Sunday, 14 February 2016

Six Ghost Stories ~ T. G. Jackson

Thomas Graham Jackson (1835-1924) was a one of the most distinguished architects of the late Victorian period. He was educated at Brighton College, before being awarded a scholarship at Wadham College. Following his graduation, in 1858, he became articled to George Gilbert Scott, the architect largely responsible for the mid-Victorian Gothic Revival. Jackson was a friend of William Morris, and he was a pivotal figure in the Arts and Crafts Moment. He was a keen traveller, an antiquarian, a scholar, and an accomplished writer; his histories were read in Britain, on the Continent and in the States. But he waited until he was eighty-four years old before publishing his only collection of ghost stories.

Six Ghost Stories was published in 1919 by John Murray. The tales it contains are: 'The Lady of Rosemount', 'The Ring', 'A Romance of the Picadilly Tube', 'The Eve of St John', 'Pepina', and 'The Red House'.

In 'The Lady of Rosemount', Henry Charlton is spending the long vacation at Rosemount Abbey, the recently acquired home of his uncle, Sir Thomas Wilmot. The abbey dates from the twelfth century and was once home to Benedictine monks, so old Henry, being an Oxford chap with antiquarian interests, is excited by its architecture. While exploring the ruined abbey-church with his cousins, he discovers a hidden tomb beneath overgrown weeds and brambles, on top of which is the alabaster figure of the Countess Alianora. And in the dead of night, Henry is drawn back to that alabaster beauty... fascinated by her and repelled by her in equal measure.

'The Ring' is set in Tuscany. Dr Morton, an Oxford Don and well-known antiquary, is in Tuscany to study the local folklore - la vecchia religione of the Etruscans. He and his companion, Archie Bryant, a Fellow of the same college, dream of discovering an untouched Etruscan tomb. One moonless night, with the aid of a local woman, they enter such a tomb, but Bryant comes away with a souvenir and lands himself in no end of trouble.

In 'A Romance of the Picadilly Tube', old Mr Markham adds a codicil to his will just prior to his death, and in doing so cuts out his eldest son, George, in favour of his youngest son, James. When the solicitor, Mr Harvey, falls under a tube train at Picadilly and is killed, the signed codicil falls into George's hands, which leaves the disinherited fellow in a quandary.

In 'The Eve of St John', Cecil Maynard, who has only recently inherited Castle Maynard, discovers the hidden diary of Roger Trumball, steward to his disreputable seventeenth-century ancestor, Sir Everard Maynard, who it seems did away with his wife, Hilda Tiptoft. According to the diary, Hilda asked Trumball to get word of her husband's abuse to her family, and the good steward swore to do so, whether living or dead. And when, three hundred years later, Sir Henry Tiptoft pays a call to Castle Maynard, the loyal steward has his chance.

'Pepina', before throwing herself into the canal in Naples, sends a note to Philip Cranston: 'Tell the traitor, I'll see you again at the right time'. The traitor is Sir Edward White, who had his way with the poor peasant woman and then deserted her. Three years later, Cranston's dying words, when he is murdered by Sir Edward, are: 'I leave you to Pepina'. And so the trouble begins.

In 'The Red House', William Hetherington, nephew to Sir Richard Hetherington, has got in with a bad lot and turned to highway robbery. When he robs Dicky Dawes, who is on his way to the home of Sir Richard, he is recognised. And one crime leads to another, and that leads to a haunting.

Jackson's tales have a Victorian feel. A few of his characters have antiquarian leanings, but his ghosts aren't the stuff of M R James' terrifying tales. Two of Jackson's spectres are intent on inspiring those still living to do the right thing, and one is determined to make the truth of a crime known. Only a couple of them intend harm. But despite the benevolent leanings of his phantoms, the tales are not short on atmosphere, and his living humans in some cases are bad enough to make up for the goodness of his ghosts. Also, as you'd imagine considering his profession, his architectural descriptions are excellent. In my opinion, the first two tales are the best ones.

A fine copy of the first edition of Six Ghost Stories is not a terribly easy thing to find, and if you do locate one it will most likely set you back about five hundred pounds (that's about $750).

Ash Tree Press published a limited edition hardback in 1999 (see cover right), and a fine copy of that costs forty to fifty pounds at the moment (around $55-75).

Leonaur issued The Collected Supern-atural and Weird Fiction of Thomas Graham Jackson in 2009, and that includes the six stories described here, along with 'Two Novelettes and Four Shorter Tales to Chill the Blood'. That is available as a hardback (£16.99) and paperback (£8.99).

Then there are the two Kindle editions: the Ash Tree Press edition for £4.49, and the Black Heath version for a mere ninety-nine pence. For once, readers are actually spoilt for choice with this particular book.

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