The Brother Doli case was originally reported by psychologist
Michael Daniels in the Journal of the
Society for Psychical Research (JSPR)
in 2002. Now the Penyffordd Farm case
(Penyffordd fittingly translates as ‘end of the road’), it is the subject of a
four-part BBC3 series presented by Radio 1 DJ Sian Eleri and produced by Twenty
Twenty Television. It is easy to see why
it caught the attention of the producers, because of the sheer quantity,
variety and dramatic nature of the events.
From 1997 the property, at Treuddyn in
Flintshire, North Wales, was the scene of an extensive range of allegedly
paranormal phenomena, much of it with a religious connection. These included hundreds of stains and
carvings of images and words, mostly in Welsh, both inside and outside the
house. In addition, there were photographic
anomalies, noises, smells, temperature changes, puddles of water, displaced
objects, flower petals transforming into dying wasps, electrical, telephone and
computer anomalies, and more. Throw in a
sighting of the Virgin Mary and ghosts of a monk and a pregnant teenage girl
and there’s plenty for a series.
These phenomena were promoted tirelessly
at the time by owner Rose-Mary Gower in a number of media appearances, and
investigated in a sober manner by Daniels (the page numbers in brackets below
refer to his JSPR article and a
following article contributed by Rose-Mary and her husband David). Daniels made 14 visits totalling 54 hours
between 12 November 2000 and 3 March 2001, with four further visits to discuss
later developments between 9 December 2001 and 12 May 2002, and maintained a
regular email correspondence (pp. 193-4).
His report occupies 29 pages of JSPR.
The Gowers moved into Penyffordd Farm in
February 1997, and Rose-Mary told Daniels that previously they lived in an
adjacent bungalow from May 1995 (p. 194).
Daniels lists the family living in the house as Rose-Mary, David and
their adopted son John-Paul, who has Down’s Syndrome. Daughters Nicolette, Adrienne (not named by
Daniels but interviewed by Eleri) and a third (who is not named by either)
lived elsewhere, but Daniels notes all three were regular visitors (p. 201).
The programme presents new information but
anyone expecting a breakthrough is going to be disappointed, though it is nice
to see the people who had been involved and have a brief sample of the AV
material Daniels collected. The two
hours are rather slow, with much filler focusing on Eleri rather than the case,
the programmes particularly keen to establish her Welsh-speaking credentials
(she tells us she grew up not far from Penyffordd). For reasons not explained there is a pivot
away from Brother Doli, now demoted from star to supporting player, with the
mysterious ghostly teenager Jane Jones taking centre stage.
While not someone clued up about psychical
research, or science, Eleri stands in for the uninformed viewer, asking
questions in an attempt to make sense of the evidence, mulling over possible
explanations and wondering what conclusions to draw. Understandably the wide range of phenomena
reported by the Gowers and recorded by Daniels has been slimmed down for
television in the interests of time and credibility. Eleri does have Daniels to guide her, and he
gives her access to his research, his JSPR article, research notes,
photographs and tapes, as her starting point (the JSPR issue containing his article, with its distinctive yellow
cover, is the first item she takes out of his document box), so she knows from
the outset what he found.
Unfortunately, the pretence Eleri was
being filmed as she played detective, gradually uncovering information while
filling a pin-board with bits and pieces from Daniels’ box (one hopes they were
copies and not the originals), means information is not presented in a logical
manner. The investigatory pose also
leads to some odd moments, such as when Eleri turns up at Penyffordd Farm on
the off-chance of finding someone at home and the crew films through the
window. Being doorstepped is not always
appreciated. When nobody answers the
door she pushes a scruffy note through the letter box, although a typed letter
would have been more appropriate if less telegenic.
But it is not a wasted trip, as she knocks
on a few more doors and speaks to neighbours, some of whom have memories of the
media circus the Gowers instigated. She
concludes that it sounds as though they think Rose-Mary was making it up, which
seems an accurate conclusion to draw. Eleri
claims on being told about the Virgin Mary from the neighbours that she had not
heard about it before, when she would have known about it from the JSPR
article Daniels gave her (pp.194-5).
