty huts, as squatters, and setting up homes. In those days, you couldn’t afford to let such opportunities pass by. Within minutes, our few possessions were loaded onto a horse and cart and we all trundled along the couple of miles to the camp.
Upon reaching the camp, we were told that there were no empty huts and that we would have to wait in the queue unless we could establish ourselves in one of the two camps. Enquiring what was meant by ‘two’ camps, mum was informed that there was another such camp about a quarter of a mile down the road. We soon arrived at this second camp, only to be told exactly the same thing. One family took pity on us and suggested that we might like to move into a large dance hall (that was in the confines of this second camp as an entertainment facility for both the camps) and set up home so that we’d have our ‘foot in the door’ and be on the spot if a hut became empty.
Both of those camps were situated on the main Amersham/Chesham road at Chesham Bois. The 'top' camp was on the left just past Bois Avenue and 'The Leys' now occupies the area. The 'bottom' camp is also on the left, about a third of a mile on towards Chesham and just past 'The Beacon Boy's School' (as we called the school), and I believe that the school is now using that camp as a facility (although 'Barnett's' map of Chesham & Amersham labels the camp as 'Bois Farm').
Mum decided to go along with this suggestion and I well remember the funny, open feeling of sleeping up on the stage of that great, empty hall. On the other hand, I also well remember sitting up in my bed and watching the young Polish soldiers dancing with the local girls at some of the dances that were held in that hall, in spite of the fact that we were using it as a home. Eventually, the Officer’s Mess (at the back of the hall and not being used for its original purpose anymore) was vacated, as the family, who had been living there, found an empty hut and quickly moved in. We swapped the hall for that tiny room.
I had my fourth birthday while we lived in that hall, and the first Christmas that I can recall was spent in the Officer’s Mess. We young children, of ‘the Squatters’, were spoilt rotten by those Polish soldiers and I look back on what I can recall of that period as a very magic time. It was also while we were living in the Officer’s Mess that I told my mum the story of how I remembered ‘flying over the land and seeing a cat down below’ (see my story Flights of Fear? - Or Flight of Fancy?).
By this time, my Uncle Frank (Mum’s brother) had left the tiny caravan and had established himself and his family in the camp. For a while, they lived on the balcony at the back of the hall (what we would call ‘The Circle’ or ‘Upstairs’ in the cinema). Each evening, as soon as it was dark, Uncle Frank would take a torch and peer through the windows of every hut, that wasn’t occupied by squatters, in both camps. His searching paid off one night when he discovered an empty hut in the ‘top’ camp (the original camp that mum had tried, we were now in the ‘bottom’ camp) and, by the morning he had moved his family into that hut. We (mum and us two children) now had a ‘foot in the door’ of both camps.
After letting one empty hut pass for a family that was more desperate than we were, and being thrown out of another empty hut, mum was finally lucky and our turn came during the second week of 1947. Uncle Frank discovered that a wooden hut, behind his hut, was empty and he helped to move our few belongings up to our new home in the top camp.
We lived in that wooden hut for over a year, and (to us children) had many adventures. Then the local Amersham Council took the camps over and renovated the huts. (In our hut at the time, the walls were just blankets that had been pegged to thin ropes, the ropes being stretched across the inside of the hut and propped up with poles in the middle. For toilet and washing facilities we had to go out to an ablution block.
In the spring of 1948, we were given a corrugated-tin (Nissen - described in some dictionaries as: Tunnel-shaped hut made of corrugated iron with a cement floor) hut - 16, Beech Barn. Chesham Bois. Amersham. Bucks. It had real walls, electricity, and an inside toilet and bath. This hut would be our home for the next five years. I have such very wonderful memories of my life while I lived on those two camps.
Until the local council began to move the families out of those two camps and into better homes (in the early 1950’s), there had been twenty five families living in the top camp, with a total of forty five children and, as can be expected, I was never short of friends. Except for the children of one obnoxious family, us young folk got on extremely well considering that our families came from all walks of life. But, out of the eighteen boys that lived on that camp, I had three special friends at the time of this story.
David Norris was the friend that I always seemed to be in trouble with. He was a year younger than myself and I could easily lead him astray. Through my adventurous desire to see what was over the horizon, we would wander away, spending nights out (yes! at that tender age!) and having our names broadcast over the radio (very few people owned a television in those days) because it was feared that something terrible may have happened to us both. In time the local police became used to mum racing down to the telephone-box and ringing them up. They would say to her “Not the two Davids again?”. But, of course, they still set the wheels in motion for the usual search all over the local countryside for us two horrors.
