Saturday, 20 February 2010

Harbourne Haunted Pub!!

From The Archives

The Court Oak – Balden Road – Harborne – Birmingham


Built in 1932, the Court Oak could hardly be classed as an 'ancient hostelry' - though, for what it lacks in years, it amply seem to make up in ghostly activity! Pub Manager, Lillian Campbell, told the W.M.G.C. that she didn't really believe in ghosts until she moved to Harborne in November 2000.

While she had apparently resided at a number of pubs that supposedly held a 'haunted' reputation, none have ever given her the slightest cause to revise her somewhat sceptical outlook on the subject of ghosts. 'But do you believe in them now?' we enquired after hearing the impressive catalogue of happenings currently occurring at the site….

'Yes!' came the most definite of answers: she either had to believe something was going on at the pub, or - quite simply - she was going mad!...... It is rumoured that the town gallows once stood in close proximity to where the Court Oak is now situated, and the pub ghost - said to be the apparition of a woman dressed in black and white - was one of the unfortunates who lost their life there. Local legend has it that the woman was tried and executed on a charge of 'infanticide' - a crime that she didn't actually commit! (Subsequent contact with an authority on the history of the Harborne area failed to turn up any leads regarding the site of the town gallows, or any reference to the aforementioned murder and /or execution?)

Much of the alleged activity is said to go on in a section of the pub which Lillian affectionately called The West Wing. (Having checked with a compass, we can now reveal that, technically, this is actually a North wing!) It has to be pointed out that – circa. 2001 - the premises had undergone a £500,000 refurbishment and alteration process; a procedure that has quite commonly been associated with possibly ‘instigating’ ghostly phenomenon in a number of situations.

A whole plethora of potentially paranormal activity has been reported at the Court Oak. Bottles of wine are found to have been smashed in the locked wine cellar overnight; objects regularly move seemingly of their own volition and entire light fittings have been pulled from their fixed positions. Contrary to the legend that the pub ghost is female, the Manager reports having possibly seen a male apparition on two occasions in the bar(?)

Both times the figure had only been seen fleetingly out of the corner of her eye leading the objective Mrs. Campbell to inevitably question what she may have seen. On both occasions, she had received the impression of a light blue (pale denim) colour associated with the form; peculiarly, the same colour as the uniforms worn by pub staff members. (Though, clearly, no members were present at the time).

Around the day that the pub first opened, one staff member, Trish, was working alone in the Store Room when she heard a knocking noise apparently coming from an external wall. Thinking it may have been a Business Rep. wishing to gain entry to the building, she went through a nearby fire exit, but found no one outside.

Re-entering the Store Room only seconds later, she was dumbfounded to find a large carton of cream, from a nearby shelf, standing upright in the centre of the floor. (* It should be explained that some of the old, external doors to the building have now been covered over internally, but still externally look like functioning doors. One such door apparently features in the wall of the Store Room and this was the reason why Trish initially believed a Rep. might have been knocking in that area). Within the 2-3 weeks immediately prior to the Ghost Club investigation of the Court Oak, potential paranormal happenings were noted.

Lillian Campbell had her second possible sighting of a male figure in the bar, and also later heard the sound of mops and buckets being moved in the empty female toilets. A member of staff was checking her hair in a mirror attached to the boiler Room door in a cellar corridor, when the door started opening of its own accord. The staff member is said to have fled in terror!

Visit One: Fri. 23rd - Sat. 24th March 2001

Investigators present : Len Jackson, Darren Simpson, Roger Simpson, Geoff Brown and Anne Brown. (The latter mentioned two investigators are members of the Black Country Paranormal Society). Also, until approx. 2.45am, Court Oak Manager Lillian Campbell was present. Two 45 minute vigils were held during the early hours of the morning. Vigil one was held with all researchers in the bar area of the pub, while vigil two saw three researchers in the bar and the other three in the cellar(s).

