Episode 2

Episode Two

Derby Gaol Friar Gate Ghost Walk takes place in the city of Derby, in the Midlands of the UK. This tour ran for over three hours and is subsequently the longest episode. This gaol (the more antiquated British spelling of jail) consists of two key sites, which we take listeners to, namely the 1756 gaol in Friar Gate and Vernon Gate Prison. This circular walk takes us from Derby Gaol, across Friar Gate, to Vernon Gate, then along Agard Street back to the Gaol.

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In Episode Two, we delve even further into how our own understanding of what a ghost tour consists of informs our expectations and vice versa, to act on and reinforce one another. As this is the only tour visited this series to own their site, this is discussed in the context of staging, as well as the role of narrative. These points are used to further address how a tour guide utilises affordances (or potentialities) in the tangible surroundings to create the impression of a temporal shift.

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The episode and the tour start with our guide coughing and shouting, ‘What do you want!?’ through the look-out door of the gaol. Dressed as Blythe Simpson (shown in fig.1), one of the gaol’s longest serving jailers, the guide proceeds to open the door, allowing the visitors to cross the threshold, before checking them in. In the podcast, we talk at length about how owning the physical site allows the operators to contain and mould the visitor experience to a far greater extent than the tours which must rely on the built historic city centres as a tangible essence from which to draw an eerie connection between the then of the events and the tales in the now. It is this sense of shared space the tours all used to shrink the temporal distance between the figures and events in the narrative and our present, yet these tours were at the mercy of external interference with the capacity to shatter the carefully-crafted haunted atmosphere the tour guide had spent their time and energy creating.

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The sound of traffic was included in order to give podcast listeners a realistic idea of what it was like to be on the ghost tour in real life. This was also in order to help listeners to understand in these specific contexts how certain sounds can come to ‘belong’ whilst others notably do not. This impression was typically formed by sounds which were aligned with modernity, and thus contradictory to the impressions given to the best of the guide’s ability that they were walking us back through time, allowing us to rub shoulders with ghosts. Hence the apparent need to stage the ghost tours in the historic urban landscape. The sounds of modernity, in this episode, particularly embodied by the hecklers and traffic were a discordant interruption, but their lack of place in the narrative and past-world did also serve to demonstrate that the guide had successfully generated an enchanted atmosphere inside which the tour existed and which repelled unwelcome external forces. The heckling in particular was a reminder that this, whilst a cultural experience, is commodified. The requirement of monetary investment helps to distinguish those who are participants willing to suspend their disbelief and scepticism and those who are not and would mock it. While not every participant may have been there because they believed in ghosts, the willing participant from everyone through the entire tour, with lack of disbelieving comment, showed that as group members there exists a collective understanding for the tour to be an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, everyone’s behaviour must be for the collective good. No tour participant throughout recording attempted to shatter the atmosphere for others. This suggests that in order to participate in such a ghost tour, there is required not only a knowledge of cultural symbols and archetypes associated with the spooky, there must also be appreciation to some extent. This harkens back to episode one in York, where, after just a few minutes of exposure to priming by the guide, situated in the historic city centre, with many media references of the horror/gothic genre being bandied about, the tour group were able to reproduce archetypally spooky sounds, such as the maniacal laugh and squeaky hinges.

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The tour guide, upon granting access to the arriving tour participants, would show them into a candle-lit parlour with a fire in the grate. The part of the old gaol building owned by the tour company is situated in the lowest part of the building. The gaol is therefore cold, dark and smelled of damp stone, with small windows and heavy, iron-studded doors. This walk, much like the others, contained a strong historical element, and the guide began by contextualising the gaol through historical details by, for example, talking about the types of crimes which could get people sent there. In the podcast, we talk at length about the guides use of costume and address in the character of Blythe Simpson.The ownership of the site allows for re-enactments of past sequences of behaviour, such as Blythe Simpson shouting at arrivals and later being locked in the condemned cell (listen to episode two!), with the designed effect of looping time in this space back to a past in which these actions were carried out with the real intent of punishing and inflicting pain and suffering. Such actions within this space, with visitors enclosed by the same stones which played witness to these events of the past, which were literally touched by them, has them ring with the resonance of such actions. The historical saturation of this space was then painted with narratives and scare tactics designed to deliver on the expectations of a ghost tour.