Arthur White was only four days older than myself. We went to school together and were in the same classroom. Both his parents were semi-crippled and quite old. Although his family were very poor (there were also two older brothers and a sister) and he was ‘rough’, Arthur had a heart of gold. Along with a lad named Alfred (who didn't live on the camp), Arthur and I made up a ‘threesome’ that were firm school friends. Due to the fact that he spent a lot of time with his parents, Arthur and I only saw each other occasionally while not at school. Even so, we still managed to squeeze a few ‘adventures’ in together.
Photo courtesy of Tom Ramage.
Last, but not least, there was Tommy Ramage. His family were the people that mum had stepped aside for because their need for a hut was greater than ours. Tommy was also a year younger than myself, and the type of lad who usually couldn’t be led into any mischief (until he reached his teens!). He was honest and always thinking of others. It was Tommy who shared these weird experiences with Val and myself on those two warm spring days in 1950. I was seven and a half years old, and both Val and Tommy were about six years old.
And so, after this long-winded introduction, but hopefully having set the scene, I’ll get on with the story.
The winter was behind us and spring had come in all its glory. David and I had already been on a couple of ‘adventures’ that spring so the ‘season’ had started well. Over the previous two or so years, we’d explored the bottom camp and discovered the entrance to a loft over the old stables. There were a few tiles missing from the roof, which helped to light up this loft, and we could see stacks of carved wood heaped up at each end of the great room, as if someone had stripped the inside of a church and stored all the woodwork up there. But, David wasn’t too keen on the place and always wanted to go before I’d had any real chance of a decent look around. I hadn’t forgotten about that loft and it had been marked down in my memory as a future ‘must’.
On one of those spring days, Tommy called at our hut to see if I wanted to go out and play. I was willing and Val, my sister, decided to join us. There were plenty of things for us youngsters to do in and around the camp. We could play games on a large grassed area in the centre of the camp. We could climb up dozens of trees that were growing in one corner of the camp. We could step out into a lane, that ran up one side of the camp, and be in the countryside of Buckinghamshire within minutes. We could walk just up the road to the Common and collect newts from the pond. Or we could visit some of the people in the ‘posh’ houses around the local area. As we walked away from our hut, the three of us talked about what we would do.
Val, as I recall, wanted to go visiting (us boys would usually only do this when we were outnumbered by the girls), Tommy didn’t want to leave the camp area and suggested a game on the grassed area, I was keen on going for a walk out into the countryside. Tommy and I shot Val’s idea down in flames, Val and I didn't want to play on the grassed area, and both Tommy and Val were very wary of going off into the countryside with me because I couldn’t resist seeing what lay beyond the horizon. None of us could reach an agreement.
Then I remembered that loft down at the bottom camp and tried to talk Val and Tommy into going there with me. I pointed out that we’d only just be down the road so they could go back home whenever they felt like it. Val was keen, but Tommy still didn’t like the idea of leaving our camp area. Then I mentioned the old ‘church fittings’ and his curiosity was soon aroused as I described my previous visits there with David. It wasn’t long before the three of us were heading out of our camp area.
The main Amersham to Chesham road passed the entrance into the camp in those days and only the grounds of The Beacon Boy’s School separated the two camps. It was about three or four minutes walk from our camp entrance, past the school and on to the bottom camp entrance.
As we turned into the bottom camp, the old dance hall was just in front and slightly to the right. On our left was the side of a house that faced out onto the road, we always thought of this house as the ‘Commanding Officer’s house’. Immediately in front of us was a short driveway that led into the corner of a large square area, the square being on our left. The perimeter of the square to our right was made up of the dance hall, the Officer’s Mess and some living quarters. The perimeter on our left and at right angles was made by the rear of the Commanding Officer’s house and garden. A high wall and some workshops ran along the perimeter from the garden to the diagonal corner from the entrance (the wall divided the camp from the school). The last side of the square was made up of a long building that we called ‘The Stables’. It ran down the whole length, from the wall back to the living quarters, before the stables became an ablution block in that corner. The loft above those ‘stables’ were our aim that day.
