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.
Towards West London, on Hammersmith Road as you approach the traffic-noose that is the Hammersmith one-way Gyratory, there is a rather grand old building called Colet Court.
Fashioned from traditional, red brick, Colet Court was originally part of St Paul’s Boy’s school.
After the school moved out in 1968 (to larger premises in nearby Barnes), Colet Court quickly found itself adapting to a new and unexpected purpose- it became a television production base.
The company who moved in were Euston Films; a newly established team who had been set up to create programmes for Thames Television; a subsidiary of the ITV network.
Between 1971 and 1994, Euston Films were responsible for many popular, critically acclaimed television series and films.
Shows which were made by Euston are very distinctive; their key feature being that they were filmed entirely on location around London. The capital was their stage.
Because of this, I have a personal fondness for work produced by Euston Films. It is great fun to watch these old shows and see how many streets and landmarks one can recognise… and, in many cases, take note of how much they’ve changed. In my opinion, they are also important records of recent social history.
Here is a selection of some of the most notable pieces created by Euston Films….
The Sweeney (1975-1978)
The Sweeney is by far one of the most famous shows created by Euston.
A ground-breaking police drama, The Sweeney takes its name from the Cockney rhyming slang phrase, “Sweeney Todd”- which translates as Flying Squad; the Flying Squad being a wing of London’s Metropolitan police force who deal with serious violent crimes such as armed robbery.
The Sweeney’s two central characterswere Jack Regan (played by John Thaw) and George Carter (Dennis Waterman) who tore around London in their bronze, Mark I Ford Granada.
Both chaps are very much of their time; hard drinkers and heavy smokers, who are quite content to administer their criminal foe with a few well-placed slaps if it gets the job done (especially if they’re in a rush to get to the canteen for their dinner!)
When it was first shown, The Sweeney was revolutionary, introducing a bold new realism and levels of violence which had previously been unknown in more vintage cop shows such as Z –Cars and Dixon of Dock Green.
It also demonstrated that life is full of grey areas. The ‘good guys’ certainly had their flaws- and didn’t always win the day.
So popular was the series, that two big-screen adaptations were made in 1977 and 1978 respectively.
Filming of The Sweeney (an episode of which generally took a mere 10 days to complete) took place all over London and, at the Colet Court studio in Hammersmith, a set representing the Flying Squad offices was constructed in what used to be the old school’s gymnasium.
In later series, episodes of The Sweeney featured this sequence as part of the closing credits, filmed around London’s West End at a time when the area was at its seediest.
Danger UXB (1979)
Danger UXB was a period drama, set during WWII and the Blitz on London.
‘UXB’ stands for unexploded bomb, and the series followed the terrifying work of a bomb disposal team; men from the army’s Royal Engineers, who would often have to rely on luck, hunches and the barest of information when disarming unexploded Nazi bombs.
13 episodes of Danger UXB were made, with much of the filming taking place around South West London; namely Tooting, Streatham and Clapham.
Out was a brooding, six part serial about Frank Ross, an ex-bank robber who has just been released from prison after an eight year stretch.
Returning home to his native London, he discovers that the lives of his wife and son have sunken to a desperate low during his time away.
Consumed by hate and an urgent desire for revenge, Frank sets out to track down the informer who had him sent down in the first place…
The following is a short clip from the first episode, which sees Frank arrive home, fresh out of jail.
He has travelled by Taxi from Paddington Station to Tulse Hill (just south of Brixton) – a fare which, in 1978, apparently cost the princely sum of £4!
Luckily, as the Taxi driver demonstrates, we cabbies do have a heart!
Taking a year to make, Fox was an epic drama about a large, Clapham-based family. So complex were the themes and structure of the story, that it has sometimes been likened to the Godfather set of films.
The head of the Fox clan is Billy Fox (played by noted actor, Peter Vaughn), a former Covent Garden market porter and staunch community figure, who has held his family together throughout the years.
However, when Billy dies, the cracks and tension in the family begin to show…
Fox was notable for featuring the actors Ray Winstone and Bernard Hill (who, in 1982, would go onto portray the infamous ‘Yosser Hughes’ in Alan Bleasdale’s brilliant, Liverpool-based drama, Boys From the Blackstuff).
Quatermass (taking its name from the programme’s main protagonist, Professor Bernard Quatermass), is a science-fiction franchise, first conceived by the BBC in the 1950s.
In late 1979, the series was taken on by Thames Television, and Euston Films were given the task of producing the expensive show.
ITV’s Quatermass was set in the final days of the 20th century, a horrifying near-future in which civilisation seemed poised on the abyss.
In the first episode, Professor Quatermass travels to London and witnesses first-hand how far the capital has plunged into a dystopian nightmare.
One example of this is the taxi which the Professor arrives in.
Seen in the serial’s opening sequence, and as the screenshot below illustrates, the Black Cab is heavily fortified, Mad Max style, in order to guard against marauding gangs!
To add to humankind’s woes, a joint effort between the USA and USSR to link up two spacecraft, which Professor Quatermass has been invited to discuss on television, is destroyed by a mysterious alien force.
Despite this aggression, some people- especially those of the younger generation- believe the aliens are here to provide a gateway to a better life, and so gather at ancient, Neolithic sites where they believe the mysterious visitors will be beam them up. However, when the aliens cast their light over these groups, the unfortunate victims are vaporised.
In one episode, a crowd of thousands gather at a rather decrepit looking Wembley Stadium (the site being chosen, we are told, because, in years gone by, football was followed by some like a religion; the pitch itself being nicknamed the ‘hallowed turf’!)
