STAFF at a Berwick charity shop are steeling themselves for a rough night as they prepare for a sleepover in their very own little shop of horrors.
A group of four are raising funds for the British Heart Foundation’s national heart month by spending a night in the Marygate shop, along with another resident – the ghost of the building’s former owner.
Shop manager Debbie Calder came up with the idea, although she admits having second thoughts.
She explained: “I don’t know why I thought of it, maybe because I’m actually really scared! I’m the one who can’t go upstairs on my own, that’s where the ghost is, usually.”
The haunting was first noticed when the Berwick BHF branch decided to rent some of the upstairs space above the Marygate shop.
Debbie describes some of the classic signs of the supernatural that have become part of the staff’s normal routine.
“Things move,” she says. “We often hear footsteps going up and down the stairs, and wandering around on the floor above. I went into my little office upstairs one day and the files on my top shelf were all falling. Well, falling in slow motion, as if they were being taken down by something I couldn’t see.
“Only this week we were locking up, with everybody upstairs getting their coats together. Suddenly the downstairs door just creaked open and then closed, completely on its own.
“And just this Saturday I was working up here on my own. I heard footsteps in the kitchen, and when I called out, there was nobody there.”
Just the strange noises you hear in old buildings everywhere, some would say. But it gets stranger.
“About two years ago,” adds Debbie, “I had all my paperwork spread out on the floor in the office. I turned around to find a ring, a very old fashioned ladies’ ring with the stone taken out. It had just been placed on my papers as I turned my head.
“At about the same time, I was hearing a voice up here, calling out what sounded like ‘Annie’.
“One of our volunteers, Dorothy, she’s not a medium so much as she reads energies. She took the ring home and told me she was getting the name ‘Elizabeth Ann’, but that the woman preferred the name Annie.”
After this breakthrough, things really began gathering steam. On one of her lunch breaks, Debbie met a group of people “stood outside in a little throng, just staring up at the shop”.
They turned out to be descendants of the couple who used to own the building at the turn of the century: William Crow and his wife, Anne or ‘Annie’. The group were in Berwick tracing their family tree.
“Unbelievable,” is Debbie’s verdict on the coincidence.
William Crow ran the building as a chemist’s shop, which explains the massive collection of Victorian medicine bottles found upstairs when BHF moved in.
William’s father, a master decorator, used to mix up his own paints at his base on Bridge Street, earning enough to send his son to Edinburgh to train as a chemist.
Once the ghost’s identity had been revealed, his attentions seemed to get a bit more personal.
“I often feel things, especially little pulls on the back of my collar, stuff like that,” says Debbie.
“Dorothy thinks that William just does these things to me because I’m the one who reacts, and he likes to wind me up.
“I’ve no doubt at all that he’s friendly, but it’s still a bit of a shock when it happens!”
Debbie admits that it sounds far-fetched, but she challenges anyone to go upstairs, into what would have been store rooms for chemicals or servants’ quarters, and not feel ‘something’.
“We had a work experience lad,, and he didn’t believe us at all, so we sent him up there to organise some stock,” she adds. “He went up to get things, and he was fine. But when he went to get another load, we heard a shout, and he came running back down, saying ‘Very funny, guys, very funny.’
“All these skirts he was sorting had been thrown about all over the place up there, and none of us had been up.”
As if daily visits from William weren’t enough, Debbie and Lindsay Watkinson are toying with the idea of contacting more ghosts during the sleepover.
“We doubt very much that there will be any actual sleeping,” says Debbie. “We’ll be too nervous and scared. It probably hasn’t helped that we’ve been reading though some second-hand books about ghosts and the paranormal.”
Lindsay adds: “We’ve been tempted to try a ouija board, but we’re not entirely sure yet. That might just be a bit too much.”
But Debbie is still looking forward to the stunnt, even if it means spending 24 hours at work. “Hopefully we won’t stumble out in the morning having been scared out of our wits!”
William Crow is not the only spectral former shop owner still hanging around town.
Berrydin Books on Castlegate and the Berwick Railway Station cafe, who are helping BHF collect sponsorship, are also apparently visited by their former landlords.
In Berrydin Books, the ghost is a newsagent who owned the premises, and he is more spiteful than William, with books being thrown across the storeroom.
To show your support for National Heart Month and help combat heart disease, sign up to sponsor Debbie and her staff: there is no minimum donation. Forms are available at BHF, Berrydin Books, and the Railway Station Cafe.