This was the first event in the chronology, with a couple of
holidaymakers named Dooley sending a letter to the Mold & Buckley
Chronicle saying they had seen a vision of ‘Our Lady’ in a field owned by
the Gowers, and they had subsequently found their ailments improving. The story generated a great deal of interest,
and members of the public began turning up at the field. Eventually the story was picked up by the News
of the World (p. 195).
Eleri meets Penyffordd Farm’s current
owner, Michael Levy, not put off by an introduction in biro torn out of a
notebook, who has lived at the house for a decade and runs a glamping business
called Crazy Pheasant. Eleri is invited
to spend the night in the yurt, pitched in the field where the Virgin Mary was
seen. In correspondence following
transmission, he told me he has not experienced anything paranormal during his
time at Penyffordd Farm, nor has any of the hundreds who have stayed on the
property told him of weird experiences (pers. comm. 22 August 2023).
Much hinges round the grave marker of the
title, though Daniels’ article covers in it a couple of sentences (p. 208) so
it was not considered to be important in the initial investigation. It was made for a Jane Jones who died in
1778, aged 15. When Daniels recorded a
video in 2000 he filmed it leaning against the house, but a voice-over from
Daniels’ notes says he was told the Gowers moved it somewhere more discreet in
the summer of 1997 before daughter Nicolette’s wedding, as it was felt it might
create the wrong atmosphere. This does
not appear in his article.
Daniels’ film shows it in a prominent
position which his article identifies as ‘the outside front wall of the house’
(p. 208), so they may have moved again it after the wedding, or for Daniels’
benefit. They later said to him that
moving it was considered the catalyst for everything following, not a theory
Daniels included in his article. Why
moving a grave marker, a not uncommon event, should have such far-reaching
consequences in this instance, is unclear.
Eleri produces an audiotape of Rose-Mary
saying they buried the marker when trying to sell the house in 2010. The reason for the burial is confirmed by a
typewritten note Rose-Mary put in the bin liner the slab was wrapped in when it
was buried. Eleri does not mention the
note, but a photograph of it was kindly supplied to me by Michael Levy (pers. comm.
22 August 2023). Dated 30 August 2010,
it says the marker was found buried when the garden was being remodelled in the
It was reburied, Rose-Mary continues,
roughly where it was dug up because they did not want to put off potential
purchasers. Rose-Mary adds that while it
is believed Jane Jones is buried in the garden, there is no evidence to support
the theory. That is a good reason for
Eleri to exclude the note as the body being buried on the site becomes a key
element in the Jane Jones story. Tellingly, despite being a ‘catalyst’ for the
events, the note makes no reference to the marker’s supposed role in the
In the programme, Michael Levy is
initially unsure about the marker’s whereabouts but eventually finds it, and
the camera crew records its disinterment.
For a slab nearly 250 years old and underground for over a dozen it was
in remarkably good shape; too good as it happens, because comparing it to the
film taken by Daniels in 2000 it appears to have been cleaned up. Apparently, the Gowers decided to have the
lichen removed at some point between Daniels filming it and when they buried it
in 2010. Michael Levy told me he has one
of Rose-Mary’s photographs showing it inside the house (pers. comm. 24 August
2023), so it could be it was cleaned up after 2000 and made a feature in the
home. The cleaning has shown just how
badly cut the lettering is.
Its provenance is obscure. All we know for certain is that it was there
before the Gowers moved in, because Daniels’ report notes it was visible in the
estate agent’s photograph (p. 208).
Rose-Mary tells Eleri that David dug up a bit of alleged human spine
while gardening at some point, but that is a long way from paranormal activity. With a will, however, a narrative can be
fashioned from disparate elements. In
‘The “Brother Doli” Case: Family Perspectives’, short statements she and David
wrote separately which were printed immediately after Daniels’ JSPR article, Rose-Mary claimed she saw
a pregnant ghost, aged about 12, stroking the family cat on the patio. The girl waved in response to Rose-Mary, who
did not realise she was looking at a ghost (p. 223).
Rowe-Mary says her youngest daughter (i.e.,
Adrienne) suggested the figure was Jane Jones, as recorded on the grave marker
(p. 223). The pregnant ghost was not associated
with Jane Jones in Daniels’ article and warrants only a couple of lines (p.
