The terrifying haunting of 16 Waterdales
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Science and the Spook – George Owen and Victor Sims
On the evening of 21 September 1966 we visited the house and inspected it carefully as well as visiting several other houses on both sides of the street. Number 16, like the others, showed no sign of cracking, slipping or foundering, or any signs of flooding by springs or sources of underground water.
In the wartime air-raids a local resident was killed by shrapnel while standing outside the door of number 16. A few years later a small boy living in the house was killed on a bicycle in a street accident. No other tragedies are known to be associated with the house or the site. During our enquiries we found no evidence to show that the house was troubled before 1962.
We came on some evidence that it was in fact undisturbed.
We met a Mrs Laker who told us that her brother-in-law had been the tenant from 1954 to 1962. The house had been completely normal and she herself had slept there frequently. In 1962 Mr and Mrs Sidney Maxted moved in with their children Kevin (then 6 years old), Linda (then 4 years old), and baby, Claire. We interviewed Mr Sidney Maxted, a carpet salesman (then aged 28 years) at the home of his parents Mr and Mrs Maxter senior (32 Waterdales). He testified to the following effect.
Shortly after they had settled at 16, on repeated occasions, the elder children would, after being put to bed in the evenings, call out or come downstairs complaining of scratching noises under their beds, of their bedcovers being twitched away, and themselves being mysteriously struck or pulled at as if by an invisible agency. At first the parents made light of it, but eventually were impressed by the fact that the children were not joking but were quite serious; Mr Maxted himself heard the scratching under the girls' beds.
To reassure the children, they left the bedroom door open allowing a dim light. But, this proving ineffective, at last they were driven to have the children's beds in their own room.
During their tenancy Mrs Maxted gradually became more concerned over noises which she heard by day when downstairs in the living-room. These sounds seemed to be footsteps on the floor of the bedroom above. Mr Maxted also heard them though they did not seem very loud, and thought them difficult to explain. But, left to himself, he would not have been very concerned since he then regarded them as freakish rather than sinister.
In course of time, however, these "footfalls" became a source of real anxiety to Mrs Maxted, and to set her mind at rest, Mr Maxted offered an explanation which he knew to be inadequate. One of the bedrooms of the adjoining house, 14 Waterdales, is over the entrance hall of number 16. Mr Maxted suggested to his wife that the sound of neighbours walking in this bedroom was somehow transmitted along the floorboards so that it sounded like persons walking in the large bedroom of number 16.
From time to time small objects in the house seemed to get mislaid far more frequently than was explicable by normal means.
It is common enough in most households for small things. ashtrays, ornaments and pill-boxes to get mislaid, because it is easy to put them down inadvertently in the wrong place and completely forget the occasion on which they were handled. But in Sidney and Joyce Maxted's home these occurrences were so frequent as to constitute a nuisance.
For instance, in one day three bottles of aspirin disappeared in succession. Some of the little objects were never recovered. Others would be found days or even weeks later tucked away in cupboards or drawers or obscure hiding places.
Mr Maxted was also acutely puzzled by the switching on of electric lights in unoccupied rooms, at times when all the family were together in the living-room and the house secured against intruders.
They were also mystified by the behaviour of the living-room clock, which normally kept accurate time but occasionally would gain a couple of hours in the course of a few minutes. This would sometimes happen in circumstances when, according to Mr Maxted, it could not be ascribed to trickery. While they watched television with their backs to the clock its hands would seemingly be turned forward.
Over the two years of the Maxteds' tenancy these varied phenomena would wax and wane in frequency and intensity. During the phases of greatest activity a strong smell of unknown origin would permeate the house. It would come and go abruptly and inexplicably.
Mr Maxted described it as somewhat resembling petrol. The house was inspected by Gas Board officials but they could find no gas leak or other cause. In February 1965 matters came to a head. At about 2 a.m. one morning Mr Maxted was asleep, with Mrs Maxted sitting up in bed beside him. She had just returned to bed having been out to attend to the baby (born after they came to 16 Waterdales).
He was awakened by Mrs Maxted calling out "Linda" and was amazed to see her face "frozen into a mask of intense fear". For some moments she screamed in terror until she collapsed in a state of shock and anxiety. She told Mr Maxted that she had just got back to bed but had not lain down to sleep again. She was surprised to see a figure in the form of a little girl, of apparent age about six years, come into the room. The figure seemed to be fair-headed. Linda is actually red-headed, but as the child was of the same height as Linda, Mrs Maxted responded automatically and exclaimed "Linda".
But the apparition (for so it proved to be) advanced towards her. As it approached it grew in height, until it had become a tall figure bending over her. Its face was then seen in profile. Mrs Maxted, it appears, was unable to provide a more detailed description. The experience was clearly attended by profound feelings of fear and horror.
In deference to Mr Maxted's wishes we did not seek to interview Joyce Maxted, because her health has only recently improved, having been impaired from the time of the apparition, and it was feared that to reawaken the experience might be very upsetting for her. Mr and Mrs Maxted senior confirmed various items in Sidney Maxted's account, as follows:
(a) the accelerated clock,
(b) the smells, which Mr Maxted senior described as "chemical", and Mrs Maxted senior as resembling coal-gas,
(c) the "footfalls" on the floor of the bedroom,
(d) the profound effect of the apparition on Joyce Maxted.
