For most of his adult life Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe has been delving into the great mysteries of the world. Along with his wife of 62 years, Patricia, the duo have written hundreds of books and investigated countless seemingly unexplainable cases of strange phenomena and the paranormal. Many of them for cult Channel Four show Fortean TV, which the motorbike riding Reverand Fanthorpe memorably fronted.
Given Halloween is nearly here, we thought it was the perfect time of year to speak with Reverend Fanthorpe about some of his favourite mysteries and some of the strangest experiences he’s been party to, including an incredible story he recounts about an encounter with a close friend of his who had passed away.
The MALESTROM: What first got you interested in the paranormal?
Lionel Fanthorpe: It was as a schoolboy. This was in the 1940s, I went to a school in Swaffham, Norfolk called Hamond’s Grammar School. I was one of those lads who didn’t like difficult subjects. We had a very old fashioned library and I would disappear from the classroom if it was a subject that was likely to be difficult, Latin and algebra were the two I liked to dodge. And I’d go to this Victorian library which had old bookcases at three or four foot spaced intervals and I would hide there.
And as I was hiding I’d take a book off the shelf to read. The teacher on duty in the library couldn’t see past all these bookshelves, so if you hid there and kept your mouth shut, you could get away with a period for a subject you didn’t like. There I read HG Wells and some of the other similar authors of the time and that’s what gave me my appetite for exploring the mysterious.
I had the great good fortune to meet and marry my lovely wife Patricia back in 1957 and we’ve just celebrated our 62nd anniversary. She shares my interest in the paranormal and is a wonderful researcher and fact-checker. Between us, we’ve literally investigated hundreds of unsolved mysteries.
TM: What’s the strangest case you’ve investigated in your time?
LF: I would say the most strange and to our minds unsolvable, would be the Barbados coffins. There’s a vault on the island that belongs to very wealthy settlers there called the Chase family. One of them was buried in this vault, they were using very heavy lead-lined reinforced coffins, extremely heavy, it had taken six men to move it. Then another member of the family died and they were taken to lie in rest there. When the landowner Colonel Thomas Chase died the men came to store this third coffin and they saw the other two coffins had been moved.
So they laid this coffin there and again time passed before another member of the family died and was to be buried down there. Now by this time the mystery has gone all over the island, what was happening in that Chase vault? The governor of the island Lord Combermere, this was in the time of the British Empire, was himself present when they laid this fourth coffin to rest, and the other three were all over the place, and one of them had been picked up and leant against the wall so it was more or less vertical.
There was panic on the island with all kinds of strange rumours flying about over ghosts and monsters and heaven knows what and there was a governors order that they were all to be taken out of the vault and buried separately six feet deep. They’ve been there ever since. On my bookcase is a stone which I took from the floor of that vault when I was investigating the place with Patricia. I often think if only that stone could talk and tell me the story of why those coffins moved?
TM: I bet you’d like to know what happened with that one?
LF: I certainly would. Something moved those coffins. That was one of the most exciting and interesting cases we’ve looked into.
TM: And in terms of personal experiences, what’s the strangest thing you’ve witnessed or felt first hand?
LF: There is one I’d love to share with you. I used to teach in the 60s with a very great friend named Bill Farrar. Bill and I taught at the same village college in Cambridge and became the firmest of friends, more like brothers. We both did our best for the children and adults who came there who needed us and when we moved on we kept in touch over the years as best we could.
Then a year or two back I got a very sad phone call from Bill saying he’d just been diagnosed with something terminal and he had six weeks to live and asked if I could come over and see him. So every weekend for the last few weeks of his life I drove from Cardiff to Cambridge to visit him.
Then I got a call from Bill’s village priest, Ian, who said, “I’m very sorry to tell you but Bill had passed over. One of his last requests to me was to ask if you would come over to conduct the funeral service in my church.” Which of course I agreed to do. So I drove over on the Thursday when I’d finished work in Cardiff, it was about a 300-mile trip.
If you can imagine I turned up at midnight and was then in Ian’s study at his vicarage with our prayer books, sorting out readings for the funeral, then quite suddenly… I saw Bill. He had looked very, very ill the last time that I’d seen him alive, now he looked like a young man in his 20s or 30s, the same as when we were teaching together. Radiant, happy, smiling. And Ian couldn’t see or hear anything. But I could see and hear Bill as clearly as he was alive and in the flesh.
He said to me with a big smile, ‘Tell Ian, that the Lady Juliana was absolutely right.’ And then he vanished. I thought well, I’ve only just met Ian if I now tell him I’ve seen Bill and Bill had a message for him about Lady Juliana he was going to think that I was coming off the wall. But, I took a deep breath and thought if this were the other way around, if I was the one who had passed over, Bill would have done it for me.
So I said to Ian, “I’m sorry if this sounds strange, but I have just seen Bill. And he asked me to tell you, that Lady Juliana was absolutely right.” I thought he was just going to shrug his shoulders, but he didn’t, he nearly fell off his chair. He didn’t speak for a minute and then he said, “You can’t have known that.” I’m saying to myself why can’t I have known? I’m all agog. And then Ian explained he’d been with Bill in intensive care and before he passed Bill had told him the story of Saint Juliana who lived about six hundred years ago.
