By day, Rob Marks answers emails, goes to business meetings, and runs social media channels. By night, he becomes his eerie Victorian alter-ego, Silas, and leads ghost-loving guests around our haunted city along with fellow ghost walkers Jasper and Ebenezer.
He moved to Brighton in 2008 after developing a fondness for the sea, the Lanes, and the quirkiness of the area through his visits to family by the coast in the 60s. He tells us he always felt at home and comfortable here, and feels it’s a place where one can indulge their eccentricities – which he’s doing with the ghost walk!
Founded in 2008, his popular Ghost Walk of The Lanes was recently dubbed one of the most ghoulishly good ghost hunts in the UK – so it seemed the perfect time to meet him for a good old chat.
What’s it like to be a professional ghost walk guide?
“It’s very enjoyable – I get to see people enjoying themselves and having fun, and know I made their experience pleasurable.
“You can’t just be a storyteller. You’ve got to be a host, you’ve got to look after your group and make sure everybody is safe and having a good time on the walk.
“You can’t rest on your laurels, there’s always something to do.”
Do you get into character?
“Well, we do it all in Victorian costume with a Gladstone bag full of props and stories.
“You need to inject some lighthearted comedy into it too, so the props help to add that little air of theatricality to the walk.
“We always carry something people can focus on for a story, be it a skull, a severed head, a dagger – anything related to one of our stories that keep them fun.”
Have you ever seen a ghost during your walks?
“I haven’t seen anything myself on a walk, no. I’ve had people who are spiritualists and paranormal investigators come along, though, and photos have been taken of me surrounded by little orbs – which are meant to show paranormal activity.
“One psychic asked me if I knew that a spirit follows me on the walk because she saw the aura of a spirit with me all through the evening until we got to the Cricketer’s.”
Are your stories scripted?
“It’s all tightly scripted – with some freedom to ad-lib and insert gags, of course. But each performance is slightly different because the audience makes it different.
“We get some audiences who are rather sombre, some who are really enjoying it, and some who are incredibly up for it. Every time we do it, we make it seem like it’s the first time.”
Why can some people experience ghosts while others never do?
“There are people who are, it would seem, more attuned to the paranormal. Some people’s senses are more aware – they go into places and immediately feel uncomfortable or sad and can’t explain why.”
Do you get scared by the paranormal?
“No, not at all. Essentially, I am an entertainer and I use ghost stories as a vehicle for entertainment. However, I’ve met a good many people who have spoken in earnest about their experiences while I was writing my book.”
So, what is your philosophy on ghosts?
“I do think that most of the time, there can be a logical explanation. In the dark, your eyes can play tricks on you.
“When the lights go off and the heating gets turned down, you can think you saw or heard something. Also, if you read ghost stories, your imagination can just run wild!
“Having said that, there is definitely a grey area. I would never be dismissive about that.
“The interesting thing is that tales of spirits have pervaded almost every culture for centuries.”
If ghosts do exist, do you think there’s anything as bad as horror movie villains out there?
“There are a lot of people who do believe that spirits, if they do exist, can’t hurt you. But there have been many cases of boisterous spirits and poltergeist activity.
“There’s often this idea of spirits being unable to rest – that there is something in this life which causes them to remain troubled and until they resolve that trouble, they can’t pass over.
“It seems that if spirits do exist, a lot of them are friendly or seem to have a sentimental attachment to a house, building, or place.
“There seem to be a lot of stories about monks and nuns, who are said to act as guardians to the living; they’re not nasty spirits at all. But much of this is all theory and speculation.”
What kinds of people like to go on your ghost walks?
“It’s a very mixed bag. Generally speaking, I would say we get more people who like to hear a good old tale than devotees to the paranormal.
“Because we pepper our events with comic respite, it’s all very much geared up to Brighton people who like having fun!
“We also have a lot of language schools coming to see us now, but Brighton is a bit fickle. It’s always quiet early in the year, then a busy summer spell, then Halloween is always pretty crazy!”
What did you do before founding the Brighton ghost walk?
“I worked in theatre and education years ago, and found a niche for myself because I am comfortable working as a solo entertainer.
“I suppose that’s quite like being a teacher in a way – you’re on your own out there and have an audience locked in to the situation.”
Do you believe in all the stories you tell?
“Ghost stories make for a good yarn, but all of our stories are based on long-established accounts. However, it does get a bit like Chinese whispers through the years. Things can be changed, added to, or elaborated on.”
What’s one of Brighton’s craziest ghost stories?
“There used to be a tavern in town called The Rising Sun, said to be haunted by Brighton’s first documented ghost, known as Old-Strike-a-Light.
“He was this large, hideous half-man, half-creature, who was often said to sit astride the barrels in the basement. He terrified this fisherman, who died out of fright.
“In a couple of stories, he was pointing at this hearthstone in the basement. The story goes that innkeeper and priest listened to the fisherman’s account in his final hours, and when they removed the stone, they found a hidden casket of gold Spanish doubloons. After that, the spirit never appeared again.”
What’s the secret to telling a successful story?
“There’s a misconception that setting up a guided storytelling walk is as easy as putting up a sign and turning up.
“Any story needs to build-up tension, so I tend to use a lot of short sentences, which are key to reach a dramatic high point – and then add some comic respite! If you don’t have that structure, it goes all over the place.
“When you’re doing the same stories all the time, it’s also important to keep them fresh.”
Rob runs his Ghost Walk of The Lanes four times a week along with colleagues Andrew and Julian. Sorry, we mean Jasper and Ebenezer!
If you just can’t get enough of chillingly good ghost stories, Rob also runs a blog full of spooky tales and released his book, The Ghosts of Brighton’s Lanes, in 2010.