216). Running with the link, Eleri
quickly shifts from the marker’s presence on the property and the words ‘Jane’
and ‘Jones’ and the numbers ‘15’ and ‘1778’ among the writings on the wall
inside the house to a local girl with the not uncommon name, especially in
Wales, of Jane Jones born in 1763, as recorded in a register at the local
A gentleman named Maurice, who lived in
the house before the Gowers and believes he is related to Jane Jones, said
there was a family story she died in childbirth and was buried in unconsecrated
ground because of the shame. That is
taken as evidence of her dying in childbirth or as a suicide and being buried
nearby. Eleri ties together vague
hearsay, someone called Jane Jones born at about the right time, a Jane Jones
recorded on a grave marker that could have come from anywhere, and Jane Jones
being the pregnant ghost-girl Rose-Mary says she saw. These connections are purely speculative.
The monk finally turns up in episode
three, though for some reason, the name Brother Doli, short for Adolphus, a
nickname given by the Gowers (p. 197), is never mentioned, a surprising
omission as it would help anyone searching for Daniels’ JSPR report. It is obvious
from the series’ title that the good brother is no longer the centre of
interest even though Eleri says the monk had impacted the Gowers the most. He does warrant coverage, and Eleri plots a
pilgrim route from Shrewsbury to Holywell on a large wall map. She finds a number of instances of alleged
paranormal activity along it, many with the involvement of a monk.
Daniels’ article had referred to the
pilgrimage route between Shrewsbury and Hollywell, associated with St Winifred
(pp. 208-9). While Eleri emphasises the
religious aspect of the case, including the wall markings, as does Daniels (p.
217) and as is evident from the glossary in his article (p. 206), she does not call
attention to Daniels’ information that David possesses a BEd in the unusual
combination of Chemistry and Divinity (p. 200), suggesting, despite his
sceptical pose, he would have possessed some theological knowledge.
Eleri’s embarrassing and pointless ouija
board session with an English-speaking paranormal group in a pub on the
pilgrimage route produces an encounter with a monk named William who claims to
be able to speak Welsh, but not when Eleri asks him to say something in the
language. Eleri, while noting their
sincerity, unsurprisingly looks sceptical when considering the value of their
information. The encounter fails to shed
any light on Brother Doli, but then there was no reason why it should.
There is some business trying to locate
Rose-Mary and David’s current address, and to add a little tension we see Eleri
going through a phone book ringing up various Gowers like J R Hartley trying to
track down a copy of Fly Fishing. Rose-Mary makes a late appearance in the final
episode, on the surface a strange choice as she had been the core of events,
but apart from the attempt to build some suspense it quickly becomes clear why
she is not prominent: while she is as ebullient as ever, and she and David come
across as likeable, she sticks to her story and adds little that is new.
Rose-Mary tells Eleri she got ‘fed up’
with the attention the phenomena generated, but she looks pleased to have the
spotlight back on her after all these years.
She maintains there must be a natural explanation for what happened,
even if science hasn’t yet produced one.
In defence of the genuineness of their experiences, she points out that
David was out all day and she was busy looking after John-Paul, so she was not
faking for entertainment, nor for money.
Eleri does not put the obvious question,
that she might have used the case and the public interest it generated, with
all her media appearances, as a creative outlet to compensate for her
constrained daily life; some of her appearances are listed by Daniels (p. 197),
and there was press coverage in addition.
The attention would have been its own reward (Eleri observes she was
thoroughly enjoying herself in the media appearances). If so, other witnesses would then have
colluded to protect her, or misinterpreted ordinary stimuli as paranormal. On finishing her interview, Eleri concludes
Rose-Mary was ‘the source of everything’, and on another occasion rather
unflatteringly calls her ‘patient zero’ spreading perceptions of the phenomena
to the rest of the family.
Rose-Mary asserts that at one time there
was talk of a Hollywood film with the offer of thousands of pounds. Daniels in his article listed motives for a
hoax, a significant one being future financial exploitation, for example, a
book or film (p. 219). In the event, the
Gowers said no because of the fictionalising approach the filmmakers planned to
take. Perhaps the family would have been
subject to the same sort of treatment meted out to Enfield by James Wan in The Conjuring 2,
Warren-style demonologists descending on Flintshire, but it is hard to imagine
in what way Rose-Mary would be put off by that.
