Located in the area known as the Lace Market, The Old Angel public house has stood for over 500 years, silently watching over Nottingham as it evolved from a small Anglo-Saxon settlement to the metropolitan city we see today.
The pub itself has a long and turbulent history, variously serving as a brothel, a meeting place for Luddites and Druids, and a live music venue for more ‘raucous’ acts. Recently taken over by new management and rechristened the Angel, it is currently quite an appealing prospect for the casual drinker.
In the winter of 2011 the pub was also chosen by a local student as the location for an investigation into the effects of fear, an investigation that came to a most unexpected conclusion.
9th April 2015
I meet Cressida Smith in a quiet coffee shop a short walk up from Nottingham’s Market Square. Four years ago, she was studying psychology at Nottingham Trent University.
We share a pot of tea and I ask her to tell me about the night of the experiment. Confident and concise, she has the manner of someone who does not suffer fools gladly. However, the first sentence she speaks on the matter is one tinged with regret.
‘Please bear in mind, Dr Gotobed, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.’
I ask her to start from the beginning.
‘The idea was a simple one; an experiment designed to investigate the power of suggestion, specifically if a sense of fear could be created by placing an unsuspecting subject into an environment they already believed was haunted. It was to be the topic of my dissertation, and I was very interested to see what would happen. I put a lot of work into it.
‘The first point of business was to find a suitable location, one with enough history and a bit of a back story I could work with. I chose the Angel pub in Hockley. Even a cursory search on the internet will bring up stories of a murdered prostitute that apparently haunts the bar. Add to that the fact the building has two unused floors along with an entrance to the underground cave system that’s below the city.
‘I was also good friends with the landlord, Steve Wilson. I recruited him to lay it on thick with all kinds of stories of stuff that had happened to him since he’d moved in. Weird noises, objects going missing, doors closing on their own, all that spooky jazz.
‘All bullshit, of course. At least, I think it was.
‘The plan was to strap a heart monitor to the subject’s wrist to measure changes in their heart activity, and also to give them a small ticker device with which to click every time they believed they were in the presence of anything they considered ‘paranormal’. Oh, and a lapel microphone so they could narrate and record their feelings.
‘The landlord and I were to take the subject on a tour of the building, after hours of course. My plan was to hang back and take notes, whilst Steve would elucidate the history of the pub. Hamming it up a little, as you can imagine.
‘Then the subject and I were to descend into the caves below the bar, ostensibly to hold a séance.
‘In actual fact, I’d recruited another person, a family friend with experience in theatrical special effects. He was going to rig up something special for me down in the cave, something suitably scary.’
The individual in question was one Jonas Wang, a veteran of the stage with fifteen years’ experience in the audio-visual arts. A tall and wiry man, he speaks quickly and is obviously full of enthusiasm for his craft.
I meet Mr Wang in the bar of the Theatre Royal, where he is currently working on the installation of a touring rendition of Bram Stoker’s classic ‘Dracula’.
Over sandwiches and a bottle of wine, he tells me of his role in Ms Smith’s ‘investigation’.
‘Yeah, Cressie’s father and I go way back, and when she asked me to give her hand I really had to say yes. But when she told me what it was for, I was initially a bit sceptical. I mean, is it even legal, scaring the crap out of someone?
‘But when she explained it was for science, and gave me a few more details, I must admit, it definitely whetted my appetite. It was a challenge, to say the least.
‘And I love a challenge.’
He smiles widely.
‘I spent about a week or so drawing up a plan and gathering various gadgets and ‘little tricks’. I got hold of a couple of mini speakers, the kind with wicked bass response. Real teeth rattlers, if you know what I mean. I also got a little smoke machine and some red LEDs, along with some fine fishing wire. That was so I could move some small, carefully placed objects around, if the situation called for it.
‘I spent a good few hours down in that cave the night before Cressie was going to do her experiment. I really went to town on this. Especially considering I wasn’t getting paid.
‘The idea was for me to sit, hidden away, in the adjoining cave, out of sight. I could trigger all my gear from there.
‘But would you believe it, but when the actual night came, I ended up stuck on the side of the A453 with a dead engine.
‘A recovery vehicle had told me it was on its way, so I called Cressie and told her I was running a little late.’
Ms Smith continues:
‘I put an ad up on the internet, on the University site, asking for volunteers. With a cash reward, of course.
‘I got about thirty applicants, which, after an extensive review, I managed to whittle down to just the one; a Mrs Regina Carr. She was a forty four year old housewife from nearby West Bridgford. Two kids, down to earth, smart. And crucially, she had no experience of the paranormal, but an interest in such things.
‘She was perfect.
‘I got her to sign the relevant paperwork and told her the date and time, keeping up the whole pretence, of course.
‘At about eleven on the night of the experiment, just before Mrs Carr was due to arrive, I got a phone call from Jonas saying he was going to be about half an hour late. I could deal with that, I’d just make the tour around the pub last a little longer and he could get into position whilst we were upstairs. As I understood it, he was ready to go, anyway.
‘I must add, Dr Gotobed, Jonas hadn’t told me about any of the stuff he’d set up down there. I didn’t want my actions to pre-empt anything for the subject, subconsciously or otherwise.
‘Mrs Carr arrived and got comfortable in the now closed bar. Steve fetched her a cup of coffee and we made some small talk. I asked her to turn her phone off, so we got no distractions. I did the same. There was no word from Jonas, so I assumed he was on his way. One of the bar staff was due to let him in anyway.
