14 January 2016


Jenny Ashford and Steve Mera. The Rochdale Poltergeist: A True Story. Bleed Red Books, 2015.

This little booklet co-written by an American horror story writer and a Greater Manchester ufologist and paranormal researcher deals with a poltergeist case in pre-fab bungalow in Rochdale in the hot August of 1995. The case was the subject of an article by Peter Hough in Fortean Times 89, August 1996.
As is almost invariably the situation in such cases, the family concerned was one with multiple problems and some elements of the story are common to such cases. The exact makeup of the family is however rather difficult to work out due to contradictory information in this book and in Hough’s article. The core family consisted of an elderly woman, her second husband and her 30 something daughter, who apparently had some form of learning difficulties. There was also a granddaughter. In the book the investigators are told about the granddaughter by the local priest, to their surprise, as they had not known about her. She is described as a ‘little girl’ living with foster parents, who is terrified by the events in this house and now only meets her mother at the foster home.

However in Hough’s account the ‘little girl’ is actually a 14 year old teenager, who lives in the house (confirmed by the newspaper clipping reproduced in the book), and indeed the investigators talk directly to her and her friend who was a frequent visitor. Also present was the eldest woman’s step-son. Is this perhaps a more permeable house, one in which all sorts of people wander in and out.

The central anomaly in this property was however, the mysterious appearance of water on the ceiling and walls, and what appeared to be sort of internal rain. A sample was taken of this water and compared with the tap water. It showed a much higher level of salinity than the tap water, along with a much higher level of conductivity.

On this the book quotes an official from north –west water, telling that the USCM’s “measure the electric charge that water picks up when it goes through copper pipes”, that it is electrically driven, full of electricity , that the figure 1,323 is off the scale, never seen, would require some difficult technology to reproduced. How very exciting.

The trouble is, that all of that is nonsense. An internet check led me to the this Australian agricultural site, which gives a very clear explanation of what these water conductivity tests measure. 

Water conductivity, expressed as “microSiemens” (which as this is not a technical site, I will just call units), actually measures the salinity of water. From this an a couple of other sites, I learnt that the purest “de-ionised” is as low as 6 units, good quality drinking water is about 80 units, the upper end for water to be drinkable is 800 units, slightly salty water 1,800 units, all the way up to sea water is 54,000 units (so much for 1,300 being off the scale).

Initially the ceiling sample being saltier than the tap water would appear to rule out condensation. However for any real conclusions to be reached, it would have need several different samples of this anomalous water, as well as samples from every tap and water source in the house, possibly from neighbours, checking possible ground water, searching old maps for possible springs in the area etc. Perhaps if the investigators had been allowed to take on the tenancy, or at least house sit when the family left, they would have been able to do more research at leisure.

Looking at the story from another point of view, it seems to fit the idea of the house as an extension of the self and the odd things going on there as symbolic of inner turmoil. From that point of view, salty water coming from various places in the house, suggests that in some way the house is weeping!

The book concludes with two short chapters, one giving details of some similar cases in the literature, the other in the American author’s family circle. -- Peter Rogerson

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