Nothing of significance was noted during the vigils, save for some anomalous white lines crossing a security surveillance camera being monitored by Roger Simpson. Upon checking through the video footage that had been taken throughout the night, it was found that nothing of an anomalous nature had been picked up visually. However, a number of inexplicable sounds had been caught on the audio portion of the footage which had been taken in the 'Wine Cellar'.

The sounds concerned, included: numerous footsteps; a very loud crashing sound, and a noise akin to someone blowing across the neck of an empty bottle! No anomalous sounds were detected on any of the recordings made in other parts of the building.

Visit Two: Fri. 15th June - Sat. 16th June 2001

Investigators present: Len Jackson, Darren Simpson and Roger Simpson.

Having phoned the Court Oak in order to arrange a second visit, the Ghost Club was informed of another possible sighting of an apparition at the pub. Only a matter of days prior to our calling, Lillian Campbell and her partner, Mark, had been in the bar after closing time (approx. midnight, on June 10th) when he suddenly claimed to have caught a fleeting glimpse of a masculine figure, dressed in a light blue, denim colour, passing through the room. Unfortunately, Lillian happened to be facing in a completely different direction at the time and saw nothing - though both the general description of the figure and the location in which it was seen tallies almost exactly with Lillian’s own experience at Christmas. (See 'Introduction' above). A further sighting of the 'denim clad' figure comes from one of the pub's regulars, who claims to have seen such a form in a supposedly empty section of the building at a time before the extensive refurbishment took place.

The main point of our second visit to the Court Oak was to endeavour to investigate the array of inexplicable sounds that had been recorded in the Pub's 'Wine Cellar' during our previous stay. A number of recordings - both (Digital) audio and Video - were made in this area throughout the night, and a single vigil was held by the entire team at 3.40 am. During the latter mentioned sitting, all of the group heard a loud 'crash', very much like - if not exactly the same as - one of the sounds from our recordings. Initial investigations proved fruitless - though a very similar noise was subsequently noted as coming from a piece of cellar equipment that was later identified as an ice making machine. This machine is activated by temperature fluctuations via a thermometer, rather than a timer. If the sounds had been regularly spaced, we would have no doubt soon realised that it was merely an effect of some controlled machinery. Under the circumstances, the sheer 'randomness' of the sounds gave considerable food for thought and took us a while to unearth their true origins…..!!

As yet, both the considerable amount of 'footsteps' and the 'blowing sound' that were recorded in the early hours of March 24th remain unexplained. Extensive 'stomping' in the bar area by a 16st.+ member of the Club (wearing 'Army Boots') failed to be detected at all by two colleagues in the 'Wine Cellar' directly below. From this, it was deduced that the numerous examples of - completely casual sounding - footsteps previously recorded on video couldn't possibly have been picked up under 'normal' circumstances.

Visit Three: Fri. 13th June – Sat. 14th June 2003

Investigators present: Len Jackson, Darren Simpson and Frazer Smith. Also present until approx. 1.30 am was Danish newspaper reporter, Karina Harristrup and her brother, Michael Harristrup.

The main points of this follow up investigation was to generally check out the current / continued ghost-lore of the site and also help Miss Harristrup with an article she was writing for the ‘Birmingham Post’ newspaper.

In the subsequent 2 years since our last visit to the site, the Court Oak had changed hands - the present manager having been on the premises for approximately 8 months at the time of our visit. Potential paranormal activity had allegedly continued at the site, much of which was reported from the staff ‘living quarters’. Because of such disturbances, the present Manager had developed a habit of never going to sleep without the television being switched on in the Sitting Room; an area allegedly favoured by the Victorian, female apparition. Unlike previous visits, W.M.G.C. members were kindly given access to this part of the building for the duration of the stay.

Unfortunately, our visit was completely uneventful, the only matter of any real interest being the fact that the current Manager reportedly couldn’t call to mind one single instance of bottles of wine being inexplicably broken in the cellar…!? (This, it has to be said, we personally found quite startling - as such activity was said to be fairly ‘rife’ when Lillian Campbell had looked after the property!?)

All the best,

The W.M.G.C.

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