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The guide, in costume as historical figure Blythe Simpson, is rendered part of the staging. The visitors may figure that if he exists in that bygone time (1700s-1800s) whilst addressing us, it stands to reason that we are back then with him. The guide therefore becomes a tangible personification of the history represented in this space, also exemplified by the assortment of archaic artefacts related to the past activities of the gaol shown in figs.1-5. The guide only presented himself as Simpson for the introductory portion of the tour, but even then, he slipped in and out of character, sometimes in the gruff voice of the jailer referring to a past in the now, sometimes in his own voice as our guide in the 21st Century. In this way, he moved through time, whilst remaining in the same place, joining the taleworld (the world within the story) to the story realm (the present in which he is addressing the audience) together. Despite being in costume, when he did drop the voice of Simpson to return to his own, it gave his statements a greater validity and made more sense coming from the tour guide, as it is necessary to be in the present in order to have the benefit of hindsight. In his role, he connects the group to and moves them between different points in time, so it has to come from a point of retrospect, as it would seem strange if he were to refer to the present whilst still in character. Therefore, by breaking character, he was able to preserve the enchanted register by not allowing the time-spaces to become entangled in a confusing way, while maintaining the potential to step back into the role. The guide did resume his role as jailer in order to reactivate the performative register, allowing him, again, to move between grammatical tenses, with the character of the past reaching forwards in narrative and us reaching back from a historical viewpoint.

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This episode also introduces two key words. The first being pareidolia, which is the incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer. The second key word of the episode is priming. This was exemplified when we filed into the cells with the CD of spooky sounds lending an atmospheric backdrop, the slamming and locking of the cell doors and the clinking of heavy chains therein. This use of sounds, or sonic resonance, was another way in which the tour guide can curate the attributes of the surroundings we, the tourists, come into contact with, creating the overwhelming impression that the past resonates deeply in this space. Such sounds, especially so early in the tour, are a great example of how the tour guides prime the audience to perceive the spooky. In tandem with such visual cues as fig.2, etc, and having just walked through the yard of the gaol, full of contraptions of execution and torture, the visitors’ imagination is folded into the genre of the ghost tour, the full participation in which demands a certain level of suspended disbelief. Having already booked the ghost tour, we may speculate that people arrive with pre-conceived expectations of the tour, which each guide then worked hard to deliver on.

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The historical saturation of this space was then painted with narratives and scare tactics designed to deliver on the expectations of a ghost tour. After a lengthy introduction, we were shut in the condemned cell, even the existence of which reinforced the sentiments the guide had just conveyed in reference to how the gaol was used. Being directed to enter quietly and without any lights allowed a depth of re-enactment that the other tours in this series could not access, and being told to imagine we had been shut in the dark with our conscience led to a depth of empathy for those past lives which had inhabited the same space but in even worse conditions. This has the desired effect of bringing the past to bear on the present, sharpening the resonance of what was done in the very same space 300 years ago, shrinking the distance between the then and now in a sensory experience. Smelling the same damp stones, hearing the same door slam behind us and having just heard such horrible details and methods of execution led to heightened emotions, with the visitor’s sense straining in the dark. Before entry, the guide had also naturally told the tour group how this cell had been featured on a television programme called Most Haunted, and how the crucifix had moved on that very bench. The anticipation was therefore palpable in the cell, having been built up making it more likely people will react in a certain way, and sure enough, the heavy chains across the floors began to clink and they snaked back and forth, seemingly of their own volition, and there was a load banging on the walls. People cried out but also started to laugh, indicating that the group were aware that this enactment of haunted behaviour from a malcontent ghost was the pay-out of cognitive and financial investment in the ghost tour and the expectations the genre carries.

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Genre, as a cognitive tool, informs form, content and function. The genre of the ghost tour utilises particular modes of expression, and the oral narratives are typically made place-specific meaning, ensuring tourists will travel to them. However, on a ghost tour, we always know how the narrative ends – in death, and particularly at Derby Gaol, where people were executed. The narratives therefore give a configurational comprehension. The end of the narrative is connected to the promise of the beginning and vice versa, so the necessity of the backwards reference cancels out, as stories do not usually flow backwards. However, this is not the impression the audience is left with, as the guide works, largely through manipulating our perception of our surroundings, to place us back in time only then to move forwards with the narrative. If successfully told, it should not feel retrospective, particularly in the instance of a ghost tour as we need to believe there is the potential for interaction for the ghostly in the here and now. In this way, the tour participants are allowed into the narrative cycle, and this is achieved by allowing us to go back to enter pockets of time within the narrative we then move forwards with. The focus on murders and tragic deaths implies the action which brought the demise about, and the action demands to be interpreted. A narrative is a semiotic representation of a series of events meaningfully connected in a temporal and causal way, making it a manifestation of experientiality. The narratives therefore give the explanation behind goal-orientated actions.

