It’s not every day you get the opportunity to explore the hidden rooms of a public house, to nosey into the back rooms of a world often kept secret from the wandering eye. A world mainly witnessed by only residents and staff members, and not by women and men, young or old, who are on the hunt for the unexpected.
But at The Leopard Inn, in Burslem the rulebook is thrown away every Friday night as secrets are revealed when members of the public are invited to wander through the remains of an abandoned 55-room hotel and the Inn’s basement. And, it’s not just the intruder policy which is broken, but any rule to let the dead sleep is duly forgotten as Chris Stokes takes you on a guided Ghost Tour!
Upon entering The Leopard, on Market Place, many a folk are sat enjoying social drinks in the main bar area and adjoining lounge. Friendly bar staff eagerly await to serve drinks with a smile – and an even bigger smile is produced as they discover the reason you are there is to take part in a Ghost Tour. A variety of beers, lagers and wines along with spirits – the alcoholic kind – are on offer to whet the appetite as you wait to be called through to the dining area, and the first experience of the tour.
When walking through to the dining room area, a separate room towards the back of the pub, the senses start to kick in as the lights are dimmed. The smell of food calms the nerves as you walk into a darkened room lit only by candles flickering on tables and surrounding wall units.
Large paintings fill the walls on either side and a long red curtain is adorned at the rear of the last set of dining tables. A side unit covered in candles, wooden objects and skulls helps to again trigger the nervous system into a sense that the unknown is approaching.
A roast dinner is soon placed in front of you by more friendly staff and then several trays of delicious looking cakes are positioned on a side table enticing ghost hunters to tuck in – not too far away from the skull display.
Both servings are well made and delicious, but before concentrations are allowed to relax and soak up the remaining cake crumbs with the last drops of wine and beers, your host for the evening, Chris Stokes, bursts through into the room along with a more sombre looking character in Igor.
The two work together creating the mood for the next 90 minutes sharing various stories with the intrigued room, who sit half listening, half expecting something ghoulish to happen. Once the insight into The Leopard and its history has been shared Chris invites everyone to sit at a large, oval shaped table, which has been hidden away, for an introductory seance. As Igor prowls the room ghost hunters sit quietly, listening to their tour guide before being invited to head out towards the main pub area.
The first stop is the basement, nothing appears to untoward as you enter the bottom stairs of the pub. But then Chris opens up a door which reveals a dark, corridor which leads underground. The corridor leads on to tunnels and several rooms – each attendee has to bow down, torches in hand to avoid colliding with the brick ceilings. Damp and dusky smells fill the quashed air and attentions soon turn to the fact that there is only one way in and one way out!
Back on standing ground you are guided up towards the abandoned hotel, taking on several flights of wooden stairs as you go. The noise coming from the lively pub is soon left in the background as you slip along dark, musky corridors with Chris and sometimes his friend Igor.
Various points of interest are noted as you wander through a building which dates back centuries. “Nothing has been touched since the hotel closed,” you are told. Wallpaper hangs, rubble is spread along the wooden floorboards beneath your feet and the only light comes from the torch in your hand – when you are allowed to shine it!
A sense of being watched is created as haunting tales are delivered and a conscious thought of knowing you have to turn back to return to the life of the pub downstairs is ignited.
The tour comes to an end, some hearts beating faster than others and some questions still unanswered.
The Chris Stokes Ghost Tours are not for the faint hearted, but don’t be shy and be prepared for the light hearted! An experience to enjoy and share…
Read more about The Leopard here.