Consequently, many thousands who are naïve enough to put their trust in the aliens, are killed by a powerful death-ray, which illuminates and consumes the stricken stadium…
The Nation’s Health (1983)
The Nation’s Health was a series of four plays, made for Channel 4 which, at the time, had only been broadcasting for one year and was keen to prove itself as a provider of controversial, challenging output.
The drama, which is told through the eyes of Jessie Marvill, a junior doctor, aimed to reveal the true state of the NHS at the time which, unsurprisingly, was pretty grim.
Frustrated by increasing levels of bureaucracy and a general lack of humanity, Jessie, becomes rather jaded. Each episode of The Nation’s Health was followed by a live studio debate.
Widows, penned by prolific crime writer, Lynda La Plante, was a gritty series, putting a feminine spin on a genre usually regarded as being the domain of the masculine.
The widows in question were married to a gang of armed robbers; a ruthless bunch who we see in the drama’s prologue as they attempt to pull off an audacious hijack in the heart of London.
This particularly striking scene was filmed around London’s Southbank; not far from the Royal Festival Hall and National Theatre.
After passing the Tennison Way, bull-ring roundabout (where the huge IMAX cinema now stands),the subsequent chase then heads over Waterloo Bridge, reaching its explosive finale in the Strand Underpass tunnel, deep beneath Aldwych…
Following the fatal accident which took the lives of their spouses, the three widows- Dolly, Shirley and Linda decide to adopt their late husbands’ criminal careers…
Along with The Sweeney, Minder was the most famous series to emerge from Euston Films. It was also their most profitable and longest-running franchise.
The huge success of Minder owed much to the excellent casting of veteran, comic-actor, George Cole and the younger, Dennis Waterman, who was already popular with audiences thanks to his recent stint in The Sweeney.
The premise of the series was simple. Terry McCann (Dennis Waterman) was a small-time crook and ex-boxer who has just finished a stretch in Wormwood Scrubs prison. Despite his criminal past, Terry is an affable character who always had the viewers on his side.
Arthur Daley (George Cole) is a roguish personality; a second-hand car salesman and general wheeler dealer, whose shady business dealings often land him in all sorts of bother.
In need of work after coming out of jail, Terry has agreed to be Arthur’s bodyguard; a ‘Minder’, thus setting the scene for all sorts of scrapes and criminal run-ins.
A secret to the success of Minder was that it mixed many elements; drama, pathos, comedy and, of course the Euston Film staple of gritty, London locations.
It also featured the immensely catchy tune; “I Could Be So Good For You” in its opening and closing credits.
Written by Dennis Waterman and his then wife, Patricia, the song proved so popular that it reached number 3 in the charts in November 1980.
The London locations used throughout Minder’s entire run are far too numerous to detail here. However, an idea of how much the city featured can be garnered from the famous end credits which can be viewed below.
Here is a guide to the locations featured in Minder’s end-credits sequence:
1) The cabin on Arthur Daley’s second-hand car yard, which was located on Blythe Road, in Shepherds Bush. Today, this plot has been built over.
2) Hammersmith Bridge
3) The Royal Albert Hall, Kensington
4) The Blue Anchor Pub, Lower Mall, Chiswick. This pub has also been used in the more recent BBC detective show, ‘New Tricks‘- also starring Dennis Waterman (and yep, he sings the theme tune for that too!) The Blue Anchor is still going strong today… why not pop along for a pint? Their website can be found here.
5) The wonky lamppost was on Newman Passage, off of Newman Street (just north of Oxford Street). Sadly, this quirky, little London landmark has now been replaced by a boring, straight version!
6) The ‘Winchester Club’; Arthur and Terry’s favourite drinking den. This was on Adelaide Road, just behind Chalk Farm tube station. Today, the location is pretty much unrecognisable.
7) Leicester Square
8) The final picture was taken outside Fulham Police Station (Heckford Place, near Fulham Broadway).
The Knowledge (1979)
Last but not least, we have The Knowledge, a one-off play written by the late, great Jack Rosenthal.
Broadcast during the Christmas of December 1979, the play follows a group of four men who have decided to undertake the gruelling process known as ‘The Knowledge’; the intense training course which you must undertake and pass in order to drive a London Black Taxi.
The process is well explained in the candidates’ ‘acceptance interview’, in which the frightful Mr Burgess (wonderfully played by Nigel Hawthorne) lays down the rules:
Having of course undergone the The Knowledge myself, I can confirm that Jack Rosenthal’s treatment of this process is very true to life indeed!
Filming of the scenes featured on this page took place at the Public Carriage Office; a 1960s building on Penton Street in Islington which, until recently, was the HQ for the Knowledge. Just thinking about Penton Street is enough to stir up the fear in my stomach!
Today, the process is handled at the modern ‘Palestra’ building, opposite Southwark tube station.
Mr Burgess was based on an actual examiner who, in real life, was in fact a Scotsman who took great delight in laying on his accent in order to bamboozle the poor students! I have spoken to a number of older cabbies, who encountered this individual during their training, and they all remember him with great dread!
Everything to do with learning The Knowledge is included in the play; the frustration, the nagging doubts, the suspension of one’s social life and of course, the terror of ‘appearances’- the regular verbal examinations which test what students have learnt so far (as well as subliminally assessing your personality and ability to deal with tricky members of the public).
Personally, I had to undergo 27 of these ordeals before I was considered good enough to drive a cab…
Because it is so lovingly and accurately portrayed, The Knowledge has a special place in the hearts of just about every London Cabbie, and also of those who are training to be.
If you would like to know more about my own personal experiences of learning The Knowledge and training to be a London Cabbie, please follow the links in the ‘On the Rank‘ side bar, or alternatively, click here.