Halloween as we know it today has roots in several different cultures drawn from many parts of history. Its origins are thought to be Celtic, deriving from the harvest festival of Samhain meaning ‘summer’s end’, which was coupled with revering the souls of the dead, who at this time of year were thought to slip from the Otherworld into our own.
Early Christianity introduced All Hallows Eve, which was celebrated the day before All Souls Day which fell on the 1st November. By the medieval era, on All Hallows Eve, rites such as bell ringing for souls in purgatory had been incorporated into the traditions. Groups of people would often go door to door asking for ‘soul cakes’ to offer to the souls condemned to purgatory, and is thought to be the origin of Trick or Treating.
Christians, like the Celts, believed that on All Hallows Eve souls wandered the earth seeking their last opportunity of vengeance, and in sixteenth-century Italy it was recorded that to protect themselves from being recognised by the revenge-driven souls, people wore a costume or disguise for safety.
Halloween at Quarry Bank Mill
Here at Quarry Bank Mill we have our own Halloween Tradition, which hundreds of people participated in over this weekend; Spooky Tours. I had been looking forward to this event ever since I began my post as an intern just a few weeks ago and the night certainly didn’t disappoint. Guests were taken on a tour of the Mill they are not likely to forget, as they were guided round the Mill by actors from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, who had been transformed into characters of the past, with a haunting tale to tell, based upon the story of the mysterious missing thirteenth Greg child…
A frightening and deadly tour
The Mill had been transformed into a giant haunted house, already full of creaking floorboards and ominous clanking machinery which, combined with the eerie moonlight filtering through the windows as the only light source*, lent itself perfectly to the setting of the Spooky Tours.
Guests were greeted by the charming Mr and Mrs Grant, the owners of the Mill, who were quick to dispel the vicious rumours that had been circling their family. The first stop was the nursery, where guests were introduced to a small portion of the vast Grant brood; their unnerving daughters who performed a chilling rendition of ‘Rock-a-bye-baby’, before everyone was given the first heart-stopping scare of the night, when a crazed, dishevelled woman burst from the doors behind, and ran screaming into the room and beyond the nursery…
Mr and Mrs Grant of course were quick to assure that there was no problem and swept everyone into the Cotton Processing room where guests were provided with some comedic relief when they met the resident Doctor and his hapless assistants. Yet his lesson was cut short as the corpse they were demonstrating upon resurrected herself and brutally murdered the poor assistants, but not before blaming Mr Grant for her demise…
Moving swiftly on to the Weaving Shed, guests were left with Mrs Grant who seemed quite out of her depth as her husband went ahead to check the next rooms were clear. Well, who wouldn’t be apprehensive when zombies start to crawl out of the gloom and machinery and make their way menacingly towards you?
Fortunately, Mr Grant reappeared and hurried the group along to meet the Mill’s priest, dismissing the zombies as night workers. The priest however was a tad busy performing an exorcism on the same deranged woman, who had burst through the nursery. This did very little to help for moments later she became incensed with rage when asked about her daughter and proceeded to attack those surrounding her. Yet again, visitors were ushered quickly away from the horrific sight only to stumble upon a far worse scene…
Chained to the cages of the Water Force Gallery, which houses the giant water wheel, was a young girl, who began crying out to Mr Grant, calling him “Father”. Mr Grant attempted to ignore her pained cries until the crazed woman who was revealed to be the girl’s mother launched herself at her daughter to protect her from the evil figures who had descended upon the group. Mr Grant in a wave of emotion tried to wrestle his mistress from his daughter, who he then clutched desperately, asking for her forgiveness before abandoning her to her fate to help the tour escape into the Mule Room.
The bewildered Mrs Grant was at this point hysterical and demanding answers, answers she never heard for she was grabbed, dragged, and murdered by her unhinged love rival. Mr Grant continued to try and get the group to safety, plunging further into the depths of the Mill until the guests emerged in the gloomy Old Mill Wheel Pit, where Mr Grant decided it was best to press ahead and ignore the screams that followed the group out to their final destination; the Steam Room
The muggy air there seeped into the atmosphere, creating an element of claustrophobia and urgency, as the stench of the past clung to everyone. Here took place the thrilling climax of the Spooky Tour. Just as all seemed well, Mr Grant’s mistress flung herself out of the darkness that had cloaked her, and attacked the lover who had disowned her and their child. As Mr Grant yelled at his guests to run, with their hearts thumping, mouths dry, the haunting screams of Mr Grant and his mistresses’ wails pierced the night, their fate unknown as guests escaped into the sharp night air…
Even the staff were scared
Helping out the terrifying tours were several brave members of staff and volunteers, including myself, who accompanied each tour, ready to escort any guests who were too frightened to continue, (and there were a couple), back to the Mill Yard. I have to admit, even on my second tour, when Mr Grant’s mistress burst through the nursery I jumped slightly, (alright maybe a lot). Standing at the back of the tour in the Weaving Shed my heart started thumping when I peered into the blackness behind, only to turn back and see the zombies beginning to crawl out from the machinery. I was incredibly grateful that I was not one of the members of staff who had to stay behind and lock up the Mill in the dark, for even absent of the ALRA students lurking in wait to petrify; it definitely remains a haunting place. Even long-standing members of staff were nervous at the prospect of staying behind;
“It was a great few nights for everyone, but I know the team were a little nervous locking up after the Spooky Tours were finished!” said Roz Stone, our Visitor Experience and Marketing Manager.
“Even better than last year”
Whilst walking back to the warmth of the fire at the Mill Yard I was really pleased to hear several of the guests praising the tour and admitting to being genuinely scared, even those who were seasoned veterans! The tours had been fully sold out and we think that they were worth every penny, with some guests already vowing to return next year.
If you’re wishing you’d been at this fantastic event then make sure you keep your eyes peeled next year for details of the next Spooky Tours, when an entirely new tour will have been devised to test your metal!
*(Well ok, maybe the guests had had some low-level lighting too for obvious health and safety reasons, but that doesn’t sound nearly so dramatic does it? I was creating an atmosphere!).