Studying theology, having an interest in the paranormal and taking visitors around Chester encouraged Tim Prevett to look closer to home and investigate Crewe’s historic past. Some spooky research at the town’s library would see him develop one of the town’s quirkier tourist attractions…
“Education brought me to the Crewe area in July 1996, to complete the last two years of my degree course at Regents Theological College in Nantwich. I rented a house on Timbrell Avenue, so the first few years were spent around the West End. My fascination with Crewe’s heritage started when I moved to the St John’s area, around Edleston Road. At the same time, I began organising guided walks to prehistoric sites in The Peak District and around North Wales. Then, a year later, I became a Roman Tour Guide in Chester. I took thousands of visitors on costumed walks around the city, and also helped with the Chester Ghost Walk occasionally. A few years later, one quiet afternoon in the reference section of Crewe Library, I unearthed papers relating to the spirit photography of William Hope and ‘The Crewe Circle’ group that met in the early 1900s. That was fascinating, but I also found a booklet on Bridget Bostock, who was known as ‘The Witch of Coppenhall’. I was astounded that these stories were not common knowledge. I had just won a Cheshire tourism award for my work as a tour guide, so I thought that it was about time that something was launched in Crewe.”
The easy option would have been to focus on the railways and create a trail around some of the remaining old buildings (that had already been done for a couple private bookings, but Tim wanted to reach a wider audience). However, some in-depth research convinced him to follow a more mysterious route. “When I discovered other paranormal stories about Crewe I thought that a ghost walk was possible. Hill Street and Heath Street have a superb feeling to them, with the cobbles, the Market Hall and some subtle lighting all adding to the experience. On a foggy evening it can be particularly dramatic. A number of stories cropped up that mentioned this part of town, as well as weird sightings at some of the pubs. There are also grisly stories of vicious murders nearby and out in the countryside! So I had the makings of a decent tour and I set out to portray Crewe in a positive light, and also showcase some of the compelling history of this great historical town.”
Initial consultations with the council and a number of businesses were positive, and the local media lapped up the story. A few props were acquired, the route mapped out, risk assessments completed and the Crewe Ghost Walk was launched in October 2007. “The day of the first tour around Crewe was crazy. I’d given hundreds of talks to thousands of people over the years, and yet I had butterflies for several hours during the afternoon. The press coverage had been superb and on that opening night two photographers were scheduled to take pictures, so I was incredibly nervous. Around 7pm the first group met on Municipal Square, in the low street lighting that gives the area a mysterious edge. Most of the places had been taken with advance bookings, but a few people arrived without warning to make it a very large group. What grabbed me was the enthusiasm of the visitors. They were delighted that this was happening in Crewe and captivated by what I had to say. I knew that I had the opportunity to establish something truly unique for the town. I had to get it right and build a reputation for consistency and professionalism.”
There were, however, a few teething problems. “The inaugural walk opened my eyes to some of today’s town centre problems. Just after we set off and headed down the cobbles towards Lyceum Square, a group of about twelve youths started to circle around us. It was intimidating for me, but we moved on and I made sure that subsequent tours stopped by CCTV points. Another stumbling block that night was not having a finishing venue. The tour just ended that first night at the Oak Street car park. So the following morning I spoke with the management at The Three Lamps pub, now called Oscars. They kindly agreed to let me complete the tour at the pub, and to let the visitors into the cellar that backs onto the Lyceum Theatre walls. There are many tales associated with the theatre and a number of people coming on the tour over the following weeks said that they felt ‘something’ down there. Word of mouth made that a key feature of the walks. The finish has now transferred to The Heritage Centre (also home to some ghostly encounters) to enable under 18s to join the whole tour.”
A number of stop-offs along the walk’s route allow visitors to pinpoint people and events from Crewe’s history, but two elements of the talk have always enthused Tim. “When I mention the William Hope spirit photography people’s eyes light up. From around 1905, extending nearly thirty years, Hope and his associates produced spirit images that captivated the world. Nothing like them had been seen before – ghostly characters appearing behind people, faces in windows and suchlike that couldn’t be explained. Many of those photos were staged here in Crewe, so it’s another feather in the town’s cap, something very different that wouldn’t readily be associated with the place. I also love to shock my audience, so I have a number of props that catch them by surprise at different points of the tour. One of my First World War stories involves a sinister raven from Coppenhall, so midway through the tale I produce a bird puppet that squawks as it emerges from my cape, eyes glistening and feathers ruffled. I made a man jump out of his skin one night, then a little girl cried for about ten minutes on another. That was embarrassing, but thankfully her mother thought that it brought the story to life!”
The project has gone from strength to strength and there are big plans for the future. “I have taken over 1000 visitors so far. I branched out to Nantwich in April 2008, attracting many different customers, and I’ve been delighted to see people trying both experiences. Many come from outside the area, so I hope that I’m doing my bit for local tourism. The town centre tours suit dark evenings, and I want to create another fantastic opportunity. I have already led a one-off walk around Crewe Train station’s tunnels and I think that Virgin Trains could benefit from some unusual publicity if this could happen more. Travellers with an interest in ghosts and spirits – hidden and haunted heritage – could break their journey at Crewe, even stop over if other tourist attractions emerge. I have strong links with the Heritage Centre and I would love to see them part of a wider group of attractions that make Crewe stand out. Ultimately, I would like to bring in other tour guides just as there are in Chester, effectively creating a varied team. Then someone would always be on hand regardless of my availability…”
Tim’s story appeared in “Crewe And Its People” that was published back in 2009; the stories will be posted here between February and June as a permanent series of social history documents for Cheshire.
A second volume of fascinating Crewe life stories will be available to buy from September 2016. Subscribe to my newsletter HERE if you would like occasional email updates about publication dates for this and other Crewe/Cheshire book projects.