Sneinton is a suburb of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Despite heavy bombing in the Second World War, and two large phases of redevelopment in both the 1930’s and 50’s, much of the terraced and semi-terraced housing built during Victorian times still stands to this day.
One of these houses, known locally as the ‘Dark House’, and set only slightly back from the main thoroughfare of Sneinton Dale, has a troubling history; a history that came to a rather grisly end in the autumn of 1982 with the deaths of two men and the mental and physical scarring of a third.
The so called ‘Dark House’ is a three storey building nestled in a row of similarly-sized dwellings. From the street, there is nothing untoward to suggest what happened inside. Although no one has ever been charged with any crime, the event left a rather curious stain on a certain section of the local community.
The provenance of the house is itself a mystery. All that can be gleaned from local records is that a gentleman going by the name of Nathaniel Defoe purchased the house in 1922, paying in cash.
Initially I was confident that this is a pseudonym, but after my investigation I am not so sure.
The individual in question does, however, appear to have been a well known character locally.
6th June 2014
The Lord Nelson pub is a 500 year old building, with low ceilings built for men of smaller stature and meaner temperament. Many landlords have taken custody of it throughout the years.
I meet Alison Dewitt in the smallest room of the pub, known as the Common Room. She is in her late seventies now, but back in 1982, she and her now deceased husband were the publicans of this enduring establishment.
A kindly woman with a warm smile, she buys me a pint and we sit down to chat about the so-called ‘Dark House’ and it’s enigmatic occupant.
“We all called him ‘the Captain’. I don’t think any of us ever knew his real name. We, I mean my husband and I, we took over the Nelson in, when was it, ’68? He was a regular, popped in two or three times a week. Gladys, she’d been coming in for nearly forty years, and she used to say that the Captain was old even when she was young. None of us knew exactly where he came from.
“He used to dress like he’d just stepped out of a Dickens’ novel. Long coat, tall hat, big leather boots, that sort of thing. And he had a huge white beard and these piercing, bright green eyes. He used to walk with a stick with a big chunk of shiny black rock on the handle.
“He seemed a decent enough sort. Polite. He’d have a few ales and sit right there by the fire. Most times he’d just chat with one or two of the other regulars, but from time to time he’d regale some of the locals with stories about his time in the Navy. Sometimes World War One, sometimes World War Two, but occasionally he’d talk about surviving a shipwreck off the Cape of Good Hope.
“Everyone just assumed he was bullshitting, but I like to think I’m quite a good judge of character. You, Doctor Gotobed, I can tell you’re an honest sort, duckeh. It’s in your face. But when the Captain spoke about those times, out on the sea all those years ago, he always looked kind of ‘haunted’. Like he’d actually seen them.
“And that wasn’t the only thing that seemed off about him.”
I buy us another round and ask her to elaborate.
“Well for a start, he’d always pay for his drinks with large notes, and his wallet was always stuffed with them. No one ever knew where all his money came from. He wore a ring on every finger, each one with a different stone set in it, and he carried this large pocket watch on a gold chain. I saw him open it once, and I tell you, it wasn’t a clock face inside it, but these weird symbols.”
I ask her if she can recreate these symbols for me. I will attach a copy of her drawing to this file.
“But that wasn’t the weirdest thing, oh no.
“One evening, a local troublemaker came in, all beered up. He was a loud so-and-so, always throwing his weight around, intimidating people. Dobbo, his name was.
“That night I guess Dobbo took a disliking to the Captain, for some reason only he would have known. He was a big man, Dobbo, all muscle and neck. He sat down opposite the Captain and started goading him, trying to get a rise out of him, calling him a nonce. The old man just ignored him and carried on with his pint.
“And then this knucklehead stood up and leant over, yelling in the Captain’s face.
“I’ve never known the atmosphere in a place change so quickly.
“The Captain fixed Dobbo with his eyes and the whole pub went silent. Dobbo just… stopped. Dead still, like he’d been frozen, the whole time the Captain just staring at him.
“I swear, that’s the only time it ever got that quiet on a Friday night. You could’ve heard a pin drop in the garden.
“They were right there, the Captain glaring, and then a dark patch appeared on Dobbo’s jeans, right on the crotch. And it started to spread.
“He’d pissed himself.”
I ask what happened next.
“Dobbo ran out and never came back. The Captain returned to his pint. And we all went about Friday night as normal.
“I never saw anyone try anything like that with the Captain again.”
This is but one of many stories I hear about the old man known as ‘the Captain’.
He was spotted one still summer’s night up at nearby Green’s Windmill, seemingly moving its giant blades with only the wave of a hand.
Another local tale has him stalking the streets of Sneinton early one morning with a horse’s skull tucked underneath one arm and an enormous black hound traipsing beside him.
There are also rumours of him meandering through nearby Colwick Woods, conversing animatedly with the trees and wildlife, and a shrill howling could be heard emanating from the Dark House one cold All Hallows’ Eve.
But these are mere anecdotes, half remembered and told second or third-hand, and must accordingly be taken with a pinch of salt.
The night of the 30th of October 1982 however is different. It is a matter of record that something occurred on that fateful evening, and to get anything even approaching an answer, we must go to the only remaining eyewitness: a gentleman named Kevin Shields.
