Edmund Gill Swain (1861-1938) was Chaplain of King’s College, Cambridge as well as being an accomplished author of ghost stories, the best known of which were published in 1912 in the form of the collection entitled The Stoneground Ghost Tales. He was a colleague and contemporary of M R James and a regular member of the select group to whom James delivered his famous annual Christmas Eve ghost story readings. Like James, E G Swain was drawn to the rich vein of antiquarian and supernatural lore in East Anglia. In his capacity as Reverend Canon and Proctor at the University of Cambridge, he had ample opportunity to study the ghostly tradition of the eerie wastes of The Fens, where several of his best stories are located.
The Stoneground Ghost Tales is a collection of nine short stories set in and around a church and parish on the edge of The Fens, a naturally marshy region in eastern England. The protagonist, the Rector of Stoneground, the Reverend Roland Batchel, is a kindly, humane bachelor and amateur antiquarian, not unlike Swain himself. The stories’ style emulates that of James, to whom the collection is dedicated. Although Swain’s tales have been described as lacking “the unsettling, anarchic malevolence” of James’ own supernatural fiction, they are still evocative and memorably creepy, as is demonstrated by Bone to his Bone (click to read!). Swain ended his church career at Peterborough Cathedral, which was in the gift of his old college, Emmanuel. Known familiarly as ‘Emma’, Swain’s alma mater was itself the scene of a famous real-life haunting.
The ghostly activity was centred on Emmanuel Lodge, which once stood on the south of the college grounds. The Harris family, who took up residence in 1867, often heard footsteps running down empty passageways and the mother of the family once saw a female figure standing by the bed wearing a grey veil. Tenants who later rented the Lodge after the Harris family moved out of permanent residence continued to hear the footsteps and see the grey lady. In 1884 the Lodge became a girls’ boarding school but this did not stop the ghost from continuing to make its presence felt. The archives of the Society for Pyschical Research from the time record eyewitness accounts from pupils and teachers of strange sightings, similar to those experienced by the Harris family and other previous residents. These archives also attempt to shed light on the ghostly manifestations in the Lodge by revealing that three of its previous occupants had committed suicide. Emmanuel Lodge was demolished in 1893 to make way for the present Emmanuel House and no ghostly activity has been noted on the site since.