Monday 16 June 2014

Don Philips at Woodchester Mansion

The phenomenon, or phenomena- plural, which we know as "ghosts" is, or are, far more common than you might think. Most people you know in your social life would be able to tell you their own personal ghost story... if they're reassured that you won't laugh at them. Some places are more prone to this kind of activity than others; these are the places we call a "haunted". Factors that can induce a haunting are a major or recurring amount of human suffering, fear and death; hospitals, battlefields and murder scenes therefore score high on that list. Old buildings are more likely to be the chosen residences of ghosts than newer ones, case in point: Woodchester Mansion. Don Philips of GSI Paranormal UK is one of the top paranormal investigators in this much-neglected field of research and he and I have collaborated on projects several times before, for example see: and: In a forthcoming film he and his team target Woodchester Mansion to see what they can find out about the strange goings on reported there, see here for the trailer:
Woodchester Mansion has a strange history. It sits on land acquired in the 17th Century by First Baronet Sir Robert Ducie, who was Lord Mayor of London and a principle Royal banker. The Ducie family continued to live on the estate until the Victorian age. For quite obscure reasons, they chose to build Woodchester Mansion in the 1850's right at the bottom of a Gloucestershire valley below a steep north-facing slope; this means that the location is in permanent shadow except close to mid-summer. The house was planned in the Gothic Revivalist style complete with weird gargoyles, but it was abandoned unfinished in 1870 and has never been completed. Even some of the original wooden scaffolding is still in place. The reason for the cancellation of the project might have been the death of William Leigh, the architect, but another story is that the builders abandoned the site after being scared witless by creepy apparitions. The locale has been targeted by animal mutilation and ghostly activity is frequently reported to this day.

The cellars are most often nominated as a location of odd goings-on, as indeed Don's team found out. In fact their investigation proved to be one of GSI's most alarming ever. Voices, breathing sounds and loud banging noises emerge and, as you can see in the trailer, the participants flee from the cellar screaming! One of them was so upset that she needed to be temporarily removed from the investigation. Meanwhile, Don and the others were patrolling the upper floors trying to find evidence of spirit intrusion, and they succeed; there was a remarkable incident in the bathroom where voices once again spoke out of thin air. The film is atmospheric and well as informative and is definitely worth watching. I recommend seeing it as soon as it's available. Keep watching the GSI Paranormal UK website for details of its launch: Don is a very controversial figure in the realm of paranormal investigation and is regularly criticized for his unorthodox methods, both from the Skeptic and non-Skeptic sides. One of his most determined detractors is Hayley Stevens, see: The points she makes about electronic voice phenomena- EVP, are that the entire technique is useless because the only sounds gathered are random noise caused by a recorder's auto-gain system. This is a function that raises the microphone's sensitivity when the ambient sounds drop, like when people all sit still when waiting for a spirit voice. The human brain interprets these random noises as recognizable words because our brains are hardwired to pick patterns out of chaotic white noise; this is called apophenia and Trystan Swale has written about the subject here: Another source she claims causes Don's "AVP's" are external interference, nuisance electronic signals which inadvertently cause sounds to appear on the track. Both these arguments are false. In this HPANWO Show Don and I explain why: In this radio show I challenge Trystan himself on this matter, see: Apophenia is simply an audio equivalent of pareidolia, the way our brains' visual centre fools us into thinking we see an organized shape in a meaningless matrix. However it's an explanation that can easily lead to fallacy, see here for details: Interest in paranormal research is increasing at the moment; some of this is due to unprofessional popularization on disreputable TV shows and outright fraud, but not all by any means. I hope we're on the verge of a breakthrough, but I know there are forces of reaction at work too. Nevertheless I'm confident that Don is determined to persevere. If a breakthrough does occur it may well be Don who is behind it.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

This is a great review of Don and the GSI team's Woodchester Mansion dvd. I like that you've provided links so we can see for ourselves how the ineptitude of tired arguments about spirit voice phenomena. Hayley Stevens and her ilk are just irresponsible bloggers. Her personal attacks on Don Philips are tantrums of a child not the educated expressions of a respectable investigator or researcher. I can hardly wait to see the dvd myself!