Oak House chose its current owners - against all the odds. The medieval former inn comes with history, some of its former occupants and a comforting, protective presence. Marsya Lennox reports.
If the house wants you - you will buy it."
The former owner of Oak House at Millisons Wood, near Meriden, in Warwickshire, was trying to reassure the young prospective purchaser who had, unannounced, knocked at the door 23 years ago.
Sylvana Alsevski and her husband Alex had just weeks to find a new home and had seen the "for sale" sign outside this rural property.
The prospects were not good. A building society manager had agreed to buy, which all looked pretty daunting for any last-minute bidders.
"Four weeks later, we were moving in," relates Sylvana. In the excitement, she had not even noticed that the house lay close to the A45. There was a blessed absence of near neighbours - nobody to overlook - and a decent acre of private grounds.
"Only when we had the key did I realise that the road was close by," says Sylvana.
Three weeks later, she was not so sure about the swift purchase and needed to speak to the vendor, but it was not the road that bothered the new owners of Oak House.
"I went to see her because of the strange things happening, and I asked her if there was a ghost," she says. Those early days at Oak House had been eventful. There had been a nearly-disastrous fire in the kitchen, a car accident outside the house and a burglary - and there was a woman in a black dress and white apron, who appeared in various parts of the house "looking at me".
The previous owner was a little disconcerted, but persuaded by her daughter to come clean and relate a bit more of the story that deserved to be told.
There was some cheering news. "Whoever is there will look after the woman of the house," Sylvana was told.
There was also an intriguing prediction: "The house will not let you go for 21 years," asserted its former owner who had stayed exactly that time. On reflection, the Alsevskis realised that they had fared reasonably well during those first eventful weeks at Oak House.
They had hoped for a new kitchen and the fire saw to that. There was a well-timed new car following the accident right outside the property, and something had disturbed the burglars who had fled, leaving the back door open and piles of decent possessions on the floor, escaping with only a paltry haul - including the electric kettle.
It appeared that the fire was started by the cooker switching on and burning a deep fat fryer sitting on top.
Yet the damage was remarkably contained, failing to ignite a loft room above, stuffed to knee height with the former insulation - dry straw.
"The inspector said that it should have ripped through the house but it didn't," says Sylvana. The blaze was put out with a hose, the Alsatian puppies in the kitchen were unharmed, though glad to get out, and Sylvana concluded that "something was looking after us".
When the insurance assessor called round he remarked on the run of mishaps since the move.
"He said that I'd be pregnant next, and strangely, although I didn't know it then - I was," says Sylvana.
There were irreverent suggestions that the family might wish for a new bathroom too and see how that might be arranged - by the active spirits of the house - but things calmed down rather nicely. Sylvana found herself settling in well - and her husband, who appeared totally oblivious of all "little" incidents.
A medium was consulted and volunteered the information that Sylvana had a woman in her house whom she called "Sally" but, who was in fact "Floris".
Sylvana was indeed calling her lady Sally up until that point. She was told that this woman had looked after the children of the property, a story that was backed up by locals, who had also heard the old tales. Even the detectives who came to investigate the burglary had heard some of the stories about the old property.
"They seemed keen to look around the whole house but said that they would not have come out at night on their own," says Sylvana.
Her husband's reaction was a simple: "You're all mad."
Some patterns emerged over the family's time there. Though their son and younger daughter were never troubled by anything, it was a different story for a stream of visitors and tradesmen - even Sylvana's brother Ivan.
If Sylvana was rattled by anything, even slightly annoyed, whoever was responsible was soon made aware of another presence - by the house.
"There was a young lad here with the builders who used to drive me mad, coming in with muddy boots and things like that. If he went out, the door would lock behind him."
The same happened to brother Ivan Podhraski.
"If we ever had words, something would happen. One time he went out with the rubbish - and the door locked behind him," says Sylvana.
One day, in a hurry to be off, he went out to his car, leaving a friend, John Deavoll, talking to Sylvana.
"We both heard footsteps running above us in the attic, and a mirror had turned round on the wall, for no reason." At which point the friend pushed past Sylvana and fled outside "to safety", she recalls.
It did not put them off paying regular weekend visits to the property. "That house does its own thing, you know," said Ivan.
"The priest came to bless the house," relates Sylvana. "He came in and said 'Yes - there is something here but it is a lovely, comforting and protective presence so you must not be at all afraid.'"
He did, however, advise Sylvana not to go into the cellar on her own, and it transpired that there is a very good, practical reason for this - thanks to the age-old "trip step" at the top of the flight of cellar steps.
Only three inches wide, it was designed to trap chance thieves, who planned to sneak down for some free liquor in the old pub days, and yes there is local hearsay that some criminal came a cropper there, tumbling to his death. The Pinkerton family held the inn, known as The Rainbow, for many years, and even the landlord is recorded as being in trouble from time to time - fined heavily for selling short measures.
There is also a Dick Turpin connection. The famous highwayman is said to have stabled his horses here en route between London and Birmingham, and some other highway vagabonds are reported to have done away with the simple village lad who once stayed in the stable loft, now converted as part of the house.
The spooky story is that he overheard their conversation in the stables below and when they heard his footsteps above, they caught him and guaranteed his permanent silence.
A clairvoyant has said there is still a young man in the house and that he simply needs to be told, politely, to go away.
Sylvana has seen a fair haired man as well, though this is thought to another former occupant, only spotted in the older part of the property.
Despite the many experiences, Sylvana and Alex still own the house 23 years after taking it on. "I have grown to love it, and I have often been here on my own, though always with my dogs - and I have never ever felt scared. I would be more afraid to be alone on any street."
The whole family can vouch for the fact that Oak House works rather well as a happy home.
Ivan remembers many happy family Christmas celebrations at Oak House. "It really is a lovely place and I have very happy memories of it. It is a shame they are selling it. There is such a nice feeling there."
The Alsevskis have not lived in Oak House for a few years, moving a short distance away to acquire the 40 acres they needed for their horses. There have been tenants, none of whom appear to have taken fright.
Sylvana and her husband pop back, regularly to open windows and check on everything.
"The other day Alex and I were here and he said he would happily move right back in - and stay," she says. "It the house chooses you, it also looks after you," added Sylvana.
Oak House is available through Savills in Solihull with a guide price of £485,000.
Selling agent Justine Borman believes the property offers much space, and character, for the money.
"I do not feel the least uncomfortable in it. It has huge character and masses of potential," she says.
Vendors do not have to declare details of hauntings in the new Hips (Home Information Packs).
A selling agent who mentioned such facts in the sales particulars might get himself into trouble - because how could it be proved? Include details of a resident ghost - and a buyer might be disappointed.
The general advice to sellers, and agents, is to be honest if the question is put - particularly if the property is recorded in local histories or guides.
There are specialists around the country who can be commissioned to "clear" houses.