The Terrifying Time-Slips of Kent
The following story is reproduced from the book Supernatural England.
A number of curious cases, all from Kent, in which the protagonists suddenly find themselves misplaced in time and space...
It was Tunbridge Wells, on the morning of 18th June 1968, and an elderly lady, Mrs Charlotte Warburton, went shopping with her husband in the town.
They decided to go their separate ways for a while and to meet up later. Unable to find a particular brand of coffee from her usual grocer she went into a supermarket in Calverley Road. As she entered the shop she saw a small café through an entrance in the left-hand wall. She had never before realised that there was a café there. It was rather old-fashioned with wood panelled walls. There were no windows and the room was lit by a number of electric bulbs with frosted shades. There was at the time, she thought, nothing especially odd about the scene. "Two women in rather long dresses were sitting at one table and about half a dozen men, all in dark lounge suits, were sitting at other tables further back in the room,' she said. All the people seemed to be drinking coffee and chatting ... a normal sight for a country town at 11 o'clock in the morning.
Mrs Warburton did not stay but she certainly did not recognise anything amiss either then or indeed for several days. Even the rather formal and slightly off-key clothing made no immediate impression on her. Nor did the fact that although the customers were talking there was no noise from them that caused her to question her senses. Nor did she notice that there was no smell of coffee.
There is clearly something strange here. Yet without questioning the circumstances in which she found herself, Mrs Warburton blithely left the café and went to meet her husband. And she did not suggest to him that the scene in the café seemed in any way odd.
When they came to Tunbridge Wells on their next shopping expedition Mrs Warburton decided to take her husband to the café. Or rather she hoped to take him there. But of course they never did find the place, though they searched the street up and down.
No, they were told in the supermarket, there was no café there. She must be in the wrong building. It was then that they learned about the Kosmos Kinema which had stood on the site of the supermarket. It had had a small café. They were directed to the Tunbridge Wells Constitutional Club where the steward told them that at one time the Constitutional Club had owned the premises adjoining the Kosmos which was now incorporated into the supermarket. The club had had an assembly room in those days and to the rear a small bar with tables for refreshments. Mrs Warburton's description tallied exactly with the club's old refreshment room.
The bar, the cinema and the assembly room had all vanished years ago, Mrs Warburton was told. Yet, on 18th June 1968, she had stepped into the past and like others involved in time-slips had accepted without question the place in which she found herself. Retrospective clairvoyance, it is called. Whatever it is, it is mighty odd to contemplate.
Another time-slip incident took place in Kent some years earlier. In 1935 Dr E.G. Moon, a very down-to-earth Scots physician with a practice in Broadstairs, was at Minster in Thanet visiting his patient, Lord Carson, who lived at Cleve Court. After talking to Carson, the doctor left his patient and made his way downstairs into the hallway. His mind was clearly very occupied at the time with the instructions he had given the nurse about the prescription he had left for Carson. At the front door Dr Moon hesitated, wondering whether to go back upstairs to have another word with the nurse.
It was at this point that the doctor noted that his car was no longer where he had left it in the driveway. In fact, it had been parked alongside a thick yew hedge and that too was missing. Even the drive down which he had driven from the main road was now nothing but a muddy track, and a man was coming towards him.
The newcomer on the scene, only 30 yards from Dr Moon, was rather oddly dressed, wearing an old-fashioned coat with several capes around the shoulders. And he wore a top hat of the kind seen in the previous century. As he walked he smacked a switch against his riding boots. Over his shoulder he carried a long-barrelled gun. He stared hard at Moon. And the doctor registered the fact that the man coming towards him might have looked more at home in the 19th century.
Remarkably, Dr Moon seems not at the time to have been either alarmed or even mildly surprised by the changed scenery, by the quite oddly dressed man approaching him or the fact that his car was missing. What preoccupied him was the thought of Lord Carson's prescription. He simply turned away, without any concern, to go back into the house. But he did quite casually take one more look at the scene he was leaving. And now, as if by magic, the car was back where it had been and the yew hedge too. The drive was no longer a muddy track. And the man had also disappeared, back one assumes to the previous century. And it was only now that Dr Moon realised that something odd, something decidedly odd, had occurred.
All of this took seconds and so there is every reason to understand why Dr Moon did not immediately go out into the driveway to see where his missing car was. For the same reason it is understandable why he did not speak to the man dressed like a farm bailiff of the past. Dr Moon was drawn into some kind of accepting, hallucinatory state. When he came to - for that seems to be the best way of describing his return to his own time - he described to Lady Carson what he thought had occurred. He was anxious, however, that no word of it should come out in his lifetime for fear that his patients would begin to question his judgement. It was only after his death that the story was revealed.
It is difficult to grapple with the notion of time-slips. It may be that all past events are impressed into the fabric of buildings and that in some way and on some occasions they are released. In other words, what Mrs Warburton and Dr Moon saw were ghosts, but not solely of people but of all of their surroundings.
Or did Mrs Warburton and Dr Moon actually return to a real, physical past? Did they turn up as strangers, were they really the interlopers, at somebody else's present? And if so - and this is an intriguing yet unanswerable question - did some people drinking coffee one Saturday morning in a Tunbridge Wells café look up and see Mrs Warburton? Did a man dressed like a farm bailiff, walking towards Cleve Court one day well over a hundred years earlier, see a strangely dressed doctor at the front door of the house? Did the coffee drinkers ever wonder where the elderly lady had so suddenly gone? And did the farm bailiff ask himself how the oddly dressed figure in the doorway had so suddenly disappeared?
Strangely, Tunbridge Wells has thrown up another odd story that may or not have been a time-slip. This tale goes back to some time in the mid 19th century and it took place in the Swan Hotel in The Pantiles. Mrs Nancy Fuller and her young daughter, Naomi, on a first visit to the town, took a room at the top of the hotel, the room now Number 16. As they climbed the stairs to their room the girl's behaviour began to change. She appeared more and more agitated, closing her eyes and whispering to herself. When her mother asked her what was wrong Naomi replied that she recognised the stairway, that she had been there before. Then she came out with the astounding remark that her lover was waiting for her in the room as he had said he always would. When they entered the room the young girl went at once to the corner, calling out 'John' as though to someone standing there waiting. For a few seconds in her mother's eyes she seemed to change, to grow older, and even her clothing was that of an earlier time.
The story that Naomi later told her mother was that she had previously lived in this building when it was a privately owned house. This was certainly before 1835 when it became The Swan. In the days when Naomi had lived there it had been known as High House. The young girl went on to explain that she had had a love affair with a man called John, but her father had disapproved, had the young man taken away and had locked her in the room. Alone in the room, aware that she would never again see him, she had conjured up the image of John and holding the hand of her imagined lover, she had jumped to her death from the window.
Room 16 is haunted. There are still tales of disarranged bed covers and of chairs being moved, and tapping at the window. Some have claimed to hear the cry 'John' carried on the wind.
But is this an early example of a time-slip? It differs from the other accounts in that Naomi was aware of a past life and her part in it. Some have regarded this story as an instance of reincarnation. Others have seen it as déjà vu. But if reincarnation is the answer, what is it that triggers such an awareness of it? And if déjà vu, how can that come about? Perhaps it is simply a haunting resulting from a young girl's suicide. But the story is so curious that the idea of a time-slip is tempting.
This story is reproduced from the book, Supernatural England, by Countryside Books, which contains dozens of spooky tales featuring ghosts, poltergeists and hauntings from across the country. To find out more, click here
- Alex Batho