Who you gonna call? Inside the world of Sheffield’s ghost-hunting scene

The glorious weather blessing Sheffield’s streets has meant spring evening’s spent in the sun, relaxing in a beer garden or hiking the hills of the peak district.

But not for everyone.

Sheffield residents have been trading their hiking boots and sunscreen for night vision goggles and Ouija Boards as an influx of paranormal investigations sweep the Steel City.

Sheffield Fire and Police Museum, Tapton Hall and Clifton Museum in Rotherham are among the many popular hot-spots for ghost hunters, with all three being visited at the weekend.

Other venues in South Yorkshire include: Doncaster Air Museum, Endcliffe Hall, Wormsworth Hall and the former Stanley Tools Factory.

Doncaster man Stuart Dawson was dragged to a paranormal investigation by his wife Rosey as a birthday present to herself 14 years ago.

“I didn’t want to be there really but a few weird things happened that I thought were quite interesting.”

Surprised by what he found, Stuart volunteered at a ghost-hunting company for two years before deciding to set up Simply Ghost Nights with Rosey in 2009.

By day Stuart works as a taxi driver and Rosey at a local super-market in Doncaster, by night they host paranormal investigations, holding up to 70 a year.

“One of the weirdest things I experienced, I was calling out to the spirits and it was just like smoke engulfed this room so I went to check and I said ‘Is there a spirit in there?’ and there was and they had been injured in a fire, it was using a spirit box (which produces white noise), I said ‘has anyone in there been injured in a fire?’ and it replied ‘yes’.”

Simply Ghost Nights is opening new venues and hosts up to 50 guests on each hunt.

On a typical evening at Simply Ghost Nights, guests are split into small groups and taken into different areas of the haunted building, using various ghost-hunting tools to communicate with ‘the other side’.

“Often the feedback we get from guests is about the amount of equipment that we have, most of the stuff you see off the TV we have got. We have K2’s, spirit boxes, ouija boards, divination rods, divination crystals, rem pods, sound enhances, motion detectors, motion sensors,” said Stuart.

“We have a whole host of things in what we call ‘Kiddy Corner’ where we have dolls which interact with spirits, that can pick up fluctuations in temperature.”

Ghost-hunting is a rapidly expanding industry with shows like Most Haunted, Ghost Adventures and Celebrity Ghost Hunt sparking a growing interest in the paranormal.

But it is not a new phenomenon. The earliest recorded reference to a ghost-hunt was in 61-113AD in a letter by Pliny the Younger, although the event described took place a century earlier and could be based on hearsay.

During the medieval period any person attempting to communicate with or investigate ghosts would have been vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft and as a result there are few recordings at this time.

A rare late example is the 1662 ‘poltergeist’ episode known as the ‘Drummer of Tedworth’, who was investigated by Joseph Glanvill.

However, ghost hunting started in earnest in the early Victorian period as a fascination with the unknown.

Christopher French, Head of Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmith University, believes the reason we are so fanatical about the paranormal is often because of a ‘cognitive bias’ – a deviation from rationality in judgement.

He said: ” The single most pervasive cognitive bias that there is, is what we call confirmation bias and this is something that we all suffer with in many aspects of our lives. It is the notion that there is something that we would like to be true or something that we already believe is to be true, then the evidence to reinforce that doesn’t have to be that strong for us to accept it.

“The idea of our own mortality is something that we don’t feel too comfortable with. The idea that when our bodies die, that’s the end of us, the idea that our loved ones, once they’re dead, that’s it, we wont have any contact with them again, we don’t like that very much either,” he added.

Whether we are seeing things we want to believe or whether they are actually happening, the ghost-hunting business is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

A regular customer of Simply Ghost Nights, Rachel Malton, said: “I didn’t fully believe until I started ghost hunting on Simply Ghost Nights and now its like an addiction, it’s so active in these buildings, I just needed to go back.

“The first time I ever went, I was in a cell on my own with ear enhances on and they were encouraging us to call out so I said ‘is anybody there?’ and I heard a women say, clear as day ‘Yes I am’, how can you explain that?”

The next event to be hosted by Simply Ghost Nights in Sheffield will be Sheffield Fire and Police Museum on 15 June.

The company also organises corporate events, team building and bespoke events.