Jonathan Schofield takes another look at strange goings on at derelict Manchester railway station
THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN 2018. WITH RHS BRIDGEWATER'S IMPENDING MAYFIELD SHOW WE THOUGHT WE'D...ER..BRING IT BACK TO LIFE.
GHOSTS. Right. Do you believe in them?
I’ve always been beyond sceptical. If you look at the science it’s hard to really believe in the spirit world.
This may seem odd for me to say, given I frequently conduct ghost tours around Manchester, but to me there is no contradiction. I love the story-telling nature of good ghost stories and Manchester has some excellent ones, full of drama, emotion, love and, obviously, death. Big, grand stories in which you can have a little fun with effects and surprises, especially in the lonely dark places of the city.
...suddenly there was this person on the image
However in 2018 during Mayfield Station tours something curious happened. We were visited.
On Sunday 2 September, talented photographerahead of the tour group in the depot of the vast and derelict former railway station next to Piccadilly Station which now hosts Freight Island, club nights and soon, RHS Bridgewater.
She took a photo of the huge empty space.
“I was looking through the pictures later,” says Lottie, “and was about to discard one image when I noticed something which suggested a figure. I then exposed the area to see what it was. There was nobody in front of me when this picture was taken, nobody on the tour, but suddenly there was this person on the image.”
It was the figure of a young woman dressed in maybe sixties or early seventies garb, three-quarters turned away from the camera. It’s a spooky image, it sends a shiver down your spine, yet it is compelling too. The more you look the more you want to learn about her. You can’t help wondering about her face and what she looks like.
Or even, what the bloody hell is going on here?
Below is a picture of the group outside Mayfield, with no-one resembling the woman in the image.
This instance followed on from another. I had a guest a few weeks before Lottie took her picture who introduced himself as a psychic medium. His name was Lee and he was a charming man accompanied by his partner, Laura.
On the tour Lee claimed he had felt a couple of spirits. On the station platform levels he identified a man in a boiler suit who had died in 1968 and had been pacing the central platform ever since. Apparently, this ghost was a gentle sort. Of course, nobody else in the group sensed him. More worryingly though, in the gloom of the depot, Lee identified another spirit, but this one was troubled and angry.
A couple of weeks later Lee and his partner booked themselves on the tour again. They wanted to free the spirits so they could leave for wherever spirits usually go. Afterwards Lee, who apparently has this talent for liberating ghosts, wrote to me: ‘The spirit on the platforms was happy to leave and is now back with his wife and children.’
That’s sweet, I thought.
He then wrote: ‘In the depot there was a spirit in the arches who was unhappy at me for asking him if he wanted to leave. Sometimes when a spirit is unhappy with something it can leave marks on you. I’m home now and Laura has noticed scratch marks on my back. This is not the first time this has happened to me but it all adds to the evidence.’
That was the first time in all my years of guiding someone had shown me a picture of their naked back.
Of course Mayfield is old and there are deaths associated with the area.
There's one of a rail worker hanging himself in the depot and another of a worker falling to his death. Prior to construction the site was the scene of the dreadful and gruesome murder of Thomas Smith in 1905, see feature box below.
Mayfield also once hosted the central Manchester morgue, although that wasn't in the depot but out where the park lies. That was name-checked in the 1974 zombie B-Movie The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue. This was a Spanish-Italian production directed by Jorge Grau. It’s become a cult-classic of the genre. Watch this Youtube clip, it's hilariously scary and gives glimpses of Manchester fifty years ago.
You decide for yourself about the ghostly evidence in this story.
Odd things happen, it is true, yet I remain to be convinced about the supernatural despite the compelling nature of that picture of the young lady stood timelessly still.
The unsolved Mayfield murder
The dreadful murder of Thomas Smith took place in 1905. His body was found in Hoyle Street but no killer, or killers, were ever brought to justice.
A man looking for things to sell in houses that had been emptied prior to demolition for Mayfield Station, found poor Smith gagged and mutiliated. He had been horribly beaten to death.
The post-mortem doctor found he had been ‘outraged’, sexually assaulted in other words. He also thought Smith had not been murdered in the cellar in Hoyle Street but somewhere else and had been dumped there. The police said the cellar doors, both front and back were locked and that a man might possibly have been able to get in and out through the window. Unfortunately, the trail was cold and the body had been there for at least two days.
Smith had lived on Wood Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock. His mother said she knew of no reason why he might leave home. She said that he was a very timid lad and would not go to bed alone. She said that on the Tuesday he had gone out and didn't return. The following day two boys came to see her to know if he was going to work and she wrote to his employers to say that he was not well as she didn't want him to lose his place. She said that she thought he might have been "coaxed away" but didn't know who would do it.
His workplace liked the lad and hoped he would return, hence they had not sent for him sooner. The police turned it into a major case, but despite extensive enquiries found nothing to lead them to a culprit. Given the scale of the investigation Thomas Smith remains one of the UK’s major unsolved murders.
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