Not too far from the shopping center in Cheadle, Stockport lies 12 acres of parkland, and at the center of this park sits a substancial Victorian villa known as Abney Hall. Built in 1847 on top of the old print works, this large building was home for the mayor of Stockport. Further extentions took place during the 1850's and 1890's and at that time the building was often referred to as 'The Grove'. After mayor Alfred Orell passed away, the property was sold to James Watts who renamed the building 'Abney' after, in the words of his son, "Sir Thomas Abney who entertained Sir Isaac Watts for thirty years" .
In 1958 Abney Hall was sold to Cheadle and Gatley District Council for £14,000 and the building bacame the new Cheadle Town Hall in 1959. Stockport Borough Council then took over the hall in 1974 and relocated much of the remaining historical furniture to Bramall Hall and Lyme Hall where is can be seen today. The parkland was originally part of the Mersey flood plain, and quite a lot of the land is still rather damp. This has now become wet meadows, which are becoming increasingly rare throughout the Stockport area, as land is often drained for development. This location is one of the few places in Stockport to currently feature such wetlands.
Another James Watts was the last private owner of Abney Hall, and was Agatha Christie's brother-in-law. Agatha often visited Abney Hall and wrote two stories during her stay; the novel 'After the Funeral' and the short story 'The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding', which is part of a collection of short stories of the same name. Agatha was not the only famous person to visit Abney. In 1857, Prince Albert visited the Hall during a two-day visit to Manchester and described it as 'one of the most princely mansions in the neighbourhood'. E.M. Forster is also said to have stayed at the hall.
This Grade 2 listed building is tucked away and hidden from site. Its imposing gargoyles are plentiful, staring out over their grounds that were declared a Local Nature Reserve in 2005. At night the Gothic image of Abney Hall can look a little scarey, so it's no surprise to find the odd spooky tale.
In all the years of investigating, I have never come across anything quite like the incident that took place at Abney in June of 1988. It was a beautiful sunny evening and a local martial arts group were having an outside tutorial at the back of Abney Hall. The students were aged between 8 and 19 years of age with two adult instructors on looking. Parents and friends had gathered to watch the display. As the sun slowly dropped the students went about their routine just as they did every other Sunday evening. However, on this occasion something started to go seriously wrong.
One of the adult instructors heard movement in one of the near by bushes and went to investigate. As he walked over he saw movement and could clearly see a foot scoot off behind the bush. He quickly grabbed the bush, moving it aside expecting to find someone hinding within. But, nothing. There was no one there. He looked around but could hear nothing. An eerie quietness befell the location. Then again,... this time from a different bush. Definate movement and rustling. This time the instructor was not going to be fooled. He quickly came about and approached the bush from the rear. He was determined to capture the jokers...
He threw himself into the dark bush, arms out reached in hope of grabbing anything that moved, but again, there was no one there. Odd, he had seen someone in the bush and they could not have darted off without him seeing them. Puzzled as to what was going on, he slowly became a little un-nerved and headed back, only to see the other adult instructor doing the same thing. He to had heard and seen movement in the bushes only to find them empty.
Odd sounds and movement was now coming from several bushes which started to gain the attention of the students and gathered parents and friends. It was becoming unsettling. As the night drew in, more dark shadows moved amongst the shrubbery and some of the students were becoming frightened. Then suddenly, three or four students screamed out. They were pointing towards the small waterfall. The instructors rushed over quickly but could find nothing. Calming the students down they explained that they had seen a small dark ugly looking figure that seemed to squat and stare at them and that it was dressed in a dark suit like a ninja.
A few minutes passed and then, yet another scream from a handful of students. Pointing towards the large rocks next to the waterfall. 'Its floating in the air' they screamed. 'On top of the rocks'. This time one of the instructors went right up to the waterfall, but could see nothing. 'Where' shouted the instructor as the student frantically pointed towards the rocks. He could see nothing, but as he took a few steps forward he suddenly started to feel uneasy as if there were some type of invisible force pushing him back. Then another scream, 'He's over there', shouted the students. The strange figure would suddenly disappear and re-appear in bushes further away as if teasing the instructor.
One of the original investigators (Roy Sandbach) met with one of the students who explained, 'It was as if the strange entity needed us in some way'. 'It needed us to exist', (as if drawing energy from their spirit). Some believe that considering it manifested in appropriate clothing, suggestes some type of relationship between the students and the phenomenon. The sighting of such strange phantom ninja's are not commonly reported. In fact, this is a one of a kind case. Sounds rediculous, but it didn't end there. Things started to get worse. One of the students suddenly went into a frenzy and attacked her boyfriend. It took several other students to pull her off him, kicking and screaming. Later, one of the instructors asked her why she had did it, but she could not explain why. She said that anger had suddenly came over her and she was not in control of her actions. Another student was panic stricken after a dark shadow suddenly appeared in front of her whilst she was sat on a near by bench...
'It was as if this shadow wanted to kill me', she screamed. One of the instructors was attacked by some strange force which pushed him to the ground. Trying to cry out, he found he couldn't, and in a desperate attempt to escape this crushing force he scrambled along the ground, but when he caught sight of the small brook, he was suddenly compelled to throw himself in. He was dragged away by students just in the knick of time. To scared to stay any longer the students ran from the grounds in panic along with the traumatised instructors...
There have been several other strange incidents at Abney Hall. On one occasion a caretaker opening the hall found several widows wide open when in fact he knew that they had all been tightly shut and locked the night before. Even stranger was that several windows required a key to unlock them and yet these keys were fastened tight to a larger bunch of keys in the caretakers posession. Uncannily, not a single item was a miss.
There have also been reports of gaurd dogs suddenly becoming terrified and lights being switched on and off. Some have speculated that the incidents are down to the ghost of Agatha Christie. During some renovation work in November of 1988, the whole building and grounds was felt to shake as if an earthquake had taken place. A seismology department confirmed that there had been no such activity. The contractors even though concerned, continued their work. No explanation was ever found as to what was the cause of the tremor.
I first became aware of this case through a friend and investigator Peter Hough who I believe was involved in the original investigation of the strange figures at Abney Hall. Since then, I have visited the location around about 8 or 9 times and taken numerous photographs of the Hall and grounds. Just beyond the rock formation where this strange figure was seen to float are a small number of graves which are hidden by overgrown shrubs and reeds. As to who these graves belong to is currently being researched.
I'm not too sure as to what exactly went on that summers evening back in 1988. I have tried to obtain further information, but it seems that we only have the testimonies of those present at the time. As far as I am aware, such an incident has never occured a second time, nor do I know where to begin to categorise such an incident. It's truly pround. Either many witnesses shared a hallucination coupled with hysteria or something extremely unusual was actually taking place.
A haunting? poltergeist activity? a demonic encounter? some type of supernatural event? or maybe a mixture of them all... who knows. One thing is certain, as previously stated by other investigators; the Hall is built on quartz rich sandstone which allegedly has the capabilities of holding and discharging amounts of natural electrical current which is often theorised to be the catalist for such phenomena, or at the very least have some relationship.
For now, the incidents that took place at Abney Hall in 1988 remain a mystery, and possibly will continue to baffle many investigators for years to come...
Special Thanks to Peter Hough & Roy Sandbach.
Ref: Peter Hough & Jenny Randles - Mysteries of the Mersey Valley (pp 22-24) Sigma Leisure.