The footfalls on Ghost Lane

Ghost stories were cemented as a Christmas tradition by Victorian authors such as Charles Dickens and MR James, so I feel it appropriate that my Yuletide post – and the last of the year – will be something a little spooky. There’ll still be maps and history, though, so don’t worry if you’re not of a ghostly disposition.

One morning I was walking with my mum to the shops. We were walking from our home in Lenton Abbey to Beeston town centre. I was aged about 9 or 10 I guess, and had the important task of pulling the shopping trolley. Between Arden Close and Salthouse Lane was a little footpath and – as we walked along it – I suddenly heard footsteps approaching quickly from behind us. I dropped back and walked behind mum so that this other person could overtake us. I turned instinctively towards them as I manoeuvred, and was astonished to find there was nobody there. I actually stopped to look fully behind us, but still no-one was visible. I turned back to mum to find she, too, had stopped, presumably at the sound of the shopping trolley wheels coming to an abrupt halt. I looked enquiringly at her and she gave me an understanding glance and said, “Oh, yes. That sometimes happens to me down here.”

I was bewildered more than scared, and I don’t recall us talking about it any more on the journey. It’s only looking back that it seems chilling. I’ve walked along what me and my friends came to know as Ghost Lane many times and nothing out of the ordinary has occurred. I have no particular hypothesis about what happened. Could it be an acoustic trick of some sort? Perhaps the footfalls of somebody walking nearby at the same time were warped by their immediate environment and echoed, by chance sounding as though they were progressing along Ghost Lane. Frankly, I would be as astonished by this as I would by the ‘stone tape’ theory of traditional ghosts; that I had heard the spirit of a former occupant of the site performing an activity they had a multitude of times, and that had somehow been partially recorded and was intermittently  replayed by the environment that hosted this activity. Like many real-life spooky or uncanny occurrences, there is no more to the tale than this. I didn’t discover that someone had once been murdered on the lane, and now wandered back and forth looking for their attacker. I didn’t discover that the bones of someone who long walked the area were buried beneath the spot I heard the footfalls. Real life is rarely as neat and tidy as the ghost stories we read in books.

I looked at some old maps on Insight Mapping, hoping to see an old footpath that existed before the 1930s housing of Lenton Abbey, but there was none. Before the large council estate, the land seems to have been agricultural or pastoral. Geographically, Ghost Lane is interesting; the northern end is in Nottingham city, the southern is in Nottinghamshire. It also transcends a social boundary, joining the residential area primarily occupied by Nottingham locals with the area of student housing around Broadgate. Salthouse Lane is potentially a very old thoroughfare, for the word salthouse is found several times in the Domesday Book (though not, as far as I know, referring directly to this lane). In the modern age it’s entirely reasonable to overlook the importance of salt, which over the centuries has been an enormously valuable commodity and used on occasion as currency. The term salthouse is used to describe somewhere that salt was extracted, processed, or stored, and so Salthouse Lane may have been an important location in commerce and economics as far back as the 11th century.

Whoever was the unseen source of the footsteps I heard and whatever era they originate from, I feel grateful to them. They gave me a jolt, awaking me from the trance state of my trolley-pulling chore, and giving my brain a buzz. I would have been unlikely to have researched the history of that one specific area had it not been for the footsteps, and I wouldn’t have read articles online about the Domesday book, salt or the stone tape theory, and noticed on the old maps how the site had been transformed from fields to housing in the 1930s. In short, I picked-up some intriguing information due to the sound of some spooky footsteps I heard three decades ago. This is what it is to be a local history nut; following the most offbeat of leads to an illogical conclusion and enjoying the scenery along the way.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

Ghost Lane composite

 

Armchair map fiddling for beginners pt.2

In the last post I highlighted that armchair historical sleuthing could be undertaken during the inclement weather. I wrote about Windows shareware Paint.net, and how you could use it alongside website Insight Mapping to spot and highlight changes in the cityscape, alongside remnants of the past. In this post we’re going to delve into the third dimension, and introduce photographs into the mix.

