Of Things Wraithlike and Most Uncanny: Lowlands-L’s Crypt
Of Things Wraithlike and Most Uncanny: Lowlands-L’s Crypt


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The Ferranti Spectre

by Sandy Fleming

This story is completely true, so don’t try to read it as dramatic fiction or you may be disappointed. I’ve avoided mentioning names in order to protect those involved.

Way back in the 1980s I was working as a software engineer at Ferranti in Cwmbrân in South Wales. When I arrived in 1979 we worked in a tiny Portakabin in the middle of a plot of waste ground, and the huge, purpose-built software house had been built around us as we worked, so it wasn’t an old building by any means. Ferranti sunk in 1994, and the last time I was in the area the purpose-built software house had been converted to a carpet warehouse, but at the time the Cwmbrân site specialised in producing training software for air traffic control simulations and suchlike. These days you can make a training simulator at home with just a PC, an HDTV and a dentist’s chair, but back then a simulator was very hardware-intensive and a development area was the size of a large ballroom and littered will all sorts of stuff: banks of monitors, “minicomputers” the size of a wardrobe, arrays of cooling fans, miles of assorted cables, and specialised equipment such as ranging lasers, multi-kilowatt projection lamps, and audio systems that went many knobmarks beyond Spinal Tap’s legendary eleven.

The project I worked on was the biggest in terms of hardware, although only four software engineers were required. We had our offices along a corridor next to the huge simulator room in the basement, but the management in their wisdom decided to move us all to the top floor on the opposite side of the building. After that it was quite a walk from my desk to the simulator equipment.

A few years before this, one of the managers had died at his desk. I remember seeing him being carried off from his office in the basement, near where the simulator now was. One day I was walking the long walk down to the simulator room and got chatting to an engineer who told me that this manager’s ghost had been seen by one of the security men on his nightly rounds. This got me interested, and he explained that it was the third door at the entrance to my simulator room. That’s to say, one door went into a staff shower room, the other opened on the simulator room, but there was a third door, and I had never thought about where it led to.

When the chap explained further that the security man now refused to go down there again, I decided I’d have to go there myself and see what there was.

It was quite strange. I opened the door, went down a flight of steps and turned a corner, and there I was in a tiny room, completely empty with tiled walls and floor, and no windows or doors. Presumably the architect had a little space left over that he didn’t know what to do with, and decided it might be useful as a small store room. It didn’t seem to be being used, so the security men, who were supposed to look into every room in the building on their nightly rounds, would be the only ones that visited.

I decided to get the facts from the horse’s mouth. The security man in question had been in the local papers as a Sean Connery look alike, so I knew who he was. I had to press him a bit about the ghost, since he didn’t seem to want to talk. In the end he said it was just a grey shape, and he outlined a vaguely human shape with his hands.

Some time after this I had to do some night shifts so I could work with the simulator without the hardware engineers getting in the way. Every night, me and one or two other software engineers would be in. As I walked the long walk through darkened corridors from my office to the simulator room, I occasionally thought about the ghost. You need to understand at this point that I’m used to being about in the night, and sometimes go down and sit in the village graveyard at night to watch the bats flitting about in the moonlight. I’m not easily spooked. On top of this I’m a scientist and not about to start believing in ghosts if they’re going to keep on being so unobservable as they are. So the walk in the silent, darkened corridors several times a night was something to look forward to, and I especially liked walking on moonlit nights through the side of the building that was all glass roof and walls.

But one night as I approached the simulator room, things took an unexpected turn. All of a sudden I felt very cold and came out in goosebumps that I could feel on my arm. For no apparent reason I suddenly felt quite scared and had an overwhelming sense of there being someone else walking the corridors, unseen, but very near me. It was scary, but I wasn’t terrified out of my wits, so there was nothing for it but go on to the simulator room and get on with the work.

Over the coming weeks I didn’t look forward to having to go down there on the nightshift any more. Sometimes this sensation came over me again, but not usually. It did cross my mind that I might see a grey, vaguely human shape walking the corridors, but this never happened.

The next summer I was on nightshifts on a different project which was housed in rented offices in a different building across the road. I was on continual nightshift almost the entire summer and didn’t once get this feeling. I even tried to make myself scared and imagine there was someone in the corridors, but to no effect. Like I said, it’s not normal for me to get spooked (not even as I sit here late at night alone typing this ghostly tale!), but it was as if there must have really been something there in the basement of the main building.

Quite recently I was reading Richard Wiseman’s book “Quirkology” and came across an account of something similar experienced by Vic Tandy, a scientist who worked in a laboratory that had a reputation for being haunted. Wiseman describes Vic’s experience in this way:

”Working alone late at night, he started to feel increasingly uncomfortable, and cold. Next, he had the distinct impression of being watched, and looked up to see an indistinct grey figure slowly emerge in the left side of his peripheral vision. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and, as he recalled, ‘It would not be unreasonable to suggest that I was terrified.’ Vic eventually built up the courage to turn and look at the figure. As he did, it faded away and disappeared.”

The next day Vic had his fencing foil in work as he was entering a fencing competition later on. Having noticed that the foil was vibrating, he was able to use it as an instrument for investigating the pattern of energy in the room and traced the problems to an air conditioning fan that was generating sound waves below the human hearing threshold. The book goes on to explain the many strange effects that infrasound can produce, including the panic that animals seem to experience prior to an earthquake or on the approach of a tsunami.

It all now looks like it’s only natural. The little tiled storage room where the Ferranti security man encountered the strange grey figure, and the corridors where I felt the sudden onset of cold, fear and paranoia were right next to the vast simulator room. Amongst the computers, acoustic walls, powerful light and sound generators, cooling fans and miles of electrical cables, there could easily have been something generating enough infrasound to get the building listed in “Britain’s Most Haunted”.

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