This short ghost story (a true one yet again) might be of some interest to people who have followed the stories and reports of a ‘tall ghostly figure’ reported around Highgate over the years.
This case was personally investigated by myself and I have no personal doubts about the validity of the events described to me.
Like most cases, they are, of course, open to individual interpretation. I can only report the facts as I found them and as these were relayed to me.
Anyway, enjoy it . . .
The Ghost of Hillcrest
"HILLCREST" IN HIGHGATE, lies barely less than a quarter of a mile from London's famous Highgate Cemetery. No 'blood-sucking vampires' here, but for some time this leafy council estate has been associated with stories of a ghost and other supernatural happenings.
Constructed upon the site of a Victorian Convent called St. Mary Magdalene (which was demolished in the late 1930's), personalised accounts of 'ghostly goings-on' have come from several different residents, but a common story tells of a tall black man with an 'evil countenance' who appears in the grounds and then disappears.
Alexander House is one particular block of flats on the estate where a series of inexplicable happenings have been especially potent, and these have been witnessed by people in at least three different flats.
One of these people is Mrs Betty Goodchild, who is still in residence at Alexander House. She is convinced that some sinister force or 'presence' haunts her downstairs flat where she has lived with her husband John and three children, Jan, John and Robert, for 29 years. Her story is intriguing, and categorises a mysterious series of events that are perhaps unique in terms of frequency and intensity.
Things really began to happen after the family took up residence there in 1970, although at first, there were no blatant sign to suggest a ghost; rather that, Betty Goodchild would often receive a strong mental impression of 'not being alone' when she was sitting up reading in the front room in the early hours (as was her habit) and the rest of the family were asleep.
She recalls that it was quite a common occurrence for her to be engrossed in a book, and suddenly receiving an overwhelming impression that somebody had 'walked by' and opened a door in the corridor. So great was this impression that she always got up to look but invariably there was no one there and no sign of anything being disturbed.
But soon after this, the existence of some 'nocturnal presence' seemed to be confirmed. Frequently both her and her husband were woken up by 'something' sitting on the edge of the bed. At the same time, there was an overbearing scent of wall flowers in the room. Then, the light in the corridor would momentarily fade as if somebody had left the room and obscured the light as 'they' passed through the door. Also on several occasions at precisely 2 a.m., John Goodchild was awoken by the sound of a low whispering sound echoing around the flat. He eventually traced the main source of this to the darkened front room, but it always abruptly stopped when he entered and switched on the light, and there was nothing to account for the eerie murmuring.
At first, these incidents did not unduly alarm the Betty or John Goodchild having concluded that their flat was haunted by a relatively harmless ghost, but as time progressed, ghostly occurrences increased to the point of becoming decidedly unpleasant. Events reached a climax in the late 1970's and by then, the children had began to seriously suffer the effects.
Most sensitive to this 'presence' was their youngest son Robert, who frequently experienced vivid nightmares about 'something horrible' that came into his room. In the end, these became so realistic that he refused to sleep in his bedroom under any circumstances. But his brother and sister, John and Jan, were also convinced about the existence of some presence in the flat. Jan, in particular, often heard 'breathing' in the front room at night and once, she saw a dark form which glided along the corridor.
But it was a little later that this ghostly activity really took a turn for the worst, and had a dramatic effect upon the whole family . . .
Perhaps most chilling, was the piteous sound of a baby wailing in the front room; these cries at first penetrating but gradually fading out. This happened on three separate occasion and on each one just preceded the deaths of three residents on the estate.
Around this time, an equally frightening occurrence took place that seemed to suggest that the ‘incumbent entity’ was malevolent by nature.
One evening around midnight, Jan and Robert burst into the from front room where their parents were sitting after having been awoken by ‘something’ in their bedrooms. Frightened and upset, they explained that their rooms had turned icy cold and that something menacing, albeit invisible, had deliberately woken them up.
With almost calculated precision, just as they were talking, the front room itself turned icy cold and their pet cat, Elsa, suddenly rushed across the room with its back arched and began to spit at 'something' in the corner.
