A Somerset Haunting

Spooky Sunday 10th October 2021

This photo was taken in a property called Brockley Court, Somerset in 1908, which had a reputation of being haunted and involved one of the more well known supernatural investigators & authors of that era, Elliot O'Donnell and the even more well known author and supernatural investigator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

We'll take a look at the background of the photo first and then how Elliot O'Donnell got involved with the person who took the photo and the repercussions of the photo.

So you may have seen this photo before (pre internet) as it appeared in the book 'Ghosts' by Janet Bord, which was published in 1974 ( you can a copy from https://www.worldofbooks.com/en-gb ), It was taken in a property called Brockley Court, Somerset in 1908 and caught the attention of Elliot O'Donnell.

The photo was taken by Arthur Hugh Spencer Palmer (who was 20 years old at the time) and previous to taking this astonishing photograph, he had written to Elliot O'Donnell, asking if O'Donnell would spend the night at the property to conduct an overnight vigil with him. O'Donnell politely declined due to being too busy but for Spencer to contact him if anything did occur at the property. It was a few weeks later that O'Donnell received the photo in the post. With the photo, was a letter, which outlined what had happened during the overnight vigil. Palmer explained that he had gone to the property with an army officer friend and the house remained quiet until around 2.45am when both men attending the vigil said they saw a light in the darkness of the room and it was then that a photograph (with flash) was taken and the result is the photo you can see. O'Donnell's opinion on the photo was asked for in the letter as well as another invitation to attend an overnight vigil at the property.

O'Donnell had serious doubts to the photograph being one of a ghostly image of some sort of Monk being captured on film, as O'Donnell felt, through his own experiences that ghosts couldn't be photographed. But despite this, he agreed to accompany Palmer on the next vigil.

When the next overnight vigil happened, there were 4 people in attendance; O'Donnell, Palmer, the army officer who was with Palmer on the first vigil and a previous footman who had previously lived and worked at the property. Along with these 4 people, a dog also attended. The property was searched from top to bottom before the vigil began.

The group of 4 men and a dog, sat in the room where the photo was taken, in total darkness. At around 2.45am a faint light was seen. The light seemed to be coming from the wall of the room. As it further emerged, O'Donnell asked if there was a spirit in the room and was then asking it to make contact by tapping or saying something but got no response. The light slowly dimmed and there were no further incidents during the vigil.

It was several months later that O'Donnell became aware of a report in a psychic news publication that indicated that at the time the photo had been taken, himself, Palmer and the footman had witnessed the ghost itself. The woman writer of this article stated that those 3 that were present actually saw the ghost and that it had been very tall, emitted a glow from its person and that all 3 had agreed it had been a genuine ghost!

Palmer sent a letter to the publication to say it had been written about without his consent but O'Donnell felt Palmer had told the woman about this account but had failed to tell her that O'Donnell hadn't been present at the former vigil when the photo was taken.

O'Donnell undertook 3 more investigations at Brockley Court not long afterwards. The 1st revisit was conducted with 3 local young males and a dog. One of the males was quite frightened and wanted the vigil to end but as he was saying this, he shrieked "There it is!" as he saw some weird looking human figure in the corner of the room. No one else saw this and for the 2nd time, the young man said he saw the figure again. O'Donnell said he saw "What appeared to me was some sort of red glow but felt this was due to eyestrain". Nothing else was reported that night.

On his 2nd revisit, it was just O'Donnell and a friend, Everard Fielding, but nothing was reported happening. On the 3rd revisit, it was O'Donnell, Fielding and a friend, again, nothing happened.

O'Donnell was to return for 3 more vigils at the house in 1913. During the 2 vigil in 1913, someone in the group spoke discreetly to O'Donnell about the supposed ghost photo and how it had possibly came about. This would lead to O'Donnell to suspect even more than he had, that the photo had been faked. Despite this, he would go on to attend 2 more vigils that year. On the last one, 2 of the 4 attending, sat in the room where Palmer was said to have taken the photo and they saw moving lights in the darkened room, which they took a photo of. The photo showed some anomalous marks but O'Donnell felt this could be due to something that happened during the processing of the film or simply a natural phenomena.

There's now a twist in this tale!

Later on, Arthur Hugh Spencer Palmer, who showed the supposed ghost photo to O'Donnell, became a dentist. Then in 1911, he emigrated to Kenya to take up a dental position there. He had been there many years when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes and a Spiritualist) visited the area to give a lecture on the paranormal. Conan Doyle had a copy of the ghost photo and it was included in his talk. It was said that he believed this Somerset ghost photo be authentic.

Palmer attended one of Conan Doyle's talks in Nairobi and when Palmer saw the photo and heard what was being said about it, Palmer stood up and declared "I am that ghost!". Understandably, Conan Doyle was said to be annoyed in the way this was declared.

Some reports are of Conan Doyle accepting that the photo was fake and never showed it again but then there are reports of how irritated Conan Doyle had been at the way this person had called out the fake photo. It's been said that he offered £1,000 if Palmer gave him the negative of this photo. Palmer had not kept the negative but did have the original print.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930

Elliot O'Donnell was quite obsessed with the world of paranormal due to his experience of an elemental he witnessed as a 5 year old child. Even more chilling was what happened when he was just a few days old. His mother and the servants of the house heard stomach churning screaming coming from just outside the family's home. O'Donnell's bewildered mother asked one of the servants to what this awful screaming could be; to which the servant replied "It was the sound of a Banshee, which foretells the death of a family member". Just a few days after this happened, Mrs O'Donnell heard the sad news that her husband had been murdered during a robbery in Ethiopia, where he had been working.

There is so much history to Elliot O'Donnell but in short, he published many books, mainly about the paranormal, gave many lectures on the subject of the paranormal, wrote articles and stories for different publications and also made broadcasts for radio and television, both for the UK and the US.

He died when he was 93 years old (27 February 1872 – 8 May 1965) and his personal archives sold for £25,000 in 2016, which included his private letters and even a lock of his hair.

© Photo

The Brockley Court House 

"The property was originally built in the14th century and lived in by the Smyth-Pigott family who once owned the majority of North Somerset and the Ashton Court Estate. It was first classed as a listed building, by English Heritage, in March 1984 for its architectural interest"

Taken from the sale brochure here-

Brockley Court, Somerset

Pencil drawn picture of the house in 1840