A Halloween Special
With a history dating back some two thousand years it’s hardly surprising that London is widely considered one of the planet’s most haunted cities.
So with Halloween approaching I thought now would be a good time to take a look at the top five ghostly images snapped within the capital…
1. The Queen’s House Ghosts
Location: Queen’s House, Greenwich
Year of capture: 1966
This haunting image was taken by Reverend R.W Hardy, a retired Canadian who was visiting the Queen’s House with his wife.
Commissioned in 1616 by Anne of Denmark (wife of James I) Queen’s House was designed by pioneering architect Inigo Jones and stands beside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
A major feature of Queen’s House are the Tulip Stairs; the elegance of which drew Mr and Mrs Hardy to the building.
When the photograph was taken, Reverend Hardy was simply interested in recording the architecture- no other figures were visible and whilst he framed the shot his wife checked to insure no passers-by were around to spoil the frame. The staircase was also roped off, complete with a ‘No Admittance’ sign.
Yet when Mr and Mrs Hardy had their photos developed back in Canada, the Tulip Stairs revealed a pair of mysterious, robed figures clutching the railings.
Photographic experts have examined the original negative and found no signs of tampering.
To add to the mystery, another apparent sighting was noted more recently in May 2002 by gallery assistant Tony Anderson who, along with two other colleagues, encountered something most unusual one morning:
“Something caught my eye… I thought at first it was the girl who did the talks at weekends, then realised the woman just glided across the balcony and went through the wall, west side… the lady was dressed in a white-grey colour, old-fashioned, something like a crinoline-type dress“.
2. St Botolph’s Church Ghost
Location: St Botolph’s Without Aldgate Church, Aldgate High Street
Year of capture: 1982
Hailing from 7th century East Anglia, Botwulf of Thorney– more commonly known as Saint Botolph– is the patron saint of travellers which is why, during the medieval era, four London churches were dedicated to his name, each built beside one of the city’s gates so that those embarking on a journey could pop in and pray for a safe trip.
Although one of St Botolph’s churches (which stood at Billingsgate) was destroyed in the Great Fire, the other three remain at Aldersgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate.
St Botolph’s, Aldgate (officially named St Botolph’s Without Aldgate) has been rebuilt several times; the current building dates back to 1744 and was designed by George Dance the Elder.
A stone’s throw from Whitechapel, St Botolph’s Without Aldgate was known as the ‘Church of Prostitutes’ during the Victorian era as the women of the night used to stay close to St Botolph’s walls in order to avoid police harassment.
The church was badly damaged both in the Blitz and by a fire in 1965- of which the cause remains unknown…
The famous picture of a ghostly figure in period dress peering down from the church loft was taken by Chris Brackley in 1982.
At the time, Chris was aware of three other people in the church- none of whom were in the upper level. Experts examined negatives and concluded that no tampering or double exposure were evident.
Location: Hampton Court Palace
Year of capture: 2003
Nicknamed ‘Skeletor’ thanks to his resemblance to the villain from 1980s cartoon, ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe‘, this spook was captured on CCTV at Hampton Court, the huge palace on London’s south-western outskirts which was originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later snapped up by Henry VIII.
During late 2003, an alarm was activated indicating that a set of fire-doors had been opened- yet staff found the exit firmly closed and nobody in the vicinity.
But when examined the CCTV footage suggested a very different story, showing a bizarre figure quickly flinging and slamming the doors. Other cameras focused on the area behind the doors showed the building to be empty.
The doors opened by themselves again the next day, although no figure was present this time. Around the same time, a visitor to Hampton Court noted in the guest book that she’d glimpsed a mysterious figure…
Dr Richard Wiseman, an expert in debunking ghostly photographs is stumped by the footage “it could be the best ghost sighting ever…I haven’t seen anything that would match that at all.”
The Skeletor figure made headlines around the world, and it is reported that some staff at Hampton Court are now reluctant to work within the supposedly haunted area.
Please click below to view the CCTV footage:
4. The Bakerloo Electric Chair
Location: The Bakerloo Line, deep beneath Marylebone
Year of capture: 1983
This bizarre image was clicked inside the carriage of a Bakerloo line train by Watford resident, Karen Collett whilst on a day trip to London with her family.
