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.