Historical Research of Your Property

The first step in researching the history of a house is to identify as many previous residents as possible. This may be done at the local record office, or a local archives centre which may be found in a nearby public library, or failing these at the National Archives in Kew. Old telephone directories are now online. From the mid-nineteenth century until the 1980s, for many places street directories were published, which would normally give the name of the head of each household. Electoral registers, where available, give the names of every resident adult, except that women were not given the vote until after the First World War. Census returns are available from 1841 until 1911, though these only list the people who were present in the house on the census night, so that, if the family were on holiday at that time, they would not appear. It is sometimes found helpful in Spirit Release to hold a memorial service for deceased residents – we have had this done by a local priest, and read out the names of everyone known to have lived there.

Traumatic events, such as a murder or a suicide, will usually leave a psychic mark upon a house. Though these will probably have been reported in the local if not the national press, since most newspapers have never been indexed, any information may be very difficult to locate. The local studies centre at Hornsey Library in north London, for instance, has a complete set of the local newspaper the Hornsey Journal, but this is of no use unless one knows what one is looking for. Westminster City Archives have a collection of newspaper cuttings concerning particular houses that are arranged by street, and one wishes that more record offices would adopt this procedure. Whilst researching one London house in that borough, I learned that it had been featured in Ideal Home magazine in 1966, which was of little value, since the journalist merely noted some interesting features of the internal décor; but I also learned that a nearby house had then been occupied by a diplomat, and that a fire there killed two of his children, the kind of event that may leave a permanent bad impression on the neighbourhood. A woman who lived near Harrow and Wealdstone station, the scene in 1950 of Britain’s worst ever rail disaster, told us that she considered that the atmosphere of the district had been permanently blighted by this. Old newspapers are nowadays beginning to be put up on the internet, which in time will greatly facilitate this line of research.

The history of the site before the house was built can also be important. One common source of trouble is if bones were disturbed during construction. For example, the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, which has been described as “America’s most haunted house”, was built on the site of an old native American graveyard. The presence of water can sometimes cause problems also, apparently because it contributes to geopathic stress: another celebrated American haunting, at Amityville on Long Island, occurred in a house where a man had shot dead five of his relatives; but part of the reason was thought to be that it was built over an old well, and had a river flowing by the bottom of the garden. One should also study maps, particularly old ones, for traces of ley lines. These are natural energy lines in the earth. Thousands of years ago, when people were more sensitive to such things, they laid out sacred trackways along these lines, whose routes can still often be detected. Building upon them (or at least building secular structures – temples were commonly erected upon them, and in some cases these were replaced in the Christian era by churches) is a mistake. In one south coast town, I noticed from a map that, although most of the place was laid out, in Victorian times, on a grid pattern, in places another road cut across at an angle. Though only parts of this old road survived, since a ruler could be laid across them it was obvious that they were once part of one long straight track. At one end of it was a sacred well, and at the other a prehistoric mound. When Philena and another psychic visited the site, they were able to sense the line, and the path that they picked up on exactly matched what I had deduced from the map. Another reason for identifying ancient sacred sites in the vicinity of a haunted house is that we have found them useful to summon the spirits of the landscape to assist in the clearing of the house.

Gareth Medway

If you would like Gareth to make an historical search of your property, please email philena@spacehealers.com.