‘After about twenty minutes we began the tour upstairs. I must confess, by torchlight, with all those boarded-up windows, the cramped corridors, the boarded up windows, and the faded graffiti, even I found the upper levels a little unnerving. And, my word, Steve can spin a tale. I had to keep prompting Mrs Carr to use her ticker and narrate how she was feeling.
‘The experiment was proving to be quite successful; it was quite obvious she was, let’s say, ‘unsettled’.
‘It took us about twenty five minutes to cover the whole of the upstairs. I was pretty confident that Jonas was in place, and as we descended the stone steps into the caves I saw a figure step back in to the shadows. I remembering thinking that had to be him.
‘We sat down in the cave I’d assigned for the mock séance. I’d laid some rugs out on the floor and put a couple of tall candles out for effect. There was a large stone between us that had looked like it had been carved out of the earth.
‘I sat opposite the subject and told her I was going to summon the spirits using a traditional method I had been taught as a child. Truth be told, it was just a hotch–potch of things I’d read on Google.
‘Mrs Carr had gone almost silent by that point, there was only the sound of the ticker in her hand. I reminded her again to narrate how she was feeling, and not to worry about talking over me.’
The following is a transcript from the audio recorded by Mrs Carr from that night. They had been in the cave for ten minutes by this point, with Ms Smith performing her fake ritual.
Cressida Smith: Please remember to put into words how you feel, Mrs Carr.
Regina Carr: It’s very cold in her. But it’s not like actual cold. It’s weird. It feels like a breeze blowing just above the floor. What is that?
[unintelligible murmuring from CS, part of her ‘séance’]
RC: I’m scared. Do you feel that?
CS: Feel what?
RC: Like we’re being watched. Oh my God this place is just… just wrong.
[a single click, followed by thirty or so seconds of silence]
RC: There! Look, can you see, there’s a shape in the corner. In the shadows. A woman looking at us. Oh my God, what does she want?
[the sound of wind blowing across the microphone]
RC: Tell me you see that, Cressida. Tell me you feel that. Why is she looking at me like that? What does she want?
RC: I don’t want to do this anymore. Seriously, I think we should stop now. Please can we stop?
[the sound of stone scraping against stone]
[a third voice, female, moaning]
CS: Please remain seated, Mrs Carr.
RC: Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God…
[Several large banging sounds can be heard on the tape, followed by a single, much louder cracking noise]
RC: Fuck this. This is fucked up. You can keep your damn money.
CS: Mrs Carr, please remain seated. The experiment is almost-
RC: Oh my God, she’s coming this way. Who’s there? Who are you? What do you want-
[several screams, followed by three minutes of static]
CS: [breathless] Experiment bought to an end at eleven fifty seven pm.
Ms Smith tells me that there was another presence down there with them in that cave. At the time, she thought it was one of Mr Wang’s ‘little tricks’.
Mr Wang picks up the story:
‘I never made it to the Angel that night. When the recovery vehicle got to me, he didn’t have the right parts to fix my car, so I had to wait for a tow truck. I tried to ring Cressie again, but her phone must’ve been switched off. I heard from her about an hour, an hour and a half later, when she called me and asked me where I’d gone. She was going on about what a good job I’d done.
‘But I hadn’t done anything. I’d been stood in the rain by the side of the ring road.’
Mrs Carr fled the Angel that night, apparently almost taking the door off its hinges in her efforts to leave the building.
Ms Smith did her best to contact her in the following days, but found her attempts where in vain. She posted a cheque to Mrs Carr’s house, but it was returned, uncashed.
She goes on to say that she did see a figure down in the cave, and she did feel the breeze and hear the banging sounds, the last of which was apparently the stone in the centre of the cave cracking.
To this day, a large split can be seen in that stone.
Ms Smith was initially under the impression that Jonas Wang had not only done his job, but performed substantially above and beyond what was expected of him.
It was only after she spoke to him later that night that she realised this was not the case.
Jonas Wang collected his equipment the next day, not wishing to linger inside the cave for any longer than was absolutely necessary.
All of his ‘little tricks’ were switched off and untouched.
Ms Smith never finished her degree. She left Trent University the following week and went to work for her father.
She assures me that she has never spoken of the events of that winter night to anyone.
The first explanation I reached for in this case was the effect of infrasound, a low frequency hum that can be created by the underground movement of water. It is inaudible to the human ear, but several papers (such as the one written by Vic Tandy in 1998*) suggest that these sound waves can elicit a curious effect on the brain, causing hallucinations and feelings of dread.
Considering the location of the caves beneath the Angel, one can speculate that infrasound was the cause of whatever Mrs Carr, and indeed Ms Smith, experienced that night.
However, this does not explain the splitting of the stone in that particular cave. Having spoken to the landlord of the building, the same Mr Wilson mentioned earlier, still in-situ at the Angel, it seems that the stone was intact before the experiment.
Time permitting, it is my recommendation that Ms Smith’s investigation is repeated.
I also recommend that a little more compassion is shown toward whomever is chosen as the subject.
Dr Thomas Gotobed
* Vic Tandy’s paper can be found here, and it’s certainly very interesting. I’d like to add that the Angel is a pub I am familiar with (they pull a mean pint!) and I have heard rumours from the bar staff about the night a woman saw a ghost in the caves and almost kicked the door down to get out – C.R.