The Ghost Chicken of Highgate

DSCF5855A conversation with my daughter prompted me to remember something a once girlfriend had told me when I lived in London – that there was a place in Highgate haunted by a Ghost Chicken. No, really, it turns out it’s A Thing.

A quick Duckduckgo* led me to mentions of Sir Francis Bacon, so I took down my copy of Aubrey’s Brief Lives and found this story of events in April 1626 –

“As he (Sir Francis Bacon) was taking the air in a coach with Dr Witherborne (a physician) towards Highgate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my lord’s thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow, as in salt. They were resolved they would try the experiment presently. They alighted out of the coach, and went into a poor woman’s house at the bottom of Highgate Hill, and bought a fowl, and made the woman exenterate it, and then stuffed the body with snow, and my lord did help to do it himself. The snow so chilled him, that he immediately fell so extremely ill, that he could not return to his lodging … but went to the Earle of Arundel’s house at Highgate, where they put him into a good bed warmed with a pan, but it was a damp bed that had not been layn-in about a year before, which gave him such a cold that in two or three days, as I remember Mr Hobbes told me, he died of Suffocation.”

psMany doubt that Bacon did experiment in frozen foods, but people began to report strange happenings, and there were several reported sightings of a particularly eerie apparition around Pond Square from the 17th Century onwards. Yes, the Ghost Chicken was on the loose.

In the second World War the unnerving apparition of a ghost chicken was seen many times. In 1943, Aircraftsman Terence Long was in Pond Square one night when he heard horses’ hooves, wheels, and a screeching noise. Instead of a horse and cart though, what he saw when he turned was a half-plucked chicken, flapping its wings and legging it wildly around in a circle before vanishing.

Later, ARP Wardens saw the ghost several times around Pond Square. One tried to bag the incorporeal bird, but failed when it “vanished through a brick wall”

A resident of Pond Square, a Mrs. Greenhill, said after the war that she had seen the ghost, and described it as “a big, whitish bird”.

In January 1969, a “large white half-plucked bird” was seen by a driver whose car had broken down. He moved towards it, but it disappeared.

In February 1970 a courting couple were surprised when a ghostly chicken landed beside them, ran round twice, then vanished into thin air. Coitus henterruptus (sorry).

I couldn’t find anything after that, so perhaps the pecky phantom has found peace at last.

* if you want to search the net without Google tracking you, or bubbling the search results as it sees fit, then try Duckduckgo.


About wombat37

A Yorkshireman in the green hills of Lancashire, UK Not a real wombat, obviously, or typing would become an issue. I do have short legs and a hairy nose, however. Oh, & a distinctive smell.

Posted on March 2, 2012, in Ghost chicken, History, London. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The celebrated ghost chicken of Highgate is in the Ghost walks of London book, and is one of our favourites. Have been through Pond Square several times and no chicken so far. The story of the hands clutching at the gates of Highgate cemetery as if someone is trying to get out still sends shivers up my spine though..
    Sir Francis Bacons house is beautiful – it is just up the road opposite the Flask Inn – supposedly the most haunted in London – but every time I have set foot in it it stinks of fish- possibly haunted by a haddock.


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