The poltergeist in the top floor flat of the house in Harrington Gardens, SW7, in the spring of 1946
Type of Spiritual Experience
a time slip too
A description of the experience
Science and the Spook – George Owen and Victor Sims
My cousin Bridget and I moved into the top floor flat of a newly converted house in Harrington Gardens, SW7, in the spring of 1946.
I find it difficult to remember, at this distance, exactly when the events began and how long they lasted. But it was certainly some little time after we went there and it was over some time before I left in June 1947.
My impression is that it started in the late autumn and continued for about three months, but I cannot be more exact than that.
The flat consisted of a large irregular shaped hall with a fanlight, a sitting-room, looking out over the back and two bedrooms at the other end, facing the street. In the middle of the hall there was a small passage with a bathroom to the left and a door at the end of it into the kitchen.
The first thing that happened was that on some nights, all or some of the lights and fires, except in our bedrooms, would be turned on. Biddy was convinced that I, who usually went to bed last, had left them on, so I made her check them with me, before we went to bed. When it continued, we got an electrician to go over the wiring but he could find nothing wrong.
After a week or two, we noticed a very strong smell, such as you might find in an apple loft where there is rotting fruit. It was not always there and gradually we became aware that it came on the same evenings as the turning on of the lights. Our neighbours below noticed it too and complained to us about it.
Sometimes in the night, I heard a regular tapping noise, as if someone were jumping rhythmically, and both of us were woken up, from time to time, by giggling and whispering, which seemed to be in the hall. One evening, when my mother was there, she and I were in the sitting-room when Biddy, who had gone to bed early, came angrily into the room and said: "I don't think that was at all funny, you woke me up." She had heard us approaching in the hall, giggling, and then there was such a loud bang on her bedroom door that her umbrella fell off the hook on the other side of it. We had not moved or heard anything. The smell was very strong that evening my mother remembers it.
A week or two after that, I had a dream and it was a dream, because I woke up and thought about it and I was in bed exactly as usual. I dreamt that I was standing in the door of my room and a young girl, about fifteen years old, came down the hall towards me, looked at me for a moment or two and then turned to the left as if to go into Biddy's room and then, suddenly was not there. She was wearing a long, bluish dress, her hair, which was dark, was either short or put up and she had bare feet.
I, myself was naked, [nakedness] which doesn't seem to have anything to do with it, but I had a nightdress on, when I woke.
It was extremely vivid, I did not go to sleep again and I can see her quite clearly now, even the exact shape of the feet are quite clear in my mind. I did not mention it at the time, because I thought of it as a dream, merely, and so it may have been. We had, however, told my fiance about the other events which were beginning to worry us. He was, at that time, the editor of a magazine and he consulted one of his writers, Montague Summers.
He thought that we might have a poltergeist and he explained to my fiance what they were. It was the first time that Biddy or I had heard of them. He instructed us, that if we saw anyone or anything we were to speak to it and ask what it wanted. So we waited, rather nervously, sniffing our way into the flat each evening, pleased if there was no smell, anxious if there was. Although I may say that neither of us was ever in the least frightened, when anything was happening, only annoyed and bewildered. It was in between when we talked about it that we felt scared.
One evening, at about six, I was out and Biddy was in the kitchen, with the door open. She glanced up and saw someone pass through the hall, past the end of the passage. Thinking that it was me, she went to the end of the passage and saw a young girl run back the other way, that is to say from the bedroom end towards the sitting-room, and disappear. The girl was dressed in a long blue and white striped dress, a long white apron and white cap and had both hands clasped to her behind as she ran.
Biddy called out "Who are you?" but she had already gone.
I came home only two or three minutes later; in fact I must have been on the stairs at the time, and found Biddy shakily pouring herself a large whisky! That was the last thing that happened.
From that time, no smell, no lights, no bounding, no giggling. We made what enquiries we could about the house from our landlord and discovered that there had been a fire there, in about 1903 or 1904, which had destroyed the staircase to the servants' quarters on the top floor. Although the house was occupied in the years between, the stairs were not rebuilt until the house was converted into flats, so that no one had been on that level, since the time of the fire. Curiously enough, my father was living elsewhere in Harrington Gardens in the early years of the century and remembers seeing a fire at a house somewhere there. He was on his way from school and the nurse let him stand on the corner and watch the fire engines.
That is all there is to tell. There were none of the other features of a poltergeist. Nothing was moved and neither of us was touched in any way. I was twenty at the time and Biddy was twenty-five. I was not conscious of any difference in myself or any sense of possession and nor I think, was she. As to the other two things that happened to me, they are very slight.
The first was in a cottage in Aston Tirrold, Berkshire, which was used as additional spare rooms by our hosts. I went over to pack, and while putting things into a suitcase on the bed, I heard as I thought, my husband come over from the main house and come up the stairs. "All right," I said, crossly without turning round, "I'm getting ready as fast as I can" but there was no one there. You could say that the stairs in an old house creak but I know someone came up and, in fact, my host told me that it had been heard several times before.
The other occasion was more peculiar. I was driving home from Elstree, late on January 1st, about three years ago, I think. I stopped at the lights at what I think is Ealing Common, I am never too clear about localities in London, though I knew how to drive through them well enough. Anyway, I glanced sideways as one does without really seeing anything, and then looked again because my attention was caught by a woman standing on the pavement. What struck me was that she looked so terribly ill, an absolutely white bony face, almost without flesh. She was wearing a black cape and hood and as I looked down, I found that she had no legs ! Everything stopped at the end of the cape and I could see the paving stones clearly, where her legs ought to have been in the way. Then the lights changed and away I went.
I told Greville about it and he pointed out that they have those yellow street lights there, which make everything look strange and pale and I agreed. However, driving through there again with him, some months later, we stopped at the lights and he said: "This is where you saw that woman."
"No," I said, "it wasn't here."
"Well," he said, "this is where you described it, it must have been here."
Then I realized that what was putting me off was the house behind the woman. When I saw her, she was standing in front of a Victorian villa, with a small curly superstructure over the door, and one of those half brick walls with a privet hedge on the top of it, fronting the pavement and leaving just room for a small tree in the corner. Now there is a modern porch, the privet has been replaced by a white painted fence and the tree is four times the size. I did not take in the details of the house consciously at the time, it was only when I saw that it was wrong that I was able to remember how it had been.
Nobody believes this one at all, especially as it happened on New Year's Day! But I had not been to a party, I was returning from work. I don't know if I believe it myself, and funnily enough, I don't much mind.
One of my grandmothers (the one common to Biddy and me) was always seeing things before they happened, but she hated to talk about it or to admit to seeing anything. The other grandmother once saw an Indian Ayah crouching in her bedroom in the middle of the night and loved to talk about it!
But I don't feel like either of them, I don't mind whether people believe it or not. I know what I think I've seen and what I know I haven't, it doesn't seem specially important, just interesting like Venice or a bullfight or people dying and being born, which I have also seen.