Portsmouth embraces festival of fright as DarkFest returns

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THE ANNUAL DarkFest has returned to Portsmouth with the promise of even more terrifying tales of the city’s supernatural past.

Now in its fourth year, the University of Portsmouth-run festival brings together artists, writers, performers, and musicians to explore ghost stories, urban legends and hidden horrors from the city’s colourful history.

Pictured: Dr Karl Bell, director of Darkfest.''Picture: Habibur Rahman

Pictured: Dr Karl Bell, director of Darkfest.''Picture: Habibur Rahman

Much of the supernatural activity is focused around Old Portsmouth and the city’s maritime heritage. The idea for the festival originated from historical research carried out by university lecturer, Dr Karl Bell.

Dr Bell said: ‘My research into life in the city in the 19th century revealed quite a rich supernatural heritage linked to many ghost sightings. A lot of the activity is focused in and around the dockyards, close to High Street and Broad Street. There have been a lot of stories of ghostly sightings of sailors fighting in the streets. It appears that towards the end of the Victorian period the passage of time seemed to calm these apparitions down with the display of much more civilised activity.’

One of the most famous stories centred around the now defunct Old Blue Post Inn and the trapped spirit of a murdered sailor who was secretly buried in the courtyard. The ghost is believed to have caused so much disruption that the proprietors had a gravestone placed on the site in an attempt to trick the sailor to return to rest and appease his spirit .

Dr Bell added: ‘There are a number of accounts from this period of single people booking into a double room in the pub only to wake up with the ghost of the dead sailor in bed next to them.’ 

This Halloween sees the return of Portsmouth DarkFest, a creative and cultural festival exploring all things dark, sinister and supernatural''Pictured:  Images taken from last years Darkfest by Samira Backhaus.''Picture: Samira Backhaus

This Halloween sees the return of Portsmouth DarkFest, a creative and cultural festival exploring all things dark, sinister and supernatural''Pictured: Images taken from last years Darkfest by Samira Backhaus.''Picture: Samira Backhaus

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The festival, which runs to November 10, covers 20 events including spooky storytelling, live music and performances, public talks, ghost walks, film screenings, plays, immersive experiences, art exhibitions and writing workshops.

‘We even have Dacre Stoker coming from Canada to talk about his great uncle, Bram Stoker, and his creation of the 1897 Gothic novel, Dracula,’ added Dr Bell.

New activities include a murder mystery night on board HMS Warrior, an evening of Dark Songs and the Snow Witch Art Exhibition at Cascades Shopping Centre – inspired by local author Matt Wingett.

This year's DarkFest will feature a number theatrical performances and story telling.''Picture: Samira Backhaus

This year's DarkFest will feature a number theatrical performances and story telling.''Picture: Samira Backhaus

Dr Bell said: ‘Halloween is the one time of year when we really allow ourselves to talk about things dark and supernatural. DarkFest continues that imaginative engagement. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase the fantastic wealth of creative talent that we have in Portsmouth.’