The ghost of Clevedon Pier was a reletively new ‘haunting’ when it hit the headlines in late 2011 and 2012 and, not being too far away from where I live I naturally became interested and decided to start looking into the story in a bit more detail. Once in beyond the headlines it became clear that things weren’t as mysterious as they seemed on the pier.
It was reported that a ghostly figure has been seen walking through the locked pier gates without setting off the security light, and has also been seen talking to itself at the corner of the pavilion building and sitting on the benches along the pier. One of the first to see something spooky was a member of the Clevedon Angling Club called Jack Hulbert. Mr Hulbert told the local press
“I had come on the pier early in the morning – it must have been about 4.30am – there wasn’t anyone else I could see. I got towards the end and I saw a figure of a person learning on the railings looking out to sea. I thought I’ll double check and I walked all around to see if it was shadows or the light playing tricks but I knew what it was. It was definitely the definition of a person wearing dark clothes but I couldn’t see whether it was a man or a woman.”
Since Jack Hulbert reported a sighting of a figure leaning over the rail at the end of the pier one morning the story rapidly grew and grew. Added in were reports of phantom toast being smelt in the Pier gift shop, and then a photo was taken early one morning by a student that showed a figure on the apparently locked up Pier. It was just after the photo was published in the national press that I decided to look a little deeper into the case.
A summary of the case:
– Jack Hulbert saw a figure standing at the end of the pier to one side
– A figure has been seen in the same area by other people
– The smell of toast was smelt in the Pier shop
– A photo was taken of a figure on the pier when the pier was locked
I started by getting in touch with people who use the pier the most – the Clevedon Pier Sea Angling Club (CPSAC). Just a quick search online showed that the members of this club were talking in length about the alleged ghost on the CPSAC members forum and so I signed up to the forum and got in touch with a few members of the club personally. Unfortunately the old forum has disappeared as the club designed and launched a new website.
I specifically spoke to a man called Vic whom others claim was the ‘ghost’ in the photo that made national headlines. Vic, who has been part of the Angling Club for about a year, usually fishes at night – as do many members. He explained to me that he put the noises the ghost hunters had reported down to the rush of water under the pier during the tide run and the pigeons that roost on the pier being unsettled by the noises. Vic said that along with the other night fishermen he wears a headlight and that can reflect in the glass around the shelters and that there is a Telescope on the end of the pier right in the middle that you can catch sometimes at the edge of your vision which makes you jump, thinking there is someone there.
Vic also told me that he has on occasion had teenagers visit the end of the pier during the night. How they gained access he didn’t know. During my visit I checked out the gates that keep the public off of the pier when it isn’t open – the gaps between the gates are too small to squeeze through but it’s possible to climb over them – especially at one point where there is a lamp post between two segments of fencing. As the lamppost thins out nearer the top it creates enough space for someone to fit through, if they were so inclined.
I asked Vic about the photo that showed an alleged ghostly apparition and he was able to shed some light on it. He told me:
‘When I saw the photo in the Sun of the so called ghost, I showed my wife and she agreed it looked like me. I own a suit that I wear when fishing and underneath I sometimes wear a red top with a hood (it can get damn chilly early in the morning) and I own a fairly new Mercedes and I’m always a little nervous about leaving it out in the roadway and I’m often looking to see if it’s ok.’
Vic being the ‘ghost’ was something that many of the people on the Angling Club forum agreed on, and with this knowledge in your mind when you look at the photo it’s easy to see how it could indeed just be Vic checking on his car while wearing his jacket.
The photo was taken by a student whose camera was set to take a photo every 30 seconds, so this would have given Vic 30 seconds either side of being photographed to have got in frame, checked on his car and been photographed, before disappearing from frame again. Given that the Pier isn’t that wide this is entirely plausible. When you are told that the photo shows a figure of someone on the pier when it is locked it automatically makes you think that there is nobody on the pier, but this is not the truth as all members of the Angling club have a code so that they can gain access to the pier at any hour of the day. It would be impossible to say if the pier was ever empty or not without physically checking it, and the student who took the photo did not do this.
During my visit to Clevedon Pier I had hoped to get the chance to talk to the Pier Mistress, Linda Strong, but she was in meetings and wasn’t available. When I had phoned previously she had also been busy and I hadn’t been given the chance to ask her any questions.
I made my way to the end of the Pier to look at the telescope that the I had been told caught people out when they saw it from the corner of their eye, and as I stood there taking a photo of it a Clevedon Pier Volunteer asked me for my help in locking a door. As I helped I asked her if she knew anything about the ghost to which she replied that although she hadn’t seen anything she had once smelt toast burning while in the gift shop without knowing that others had previously smelt that too. The lady explained that I really needed to speak to the fisherman if I wanted to discover anything as they spent the most time on the pier.
Following this I took some time out to write up my notes in the Pagoda Tea Room at the end of the pier. It is around the tearoom the ghost is said to lurk while muttering to itself. While sipping my tea I got chatting to a friendly member of staff and our conversation got around to the alleged ghost on Clevedon Pier. She had worked there for over six years and had never seen anything strange and told me that she thought people were only seeing and experiencing things because of the suggestion in the media that the Pier was haunted.
The lady told me how at 9am when the tide went out it caused the Pier to move which created eerie groaning sounds, and that the pigeons that roost around the pier often make a lot of noise – she explained that the pigeons were a really big problem last year because there were so many of them and they kept entering the café, and that at night time bats were known to fly around the tea room. She also told me that the cardboard cut-out at the end of the pier that visitors can pose with often creates an odd illusion when the sun shines through it.
When I approached the fishermen along the pier to ask them questions I got pointed by one group to another and I eventually bumped into a familiar person. Ken Bovington is the webmaster for the Clevedon Pier Sea Angling Club and was the one I initially contacted when I started researching the story. Ken put me in touch with Vic so it was nice to catch up with him in person. We spoke about the photo that was taken by a student that many claim shows a ghostly photo that members of the Angling Club believe is actually Vic. Ken explained that in the photo you can actually see the flotation suit that Vic was wearing that all Anglers wear, and he kindly allowed me to take a photo of his jacket for comparison.
I stopped in the gift shop on my way back and spoke to two members of staff in the shop to see if they could provide any more information about the odd smell of toast that has been reported in the past but one of them refused to speak to me and the other was extremely vague, and when pressed for details would only say ‘I think it’s only smelt every six months on the stairs’. I have never known people be so vague about something like that, that has been making headlines across the national media. I felt very unwelcome, but I may have just been imagining that.
After leaving the premesis I walked back along the shore and tried to recreate the ‘ghost’ photo. I wasn’t able to get a similar replica as I didn’t have someone to stand in the same area of the Pier, and I was using my iPhone.
In summary, the Pier is an absolutely lovely place to visit but I’m not convinced it is haunted, and neither do most of those who use it regularly, it would seem. I do believe that people have had genuinely odd experiences on the Pier but I cannot help but feel that a few odd experiences have been exploited to drum up interest in the Pier, and I think such an action is a shame as the Pier has so much more to offer.