I’d like to welcome John to the centre stage. John is not only an award winning author, a man on a mission and an incredibly diverse character, he’s also a personal friend.
So I guess I could be a little biased….and the house is simply incredible, I can personally vouch for this having spent a night in the Room of Dreams and a Valentine’s Day dinner in the Haunted Bedroom. I’m a lucky girl indeed..
Without further ado, let’s get cracking on finding out more about the place that is Talliston.
John, I know you have a fascination for all things spiritual, magical and mysterious. With this in mind, tell us how Talliston arose from the ordinary roots it had, into the extraordinary house it has become.
As a writer of speculative fiction and a reader of fantasy and medieval history, I have always been searching for magical places around the world – the places that featured in so many of my childhood stories. Being from a fairly ordinary family living in an ordinary house in an ordinary street, these stories were my escape and when it came time to buy my own home and move out of my parents’ house, I wanted to live somewhere extraordinary. Unfortunately such places either didn’t exist or were out of my price range. So I decided that I’d have to build it. I created Talliston because I needed a house that was beautiful and functional – and allowed me to go on wild adventures without ever leaving home. Somewhere I could write and dream.
Do you think Talliston lends itself to the supernatural, the occult, the ghostly? I know you have the Haunted Bedroom behind which there is tragic story – tell us a bit about the events behind this particular room.
My own interest into world religions, different forms of spirituality and the earth mysteries inform the designs and objects in the locations. Each sits within a labyrinth design and have strong storylines linking their occupants to all the esoteric and eccentric. When completed (October 2015) Talliston will comprise of more than 2,000 objects from 27 countries spread across thirteen locations (eleven rooms and two gardens), grouped into five elements and set across more than six-thousand years of history, from 4000 BC to 2228 AD.
Because each room is constructed using authentic items, the eventual jigsaw puzzle must surely bring all manner of energies and entities into the house.
In the Scottish Edwardian bedroom, we wanted something genuinely creepy rather than just HAllowe’en-esque – and the most creepy was in the realms of The Woman In Black, but centred around a dead child. So here’s the story we came up with:
“Seathan Macpherson was only seven years old when his parents found him dead in this room. The boy, always known as ‘Jack’, was a reclusive, solitary child, and after his death, the room was locked and unused. The child’s ghost was said to have been seen in the corridors, so the salon was blessed by a priest, warded and completely sealed. This bedchamber, with its black woodwork, fretwork altar panels and emerald trellis and quatrefoil fabric walls, was decorated for the Macpherson’s first child. Jack always complained of noises in the night, but it was only after the boy’s death that the first true hauntings began. Due to this, the superstitious couple locked the room, sealed it with various holy symbols, and vowed never set foot in it again.”
Do you believe that places and houses retain some of the energy of departed souls and events, and that these manifest themselves in some way in today’s times?
I am a great believer that places hold memories of past events, just like ink written on paper. Like a residue that certain people can feel and interpret. The house, though ordinary, has its fair share of presences, of the people who have inhabited it since it was built in the late 1920s/early 1930s. We have had two photographs of a *shape* beside the white Victorian Gothic fireplace, and I always feel a shadow at the top of the stairs. But I cannot say if they were here in the house or by collecting all these authentic antiques and artefacts we are bringing spirits into it.
I remember you telling me once that a contractor came in to lift some carpet from one of the rooms and found some occult symbols drawn on the floor underneath- what can you tell us about this? I bet he was pretty spooked 🙂
Yes, before we transformed the living and dining areas, when the room was stripped back to the brickwork, we held a murder mystery party there for Hallowe’en. Because the floorboards were being replaced we drew an enormous pentagram on the floor, which was revealed to the gas engineer a few weeks later when the carpet was removed and he started work on rerouting the pipework for the kitchen oven. I wasn’t there that day, but apparently the look on his face was priceless!
We laughingly talk about walling nuns into the walls of Talliston to create some grisly and macabre mystique- I’m sure the house must have some of its own to tell. Can you perhaps tell us any stories about the history of the house that appeal to the ghost hunters and lovers of the supernatural ?
We were fortunate enough to be living for many years next to an old couple who had been residents almost from the time the houses were built, so they had a lot of first hand stories of life in the area, and specifically within Talliston. The stand-out story from this time was of the original owners who had a daughter who became pregnant by a local farm labourer who lodged in the room that is now the 1920s office. Because of the scandal, the parents tried to keep her out of sight, until one day the baby came and she was found screaming at the top of the stairs, and her parents locked themselves up in their room in fright. Apparently neighbours came running and got her to hospital, though there seems some confusion over whether the mother and baby survived or not. Suffice to say they didn’t come back to the house…
Now to the nitty gritty – are there ghosts or entities or presences in Talliston, and if so, have you seen them ?
From the very first day of moving into the house, there has always been a presence at the top of the stairs. Several people have commented on this without prior knowledge, but whether that is anything to do with the above incident I have no idea. And there is also one photograph taken by a guest at a dinner party that shows a purple face-like shape next to the white Gothic Revival fireplace.
You’ve extensively remodelled the house – can you tell us about weird or wonderful things you found while doing this ? Skeletons in the closets perhaps, or children’s old toys? A body or two ?
Actually, since we have pulled up every floorboard and cleared every room back to the brickwork, we have found surprisingly little. A few bits in the gardens, but nothing spooky or macabre. To rectify this, as we have progressed, we’ve walled up all kinds of objects ready for discovery at some future time.
One of the influences you cite in the local newspaper ‘The Uttlesford Villager’ as inspiration for various areas in the house is the Golden Dawn, an organisation with roots in Freemasony, Rosicrucian and occult practices. Tell us a little more about the rooms influenced by this society and how they influenced your creations.
The central area of the house is the living and dining room which takes up almost all of the original downstairs of the house. We recreated this into a Welsh tower where wealthy Victorians would go to escape the all-seeing eye of the judging society they lived in. Think along the lines of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle and his ilk. I created an owner named Jonathan D’Ante who was inspired by characters from the early esoteric renaissance (and eventually formed groups such as the Golden Dawn) – and earlier by Byron and Shelley.
In all the rooms we wanted a feeling of age, of use and depth – I don’t like the term ‘themed rooms’ as I feel this is too shallow a description. I want visitors to feel as if they have indeed stepped back in time and we spend a lot of effort on creating the right smells and sounds that work with the visuals to give a complete picture. And there’s nothing like wandering a house filled with images of gods and oracles and Ouija boards to give a real sense of the otherness of place!
Thanks John, for this fascinating glimpse behind the incredible place that is Talliston. Now if you’d like to find out more about the opening event in October, and book your place, take a look below.
Talliston House & Gardens is a project to take an ordinary house in an ordinary street and transform it into a wonderland of unique and inspirational locations.
“Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home” The Sunday Times
Set to be complete it’s 25-year transformation in October 2015, you are invited to take a tour or attend a private party at a special Grand Open House Weekend (16/17/18 October 2015). Be the first people to see it finished and experience with a full cast of characters from each time and place.