The sinister figure in the window behind Karen’s nephew is a disconcerting mix of the known and the unexplainable.
It is generally agreed that the ghostly figure depicts the wax effigy of Bruno Hauptmann; a convict sent to the electric chair in 1936 for his part in the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son.
When Karen took her photograph in the early 1980s, Hauptmann’s wax figure was on display in Madame Tussauds Chamber of Horrors section- a venue which the Bakerloo line passes deep beneath.
What is unusual is this: when the photo was taken, Karen and her family had not been to Madame Tussauds, let alone take any pictures of figures strapped in chairs. Nor does Hauptmann’s waxwork have electric blue flashes zapping out of his wrists.
No evidence of tampering has been found with this image and the only explanation offered so far is that the electrifying image is a poster… although the photo was taken whilst the train was speeding through a tunnel (where, of course no posters are displayed) and neither Madame Tussauds or London Underground have any record of using advertising containing such imagery.
5. The Enfield Poltergeist
Location: Green Street, Enfield
Year of capture: 1978
Caught by a remote camera during the early hours, the image above is one of many documenting the case of the ‘Enfield Poltergeist‘ which occurred in suburban North London during the late 1970s.
The story of the Enfield Poltergeist is deeply unsettling… either the result of true psychic malice or two supremely manipulative teenagers. A full article- written as last year’s Halloween special can be read here.
A Halloween Special
With Halloween upon us, I think now would be the ideal time to indulge in one of London’s most perplexing ghost stories…
What you are about to read is far removed from traditional tales of headless spooks and Victorian séances… this account is very much a modern-day haunting; a deeply disturbing series of events which occurred at a modest, north London council house during the late 1970s…
The Enfield Poltergeist
Green Street is an unassuming residential road in an area called Brimsdown; part of the London Borough of Enfield.
If you’ve ever ridden the Stanstead Express, you will have passed Brimsdown without even knowing it- at the eastern end of Green Street there is a level crossing, through which trains regularly whisk between Stanstead airport and Liverpool Street station.
Blink and you’d miss it…
In the 1970s, Green Street was home to Peggy Hodgson; a single mum with four children: Margaret (aged 12), Janet (11), Johnny (10) and Billy (7).
It was on the evening of August 30th 1977 that weird things began to happen in the Hodgson’s Enfield residence…
Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms, the children were alarmed to feel their beds wobbling.
Janet called down to her mum- but Peggy, understandably, suspected that her kids were mucking about and shouted back up at them to settle down and get to sleep.
The following night at around 9.30pm, Peggy heard a loud crash.
Assuming her children were once again up to mischief, she stomped upstairs to administer a scolding.
As she entered the bedroom with orders to “pack it in”, Peggy spotted a chest of drawers being hauled forward by its own accord.
Instinctively, she attempted to force the furniture back- but was thwarted by an unseen force, which appeared to be pushing its might against her- rather like two opposing magnets.
Next came the noises; odd knocks and taps which started to rap around the house.
Scared witless, the family hastily donned their dressing gowns and slippers and fled, seeking refuge with their next door neighbours, the Nottinghams.
Head of the Nottingham household was Vic; a roofer by trade whose tough demeanour and practical nature made him the ideal candidate to inspect the strange goings on.
Hoping to calm his terrified neighbours, Vic ventured into the house- he later described his experience in a 1978 radio documentary:
“All I could here was this knocking… and I didn’t know what it was; no idea what it was; just a strange knock on the wall.
I went up the stairs and this knock followed me; three distinctive knocks on the wall. I carried on up the stairs into the front bedroom and there were three knocks on the wall again… strange I thought to myself. I’m beginning to shake.
I go into the back bedroom… same thing again; the knocks followed me.
Anyway, being in the building game I thought to myself, well I’ve got to have a look around the house; be brave like to try and find out what it is. So I go through all the pipes- no airlocks, nothing like that- and it wasn’t a knock like that anyway; it was a distinctive knock on the wall.”
Vic popped back next door and fetched his son and grandfather.
The three men positioned themselves at different rooms within the house- and each reported the distinctive knocks at their separate locations.