She had had a vision, her eyes had rolled and the other nuns thought she was about to collapse, so flustered around her to hold her up, then Juliana said she wasn’t ill, but her spirit had left her body and she had seen heaven! They asked he what it was like? To which she replied ecstatic with happiness, that, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Ian said, “that was the last thing Bill told me before he passed and now you’ve driven here 300-miles to tell me Juliana was right, that he’s there and all is well.”
Well, if you can imagine two priests that have just turned into waxworks. We qualified for Madame Tussauds. Before we could get on with putting the funeral book together, Ian went across to his drinks cabinet and got out a bottle and two glasses and said, “Father, I think we need some drinks.” That was the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me personally in a paranormal situation.
TM: Was it a comfort to you seeing him at that time?
LF: It was. To have lost Bill, then to see him as he had looked all those years ago when we were young teachers together at that village college in Cambridge, it was a very happy experience.
TM: As an ordained Anglian priest, you’ve also carried out a number of exorcisms in your time. Can you tell us about those?
LF: As far as I’m concerned, there are all kinds of official channels and appointed exorcists within dioceses, but I’m afraid I’m not much of a rule keeper when a person is in trouble. One of the strangest cases I had was a haunted car that I was asked to exorcise.
It was a Ford Capri with the number plate ‘ARK666Y’. The guy who owned it said it did the most peculiar things and he felt as though there was someone in the car with him. I went to meet the man with his car and when I arrived I felt a very odd sensation indeed. The holy water became inexplicably hot in my hands. It is the only time that has happened. So I exorcised the car for him, I blessed it and sprinkled Holy Water on it. That was the most unusual one.
Another time, I was just walking home on the streets in Cardiff and this guy darts out of his front door, I had my dog collar on, he grabs me by my sleeves and shouts, “I need a priest, I need a priest”. He was terrified.
He explained that his wife had recently died and she had been married before and had lost her previous husband with whom she had two grown-up children by this first marriage. She had left a little money for them, and when she found out she was terminally ill she told her husband, “make sure that the money I’ve saved for my children gets to them.”
He confessed to me that he’d kept it so he could use it, instead of giving it to the two children from her first marriage. He said, “her ghost is walking around the house and is giving me no peace. I’ve now given the money to them as she wanted, but she’s still there.”
So I went with him to her grave at Western Cemetary here in Cardiff, blessed the grave and told her to rest in peace and what she wanted had been done. And not long after he said to me, “she’s gone since you blessed the grave and told her about the money, she’s gone.” Now that’s one of the strangest I’ve been involved with.
TM: There’s one more story that you were involved in that it’d be great to hear. Could you tell us about the Time Slip in Norwich…
LF: We were in Norwich where we lived at the time, and near the Cathedral are some old fashioned gents toilets that date back to Victorian times, it must be 150 years old at least. You have to go down a flight of steps to access the toilets. It’s conveniently placed for parking with a car park right beside it.
Myself and Patrica had gone out for a walk around the Cathedral and as we came out a poor woman came running across to us, her car was parked pretty close to ours. She saw my dog collar and realised I was a priest and she said, “Father can you help me? I don’t know what’s happened to my husband. He went to the toilet and left me in the car and didn’t come back. I asked a traffic warden who went passed if he’d be kind enough to take a look down there in case he’s had a heart attack or fallen on the stairs.”
It turns out the traffic warden had gone down the stairs to the toilets and looked for him – there were three cubical toilets and a urinal, he said he’d looked in every cubical and there was no one there. She said that she couldn’t understand as she’d seen him go down and kept watch and he’d never come up the stairs.
She was getting more and more worried so I went and had a look down there myself and just as the traffic warden reported the place was empty. Then not long after as Patricia and I were talking to her and trying to comfort her, to my utter astonishment, a man emerges from this toilet that I had seen empty with my own eyes, looking very bewildered and he came across to the car, opened the door, she looked so happy and relieved and he said, “I’ll tell you in a minute, I just have to sit down.”
He’d obviously just gone through a very strange experience and when he’d recovered sufficiently to explain to his wife, he said he’d gone down to use the toilet, then come up again, only to find his car was not there, his wife was not there and everything looked strangely different. The cars a little way ahead of where that toilet was located were going past on the road and he said they were almost silent, it sounded as though they had electric engines rather than the normal internal combustion engines we’re used to. he said, “I stood there and it was as if I’d gone into the future.” It’s like he’s gone up the steps and gone 30 – 40 years ahead.
I’ve read science fiction stories in which there are time slips and if you can get back to the right place again you might be able to slip back. He’d stood at the top of the stairs for a few minutes then thought to himself I’ll go down again, and he sat and rested on one of the toilet seats again for a few minutes then he came back up again and he saw us and his wife and the car.
All we could think was we were so pleased that this had had a happy ending. I tried to weigh up what might have happened and it seemed when he came up the stairs the first time there had been some sort of time slip, – you get time slips and time quakes just as you do earthquakes or faults in the electricity supply.
I certainly couldn’t explain how or what had happened. I think time is very mysterious and he did exactly the right thing by going down again and when he came back up he was in our time. So that was the time slip experience that we witnessed first hand. It’s always best to look for rational explanations wherever possible, but that was a weird one!
TM: Before you go is there some wisdom you could bestow on us?
LF: At the centre of this universe is love. And if you can find a person or people who matter more to you than your own existence, then you have solved the mystery of life. And by caring and loving you are living in the best possible way.
You can purchase Lionel & Patricia Fanthorpe’s latest books such as ‘The Joan of Arc Mysteries’ from https://www.wordcatcher.com/
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