The day following the apparition the Maxteds precipitately removed from 16 Waterdales, and were rehoused by the Northfleet Council. A few days later Mr Eric Essex, a tugboat engineer (aged 25) and his wife Margaret (aged 22) and their baby moved into number 16. We interviewed Mrs Elsie Essex (Mr Essex's mother) at her home 45 Waterdales almost opposite to number 16.
She said that although Mr and Mrs Maxted had not been personally known to her son and daughter-in-law, she had been slightly acquainted with them. They urged her strongly to dissuade Eric and Margaret Essex from moving in to number 16.
In the event the Essexes discounted any information which might have been passed on to them, being naturally enough eager to set up a home. Mrs Elsie Essex narrated how one morning she was sitting with Mrs Margaret Essex in the living-room at 16 Waterdales when they heard footsteps overhead, and a sound resembling the shifting of furniture. They called Eric Essex from the garden where he was, and rushed upstairs but found no intruder and nothing out of place. (It hardly needs to be said that in a small dwelling of this kind there is effectively no possibility of an intruder making his way to the bedroom and quickly escaping undetected.)
Mrs Margaret Essex, whom we interviewed both at numbers 45 and 16, told us that happenings had been muted and infrequent until about three months previous. Since then they had often, while sitting in the living-room, heard the sounds of footsteps and shifting of furniture coming from the bedroom overhead. In addition they had been afflicted by a smell which came and went mysteriously, principally in the hall. But during their tenancy it was a kind of musty or "mouldy" smell, rather than a chemical one.
Occasionally also a low-pitched, almost subsonic sound was heard, hardly distinguishable from a vibration or "singing in the ears".
The family tolerated these oddities until a night in August 1966 when events reached a climax curiously similar in its broad aspects to the finale of the Maxted tenancy. About 2 a.m. Eric Essex was awakened by a whistling sound in his ears. He next realized that the bed was vibrating. Then he found that the bed was being heaved up at one end. Turning his head he saw a figure standing at the bedside. It was luminous, pinkish-orange in colour, transparent at the periphery but more opaque at the centre. It was in the form of a woman whose dress came down to the floor, but it lacked a head.
The Essex family left next morning to reside temporarily with Mr Essex's parents, where they are now. At 6 a.m. on 22 September 1966, Eric Essex looked in at 16 Waterdales, having returned from night duty on the Thames. In a brief interview he confirmed his wife's account in all particulars. He stated quite categorically that he had found the apparition quite terrifying and would refuse ever to stay in the house again. Mr Essex also confirmed something told us by Margaret Essex and Mrs Essex senior, to the effect that when the house was empty for a few days over the Christmas holiday, 1965, the people living at that time at number 14 heard loud bangs throughout that period as of doors repeatedly slamming.
When the Essexes returned from their holiday, the occupant of number 14 bitterly complained. When Mr Essex explained that they had been away and the house empty, his neighbour accused him of lying and assaulted him violently, cutting him about the head. The assailant was consequently prosecuted by the police and convicted and fined.
We also interviewed Mrs Margaret Harrison (a housewife in her twenties) at 14 Waterdales. She and her husband and small son had been resident there about three months, the previous occupants having removed therefrom. Three nights after the Essex family had departed from number 16, Mrs Harrison was alone in number 14 except for her baby, her husband having gone for a few weeks' stay at Glossop (Derbyshire) on his employer's business. At about 11 p.m. she was in bed but not asleep in the bedroom, mentioned previously, which is over the hall and staircase of number 16.
She was startled to hear a noise from below. It was a heavy booming, thudding sound as if some massive object was bouncing down the stairs beneath. It seemed as if the object descended the stairs and then bounced violently to the hall ceiling (i.e. the underside of the floor of Mrs Harrison's bedroom). There was a powerful thud under Mrs Harrison's bed. Then the noise transformed itself into a scraping or scratching sound, not at a single point only but distributed over the whole area of floor beneath her bed.
Mrs Harrison found this last extremely unpleasant and disturbing, as one can well imagine. She tried to reproduce the sound for us. By rubbing her hand on the armrest of an arm-chair she generated a noise somewhat reminiscent of sand-papering and said that it was a fairly good imitation. No one who spoke to Mrs Harrison could, we think, reasonably doubt that she had found the experience very frightening.
The next day she and her son left to stay with her parents until Mr Harrison should return from his tour of duty. She had in fact only returned on the day of our visit, Mr Harrison being expected within a day or so. We went to the house at 10 p.m. and stayed there until 6.45 a.m. when it had become fully light.
As mentioned above we checked the physical condition of the house which was excellent as was the state of the furnishings and decoration carried out by Eric Essex. We were equipped with high-speed flash-light cameras operated by Mr William Rowntree, and film cine-cameras and sound recording apparatus under the supervision of Mr Bob Saunders of the BBC Travel and Exploration Unit (BBC Film Studios, Ealing) who as it happened also chose that night for investigation. We are sorry to report that no phenomena of any kind offered themselves for recording.