London Paranormal Society
From prisons to disused nuclear bunkers, the London Paranormal Society is notorious for its vigils in creepy historic locations. Time Out goes along to get spooked
‘D’you want to just hover around for a bit?’ asks Dee, who's here to meet and greet this evening’s adventurers. Given that we’re going on an all-night ghost hunt, her choice of words is perfect – bring on the big billowy sheets with eye holes cut in them! Or rather, don’t. Tonight’s outing is organised by the London Paranormal Society, a group who distinguish themselves by focusing on London’s lesser known sites of historical interest, from the spooky depths of the Clink prison to a secret nuclear bunker in Essex. Tonight’s venue is the Ragged School Museum in Mile End, a former Dr Barnado’s school for disadvantaged kids; built in 1872, it’s beautiful, big, and humming with history.
‘The whole point of the LPS is to be historical, not hysterical,’ says its founder Ian Shillito, just before the hunt begins. Psychic since he was a child, Ian has gleaming eyes and a grand sense of drama, having worked in theatre for 17 years before setting up the LPS. He’s not interested in shock-horror ghosts, he says, but what he calls residual energies – meaning the ‘stain’ of energy we leave in a place we've spent a lot of time in. ‘A classic example is the guy in a London cellar who saw a Roman army march by – but only from the knees up, because the energies were buried so low,’ he says. Is that the sort of thing we can expect to see tonight then? ‘Expect everything and nothing,’ says Ian, tantalisingly.
The LPS team: Ian Shillito third from left © Scott Wishart
While Ian’s approach is pretty sober, fellow medium Steve has flicky blond hair and is tossing a ball in the air, muttering, ‘Let’s see who wants to play.’ There’s a buzz of nervous excitement in the museum tearoom where the 20 or so would-be ghost hunters are assembling; mainly women, mainly young-ish, these include two excitable Capital Radio competition winners, brandishing a massive torch.
Having introduced us to tonight’s special guests (mediums, a paranormal psychotherapist and a psychic artist called June), Ian turns all the lights off and takes us through a meditation. ‘This opens up all your senses into one big super-sense,’ he says, and I begin to wonder how much I want to be in a state of psychic dilation.
The answer – once we’ve moved to a cold, dank, pitch black room in the school’s basement – is, not a lot. ‘I’m feeling a cool breeze,’ says Martin the medium, ‘a sign of activity.’ When the group starts commenting on tiny flashing lights 15 minutes in, I realise I'm the only person with my eyes squeezed shut. Ian calls on any spirit that might be present to give us a sign. There’s a creak. ‘Did everyone hear that?’ he asks.
Yes, we murmur. He calls out again. Another creak. I’m simultaneously desperate to hear more creaks, and desperate to run out the door screaming (if I could see it, that is). After an hour of speculating, calling and creaking, we return to the tearoom to meet up with the other groups for our first break.
Wired on adrenaline and scoffing biscuits, the general feeling is of elation. People are laughing slightly too loud, and someone from scary Pete’s group has video footage of a chair moving on its own. ‘This is brilliant!’ beams one of the Capital Radio winners. We move on to a blacked-out schoolroom for the next session, where Ian’s walkie-talkie inexplicably bursts into life and even he yelps, ‘Christ!’. Then it's time for the evening’s cabaret-spot. The LPS has organised a link-up with the Dark Encounters group in Portsmouth; together, we’re going to have a cross-county seance. We sit on the floor of a shadowy stockroom and Ian calls Dark Encounters on his mobile: ‘Hiiiii!’ they shout, on loudspeaker. ‘Hiiiiii!’ we shout back. We’re going to try to send them a psychic message just by thinking about it. Ten minutes later they call back, having ‘received’ the name ‘Eleanor’. That wasn’t actually our message (we requested creaks), but Eleanor is the manager of the Ragged School, sitting here now, and she looks suitably baffled, as the group giggle in the dark. The mediums call out a little more, but the atmosphere has turned from spookathon to slumber party, one lad turning to his friend and whispering, ‘This is not very scientific.’
It’s true – put 20 people into a cold room and the air temperature will increase, metals and wood will expand, and there will be funny noises. So what is the point of it all? ‘Well,’ says Ian, ‘I think a lot of people come for entertainment, because they see what’s on TV and they want to experience that. But I also offer them the chance of experiencing something they can’t explain. Which opens up the doorway to the possibility of something else.’ It broadens your mind, in other words? ‘I think people always ask questions, and it’s to do with spirituality to a certain level, with mortality, and what's happening in the world at the moment. If you look back in history, you note spikes around every world war.’
It is fascinating stuff, and whether it’s on a consciously deep level or not, people do seem to love these brushes with the paranormal: ‘It’s just so exciting,’ enthuses Vicky, who’s been to five LPS events already, ‘You don’t know what the explanation for any of it is.’ Leaving the Ragged School at dawn, I start to wonder: now that roller-coasters, bungee jumps, and white knuckle rafting are commonplace, could it be that people are looking to another world to get their kicks? Now that would be a really scary thought. Big white sheet, anyone?
The London Paranormal Society’s next vigil is at the Greenwich Theatre on June 30 (www.londonparanormalsociety.co.uk)
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