With even Vic spooked, the Green Street residents decided to phone the law- whose first question was “have you been drinking?”
Reluctantly, the police sent a squad car with two constables from nearby Ponders End.
The police too heard the distinctive knocking and, downstairs, WPC Carolyn Heaps witnessed a chair move unaided across the floor; something which she testified to in an official document- a brave move considering the possible ridicule from her friends and colleagues:
“On Thursday, 1st September 1977 at approximately 1am I was on duty in my capacity as a police woman when I received a radio message to Green Street, Enfield.
I heard the sound of knocking on the wall… there were four distinct taps on the wall and then silence.
Within a few minutes the eldest son pointed to a chair which was standing next to the sofa. I looked at the chair and noticed it was wobbling slightly from side to side. I then saw the chair slide across the floor towards the kitchen wall. It moved approximately 3-4 feet and then came to rest.”
Although sympathetic, the police had to inform the family that the ominous situation could not be classed as a police matter- after all, no crime had been committed…
The Poltergeist settles in…
Nervously, the Hodgsons returned to their home, but over the following months, the distressing activity would grow far worse… much of it witnessed by friends, neighbours, psychic investigators, council workers and news reporters.
One phenomenon involved Lego bricks and marbles being hurled around the house at high speeds and odd angles- which, even more bizarrely, would stop dead still rather than bouncing when they landed. They were also hot to touch when picked up.
One journalist from The Daily Mirror was hit just above the eye by one of these small missiles- and received a small lump; a testament to the velocity at which the items were being hurled.
Soon, larger objects were being flung.
One reporter witnessed a t-shirt hop off of a table and fly across the room.
The living room sofa was seen to lift above the ground… and then spin around. The bulky television shuffled position and, in the children’s bedroom, a brick was wrenched away from the fireplace.
Puddles appeared and cups filled themselves with water.
Matches were scorched in their boxes and a pair of oven gloves self-combusted.
A mirror also caught fire… the charred remains of which were later collected by Turner-Prize nominee artist, Cornelia Parker, as part of her 1997 installation, ‘The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects’.
On one particular night, the BBC set up camp at 284 Green Street to capture audio evidence… only to later find that metal components in the machine had been bent and the recordings erased.
Terrified, Peggy and her children took to sleeping in the same room, where they would huddle together with the light kept on.
Who ya’ gonna’ call?
In an attempt to garner some clarity, the editor of the Daily Mirror, George Fallows appealed to the Kensington based Society for Psychical Research to come and see if they could work out what was going on.
For the next 13 months, the Hodgsons and their haunted home were put under intense scrutiny.
The investigation was led by Maurice Grosse, a former military man and veteran of the Dunkirk evacuation.
After the war, Maurice had established himself as an inventor- his most successful patent being the rotating advertising board.
Tragically, in August 1976, his 22 year old daughter, Janet was killed in a motorbike accident. It was her death which led Maurice to join the Society for Psychical Research; no doubt as a way of helping to cope with his grief.
Although open to psychic phenomenon, Maurice’s background as an inventor meant that his mind worked in a scientific, methodical manner and as such he was considered the ideal analyst for the Enfield haunting.
He was soon joined by another experienced investigator; Guy Lyon Playfair who published an account of the haunting in 1980.
At first, Guy was reluctant to become involved; convinced that the whole thing was a hoax. However, when he arrived at the house, he soon changed his mind…
By now, the events at Green Street had become even more intense.
As well as household objects being lobbed around, 11 year old Janet- who appeared to be the poltergeist’s main focus- was herself subjected to apparent levitations.
An example of this, which took place one morning at approximately 3am, was caught by an automatic camera which had been installed by the investigators:
On two occasions, two separate witnesses outside the house with a view towards the bedroom window, claimed they spotted Janet floating in the air.
The first sighting, which took place at around lunchtime on December 15th 1977, was attributed to Hazel Short; a lollipop lady who worked on the zebra crossing close to the Hodgson’s home:
“All of a sudden I heard a bang… and saw a book hit the front bedroom window and that was followed by a pillow, then the book, then the pillow again. All of a sudden, I saw Janet going up and down in front of the window- I thought she was jumping up and down on the bed, but when I looked she was horizontal going up and down with her arms and legs going everywhere; I suppose about half a dozen times. It was frightening… I didn’t think it would be, because to be truthful… I was a bit sceptical… well after that I wasn’t.”
