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THE GHOSTS OF PLATFORM 4; New Street haunted by passengers who killed themselves ...all at the same spot!

Byline: Mike Lockley

IN the still wee hours, long after commuters have fled and the distant, dull thunder of approaching trains cuts through the air, New Street Station's platform four is no place for the fainthearted.

Away from the glow of the vending machines one elderly man, in rail uniform, sits alone, seemingly lost in thought.

He is Walter Hartles, and he is dead.

In fact, the 68-year-old has been dead for some time - 75 years, to be precise.

He is one of many ghosts who are said to wait patiently on platform four - one of Birmingham's most haunted sites.

On some nights Walter, who shot himself in the chest with a revolver, is joined by a dapper gent in Victorian costume called Claude. You can't miss Claude - he wears a tophat.

Claude poisoned himself.

In all, there have been four suicides on platform four. It is claimed the tormented souls mingle with miffed spirits of occupants of a Jewish Cemetery dug-up when the station was built in 1848.

But, thanks to press cuttings, we know the most about retired engine driver Walter, from Gloucester.

We know the man found slumped in a waiting room, the gun at his feet, had been separated from his wife for some time.

We know an inquest reached a verdict of 'suicide while of unsound mind'.

We know witnesses claim Walter has been spotted sitting patiently in the waiting room before vanishing.

But his apparent deathly vigils came as a shock to great-granddaughter Sarah Knight who visited New Street during a city ghost walk - and realised with a chill that the apparition being discussed was her deceased relative.

The family had tripped upon Walter's tragic tale while compiling the family tree.

Sarah, from Shrewley, Warwick, said: "I had no idea. We just saw the ghost walk advertised and thought it would be a laugh on a Friday.

''We were halfway round, down New Street and the guide said there are lots of ghost stories. Then I remembered my mother saying her grandfather died at New Street. It wasn't spoken about." The IT worker has an 'open mind' about things that go bump in the night and will use more earthly methods to unravel the mysteries surrounding Walter's death. "We don't know why he lived in Gloucester or why he committed suicide,'' she said.

''I'm hoping a visit to Gloucester Record Office will provide some answers."

She won't, she stressed, be reaching for a Ouija board.

Michael Reddy, who runs the bi-monthly ghost walks with business partner Ian Braisby, underlined the supernatural importance of the station.

The 53-year-old said: "They moved the Jewish cemetery and when you move bodies you get disturbance of the spirit.

"The most common sightings on New Street are that people feeling that there is someone there, then they turn round and they've gone. Platform four is spooky."

Michael admitted 'the jury is still out' over the after-life.

During three years conducting the ghost walks, the blue badge tour guide has not seen one.

"There is stuff we don't understand,'' he said.

''The potential is there for the things we don't understand.

''If your own brain works with electricity that creates magnetism, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to store an image in a building."

He added: "I think some people are more sensitive than others.

"Some people have the right equipment, if you like."

In 2010, a seance was planned to take place in the network of tunnels that fringe New Street, but it was scrapped for safety reasons.

Nicky Clynes, station support assistant, told the Birmingham Mail there have been a number of unexplained encounters, with the Virgin ticket office a particular 'hot-spot'.

"There have been weird noises in the male toilets," said the 34-year-old, "the odd groan..."

Just a thought - that might not be a ghost, Nicky.

To find out more about the ghost walks, contact Michael at Midland Discovery Tours on 07957 422568.

Shot dead - and still in his seat The 'Evening Despatch' of October 10, 1936, broke news of Walter Hartles' death.

Under the banner headline 'Tragedy On Station', the report stated: "A retired locomotive driver, with a wound in his chest and a revolver lying by his side, was found dead on New Street Station late last night.

"The discovery was made on No. 4 platform by a railway policeman. One chamber of the revolver had been discharged."

The inquest, held only days later, revealed letters found on Mr Hartles' body indicated he intended to take his own life.

The Despatch report added: "At 11 o'clock a railway detective saw him go into the (waiting) room, place his bag on the table and sit down. Ten minutes later the detective came back and found him shot dead.

"He was still in a sitting position, with his head drooping to one side.

"His jacket and waistcoat were open, and through the front of the shirt was a bullet hole, singed and blackened as if the shot had been fired at close range."

CAPTION(S):

Flashback: How the Evening Despatch reported Walter Hartles' demise.. Favourite haunt: Sarah Knight walks with ghost hunters Ian Braisby and Michael Reddy. Left, a photograph of her great-grandfather Walter Hartles.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Feb 28, 2012
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