Whatever the motive, if she was hoaxing it
is unlikely she could do it except in collusion with David. That would make it easier for the critic to
reach a conclusion, except there are statements from others about incidents,
some of which occurred in Rose-Mary and David’s absence. Adrienne, according to Eleri, was the first
person to report seeing the monk.
Staying for a few days, she woke one night and felt a weight on the end
of her bed. Opening her eyes she saw a
figure above her, a dark cloak covering its face, causing her to scream. She claimed she hadn’t heard about the monk
beforehand, which would rule out being influenced by stories from her parents. Daniels includes this episode (p. 196),
dating it to October 1998, with the detail that Adrienne saw a ‘young monk’ at
the bottom of her bed, but she does not say how she could judge age when the
face was covered.
Apart from Rose-Mary, the major witness is
Nicolette. She tells the story of going
upstairs to the bathroom when visiting and hearing John-Paul in his room
speaking, then hearing more than one male voice speaking Welsh, to which
John-Paul responded. Nicolette went in
and asked who he was talking to, so he was clearly on his own. John-Paul, it turns out, had quite a rapport
with the monk, who, he said, lived in a corner of his bedroom, and Daniels was
told he would report on the monk’s moods and (unspecified) activities (p. 201).
In February 2001, Rose-Mary emailed
Daniels to say John-Paul had told her Brother Doli was leaving for a ‘happy,
smiling place’ because John-Paul was about to turn 16 ‘and was too old’ (p.
215). On John-Paul’s birthday the
following month, Rose-Mary duly reported John-Paul had told her the brother had
left and would not return (p. 216).
Brother Doli behaved more like an imaginary friend than a ghost.
It was not only Brother Doli whom
John-Paul saw. According to Daniels’
notes, read out as a voice-over in the programme, he said on one occasion
John-Paul had reported he could see what was thought to be the ghost of Jane
Jones sitting next to him while he watched TV, though this incident does not
appear in his article, and in her ‘Family Perspectives’ article Rose-Mary
states that ‘John-Paul has never mentioned seeing Jane’ (p. 223). The contradiction is not explored by Eleri.
The programme does not make clear that
Brother Doli and the ‘Jane’ ghost dovetailed.
John-Paul announced Brother Doli’s departure in early March. Rose-Mary emailed Daniels on 23 March to say
she had seen the pregnant ghost, ‘about 12 years of age,’ on the patio that
morning (p. 216), just over a fortnight later.
As Rose-Mary put it in her JSPR
article, it was ‘“Goodbye Doli, Welcome Jane!”’
(p. 223). Perhaps she was
thinking of the music hall song Goodbye,
Dolly Gray, and as with the soldier wishing Dolly goodbye, the brother had belatedly
heard the bugle calling. It does seem
quite a coincidence that one appeared almost as soon as the other departed, as
if Jane arrived to fill the vacuum Brother Doli had left.
Although Daniels wound down his
investigation at this point (p. 193), phenomena continued over the following
months, and were said to have occurred even after David and Rose-Mary had moved
to Eastbourne in 2002. After the move,
Nicolette and her husband Ewan stayed in the house with their new baby, with
nobody else present. Interviewed by
Eleri, an emotional Nicolette recounts how the phenomena continued. There were new wall writings, one of them
their young son’s name. They would see
things in peripheral vision, and Nicolette saw a hooded figure, like a monk,
looking over the cot in the night.
Nicolette heard the door latch raised and lowered, there was a cold spot
in the lounge, and they heard children’s voices singing.
Even more startling is Eleri’s interview
with Ewan. He says that one day he came
downstairs and found an enormous heavy wooden owl had moved from the living
room to the kitchen. The eldest child
was four or five years old (suggesting they had been living in the house for
some time) and Ewan does not think it possible for him to have moved it;
Rose-Mary and David still own it, and during their meeting Rose-Mary invites
Eleri to lift it; it does seem unlikely, though not impossible, that a young
child could shift the thing.
On another occasion, Ewan came down early
one morning, put the TV on and went to make coffee, and when he returned the
owl was head-first in the fireplace, yet he had heard nothing. He says it moved the full length of the room,
though footage Daniels took in 2000 shows the owl standing by the
fireplace. Whatever the details, one
wonders why, having gone through these extreme experiences, they stayed in the
house, especially with two small children.