I often wonder if all the buildings around the square had been originally built for the army or another reason. If you stood in the square and looked around, it was very easy to imagine that you were in the working area of some rich, race-horse owner’s grounds. The Squire’s house was there, the farrier’s and saddler’s workshops were along the side wall, the stables were along the third side, and the fourth side could have been the jockey’s, stable-hand’s, farrier’s, etc.’s quarters, and hay barn. The very name, ‘Beech Barn’, suggests to me that the area could have been something different than an army camp originally. It would have been easy to utilise the house, workshops, stables and living quarters for the more modern role of accommodating a regiment of Polish soldiers (Cavalry?) and their horses or armoured cars (some of the stables were open at the rear, as if for vehicle workshops). The great hay-barn could have quite easily been converted into a dance-hall by building a stage at one end and a balcony at the other. Great oak beams (‘Crucks’ we called them) still supported the walls and roof, but the balcony facia, although trying to blend in with the original atmosphere, did look more modern. The huts in that camp were all hidden behind the hall, Officer’s Mess, living quarters and stables, as if they too, had been tacked on as emergency accommodation long after the original buildings had been established.
But, on that lovely spring day in 1950, us three youngsters were only interested in having a good look around the old buildings, we never gave a thought as to how they came to be there, it was just another area for us to explore. The old hall had wooden framed doors, with glass panels, all the way down the side that faced the square, like a continuous row of French windows. Val and Tommy wanted to have a look in the hall and I tried to be patient while they wandered around its great dusty interior. Finally, they’d had enough of the hall, we walked out into the sunshine again and headed over towards the stables across the square.
A picture of the 'Stables' taken from the entrance into the camp, and looking very run down exactly as I recall from the time of this story. The loft is indicated by a black arrow, the 'hole in the wall' by a white arrow, and part of the hall by a white X.
Please note: Although I wrote this story a few years ago, then eventually added it to my home page, I was astounded and extremely excited at how the very atmosphere of that old camp came flooding back to me as soon as I saw this picture. I would like to extend my most sincere and grateful thanks to the staff of the Beacon Boy's School for kindly giving me this precious gift from the past, and for allowing me to use the picture on my site. I would also like to thank my friend, Peter Sharpen (A descendant of W T Stead - check out his W T Stead site), who copied the picture for me while on holiday in the UK during 1999. The original is apparently hanging on a wall in the 'Stables' written about here.
The doors into the stables were all locked on that side. But, there was a hole, in the brick-work of the stable wall beside one of the doors, that was just big enough to crawl through. With myself leading and Val bringing up the rear, we crawled through this hole and entered the gloom of the old stables. There was just enough light to find our way along the inside of the wall and locate the ladder that led up into the loft.
To say ‘ladder’ may be a bit misleading. There were vertical timbers, set at intervals along the length of the inside walls, supporting the beams that the loft floor was laid on. Some horizontal timbers had been fitted between two of these supporting timbers to form a ladder up the side of the wall. This ladder led up to a trap-door in the ceiling that had to be lifted, while standing on the ladder, before entry into the loft could be gained. The rungs were long enough to enable two children to climb up side by side.
I climbed the ladder and reached the trap-door. Tommy was almost beside me, but slightly lower, and Val was already on the ladder immediately below us. As I pushed up on the underside of the trap-door, I became aware that I could hear, what sounded like, heavy foot-steps on a wooden floor. Even before the sound had registered in my mind, I had the trap-door open and was peering around the interior of the great loft. My eyes suddenly stopped moving at one point, riveted there for a few seconds by sheer terror, and I’ll never forget what I saw as long as I have a memory.
The bright sunlight was streaming into the loft through the gaps in the roof, caused by the missing and broken tiles, and the huge room was well lit up. As my mind registered the sound of foot-steps, I caught the sight of low dust clouds rising from the wooden floor of the loft and, even as I spied them I could see that they were coming towards me. It was as if somebody was walking across the loft to the trap-door, kicking up the thick dust from the floor. And yet, nobody was there! I heard the foot-steps approaching and saw the dust clouds getting closer but, I couldn't see what was causing the noise or the dust clouds.
In the end, I did what any self-respecting young boy would do in such circumstances - I panicked. With a terror-filled scream of pure fear, I let the trap-door drop and fell down onto Tommy. He lost his grip and fell down onto Val. She didn’t stand a chance as the combined weights of Tommy and myself overwhelmed her and the three of us crashed to the floor of the stables.
Luckily, none of us were hurt. Neither Val nor Tommy had seen the cause of my terrified panic, they nevertheless, also panicked. Within a split second of landing down on the stable floor, each of us had jumped up and raced towards the hole in the wall. This time Val was leading and I brought up the rear. But, I didn’t want to be last through the hole, in case the ‘thing’ got me, Tommy wasn’t going to hang around and chance meeting whatever it was that had terrified me so much and Val’s panic had already given her a head start. As it turned out, we all reached the hole together.
Chivalry, as far as Tommy and I were concerned, was almost thrown out of the window as all three of us tried to squeeze through the hole at the same time. It was hopeless and I was forced to back out and help my sister and friend. Tommy wriggled through and raced off across the square, Val shot through the hole with a bit of help from me and I dived out behind her. Tommy was already out of sight as the pair of us picked ourselves up and raced across the square towards the camp entrance.