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This movement of actions through time, the texture given pattern by the narrative, also explains the role of space. For example, the guide leading us to Vernon Gate Prison and using the narrative of the hanged to explain the spatial layout of what was revealed to be the execution room, from which people stepped onto the scaffolding in front of a crowd come to watch them hang. The tangible and intangible heritage of these spaces are therefore entangled. The narrative brings these spaces to life in the light of their former lives, and vice versa, with the spaces lending a tangible essence to the narrative, making them feel immersive and full of real potential. By embedding the experience within the taleworld within certain framework, the meaning is individualised. The narrative therefore draws on particular aspects of the surroundings and utilises certain language choices related to the genre of the experience, using the template of configurational symbols associated with the spooky and gothic to create a meaning. The creation of meaning is within our own minds, often pre-structured as we tend to paint reality with the brush of our expectations. Derby Gaol is therefore the perfect example of the entanglement between the tangible and intangible affordances of this ghost tour, because as they own their site, they can stage it according to their mode of use and thus the narratives can draw on specifically staged parts of the infrastructure, and the infrastructure can be manipulated to more clearly relate and support the narratives. Meaning is created in a dialogical manner, so the visitors, with bodies and minds as interpretive forces, are therefore in a space which works with the narrative to prime their imaginations to perceive the paranormal, effectively shifting their worldview.

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Derby Gaol uses its staging potential to give form to that which is formless; i.e. ghosts, as they must have a form to exist in the discourse, even if just symbolic. This was exemplified by the staging of a haunted experience in the condemned cell, by banging on the walls and rattling chains, and later, with a jumper-outer, which gave us the last scream of Episode Two. This assistance in perception of a threat was an interesting phenomenon in such an environment, as through priming it truly did create fear in relation to the paranormal, despite the true ghosts having a quieter presence. Without a form, things do not really exist in the human world, which is why changing the words which we use to understand something changes the thing itself in our minds. By giving form to the ghosts and cultivating a haunted experience, the ghost endures. This is also the reason why we cannot say that someone did not perceive a ghost – because the form is in the mind and within the discourse. Therefore, the function of belief must be grounded in the discourse, which reveals the extent of the role of narrative in orientating worldview. The indepth manner in which Derby Gaol was also able to use the site to support the narrative implications helped the anchor the paranormal aspect of the tour, as the amount of evidence the tour was able to put before the audience lent credence and believability to the venture as a whole, as many ghost tours strive to imply their ghosts’ authenticity throughout the tour.

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These examples shown in the figs. below also demonstrate how the genre of the ghost tour (discussed on Episode One’s webpage) not only carries a template of behaviour for both guide and tourists, but also engenders a chronotope in order to meet touristic expectations. The expectations which accompany the genre implicit in a ghost tour are those also linked to an idea of a time-space, which is revealed in narrative, especially narrative intended to reveal truth claims. Hence, we refer to the manner in which the gaol is staged, with cabinets full of old artefacts related to past uses of the gaol (figs.3-5), including a skeleton in the corner (fig.6) and stuffed crow and skull (fig.7) in the common room, also staged to reflect a bygone arrangement of the space. Chronotopes are space-time configurations, the concept coming from Mikhail Bakhtin,

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who states that narrative plot is uniquely suited to capturing truths about time, causal complexity and space. The concept of the chronotope therefore bridges plot, narrated events and the real world, and is critical to understanding this capacity, whether in fiction, histories or ghost stories. Chronotopes, as their own pockets of space-time, ark the borders of activities, cupping an inner world which hosts it’s own textures of space wedded to the rhythms of time. Narrative provides the pattern capable of explaining this texture. Every ghost tour in this series of The Ghostlore Podcast attempted to engender the chronotope ideal for manifesting the ghosts referred to in the narratives by staging the tour in the historic city centres. However, for Derby Gaol, owning their site afforded them the singular opportunity to create far more definitive boundaries between the world within the chronotope, and the exterior world. Whilst in episodes one and three, bleeding across this boundary is more common, with intrusive sounds a near constant in the background, Derby Gaol gives people a literal threshold to cross and a solid door to slam behind them, sealing the chronotope more effectively than any of the other tours. In the instance of the ghost tour, the narrative is not just that; it also represents a potentiality of the space, as people often expect, and the guides attempt to deliver a haunted experience and paranormal encounter. The ghost tours therefore each draw upon the aged surfaces of the historic urban landscape as tangible affordances representative of a bygone time. This makes it the ideal setting to engender spatio-temporal archetypes of the archaic, including attitudes to death and the structures which hosted such events. Narrative therefore becomes an intangible affordance of the same spaces, with the design of allowing tour participants to experience a sense of proximity to the events of the past.

To visit the tour, click the link below:

https://richard-felix.co.uk/derby-ghost-walks/