A voiceover by Daniels reading from his
notes, said to date from March 2003, states the family is becoming increasingly
distressed, to the point where the daughters are saying they must have an
exorcism, though David dismisses it as ‘superstitious nonsense’. The 2003 date is possibly an error as David
and Rose-Mary were no longer resident, but he may be referring to Nicolette and
Ewan’s experiences. After working out
exorcisms are really ‘a thing’, Eleri goes to Wrexham to find out from an
Anglo-Catholic clergyman involved in deliverance ministry what it involves.
A tape recording of Rose-Mary speaking (no
date given) says someone identifying as an exorcist came to the house, but the
senior Gowers thought it silly. She adds
they would never have requested one.
Eleri makes the reasonable point that if you thought your house was
haunted, wouldn’t you try anything to stop it?
Perhaps, she ponders, Rose-Mary was secretly happy for it to carry on,
adding that it is always Rose-Mary who is interviewed in the extensive media
It was not just family members who said
there was something spooky about the place.
Maurice said that during his residence he had felt a presence and as if
he was being watched (though as he is only reporting it now, knowing about the
Gowers and that it would likely get him on TV, his testimony has to be treated
with caution). A more substantial
report, read from Daniels’ unpublished notes but not in his JSPR article, recounts the visit of a
double-glazing salesman and his wife between Christmas and New Year 1999. She sat in the car while he was inside, and
when he returned 30 minutes later she was white, and said, ‘that house is
haunted, isn’t it?’ She said she had
seen a ‘shadow-like figure of a hooded monk passing back and forth in front of
the house.’ We are not told, though, if
Daniels interviewed them, or it was recounted by the Gowers, in which case we
would only have their word for it.
Eleri interviews a Radio Wales producer,
Alan Dolby, who was in the house making a programme in 2003 when he saw
something moving out of the corner of his eye, as did a colleague at the same
time. The colleague in the recording
says what is convincing is that there is just so much material; if Rose-May had
been hoaxing, she would have been more subtle.
He does not consider the alternative, that she might have got carried
away and wanted to keep it going so she would have more to say on programmes
like his. The over-the-top nature of the
phenomena seemed to work well for her.
Then of course there is the report of the
sighting by Irish holidaymakers named Michael and Concepta Dooley of the Virgin
Mary very shortly after the Gowers moved into the house in February 1997. Daniels’ JSPR
report spends some time on the sighting and the ‘mini-Lourdes’ following it
(pp. 194-95). Rose-Mary sent a short
account to the ‘Experiences’ section of the SPR’s Paranormal Review about the Virgin Mary sighting, published in the
November 1997 issue. A photograph she
took said to show a face in a barn window was sent to Wales on Sunday,
appearing on 1 June 1997 with the headline ‘Is this the face of Jesus’ mother?’
(p. 195). Even at this stage she was
obtaining publicity for strange events associated with her.
As the Dooleys could not be found, Daniels
did not rule out a hoax, either by the couple or someone pretending to be them
(p. 202). This assumes they actually
existed, but they may not have, despite Rose-Mary claiming to have met them in
the lane in February 1997 (pp. 201-2).
Rose-Mary would seem a good candidate to have sent a letter to the
newspaper purporting to come from a couple with names so Irish they sound
fictitious. She received a three-page hand-written
letter purportedly from the couple addressed to ‘The Lady with the Labrador Dog’,
dated 9 March (p. 194) confirming the sighting, but Daniels passes over it
quickly. He says nothing about comparing
the it to handwriting samples taken from members of the family, and does not
seem to consider it evidential.
If the Dooley episode was a hoax
perpetrated by Rose-Mary, perhaps its success in fooling a newspaper and the
resulting publicity gave her grander ideas, on which she quickly capitalised. On the other hand, the programme may be the
prompt for Michael and Concepta to come forward at last, in which case it will
have served a very useful purpose.