Somehow, Tommy had managed to get up the road and into our own camp entrance even before Val and I ran through the bottom camp entrance and looked up the road. As we both hurtled up the empty pavement, Val promised that she’d never go out exploring anywhere with me again. Tommy told me exactly the same when I went to his house later that day.
As I write of this event, forty five or so years later, I still cannot explain what I saw that day. I’ve recorded it exactly as the incident happened, with no embellishments or exaggerations. Neither Val nor Tommy had actually got up the ladder high enough to see anything, but they had both heard the sound of foot-steps and, being young, they had imagined that a horrible ‘thing’ was clumping across the loft in our direction. I recall that they were most disappointed when I told them what had terrified me so much. As I have already said, I still cannot explain what I saw!
In spite of the promises that day, Val and Tommy soon forgot the above incident and actually agreed, a few weeks later, to go with me while I explored ‘The Haunted House’. This house was an abandoned, two-story home in Clifton Road and, why it had been abandoned, I never found out. But, the place must have been empty for a long time for it was well known locally as ‘The Haunted House’.
Clifton Road was just over the Amersham to Chesham road, right opposite our camp entrance. The three of us walked down the road and, just after the first left-hand bend, we arrived at the house, which was on our right. The rear garden of this house backed onto Great Bois Wood. I cannot recall how we got into the place now but, my memory of the events, once inside, haven’t dimmed over the years.
It was very weird and quiet in that empty home and we were more than a bit scared but, we’d probably already frightened ourselves with our imaginations anyway. We crept around the ground floor with the musty smell of the rooms seeming to add to our fear and each of us ready to run for our very lives. Nothing ‘terrible’ happened and, feeling more brave, I quietly went up the stairs. Val and Tommy followed and we peeped into each bedroom. I don't know what we expected to see but nothing happened, no ‘horrible things’ grabbed at us and we all relaxed a notch or two.
I’m amazed that Val and Tommy hadn’t thought twice about going to that house with me after the events down the bottom camp a few weeks earlier. But, I suppose that we were all feeling very courageous with the thought that, having got away from one ‘ghost’ so easily, we could get away from anything. Maybe they’d got a ‘buzz’ out of our previous scare and wanted more. Nevertheless, the house seemed to offer no sign of excitement, other than the original weird and quiet atmosphere that had helped boost our imaginations as we’d entered it.
Soon we were chatting away as if we were in our own homes. I recall glancing down through a window and seeing that thick brambles had almost hidden the area where the rear garden used to be. The whole place had a really forlorn and forgotten feeling about it. Finally, we began to make our way back down the dark stairs towards the ground floor. I was leading as usual, Val followed and Tommy brought up the rear. Then another one of those events occurred that have helped to make my life so interesting and memorable.
I had almost reached the bottom of the stairs and Val, who was probably feeling a bit safer now that we were nearing the relatively brighter light of the lower rooms (not to mention the closeness of the way out), was laughingly saying that it was just a fairy tale when people said the house was haunted. The words had barely left her lips when there was a great crash and she gave a scream that nearly caused Tommy and I to die of sheer terror. I remember looking back up the dark stairs and seeing, to my complete horror, that Val had gone. Somehow she had suddenly vanished and there was only the black form of Tommy between myself and the light filtering down from the rooms at the top of the stairs.
Everything happened so fast. At first I didn’t have time to think of my own safety, I knew that I would be in real trouble if I went home and told mum that I’d lost Val in the Haunted House. Her wrath would be far more frightening than anything lurking in those musty rooms. As he had only just started down the stairs, Tommy's eyes had not had time to adjust to the darkness and he hovered uncertainly near the top of the flight, trapped in the upper part of the house. He hissed down, asking what had happened and I was about to answer when there was a ‘moan’ from the stairway between us, followed by some muffled scraping noises.
Although I was terrified, I felt that I had to know what ‘thing’ had ‘got’ my sister. Much against my instincts, but with Tommy’s presence up above to give me support, I had turned and begun to climb back up the steps, peering hard at a very black patch on the darkened stairway where Val had vanished. For a few seconds I couldn't work out what the black area was. Then I reached out to feel it and discovered that some steps had collapsed and my hand was waving about in a hole.
Suddenly a grey face and shoulders shot up out of the hole right in front of me. Tommy was above and behind the ‘apparition’ and only saw the relative lightness of the shoulders, nevertheless, he let out a scream, turned, and fled back into the upper rooms (where he expected to go from there is anybody's guess, but he must have been very frightened at being trapped up in those rooms on his own).