1st September 2014
Rampton Secure Hospital is a large and sprawling complex, home to four hundred-odd inmates detained under the Mental Health Act of 1983. It has housed some of Britain’s most notorious criminals.
Despite the National Health Service’s best efforts, it is difficult to fight the feeling that a shadow of foreboding lingers over the site.
One of its lesser known residents is one Kevin Shields, a 55 year old individual with multiple convictions for armed robbery and assault. He was incarcerated at Rampton a little over 30 years ago, due to the onset of complex and violent hallucinations linked to a severe cause of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He also has no eyes.
It has taken many months of phone calls and the redeeming of several ‘favours’, but finally I am granted a private audience with Mr Shields.
Our meeting takes place in a secure room, empty save for two chairs and a table, which the blind man’s hands are cuffed to. The two burly orderlies posted outside assure me that Mr Shields is sedated, but lucid.
I am advised, in their words, not to ‘wind him up’.
I assure them I seek only the truth, a statement which elicits much mirth from the pair.
The following is an extract from a transcription of my conversation with Mr Shields, chiefly the part concerning the events of that night at the end of October in 1982:
KS: Me and my brothers, Tommy and Roger, we’d come down from Newcastle to hide out. We’d botched a robbery a few nights previous, and didn’t want the cops to find us. Rog had this friend in Nott’m, so we were gonna crash on his floor for a few nights, ‘til the heat was off.
We’d gone to the pub for a jar or two. Rog wasn’t too keen. He said we should lay low, but Tommy said he’d go crazy sat in that house. He’d always been the gobby one.
Then the old man came in.
We watched him go to the bar and get a pint. He paid for it with a twenty, and his wallet was chock-full with notes. Tommy reckoned there must’ve have been at least two grand in there.
And that was it.
From that point on, we were fucked.
DrG: Why do you believe you were ‘fucked’.
KS: I could see the cogs turning in Tommy’s head. A muscle in his cheek would always twitch when he was thinking. And it was tweaking real bad.
DrG: What did you believe he was thinking?
KS: He’d already made up his mind. He said that if that old man carried a wallet that full of cash, and all them rings on his fingers, imagine what he’d have at home?
We tried to talk him out of it, but his there wasn’t any point.
So we came up with a plan.
We were gonna follow the old man home, find out where he lived then come back later and do his place over proper good. Make up for all that money we’d lost out on from the botch job up North.
We waited ‘til he left then went after him. We watched which house he went in then we were off back to Rog’s mate’s gaff to borrow a crowbar.
We gave it an hour or so and then we went to the house. We jimmy’d the door open and went in.
It was dark, but I could see the walls were… were dark red, and the floor was bare wood. There were these… these giant markings drawn all over the place. I said to Rog that I didn’t think this was a good idea. That we should just leave and forget all about it.
Tommy told us to stop being pussies.
If only we’d left it there. My brothers would still be alive and I wouldn’t be in here, like this.
We got to the living room. I remember there were candles everywhere. And there was the old man, but younger, and he was just… just sat there in a chair, like he’d been waiting for us.
DrG: I’m sorry… younger?
KS: Yeah. And he had this look on his face… a look I’d never seen on anyone before.
He banged this stick on the floor and said a word I didn’t understand… and that was that.
We were fucked.
The devils came. And there was so much… so much… blood.
They killed my brothers, a hundred times over. Again and again and again, right in front of me.
I can still see them now.
It’s all I can see.
The next day, a local man out for a morning jog in Colwick Woods found Kevin Shields at the base of a large oak tree.
His eyeballs had been gouged from their sockets.
If it were not for the actions of a pair of dedicated paramedics, he would have died that morning from a combination of blood loss and shock.
Seven days later, on the 6th of November, the lifeless bodies of Tommy and Roger Shields were found washed up on the banks of the River Trent near Lady Bay Bridge. The cadavers were mutilated to the extent where they could only be identified by dental records.
The exact cause of death could not be conclusively discerned for either man.
Now the Dark House stands empty, its windows and doors boarded shut under heavy iron plates.
The Captain made one more appearance at the Lord Nelson two nights later, and was never seen again.
The deeds to the Dark House are still in the name of Nathaniel Defoe.
No one has ever been charged in connection with the deaths of Tommy and Roger Shields, or the disfigurement of their brother, Kevin. But that fact did not stop the local rumour mill from turning at a frantic pace.
If the tales of the residents of Sneinton are to be taken as the truth, alongside the testimonies of Alison Dewitt and Kevin Shields, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that the mysterious Nathaniel Defoe, owner of the Dark House, was in possession of some hitherto unknown and mysterious power.
Indeed, he may still be.
Without sitting down and speaking with the man known locally as ‘the Captain’, one can only speculate as to the source of this power.
There is an interesting coda to this story. Remembering the words of Alison Dewitt, I looked up a list of ships wrecked off the Cape of Good Hope before the Great War. The most recent one I could find was the Cospatrick, a frigate that caught fire off the Atlantic coast in 1874 carrying 477 souls.
One lifeboat was recovered, and the five men on-board only survived by drinking the blood and eating the livers of their dead companions. All but one died shortly after their rescue.
The identity of this sole survivor?
A young British sailor by the name of Nathaniel Defoe.
Dr Thomas Gotobed