Unfortunately, as Rose-Mary told the Mold & Buckley Chronicle
they were in their late 50s or early 60s (p. 194), they may no longer be with
Ironically, despite their surname hinting
at a south-west Wales origin, the Gowers are resolutely English. Eleri states they ‘don’t speak a word of
Welsh’ (even though Rose-Mary is heard on tape translating some words for
Daniels), implying Rose-Mary was an unlikely source for words mostly written in
Welsh. What Eleri doesn’t tell us, but
would have known from Daniels’ article, is that the family possessed a Collins Gem Welsh Dictionary, which he
was told they bought after the initial Welsh word stains appeared (p.
207). Spelling errors in the wall
writings, he adds, would be unlikely to be made by a Welsh-speaker but are
consistent with a non-Welsh speaker, possessing poorish eyesight, misreading
the small font used in the dictionary (pp. 208, 218). Although he does not say so, it can be seen
from the programme that Rose-Mary was a spectacle wearer.
Daniels’s article also points out that
words appear in isolation, not sentences (pp. 207, 218). These would be much harder for a non-Welsh
speaker to achieve convincingly. Actually,
Eleri does not seem to have read the article attentively. For example, scrolling through a microfiche,
she reads out from a local newspaper Rose-Mary’s account of dried flower petals
being transformed into half-drowned wasps, which is dramatised for effect as
she narrates, but she says it was in October 1998, the date on the newspaper,
whereas Daniels tells us it was in August 1997 (p. 195).
Inspired by similarities to the Bélmez
faces, referred to by Daniels (p. 217), Eleri learns what silver nitrate is and
goes to Swansea University to see if it could explain some of the wall writings
(but not the carvings). Lab experiments
with a similar surface are suggestive, the image appearing when exposed to
light, then fading over time. Eleri
notes David would have had the requisite knowledge. In his JSPR
article, Daniels notes David has degrees in chemistry, David conceding it made
him a prime suspect in a hoax (p. 218), and the stains could have been produced
by chemical means, though Daniels does not finger silver nitrate as a possible
This is not, though, a brilliant insight
by the Twenty Twenty team as three articles in JSPR about the Bélmez faces put forward the possible application of
silver nitrate, and its use in photography is well known. We are not told how long the images at
Penyffordd Farm lasted compared to those created in the laboratory, so if they
lasted significantly longer this would reduce the likelihood David purchased
quantities of silver nitrate to create them, and indicate their creation, by
whoever or whatever, employed some other method.
Most of the occurrences in the case point
either to their reality, a hoax among the family, or one set in train by
Rose-Mary which encouraged the family to interpret ambiguous stimuli as
paranormal. Malcolm Schofield of the
University of Derby and also, though this was not mentioned in the programme,
the current editor of JSPR
(presumably how he came to be included), talks about the unreliability of
eyewitness testimony and how witnesses can be primed to accept a paranormal
interpretation, a point made by Daniels’ article (p. 219).
Daniels runs through a number of possible
natural explanations: ‘natural artefacts, suggestibility of witnesses, errors
of perception, or lapses in memory’ (p. 217).
Such effects may account for some of the reports, but not the physical
aspects like the writings, the wasps and the moving owl. Eleri wonders if something ‘primed’ the
Gowers, such as the Virgin Mary sighting, but much cannot be put down to
Although we hear from two of the
daughters, an obvious omission is the third daughter. There is another son, also adopted and the
second oldest of the siblings, who is not mentioned at all in the
programme. Daniels had interviewed all
three daughters, who reported strange experiences, but the other son, according
to Daniels, had made few visits home since leaving in 1994, and was not
interviewed (p. 201). It would have been
useful if viewers had been told the reason for the missing daughter’s
non-participation in the programme, after she had talked to Daniels for his
article. Perhaps she had come to believe
the events were not genuine but did not want to speak against her family and
instead chose to keep quiet; she could have been unavailable for some other
reason. Something should have been said
to clarify the reason for her absence.
We know little about the family
background, which is reasonable in a television programme but is bound to
hamper a full understanding of what might have been going on. Daniels in his JSPR article writes about poltergeists ‘often expressing indirectly
underlying emotional tensions within the family’, and he thought Brother Doli’s
influence ‘generally seemed to provide the family with a sense of common
interest and focus’ (p. 217).
