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07 Apr 2015

A Curious Incident At Forty Hall

Guest Blog By Jay Hollis

Forty Hall hosts a programme of exhibitions throughout the year showcasing the work of leading artists and focusing on art, ecology and heritage. One of the exhibitions from last year’s programme featured a particular piece of artwork that was beset by a series of odd incidents, leading some to wonder if the Hall’s ghost has been active again. Naturally, the rumour reached my ears and I made enquiries to which Zoe Prosser, Senior Arts & Interpretation Officer, replied.

‘Top to Bottom, Karen Lodges Here’ by Matthew Pagett was featured at the Hall from August to November 2014 and was inspired by the story of the maid whose ghost haunts the Hall after she was locked in the wine cellar where she died. The exhibition included large finely detailed drawings of the insects that may have feasted on the maid's decomposing body and a large piece featuring the words ‘Top to Bottom, Karen Lodges Here’ that was hung on the main staircase.

According to Zoe, the artwork was mounted on foam-board, which is how all exhibited artwork at the Hall is displayed, but after a while some of the pieces fell from their mounts. This may not sound like a remarkable incident, indeed it isn’t, except perhaps for the fact that it had never happened before and has not happened since.

To prevent a recurrence it was decided to take down all the artwork and have it remounted upon aluminium. However, it wasn’t long before the large piece was found to have fallen off the wall, causing superficial damage to the staircase due to its weight. Upon closer inspection it was found that the mount mechanism had been damaged and the decision was made to take the rest of the pieces down.

Neither the artist Matthew Pagett, the framers nor anyone at the Hall could explain why these things should have happened and it wasn’t long before the question arose once again – Is Forty Hall haunted. I asked if environmental conditions within the building, changes of temperature and humidity for instance, could have played a part but Zoe replied that it was unlikely as only a few of the pieces were affected rather than all of them.
During my research for Haunted Enfield, published in October 2013, I concluded that the story of the maid in the cellar was more likely to be fiction than fact. Gavin Williams, Operations & Sales Manager believes that the story was invented in the 1960’s by a member of The Parks Authority, presumably in an effort to boost visitor numbers.

However, the first floor landing of the main staircase is said to be haunted and there have been a number of independent reports over the years from both visitors and staff members alike who have thought that somebody is standing behind them only to find that they are alone when they turn to address that person. If we accept for arguments’ sake that there is at least one ghost that haunts the Hall, it wouldn’t necessarily need to be the same one that the art exhibition was based on who takes exception to the artwork, as it would appear this ghost has.

I am quite sure there is a rational explanation to this curious incident, but it is tantalising to think that a thought provoking exhibition at Forty Hall could have provoked a reaction from beyond the grave.

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