Is there anybody there?
Items moving mysteriously, things disappearing one day to somehow magically return a few days later, strange smells, all the signs of a haunting.
Elms Avenue, Eastbourne, is a road adjacent to the seafront in this town midway between Hastings and Brighton on England’s south coast.
Number eleven looks quite ordinary, apart from the blue plaque alongside the commonplace front door. It has a basement, a ground floor, and two floors above, with an extensive loft. It is part of a terrace. If you stand outside from across the street, you will see a large tree that is sometimes trimmed by the local authority, but where pedestrians have to walk close to the property’s wall to avoid the angled unforgiving trunk that will strike you if you are not paying sufficient attention.
There is a ground floor bay window, a small front garden with a wooden bench that requires some attention before collapsing one future day under an unsuspecting heavier person. The terrace was built in the Victorian 1890s for a larger family, the servants would have slept at the very top. The first occupants moved out in the mid-1920s, then an upcoming future star of variety was to be the longest-running resident. He is still there.
Sandy Powell was one of the biggest names in variety from the late 1920s through to when audiences turned to television in the 1960s. He could still do a variety turn, performing late into his life, which ended in 1982. Eastbourne has a theatrical tradition, Mr. Powell had the pier’s theatre, the Devonshire Park Theatre, or the oldest one, the Hippodrome, to choose from. The pier was managed by his good friend Clarkson Rose, the two men had a formidable friendship, Sandy was often the headliner featured on the bill.
Sandy Powell was 82 when he died of a heart attack, which for two days he had mis-diagnosed as indigestion. Maybe the fact that he was planning a round the world cruise made him want to think it wasn’t too serious. Since 1982 he has been occupying 11 Elms Avenue, Eastbourne.
Some years after his death, Mrs. Powell was going to have to leave the house to go into a nursing home. Their long-standing tenant, who was also the pier theatre manager, was given the task of showing prospective purchasers around, and my good friend Trish reported for her hour long tour, with the manager and a mysterious gentleman accompanying her all the time.
The other man was wearing a black homburg hat, a thick overcoat, and never spoke once, with a demeanour speaking volumes. He was there to approve the new potential owners.
The tenant did all the speaking, walking Trish around, pointing out everything of interest, she was non-committal, as the house would be quite a project – they would only be the third owners of a house that was getting on for a hundred years old, so needed quite a lot of work doing to it.
‘Needs a lot of work, but I want to buy it.’ They did.
Three months after moving in, something strange occurred. Trish was upstairs in the bathroom, setting a tile in place. She turned away, looked back, to see the tile coming straight at her head, really fast. No time to avoid it, but instead of hitting her full-on, it stopped, falling to the floor.
A few weeks later, they were sitting downstairs, in the lounge, with a box of chocolates on the mantelpiece. The box started moving towards the edge, really slowly, it caught the eye of the whole family including their two daughters, mesmerised they saw it move to the edge, teeter, then…it was down on the ground.
They had a cat called William, who would stand at the bottom of the stairs, rigid, hairs static, you could break them off they were so brittle, William wouldn’t have noticed. He would be looking at something humans couldn’t see, they had no idea what it was, but something was there, they just didn’t know what.
The lady next door, in number 9, is a Catholic lady from the Philippines. She would look out her back door into 11’s back yard. Standing inside the back window would be Sandy Powell, wearing his homburg hat, and black overcoat. He would be waiting for his occupants to come home.
‘Would you like me to ask my priest to come round and ask him to leave?’
‘No thanks, we rather like him here. He’s no trouble, really, I know he makes smells, makes things disappear, makes things move about, but he’s quite friendly and we’ve kind of got used to him.’
They owned the house for six years, and during that time experienced many manifestations, all created by Sandy Powell. They had no idea who he was, just that the house was haunted. Then a year after they sold the house, with ghost, Trish was watching a Christmas special. In black and white, there was Sandy Powell.
‘That’s the man in the homburg hat who showed me around before we bought Elms Avenue!’.
Sandy Powell still lives there, sometimes annoying residents, but the owners don’t live there any more. They live a little way away, and rent the house out for short term lets.
And the blue plaque? English Heritage had it placed, with an unveiling by Roy Hudd and other music hall luminaries. Little did they know that Sandy Powell was inside, as they were paying tribute to him outside. Bizarre.