Who knows what tensions existed within the
family, but it is intriguing that, as Daniels records in his article, four of
the five children, born between 1970 and 1976, left home between 1989 and 1997
(p. 201). It is possible David, and
particularly Rose-Mary, were in part using Brother Doli and the rest of the
phenomena, consciously or unconsciously, to keep their children within the
family orbit. Alternatively, the events,
which started in 1997, could have been an emotional response to the moving away
of the children, or an activity, ‘the hoaxer’s hobby’ as Daniels puts it (p.
219) to fill the void felt by empty nesters.
Painting scenarios, Daniels in JSPR
talks about a mixed case, with low-level genuine phenomena to which were added
‘imitative fraud’ for the more elaborate elements (p. 220). It cannot be ruled out, nor can the
possibility that the bulk of the phenomena were genuine, perhaps with
peripheral elements of misperception.
But there are good reasons for thinking this was a hoax, with Rose-Mary,
for whatever purpose, miking it.
If so, it may have backfired, because when
the Gowers put the house up for sale in 2010 she tells Eleri it took two years
to sell and went for less than it was worth.
Perhaps it would have taken that long anyway (the damp Michael Levy
found cannot have helped), or perhaps potential buyers were put off by the
house’s reputation. Michael Levy tells Eleri
he thought when hearing of the phenomena the price would go down, correctly it would
seem. One suspects all was peaceful during
tours by potential purchasers.
When Rose-Mary concedes there might have
been a hoax, but they can’t think by whom, clearly she doesn’t really think
someone crept into the house unobserved and fabricated the phenomena. She is thereby implying their
genuineness. John-Paul was caught on
camera making marks on the wall (pp. 213-14), but doubtless he was responding
to what was going on around him and did not have the capacity to undertake the
vast majority of the reported events.
Daniels was told stains and carvings had
appeared during family trips away, and he floats the possibility that someone
else could have had access (p. 219). The
article does not say if the entire family went on these trips, so it is
possible a family member came in and made them, assuming the information that
markings appeared while the house was empty is correct; Daniels does not say if
he confirmed this independently. That
would not account for all the phenomena though.
A family conspiracy is not beyond the realm of possibility, as Daniels
says (p. 219). Adrienne’s argument which
she puts to Eleri that something happened when each family member, including
Rose-Mary, was absent is intended to support a paranormal explanation but
ignores the possibility of collusion.
An omission in the programme is the lack
of an acknowledgement of the SPR. Eleri
is filmed taking a copy of JSPR out of Daniels’ document box, and when speaking
of Daniels’ ‘research notes’ she is flipping through his article. She later refers to it, but without naming
the publication. The brief clip of
Malcolm Schofield does not identify him as the current editor of JSPR.
It would have been polite if either Daniels or Eleri had mentioned the
SPR’s involvement. It is particularly
significant that Eleri does not say, as Daniels tells us, that both Rose-Mary
and David had been members of the SPR (p. 219).
They would therefore have had a great deal
of information on hauntings and poltergeists, of which they had a long-standing
interest, Rose-Mary in particular after her family in Guernsey experienced
‘poltergeist-type phenomena’ from before she was born to after she left home
(p. 201). Knowledge of the literature
would be of assistance to anyone wishing to imitate poltergeist effects. Eleri not referring to their knowledge of
hauntings and poltergeists has the effect of suggesting that the Gowers were
unfamiliar with their characteristics, but this was far from the case.
My final thoughts are that Michael Daniels
worked hard to produce his JSPR
report, which needs to be read by anyone who wants a more accurate picture than
Eleri provides, but I still think, as I did when I first read it, that it did
not warrant the space it took up. It is
flawed by Daniels muddying the water between treating the Gowers as the
subjects of an investigation and collaborators.
While there is always a chance there were genuine paranormal phenomena
occurring during the Gowers’ period of residence, on the balance of probability
the events he reported on are too far in the direction of a hoax. Several times in the programme and
surrounding publicity Penyffordd Farm was given the accolade of ‘the most
haunted house in Wales’ and ‘the most haunted house in Britain’, but it assumes
there was a haunting, and that is by no means the correct assessment.
The Girl, the Ghost and the Gravestone, by contrast to
Daniels’ investigation, is lazily produced and omits much pertinent information. It is structured as entertainment, its
primary function, so it fails properly to get to grips with the case. The many shortcomings can perhaps be summed
up by a moment at the end when Eleri has a final meeting with Daniels. He tells her that when his article was in
draft he showed it to the Gowers, and the couple wrote a response (actually two
separate responses), i.e. the ‘Family Perspectives’ article following his. He asks Eleri if she would like to see it and
she says yes, as if it was new to her.
