Home Book Reviews This House is Haunted review: the stranger side of Enfield

This House is Haunted review: the stranger side of Enfield

by Karl Coppack
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This House is Haunted review - the book cover showing a black and white house on a pale grey background
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Shortly after lockdown I suggested a trip to my girlfriend. One to Green Lane, Enfield. Not the most romantic or picturesque of locations for a Friday night, but one which I’d been considering visiting since moving to London in the late 1980s. Green Street is located in the Brimsdown area of Enfield and is characterised by ex-council houses in long terraced streets. I won’t mention the house number as people live there today, but the place I wanted to see sits near the local primary school.

Why there then?

Well, in 1977 the residents were the Hodgson family. They consisted of a mother, two daughters and a son. The father of the house had left at this point. There was little money in the house but the kids were cared for, fed and clothed.

Then things started to move.

The two daughters, Janet and Margaret, were awakened by taps on the wall from an unseen hand. Within hours, chairs began to topple over.

They called in their neighbour Vic who was a no-nonsense builder. He found nothing unsound or wrong with the structure and, scared at the noises and upset furniture, he sent for the police. Two visited and one reported:

There were four distinct taps on the wall and then silence. About two minutes later I heard more tapping from a different wall. The other Police Constable checked the walls, attic and pipes but could find nothing to explain the knocking. The eldest son of the family pointed to a chair next to the sofa. I then saw the chair slide across the floor. It moved approximately three to four feet and then came to rest. I checked the chair but could find nothing to explain how it moved.

The Daily Mirror sent a journalist over to cover the story, a sceptic called Graham Morris. He naturally looked for a simple explanation for the strange events. While he stood in the living room with all the whole household in view, a Lego brick flew from the floor and struck him above the eye. The force was strong it enough to leave a bump for several days afterwards.

Over the next two years the activity escalated to levitations, apparitions (including one of one of the investigators) and writings. One day, coaxed out by one of the investigators, a number of voices carried through the girl’s voice boxes. One of them claimed to have died of a brain haemorrhage in the chair downstairs.

Books, Karl. This site is about books and this series is about how some changed your life. Well …

I’ve written here before about my youthful love-in with Moss Way library, Liverpool L11. Here we are again. The book – This House is Haunted, by Guy Leon Playfair – came out in 1981 so I’m guessing that this made it through the library system by the following year. I was 13 for the majority of 1982 and this knocked my socks off.

Guy Lyon Playfair, along with Maurice Grosse, were the chief investigators of what became known as The Enfield Poltergeist and though he clearly thinks the phenomena was 99% genuine, he did his best to look for tricks. He was lucky more than once. Janet, the central focus of the phenomena, was found bending spoons and both she and her sister were caught trying to hide Grosse’s tape recorder.

Rather than being disappointed, Grosse in particular was relieved at their antics. It would have been a little odd had the media spotlight not affected them in some ways and the amateurish nature of their fakery made the real activity more believable. Bend a spoon, yes. Tear out a solid metal fireplace from the wall – impossible.

I must have read that book fifty times over the years. I was never a fan of horror but there was something to it that caught my imagination. Maybe it was because, like the girls, I had posters on the walls of my council house and our families lived hand to mouth. The Amityville Horror with its huge mansion and rich owners could never draw me in in the same way. Poltergeists and ethereal voices that sing ‘Daisy, Daisy’ aside, this was almost relatable.

Playfair contends that the activity was there to draw Grosse to the house so his daughter, his own Janet who had died in a motorbike accident a year earlier, could contact him. The TV version starring Timothy Spall reaches the same conclusion though that embellishes further. In any case, the taps, damage, barks, whistles, swearing voices and conversations all ended in 1979. Possibly because Janet was older as there’s a school of thought which suggests that the ‘spirits’ exist through the energy of younger teenage girls. Janet was 11, her sister Margaret 14 at the time.

This book has come to mind due to the BBC Sounds podcast The Battersea Poltergeist, about a similar family in 1956. Their ‘guest’ was named Donald by the family and, like Enfield, started off with taps and crashes before turning a little too farfetched. ‘Donald’ even began writing letters to the family about the actors and celebrities he could see on the telly. Things become almost believable up to a point.

Graham Morris has said that he was convinced there was no explanation as to the Enfield activity but there was no way Janet and Margaret could have faked anything. Come the end though, with the voices, it just all became too preposterous.

I must agree with him. Danny Robbins’ series ‘Uncanny’ has many similar stories which always begin with taps, noises and moving furniture, but not all of them are normalised and superseded by the absolutely insane.

I loved this book and, though you can question the judgment of the librarian who thought it was okay for a 13 year old to borrow it for months on end, it’s stuck with me for years.

The house isn’t particularly eerie today. There’s a Jesus-related message in the window though that’s probably there for advertising rather than to ward off demon spirits.

One thing though. A few weeks later, we were driving along the M25 above Enfield when we had to leave the motorway due to road closures. We couldn’t find a road to connect us to the open section further along so we took a detour through Enfield. We had no intention of passing Brimsdown but we seemed to have no choice as we wanted to cut out a large part of the closed road.

I hadn’t visited that house in the forty years since I first learned of it and then, suddenly, I was there twice in the same month.

Karl Coppack is @TheCenci on Twitter – you can read his whole series on the books that made him here.

If you would like to order a copy of This House is Haunted, why not try our friends in Liverpool at News from Nowhere – delivery can be arranged elsewhere in the UK.

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