The Ryde Easter Ghost
by Raymond Lamont Brown
THE ISLE OF WIGHT has had its fair share of ghostly happenings and mysteries: puzzles like the ventriloquial skull of Craigie Lodge, at Ventnor. The case centred on the discovery of the lower jaw of a child by a gardener while digging some flower beds. This skull was used by psychometrist (one who purports to divine the secret properties of things by mere contact) Mrs Hugh Pollock to forecast the discovery of another skull nearby. The occurrence promoted a great deal of publicity in the 1930s. The Isle of Wight ghost, however, was of a much more private nature.
Amelia Raynham, the prominent soprano of the 1890s, had been a firm friend of our family for many years before my kinsman Lt-Col Richard Purves met her in the late September in 1929. Even though she was an old lady then, she had an active mind and a needle-sharp wit. At eighty, her memory was sharp as ever and her Chelsea apartment was a popular musical and literary salon. Knowing that cousin Richard was at the time collecting more strange ghost stories for a further private dossier, she invited him to tea, to tell him of her ghostly encounter on the Isle of Wight.
For the Raynhams, All Saints Church, Ryde, had many family associations. Amelia Raynham's mother had attended Princess Christian, when, on behalf of Queen Victoria, the princess laid the church's foundation stone in 1869. And in 1872 the Raynhams had been present when the church was consecrated by Bishop Wilberforce.
During the Easter of 1900 Amelia Raynham was staying with friends at Appley Park. Normally her visits to the Isle of Wight were a matter of great pleasure to her, but on this occasion personal grief spoilt her vacation. It was then almost nine months since the Boer War in South Africa had broken out, and her brother George had been reported missing. The last the family had heard of him was that he had been seen at 8.30 pm on 23 January 1900 among the advance column attacking the Boer positions at Spion Kop, where his superior officer Major-General E R P Woodgate was in command. The ensuing battle of Spion Kop was perhaps the bloodiest, and certainly the most futile, engagement of the whole South African War. Thus the Raynhams believed the worst.
For solace in her grief, Amelia Raynham visited familiar All Saints Church and it was there she encountered the strange phantom. Throughout, her story was corroborated by her friend Marjorie Banks, who had come over for the day from Newport. It was mid-afternoon when Amelia Raynham and her friend entered All Saints Church. And for a few minutes they walked round the outer aisles admiring the architecture, which all considered the best specimens of Sir George G Scott's work. At length they sat in one of the pews near the high altar and began to discuss what might have hap- pened to George.
As they were quite alone in the church they turned their heads to see who had come in when the church door clanked open. To their surprise they heard the door close again, but no one came into view. Strangest of all was the sound of footsteps heard proceeding down the nave, past them, and right up to the altar. But no one was to be seen. There the footsteps stopped. Puzzled, the two women went to investigate and could find no one. The church was entirely empty but for themselves. They stood for a moment in the sunshine, which slanted through the church windows, and wondered at the footfalls, which appeared to be made by heavy cavalry, or army boots, for there had also been a clear clinking sound like spurs jingling.
Just as the two women were making to leave, the invisible boots sounded again, and near the altar they saw an officer with head bowed facing the main window. The soldier turned and Amelia Raynham saw that it appeared to be her missing brother George. With echoing footsteps her brother walked down the aisle towards her with arms outstretched. She ran to meet him, but as she came close she saw that his face was covered with blood from a terrible head wound and that his jacket was soaked in the gore and stained with mud. In a moment the figure of the soldier disappeared right in front of her.
Marjorie Banks had been watching this all the time and she ran to where her friend was standing sobbing. Carefully Miss Banks searched all the nearby pews, but could find no trace of the phantom soldier. For a few minutes in broad daylight the ghostly officer had seemed flesh and blood to the two women.
Instinctively Amelia Raynham knew that she had seen the ghost of her brother, who must now be declared dead. The strange story was later discussed by members of the Society for Psychical Research, whose theory on the phenomenum was that, because of the close attachment between Amelia Raynham and her brother, there would be a positive telepathic rapport. In this way brother and sister would be 'in tune' on the same wavelength of thought vibrations.
Again, because he was already in her thoughts, said the psychics, Captain Raynham's spirit was able to communicate with her in surroundings which brought back such happy memories of childhood holidays spent together. Even in the spirit form Captain Raynham remembered that the church would be a place to which his sister would always return and so he chose that place in which to materialise and show her his fate. The materialisation was so powerful as to be visible to a third, and telepathically unconnected, witness.
Captain Raynham was gazetted as having been killed on 23 January 1900 at Spion Kop. Amelia Raynham herself died in 1932, and on her death was found a verbatim account of the event which, as far as is known, has never been repeated in All Saints Church, Ryde.