By Robin Strom-Mackey
In the English countryside of upper Mayfield, Derbyshire, England is a small, rather dowdy, country cottage of some antiquity; which despite it’s quiet surroundings and distance from humanity became the center of no small amount of controversy in the 1990’s.
Lowes [or Loews] Cottage was purchased in 1994 by Andrew and Josie Smith, when the couple moved into the dilapidated cottage with their children. Because of its condition, the Smiths had gotten the cottage for a low price, purchasing it with the intention to fix and flip it quickly for a hefty profit. But according to the Smith’s, that dream was broken when they found out that the little cottage was home to more than them. According to the Smiths, a spirit or spirits had already taken up residence at the home, and did not appear particularly amenable to sharing the abode with the family.
In a television interview for Unsolved Mysteries: Ghosts, Josie Smith said that she recalled definite temperature drops in certain rooms in the house; and reported that in select areas one could, “never really see the ceiling for the hazziness.” Josie is on record saying, “We think the place is haunted. We’ve seen ghosts, we’ve seen articles thrown about, we’ve seen candles move.” And in his own interview, Andrew Smith indicated that inhabiting the house was stressful. “ Inside of you is churning up expecting something to happen. Even when it’s quiet you’re still on edge.“ He summed it up as being, “quite frightening.”
According to local legend, Lowes Cottage had been home to a milkmaid named Elaine Harry and her lover, a man by the name of Joseph Phillips, back in the 1860’s. It is purportedly Elaine’s former employer who murdered the comely milkmaid, perhaps due to jealousy, and buried her in the basement of Lowes Cottage (where the kitchen is now). Upon learning that his lover had been murdered, Phillips hung himself in despair, dying next to the body of his love - according to one version. The Smiths state that they found town records that verify the existence of the fateful couple.
Josie Smith contends that she once witnessed an apparition of a young Victorian lady in that very room. Josie apparently turned around to find a woman standing in the room with her. According to Josie the woman was dressed like a Victorian, with a “gathered top” tucked into a floor length skirt. But what really was unnerving was when Josie realized that the figure was semi-opaque, and that she could literally see the window frame behind which the woman was standing.
While the apparition of the young woman was frightening, that was nothing to the events of one fateful night. Josie reports that she awoke from sleep because of a pressure on her neck. She came fully awake to find that something or someone was seemingly trying to choke her. Andrew, in bed next to his wife was unable to help against the invisible assailant, and by the time the encounter ended, both were extremely frightened.
Understandably upset, the Smith’s sought religious counsel in the way of the Vicar of Blurton, Church of England Reverend Peter Mockford. The Smith’s enlisted the help of Mockford, who agreed to do a house blessing for the couple. Andrew Smith says that during the house blessing the entire cottage seemed to get visibly lighter, and that the atmosphere in the home seemed to lighten as well.
The Smith’s reprieve was sadly short lived. That very night, apparently, the ghost or ghosts began their onslaught anew.
As the Smith’s asked questions and sought counsel from religious and paranormal experts, notoriety about the small cottage began to build. At one point the Smith’s tried to refinance the mortgage on the home, only to have the bank turn down their request. It was at this point that the Smiths did something arguably different from the many other families that report having moved into haunted locations, the Smiths decided to sue the former owners for non-disclosure. The Smith’s attorney reasoned that, just as an owner would disclose bad plumbing or a faulty roof to a potential buyer, so too should the previous owners have disclosed the home’s otherworldly inhabitants.
The former owners were sisters Susan Melbourne and Sandra Podmore, whose childhood residence the cottage had been. Their father had passed away, leaving the cottage to them as an inheritance. They had then sold the residence to the Smith’s for a sum of $87,000.
The sisters were outraged by the suit, both claiming that they had never, in the twenty or more years they had resided at the property, experienced anything out of the ordinary. In her television interview Sandra states, It’s “rubbish, absolute rubbish. We never saw anything, heard anything, nothing unusual happened. There was nothing flying around rooms, there was no vile smells or mists - nothing at all.” And Susan Melbourne, agreed by stating that in her 25 years of living at the cottage, she had never heard or saw anything unusual, and certainly nothing associated with the “paranormal.”
Podmore and Melbourne answered the suit filed by the Smiths by countersuing for the final $6,000 they said the Smiths had failed to pay them for the property. The sisters agreed that the Smiths were lying about their ghostly inhabitants in an attempt to get out of paying for the cottage.
The landmark case was resolved in January 1999, by Judge Peter Stretton who ruled in favor of the cottage’s former owners, the sisters Melbourne and Podmore, saying, “I do not accept that it is haunted now or has been at any other time.” Judge Stretton described the actions of the Smith’s as “extraordinary.”
Since the court decision the Smith’s have moved out and have moved on. Lowes Cottage has since changed hands, and the new owners made fully aware of the supposed happenings at the now infamous cottage. Nothing new in the way of paranormal occurrences has been reported thus far. Did the Smith’s make the whole story up for publicity’s sake or are the Lowes Cottage spooks simply behaving for the time being? Very few people seem to know for sure. One thing is clear, however, and that is that ghosts appear to be very difficult to defend in court.
Meurer, Terry Dunn & Cosgrove, John, Executive Producers. Stack, Robert, Host. Unsolved Mysteries: Ghosts. Cosgrove & Meurer Productions, Inc. 1994
Karl, Jason. An Illustrated History of the Haunted World.
Barnes & Noble Inc. in Cooperation with New Holland Publishers, Ltd.: UK 2007.