I woke early on a dark Saturday morning in March. Waking early on the weekend is nothing new with two small children, but on this particular morning I had an appointment. I was off to Hinckley, a market town in Leicestershire, to meet a man called Neil Packer.
Now, Hinckley is steeped in history. It dates back to Anglo-Saxon times and according to the Domesday Book, by 1086 Hinckley was already a large village. In the 17th Century, the town was caught up in The Civil War. Parliamentarians drove out Royalist troops, taking many captive. This was just one of several hostile encounters. So the chances are, Hinckley already has it's fair share of ghosts about the town.
Imagine standing on one of these old streets, and in front of you is a building. It doesn't look much from the front with it's new modern windows and rendered facade, but step inside and you will see old beamed ceilings, creaky, uneven floorboards and a curving old back staircase. I wonder what stories this building could tell. Now imagine the top floor being filled with haunted antiques, items that are said to have spirits attached to them, from death masks, to children's clowns and dolls, to old, used hospital equipment. Well this is what Neil Packer has done, and this is where I was heading.
The sky was hanging low with with heavy, grey clouds, slowly and steadily dripping fat raindrops. I waved goodbye to the gang at home, blew some kisses and headed off, relishing some rare 'me time'. I had no idea what lay ahead of me, but I was so excited to find out.
The Haunted Antiques Paranormal Research Centre (NOT museum, I'll come to this later) had only been open for a few weeks, but already the buzz was growing. The Tuesday before my visit had been a big day for Neil. He had appeared on ITV's 'This Morning' with a small collection of his antiques. He chatted with a nervous Holly Willoughby and the skeptical Phillip Schofield, who did little short of laughing at the whole concept. Click the link at the bottom of my blog to find out more about the Centre, and to see what actually happened to Phil, and whether he got a little more than he bargained for!
So I found myself at Regent's Court, just a few yards away from the bustling Saturday market. After walking several times up and down what I later referred to as 'Diagon Alley' (the magical street from the wizarding world of Harry Potter, for the handful of you who shamefully don't know), much to the amusement of the gentleman sitting in the cafe window, and after a quick visit to the tattoo shop for a clue, I found the elusive number 11. The glass in the front door had been shattered by revellers the night before, and as well as hiding the signage, causing me to undergo more exercise than necessary on a Saturday morning, it certainly added to the ambience.
I shut the door behind me and found myself standing in a small entrance porch. All was quiet and still. I tentatively climbed the stairs, still not convinced I was in the right place. On the first floor, I passed a locked door to another business, and carried on up to the second floor. And here I found the Haunted Antiques centre. I was immediately greeted with a warm welcome by Neil, who quickly saw to it that I had a hot cup of tea in my hand, and guided me around his collection of antiques.
It was instantly clear to see the passion Neil has for his venture, as well as for the items he has collected. As we chatted, there were two points that Neil made that seemed very relevant. The first was that he is making no claims that all of the items are haunted, but all are of interest, whether it be due to their own personal stories, or the historical significance. And the second point was that he has not created a museum. We are all told as children to 'look with your eyes and not with your hands', I find myself saying the very same to my girls. That golden rule does not apply here, for as I say, it is not a museum but a research centre. The items here are to be experienced. You can hold them, wear them and sit on them if you choose. Neil and the rest of the team encourage visitors to express any experiences, feeling or impressions that come from time spent with the items. There is even a record book to collect and compare information.
There are so many artefacts to enjoy, I ended up spending three hours there, and that time flew by. I got chatting to a couple in the tea room in the Centre, a great place to meet people and mull things over. They had driven all the way down from Liverpool to visit the Centre. I had to pull myself away from that paranormal haven as my car parking time was up.
I was quick to book up for a private investigation and just four weeks later I was back. The rain was pouring again and I was one of the first lucky people to have the chance to investigate the building and its contents. I won't share all the details of the night, I wouldn't want to influence other people's experiences. It wasn't as active as I'd hoped, but I also had one of the most bizarre experiences I've ever witnessed, and it was shared by the whole group! The place is most definitely worth a visit whether it be during the day, or if you dare brave it by nightfall! There's not many places you can hold human bones, or a WWII grenade all at the same time!
The Haunted Antiques Paranormal Research Centre surprised me. It wasn't as spooky as I'd imagined, even hoped, but it was far more fascinating, and far more interesting. Oh and just so you know. Before all the antiques were brought in, the team discovered that the building has a great selection of spooks all of it's own!