I’m sure we’ve all used Google maps to identify a destination we need to visit, scrolling along the morphing street view to plot out our future journey. I do the same with historical research. Ultimately, I prefer to use my own original photographs, but there’s really no need as Google has made such a huge number of images visible online. I first use the map view to identify roughly the same area I found on Insight, then recall the features I found noteworthy that should still be visible nowadays. I then zoom into the street view and ‘walk’ around the area, finding these features. I take screen grabs of images that capture the features, paste them into new images on Paint.net, and save these images using numbers to differentiate them; Market Square 1, Market Square 2 and so on. For each image, I go back to my map document and — on the ‘markers’ Layer — put a corresponding number roughly indicating the spot where the image bearing the same number was grabbed.

Having created image documents illustrating the contemporary map view, the historical map view, and contemporary street view images, the next stage is my favourite; finding historical images. I visit Picture the Past, a vast online archive of historical images from the east midlands, and carry-out a Search on the street name(s) or building name(s) relevant to the maps. If you plan to use the images commercially you need to contact the website to organise ‘clean’ images (without watermarks), but for casual and private research, choose Zoom and then right click and Save the images. Some of the images are accompanied by text with historical information on the image. I copy and past such text and save it in a WordPad document.

Following the steps above and in the first post, it is possible to establish a great deal of (primarily visual) information on your subject. I organise this information in folders bearing the name of the building or street, making it easy to reference in the future. The Paint.net image serves as a visual index to the information.

Nothing can replace the joy of visiting a modern place and casting your imagination back into the past to imagine what went on there in a bygone era, but if you’re housebound through health and family reasons or just an aversion to winter weather, you can still conduct very useful and revealing research using the methods described here.

Armchair map fiddling for beginners

As the winter wind hurtles down Nottingham’s streets, upsetting wheelie bins and rattling letterboxes, my mind naturally turns to armchair historianism. For the amateur history sleuth such as myself, the array of free resources online is thrilling. Here’s a little guide that could easily and quickly be applied to your own neighbourhood or favourite place to do some revealing investigation.

The first stage for me is to mooch around a modern map of Nottingham on Insight Mapping. I find a building that either bears a curious name or demonstrates an unsual shape, or a street that seems too short or seems to end too abruptly. In my experience, such things generally reflect echoes of the past. Another good starting point is a building that you regularly glimpse in your day-to-day life and sparks curiosity within you. Once I’ve got a view of the map with my feature in a roughly central position, I press Print Screen on my keyboard, then open Paint.net (a superb piece of image editing shareware for Windows) and Paste the screen grab into a new layer of a new document.

I return to Insight and change the map type to Historical. A small wait follows, and Insight generates a historical view of the map I was just viewing. It’s important not to move the map around at this point. I use Print Screen again on the Historical view, flick over to Paint.net (you could use Photoshop, or any image editor that allows the use of layers) and paste the historical screen grab into a new layer in the same image over the top of the modern map.

By this stage, I have 2 layers in my Paint.net document – layer 1 is the modern map, layer 2 the historical map. My brain’s easily confused, so I feel obliged at this stage to label the layers. By toggling layer 2’s visibility on and off (by ticking and unticking a box) I can compare the buildings and streets in the two versions of the the selection very directly. I prefer to do this on an image editor as the alternating between layers is rapid, whilst performing the same task on Insight can be a little clunky and labourious, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Paint.net allows a gradual fading, too, by double clicking on the Layer and then using the Opacity slider. This gives a gentler transition between the two views. I’ll amuse myself alternating between the two versions of the maps for a while, then move onto the next step.

In Paint.net, I add a third layer on top of the other two. I label this one ‘markers’. I use the Text tool and/or the drawing tools to place little markers over features in either map that I think are noteworthy. I then go back to toggling between the modern and historical maps, with the markers I’ve placed in layer 3 helping me to get my bearings and understand the extent of changes. A basic example would be drawing a red line along a now-vanished street showing on a historic map. By turning-off the Historic layer, I could then see where this street would sit in modern times. This is a simplistic example, but hopefully you can see the possibilities for your own projects.

In the next post we’ll expand on our map fiddling to include photo juggling. And yes, that’s the technical term.