HALLOWEEN FEATURE: Staking out Minsden Chapel in wait of some grisly apparition...
PUBLISHED: 18:26 30 October 2017
The mysterious ghostly figure of a monk, caught on photograph at an ancient ruined chapel near Hitchin - there couldn't be anything in this, could there?
‘No’ is the answer, as the photograph’s creator confessed in 1930 – but he’d kept up the pretence for 23 years, fooling a fair few into believing his hoax.
Thomas William Latchmore of Hitchin was the photographer, and Minsden Chapel near the village of Preston was where the picture was taken.
The hoax began in 1907 when he developed his plates back at his Hitchin studio and claimed to have noticed “this strange image on one of them. I do not claim it is a ghost. It may only be due to some freak of light and shade, but it is extraordinary, is it not?”
Latchmore told this story to the occult writer Elliott O’Donnell, also showing him his photograph – and on Halloween night in 1923 O’Donnell led a party to Minsden. He and Latchmore were accompanied by three journalists, a schoolteacher and a lady reputed to have psychic powers.
O’Donnell told afterwards how they had arrived shortly before midnight. The reporters huddled under an arch while the psychic lady, wearing a witch’s costume, sat and chanted ominously.
O’Donnell said: “Nothing came, however, and we were all beginning to despair of any phenomenon when suddenly one of our number, with a loud ejaculation, pointed to a white light shimmering through the naked branches of a tree.
“It’s come at last, someone whispered – and we saw what looked like a figure clad in the white costume of a nun standing in front of the arches.”
To their great disappointment, it turned out to be “a curious and distinctly eerie effect of moonbeams and shadow”. When the group left at 4am, they agreed that if Minsden were not haunted, “it ought to be, for a more eerie spot none of us had ever been in”.
O’Donnell returned on Halloween in 1925, and this time was targeted by pranksters who let off explosions and lights.
Finally, in 1930, Latchmore confessed the hoax to O’Donnell, explaining that a friend had covered himself in a sheet while a timed exposure was taken – creating the ghostly image.
Minsden Chapel retains its ghoulish reputation to this day – in part thanks to noted Hitchin historian Reginald Hine, whose ashes were scattered there in 1949.
He had pledged that in death he would “endeavour, in all ghostly ways, to protect and haunt its hallowed walls”.