HALLOWEEN is just around the corner and no doubt as many tricks as treats will be meted out across the county.

If there are, let’s hope that they are taken in better spirits than a spooky prank from south Essex history that ended up in the courts.

Picture the scene. A creepy old building being used as a mental institution. A ghostly figure that appears in the corridors at night, terrifying nurses and patients alike.

This was the scene back in the summer of 1923 at the Rochford Institution, to the extent that staff were threatening to boycott work because of the ‘ghost’.

Located on the site of the old Rochford Workhouse which has been around since 1837, for some time the institution had been plagued by a ghost which had appeared over the course of several weeks.

Braintree and Witham Times:

Monk-y business - Holy Cross Church in Basildon is said to be haunted by the ghost of a monk

A newspaper report regaling the drama described: “Nurses and patients had become scared as it stole along the corridors and glided through the wards during the dark hours.”

The only thing was, it wasn’t a malevolent entity at all, but a worker up to mischief skulking around the wards with a sheet over his head.

One of the male nurses at the the infirmary had decided to play a joke, which ended up backfiring and costing him his job.

The offending worker turned out to be a man named Edwin Jell who was caught after a fellow nurse became suspicious that someone was larking around. One night she lay in wait to set a trap.

The newspaper report added: “The apparition came stealing into the room and she switched on the light. Her suspicions were justified. Holding his hands upwards he appeared to be of abnormal heights but could not conceal.”

Jell was brought before the Rochford Guardians over the prank and he was dismissed for his behaviour. The incident made headlines across the country. Although a humourous story, it did have a more serious side.

The Board of Guardians was told:”Nurses had been threatening not to go on duty, such was the fright surrounding the ghost and the apparition had also alarmed several patients.”

Although Jell was given the sack, the matter wasn’t over. Three years later he appeared before Judge Crawford at Southend Court. By this time he was living in Ealing and was asking the court to grant him £25 from his pension contributions back from the institution.

In court Jell gave a slightly different account about what had happened: “Three years ago,” he said, “there were rumours that the institution was haunted. I had been reading a ghost story in a London newspaper and it was time for a night nurse to come on duty so I threw a sheet over my shoulders and waited for her in the doorway.

“Presently I heard footsteps but instead of the night nurse appearing it was the medical officer. He reported me to the committee.”

Jell said he was dismissed for simply playing a harmless joke and complained that the institution was now trying to rob him of his pension contributions as well.

Judge Crawford, however, was not sympathetic. He dismissed Jell’s claim and said the wards of a mental hospital were not the place to play practical jokes.

Rochford and its surrounding area is no stranger to apparent hauntings. Anne Boleyn is said to haunt her old family home, Rochford Hall. Her decapitated ghost is said to walk the building.

Basildon also has its fair share of ghosts if you believe the local legends.

Back in 1964 the story of a ‘hooded monk’, who was scaring the bejesus out of cleaning ladies in Basildon, even made national headlines.

The monk was terrorising the cleaners who worked at the newly-opened Ford factory in Cranes Hill, by appearing to them as they cycled home at 4am past Holy Cross Church in Basildon. The monk was said to ‘shuffle across Church Road and then vanish in the ether in the churchyard’.

The Daily Mirror reported: “The cleaners now band together before going home past the churchyard.”

Terrified cleaner Rita Tobin, 21 of Ghyllgrove said: “The second time I saw the monk I cycled right through him. The air was cold and clammy. I went numb all over.” The curate admitted that he too had heard chilling noises including feet shuffling on the church porch’.