MJ COLLINS was inspired by the Highgate Chicken Ghost to delve deeper into the UK’s many animal apparitions …
It is an old cliché that Britain is a country of animal lovers. So, it probably isn’t too much of a surprise to learn that Britain is also country of several ghostly animals, ranging from the banal to the downright bizarre.
Perhaps the strangest story is that of the ghost chicken of Pond Square, Highgate in London. It all began in 1626 when Sir Francis Bacon had a debate over refrigeration as an alternative method of preserving food to salting. To prove his point, Bacon bought a chicken, had it killed and cleaned, before stuffing it full of snow. Unfortunately, Bacon died of a chill as a result, but the ethereal form of the chicken was there to stay. The ghostly form of a flapping, plucked chicken, madly circling the square, has been reported ever since. The most recent report dates back to the 1970s, when a couple having a moment to themselves were disturbed when the chicken appeared from thin air!
A more mundane animal spirit disturbs visitors to Edinburgh’s Blair St Vaults – they run the risk of having their ankles nipped at by the spirit of a dog. Having visited the vaults a few years ago, I’m happy to report I came out ankles unscathed.
Ballechin House, Perthshire, is known for a number of ghosts, including the return of it’s former owner, Major Stewart, in the form of his favourite spaniel in the late 19th century! The Major had been very fond of dogs and owned 14 when he died. Unfortunately, his heir did not share this love, and shot all the dogs in an effort to get rid of the ghost. This made the apparitions more frequent, and not much could be done to stop it.
Ghost cats seem to be a little more sedate, carrying on their predilections for sleeping and padding around in the afterlife. In St Enoch’s station on the Glasgow Subway, workmen carrying out maintenance when the subway is closed have reported the ghost of a black cat appearing on the platform. It slinks off down towards the tunnel before vanishing. In Godshill, Essex, diners might see another little ghostly black cat curled up asleep under the tables at the Essex Cottage Restaurant.
In 1816, at the Tower of London, a sentry got the fright of his life when a bear suddenly appeared before him. He stabbed the bear with his bayonet, except it went straight through the bear and struck the wall . The soldier was so shocked he collapsed.
At Athelhampton Hall in Dorset, the ghost of a monkey, who in life had the run of the house, can be heard. It apparently starved to death after the suicide of a heartbroken daughter of the Martyn family who it had followed.
Finally, the ghost of a chocolate Labrador, haunts RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, the base of the Dambuster’s raids of WW2. The dog was squadron mascot and belonged to Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Unfortunately, it was knocked down and killed just before a raid. Gibson ordered that the news be kept quiet until after the mission in case it damaged morale. Many people have reported encountering the dog’s ghost and that of its owner, killed during a raid in 1944, at the airfield. During the 1980s, the dog appeared in a photo taken of a school party standing around Gibson’s memorial at the airfield.