The second witness was John Rainbow, a baker delivering bread to the school opposite.
“Before that day I would never had believed anything about it although I had heard various rumours about what had been going on in the house.
The child appeared to float around the room- at the same time the curtains were blowing into the room as if there were a draught- although the windows were completely closed… articles and the child appeared to be revolving around the room in a clockwise direction.
The child’s arm banged against the window twice and I was frightened that the force she banged against it- that the window frame would’ve gone- I fully expected her to drop onto the road. I was frightened, there’s no doubt about it.”
Even more disturbingly, the poltergeist was supposedly beginning to talk through Janet…
The young girl, who also suffered from alarming seizures, would often adopt a deep, gruff voice which identified itself as belonging to a mysterious figure called ‘Bill.’
Janet would speak in the gravelly, menacing voice for hours at a time.
In one experiment, she was made to hold a quantity of water in her mouth… yet the voice still came through.
Further vocal tests were carried out by a Professor from Birckbeck College (now part of the University of London) who concluded that it was next to impossible to speak at length in such a way due to the damage such speech would cause to the vocal cords.
The academic also stated his belief that Janet was not producing the voice consciously.
Unsurprisingly, some sceptics accused the 11 year old of ventriloquism- which led Maurice Grosse to offer a £1,000 reward for anybody who could replicate a similar voice.
There were no takers.
With his often foul language and grumpy attitude ‘Bill’ made for a very sinister houseguest.
In one session- which, like many others, was caught on tape- Bill, speaking through Janet, stated that he had once lived and died at the Green Street home.
However you chose to look at it, the description of death which the supposed entity provides is most disturbing when you remember that it is being spoken by an 11 year old girl:
“Before I died I went blind…then I had a hemorrhage and I fell asleep and I died in a chair in a corner downstairs…”
This statement can be heard in the excerpt below… although please be warned, it is likely to send a chill down your spine…
Three years after the main events of the haunting, the Hodgson family were contacted by a man who claimed that his father- William (aka ‘Bill’) Wilkins had indeed lived in the house years before…and had died of a brain hemorrhage whilst resting in an armchair…
By the autumn of 1978 the hauntings began to die down.
However, the knocks and taps continued and there was a further burst of activity during the summer of 1980.
Following the haunting, the lives of the Hodgsons were far from blessed.
Johnny died of cancer aged just 14 and Janet lost a baby son to cot death when she was 18.
Speaking in 2007 Janet (then in her early 40s) said in a rare interview;
“I know from my own experience that it was real… it lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad or a prankster if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me- and I feel in a sense that he always will be.”
The presence remains…
In 2003, Peggy Hodgson died and the Green Street home was taken over by Clare Bennet who, like Peggy, was a single mum with four children- although in this case they were all boys.
Of her time at Green Street, Clare said that she frequently felt a presence; as if she were being watched- at first, she had no idea of the home’s dubious history.
Her boys would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, saying that they could hear voices downstairs.
One of the lads; 15 year old Shaka, claimed he was woken up in the middle of one night and confronted by a ghostly vision of a man standing in the room.
The Bennets stuck Green Street for just two months…
In 1992, the case of the Enfield Poltergeist inspired a controversial BBC drama entitled Ghostwatch which was broadcast on Halloween night that year.
Starring Craig Charles, Sara Greene and Michael Parkinson, Ghostwatch bore many similarities to the Enfield case- it was set in an ordinary council home in suburban London (Northolt in this case) and centred on a single mum and her two daughters who were being tormented by a malevolent poltergeist- the evil spirit of a man who had died in the house years before.
Although a scripted, pre-filmed drama, Ghostwatch was made to appear as if it were an actual investigation, being broadcast live… and many people, thanks to the documentary nature of the show and the presence of the usually reassuring Michael Parkinson, tuned in half way through and believed the events depicted to be very real!
The BBC switchboard was jammed with phone calls from petrified viewers… and people across Britain were reduced to nervous wrecks, unable to sleep soundly for many nights afterwards.
Ghostwatch has never been repeated on British television since.