She reads snippets from David’s statement,
changing the odd word for clarity while making it sound like a continuous
narrative. She concludes with ‘but I can
only say that it felt very real to me.’ Dramatic,
yes, but that is the final sentence in Rose-Mary’s statement, which Eleri
has tacked on. The willingness to
manipulate for effect damages the programme’s credibility, and left me
wondering what the point of it was, other than to launch Eleri’s career beyond
the confines of the BBC1 studio, with further television series promised.
I would like to thank Michael Levy for
taking the time to correspond with me, and supplying a photograph of the note
left with the grave marker.
Daniels, Michael. ‘The “Brother Doli” case:
Investigation of Apparent Poltergeist-type Manifestations in North Wales’, Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research 66, October 2002, pp. 193-221.
(Reprinted in Richard Wiseman and Caroline Watt (eds.). Parapsychology (The International
Library of Psychology). Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2005.
Gower, Rose-Mary. ‘Marian Visions and Cures in a
Welsh Field’, The Paranormal Review,
Issue 4, November 1997, p. 11.
Gower, Rose-Mary and Gower, David. ‘The
“Brother Doli” case: Family Perspectives’, Journal
of the Society for Psychical Research 66, October 2002, pp. 222-24.
Romero, José Martínez. ‘The Faces of
Bélmez: Its Mystery and Message’, Journal
of the Society for Psychical Research 61, January 1997, pp. 337-9.
Ruffles, Tom. ‘Correspondence’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 67, April 2003, p.
158; Michael Daniels’ reply, pp. 159-60.
Tort, César J. ‘Will Permanent Paranormal
Objects Vindicate Parapsychology?’, Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research 58, July 1991, pp. 16-35.
Tort, César J and Ruíz-Noguez, Luis. ‘Are the Faces of Bélmez Permanent Paranormal Objects?’ Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 59, July 1993, pp. 161-71.
Update 12 January 2024:
Television columnist Stu Neville reviewed the
programme in Fortean Times, no. 437, November 2023, p. 61. He repeated Eleri’s comment that the Gowers
were not Welsh speakers, and I wrote to the editor on 21 October 2023 to point
out that their Welsh dictionary would have supplied all the words they needed
to conduct a hoax. The letter was published
in Fortean Times no. 441, February 2024, p. 67:
Stu Neville’s television column discussing the BBC’s Paranormal: The Girl, the Ghost and the Gravestone, about the Penyffordd Farm/Brother Doli case (FT437:61), includes presenter Sian Eleri’s observation that Rose-Mary and David Gower were not Welsh speakers. This implied they could not have been responsible for the appearance of Welsh words in the house.
However, Michael Daniels, the psychologist
responsible for investigating the case, states in his lengthy report, published
in the Journal of the Society for
Psychical Research, that they owned a Collins
Gem Welsh Dictionary, so the manufacture of Welsh words was not beyond
them. Daniels also points out that words
appeared in isolation, not in sentences which would be harder for a non-Welsh
speaker to achieve convincingly.
He adds that spelling errors found in the
wall writings would be unlikely to be made by a Welsh-speaker but were
consistent with a non-Welsh speaker possessing poorish eyesight misreading the
dictionary’s small font. He does not say
so in the article but it can be seen from the programme that Rose-Mary Gower
was a spectacle wearer.
Sian Eleri knew all this because she had
access to Dr Daniels’ records including his article in JSPR, a copy of which she can be seen holding in one shot (though
any reference to the SPR is conspicuously absent in the programme). Yet she omitted to mention the possession of
a Welsh dictionary, an important piece of evidence in assessing the wall
In fact, there was much information
missing necessary to reach a balanced conclusion, not least that David and
Rose-Mary Gower had been SPR members and would therefore have had some
knowledge of hauntings and poltergeists, useful to someone contemplating a hoax. Despite being structured as such, the
programme was not a serious reinvestigation, and Penyffordd Farm, billed in the
publicity as ‘the most haunted house in Britain,’ did not live up to the hype.