But Tommy’s fright was nothing compared to the shock that I had. I was kneeling on the steps, just below the hole, looking down into the black void, and the grey form had shot up right in front of my face. The wrath of my mum was forgotten as I let out a bellow of pure fear. I fell back down the remaining steps and began to pick myself up with the intention of running for my own life. I was quite happy, by that stage, to race back home and confess everything. I knew that mum would be able to save Val and Tommy, even if I did get a thrashing for taking the two of them there. Fear for my very life, and the fear of really losing my sister and friend, had now well overcome the fear of getting into trouble with my mum. The situation had become far too serious for my liking, it was time to get some ‘grown-up’ help.
Then, just as I was about to hurtle myself along the hallway and out of that horrible house, Val’s voice called out. I snatched a quick glance behind and could just make out the grey shape of an arm waving beside the head and shoulders on the stairs. Even as I hesitated, I heard Val asking me to help her. It suddenly dawned on me that the ‘ghost’ in the hole on the stairs was my sister.
Within a second, I’d raced back up the dark steps to where Val was trying to climb out of the hole. I shouted up at Tommy to come and help haul her out. There was the rumbling sound of his shoes as he rushed from one of the upper rooms and came down the stairs towards us, and I grabbed one of Val’s hands as she raised her other hand in Tommy's direction.
But Tommy had decided that he’d had enough. Somehow he managed to miss falling into the hole himself and I was almost crushed into the steps as he forced me to one side and hurtled past in a thunder of stomping feet and the whirling of flailing fists. Tommy wanted out and nothing was going to stop him. With a few more bangs and clatters he raced along the hallway and was gone.
Meanwhile, Val was still struggling to get out of the hole. As Tommy raced on past us, her other hand reached back and dug into my shoulder and neck. I was kneeling on the steps again, supporting myself with one hand while I held Val’s other hand. Her full weight came onto my supporting arm and I nearly toppled head-first into that black hole as well. Terrified at the thought of falling into the hole, I tried to back away, but Val’s weight caused me to collapse onto the steps. Val, just as terrified, was determined to use every means possible to get out of the hole. Her hands clawed at my clothes as she pulled herself up, then a knee smashed into the side of my head and the other knee dug into my back. In a frenzy of fear, she tried to finish the job that Tommy had begun and trampled me into the stairs as she struggled to find her footing. Then, she too raced off along the hallway and was gone.
Although I was feeling a bit dazed and bruised, the fear of being left alone in that house helped to get me moving and shortly I was running up towards the camp behind Val and the distant figure of Tommy. None of us stopped or looked around until we were within the safety of our camp limits.
It couldn't have been more than a few minutes, from the time that Val uttered those words regarding the ‘fairy tales’, until we were racing back up to the camp. It all happened so quickly and yet, I can recall every detail now, as if the events had only occurred this afternoon. Although we laughed about the incident later, it certainly hadn’t been very funny for us young children at the time. To my knowledge neither Val nor Tommy ever went into that house again, but I went there two or three times more with other friends.
The explanation of what had happened to Val was easy enough. I had crept down the stairs, keeping close to one of the walls. This had probably saved me from being caught like Val. She, feeling safe with me in front, Tommy behind and no sign of ‘ghosts’, had happily stomped down the middle of the steps, shouting those words of derision at us both as she descended. About halfway down the flight, her weight and momentum had caused the rotten steps to collapse and she fell through into a cupboard below. At first she had been a bit stunned by the fall and sudden shock, and she was speechless with fear. Then she had stood up and her only desire was to get out of that hole as quickly as possible. In the blackness she located, and climbed upon some shelves. That was when her head and shoulders popped up in front of Tommy and I. The highest shelf in that cupboard had enabled her to get a knee on the steps as she used my clothes to pull up on.
Of course, it was only a coincidence that those old steps had given way under Val just at the very moment of her words. But, I have absolutely no explanation for the incident that happened up in the loft at the bottom camp of Beech Barn. Both of these events have given our family and friends many laughs over the years as we’ve related the stories. The comedy of us three children, panicking with fear and fighting each other to get away from ‘things’, has caused listeners to be breathless with laughter as they have pictured our plight in their minds. Nevertheless, those incidents happened just as I’ve related. One is easy to explain and written as an example of the explainable, the other remains a complete mystery.
PS. See my story Mansion of Mystery for more on weird ‘dust clouds’ and the adult version of a panic-stricken race for safety. Or....
Next story - The Half-of-Body Incident.
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