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Byline: Tom Slemen

I SAW many strange, inexplicable supernatural things when I was a child, and without fail, the adults would say I'd either 'been seeing things', been dreaming or had witnessed a 'trick of the light' - and when I look back now, I know I really did see things that were not of this world.

And I know there are many more of you out there who also saw things in your childhood which were similarly 'explained away' by the adults.

Take "Nelly Longarms" - a frightening woman seen by many children in one of the spookiest cul-de-sacs of bygone Liverpool - The Willows - sadly now gone.

Hennawood Close now stands near to the spot where The Willows existed, close to the junction of Belmont and Breck Road.

Like Spring-Heeled Jack, Nelly was dismissed as a folkore legend, but quite a few people - young and old - reported this lady, and I even have a report from a retired policeman named Jim who said he and a colleague once chased her across the tracks of (the now disused) Breck Road railway station in the summer of 1946.

The woman looked about sixty-odd but ran like the wind from Jim and a colleague, screaming with laughter after scaring a gang of schoolchildren near Townsend Lane. This lady's arms were so long her palms padded against the floor, and she was dressed in black old-fashioned clothes with her hair tied up in a bun.

Despite her age the odd-looking woman bolted across the track at the station - then vanished.

Nelly Longarms Jim thought the woman had been some young prankster in drag, but was later told he had seen Nelly Longarms. Then, in the snowy December of 1954, about three days after Christmas, 11-year-old Billy Perkins and his seven-year-old sister Hattie, were playing in an alleyway behind The Willows when Hattie threw Billy's prized cricket ball over a backyard wall.

He and Hattie sneaked into the snowcovered yard and noticed weird shoe prints about two feet in length in the snow. As Billy studied them, Hattie tried to bowl the cricket ball at a wall and it went through a window. The children hid behind a wall in the yard and heard the window-frame grate open.

An elderly voice cussed them, and Billy peeped round the corner - and saw an old woman with impossibly long arms.

The woman was brandishing what looked like a coal hatchet, and because of her superhuman reach the hatchet just missed Billy's head and struck the wall, producing sparks.

He and Hattie ran screaming and cried all the way to their home on Boaler Street.

No one believed the children's tale, for how could a woman have such long arms? Well, in the world of the occult there is a phenomenon known as bodily elongation, a weird stretching of the limbs and displacement of the ribs which has been well-documented in ecstatic saints, possessed mediums - and witches, and I believe 'Nelly' was probably a witch.

I'll tell you more about The Willows next week.

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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 30, 2014
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