Any temporary misgivings their parents might have had about this encounter, had now disappeared; indeed, it was now apparent that whatever it was that had visited them in their bedrooms, had now followed them into the front room. All could now sense an extremely unpleasant presence that seemed to be 'watching' them from its new location in the front room; and it was suffice to make them to stay up together for the rest of the night until welcome glimmers of daylight seemed to mark 'its' departure.
It would seem from this particular occurrence - indeed, from the ones that preceded it - that some malevolent form of psychic energy had definitely attached itself to the Goodchild's or their flat; although further research into this matter revealed that this presence or 'entity' might not be operating on an entirely 'personal basis' and that similar instances had occurred which were not confined - or seemingly directly connected - to the Goodchild's or their flat.
A lady resident in a flat opposite, for example, had also experienced a series of unaccountable happenings in her home around this time that convinced her that some 'nocturnal presence' was wandering around her flat.
Again, in another flat in the block upstairs, a young girl would wake up screaming after having been confronted by 'some man' in her bedroom. Again, drastic drops in temperature often accompanied these 'visitations', and the same 'sinister' - if not overbearing - atmosphere was present that had so much unnerved the Goodchild's.
Ghostly manifestations at the Goodchild's flat, however, were nowhere near conclusion …
One night John Goodchild was awoken by a loud crash in the front living room and on investigation discovered a picture, which he had only just framed, had fallen to the floor. The glass had broken, but closer examination revealed that the brass-stranded wire at the back had snapped in the middle, although the nails on the wall and the eye hooks that supported the picture were all intact. The point is, of course, that some considerable force would have been needed to break the wire in such a manner.
But if any further evidence about a 'nightly visitant' to the flat were needed, it was soon forthcoming.
In 1980, the Goodchild's little grand daughter, then just a few months old, would frequently stare intently at 'something' near the ceiling in the front room and follow this with her eyes as it apparently moved around the room. The child did not seem frightened by whatever it was she could see, but was rather absorbed by 'it' to the extent of losing interest in all her other surroundings. This happened on numerous occasions until she reached the age of three, and a particular photograph taken at the time (which was personally examined by the author) indeed shows the little girl gazing intently at something unseen in the air.
In the early eighties, yet another bizarre series of events started up at the flat.
On several occasions, again at exactly 2 a.m. in the morning, the doorbell would mysteriously ring but there was never anybody at the door or any sign that this could have been caused by any human agency. This happened so frequently at this period, in fact, that eventually John Goodchild removed the batteries from the bell each night before going to bed to prevent any further disturbances. It perhaps came as no surprise (taking into account the lack of any plausible explanation to account for previous disturbances) that the bell still continued to ring on its own accord - even after the batteries has been taken out.
Today, many strange events still continue to occur at the Goodchild's flat; indeed, ghostly occurrences seem to have become an integral part of Hillcrest's history, and are not even confined to Alexander House.
In fact, reports of a ghostly figure seen in the grounds at Hillcrest are frequent, and only recently, a group of children playing in the spacious grounds, insisted that they had seen a tall grey figure gliding along the ground. This disappeared through the walls of another block of flats next to Alexander House causing them all to flee in terror. There have been similar reports about this ghostly figure; sometimes described as featureless man in old fashioned dress who confronts residents in the grounds at night and glides away to disappear into the darkness.
It would appear, from the numerous accounts of several witnesses, that some supernatural entity or 'presence' roams the grounds of Hillcrest; if not being decidedly active at Alexander House.
Of course sceptics will probably proffer the usual arguments about witnesses being over-imaginative or mistaken, but as far as it has been possible to tell, none of these ghostly manifestations has ever been explained by any natural explanation.
But material explanations aside it does remain a fact that, before its demolition, the old Victorian Convent of St. Mary Magdalene, once cared for the welfare of unmarried mothers (a 'social sin' in days bygone we should remember) and not so long ago - during the course of building work - it was discovered that a small burial ground attached to this Covent, lay right beneath the foundations of Alexander House.
© David Farrant
[This chapter first appeared in the 2nd revised edition of David Farrant’s book “Dark Journey” published in 2004]