Ghost storytelling at Cambridge

Each winter as Christmas draws closer and the nights darken, Fellows and Junior Members of St John’s College, Cambridge, gather with their friends to hear ghost stories read in the Combination Room.

This year for the first time people all over the world are able to get a glimpse of this magical event by listening to an abridged version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Professor David Frost, a former Fellow of the college.

A magnificent gallery on the first floor of a building dating back more than 400 years, the Combination Room makes the perfect setting for tales that send a shiver down the spine. Coal fires burn in the massive grates, dozens of candles are lit, and the heavy silk curtains are drawn to create an atmosphere that takes the audience back in time.

For an hour and a half the room falls silent as a series of readers hold their listeners rapt with stories that evoke the mystery and magic of the supernatural. Some of the stories are traditional; others are chosen to introduce the audience to writers with whom they may not be familiar.

As a classic story of redemption on the eve of Christmas, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, is one of the all-time favourites. Professor Frost’s wonderful rendition of the characters – particularly the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley – holds his audience spellbound right to the final words.

The annual readings of ghost stories at St John’s, now in their ninth year, are organised by Patrick Boyde. Formerly Professor of Italian and widely known at Cambridge for his public lectures on Italian art, Professor Boyde is now the College Borderer. In this role, which is unique to St John’s, he stages social and cultural events to integrate the college Fellowship with its graduate students.

There is a long tradition of ghost stories at Cambridge, where some of the best-known British writers have lived, studied and worked. Most famous is MR James (1862-1936), the medieval scholar and writer who studied at King’s College as an undergraduate, later becoming a don and then college Provost. Credited with redefining the ghost story, he wrote stories to be read aloud on Christmas Eve to gatherings of friends.

MR James inspired a number of others to write and publish ghost stories of their own. They include the brothers EF Benson and AC Benson, RH Malden and EG Swain. Swain (1861-1938) was Chaplain at King’s College before taking a living out in the Cambridgeshire fens which formed the setting for his most successful collection of ghost stories.

(Source, here.) You watch at the link below the reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, done by my dear friend, Prof. David Frost, at St John College, Cambridge. Enjoy!

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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