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A night in a haunted house
Even in the gathering dusk, with a full moon visible between wisps of darkening clouds, the house at 30 East Drive in Pontefract doesn’t strike me as an obvious spot for a haunting.
There are no turrets, no circling bats and no sinister gargoyles sneering from lofty perches. As I discover later when I go inside, the most frightening thing about this small council estate semi - at least on first inspection - is the decor, which looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1975.
Which is apt, as it turns out. I’m here because I’ve been told that this unlikely location was once the scene of a paranormal nightmare, the most violent European poltergeist haunting ever. The legend talks of banging doors, blasts of cold air, swaying wardrobes, flying objects and much, much more.
It all happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but has recently been fictionalised in the film When The Lights Went Out.
Return of the ghost?
And here’s the spookier bit. Publicity for the film has caused quite a bit of activity in the area, with ghost hunters and interested locals desperate to take a peek inside the haunted rooms. Apparently, all this coming-and-going has lead to a spike in activity of a different kind. The poltergeist, it seems, is back.
Before I go into the house I meet Carol, the next door neighbour. She’s lived there for years, and has no doubt the ghost - who she calls Fred - exists.
She’s been inside the house quite a bit, but says she won’t go into the upstairs bathroom, which she calls “a portal for bad energy”. People have felt things in that bathroom, says Carol. They come out saying they’ve been hit by small falling objects, but the objects are never found.
As for the rest of the house, she talks of the strings of light switches wrapping themselves around wrists and necks. She’s seen things in her own house too, like doors that are stuck shut suddenly swinging open.
For a while, at the request of the owner, she took people in to tour the haunted house.
“One day we must have had 40 people coming through,” she says.
“And I’d say ten of them had to be physically helped out. They’d felt something in that house and it affected them badly.”
She gets photos out, and they certainly show something. There’s a series of quick fire snaps that seem to capture a black shadow moving down the stairs. There’s a head shaped object that looks to be peering over the landing banisters. There’s what might be a strange face in a mirror - at a stretch.
Her family has seen things too. But as night falls Carol goes back to her warm, well-lit house, while I contemplate entering the shadowy property next door alone.
Actually, I’ll drop the hardman act. I’m not alone. Zoe Spurden (pictured above) is here because she told the search engine Bing that her dream was to try ghost hunting, and they arranged for her to have a night in the house (personally I might have told them my dream was a Caribbean cruise, but hey ho).
Tony Earnshaw is a local journalist who has been here before. He’s quite sceptical, but I get the sense Carol’s undeniable conviction has spooked us all.
I put my hand on the door handle, take a deep breath and walk in. I’m hit by a blast of cold air, but then the house hasn’t been lived in for four years, the gas is off and the night is threatening snow, so that’s easy to explain. I walk through the rooms and hear only the distant sounds of suburbia from the estate outside - kids shouting, doors banging, engines revving.
The house is kind of creepy though. The peeling paper, garish carpets and decaying kitchen units give the sense of a house that once echoed with life and laughter, but hasn’t for a long time. The polystyrene ceiling tiles speak of something truly terrible, but that’s 70s’ interior design for you.
What’s really noticeable is that the house is full of nooks and crannies, cupboards and cubby holes. In the twilight, these are just the sort of spaces you can imagine things jumping out from.
But nothing does jump out, and I get a text from Bil Bungay, who co-produced When The Lights Went Out and has since bought the house. We go to the local pub so I can ask him why.
Bil, it’s fair to say, is a believer. He was interested in paranormal activity before the movie and he’s more so now. He bought the house at East Drive on a whim, because to him the sheer weight of evidence was impossible to ignore.
His belief is not based on blind faith, however. He wonders if recent advances in theoretical physics - which have made the possibility of parallel universes and extra dimensions a scientific hot topic - might explain phenomena like East Drive. Though he also mentions the fact that the house is built on a leyline and that, in the late 1960s, the son of the family who first encountered ‘Fred’ was known to dabble with Ouija boards.
Reach for Sky
It’s edging 11pm by the time I get back to the house, and we have indeed been joined by a visitor. But not Fred, yet. Instead, celebrity psychic Sky Silverstone has agreed to take a look round the house.
A few minutes later, she tells me that something is with us, “without a doubt”. Is it here right now, I ask? “Oh yes, definitely.”
Zoe believes it. “I had a weird feeling on the stairs, I was suddenly really disoriented,” she says. “It was as if something was there. Sky said I’d just walked through it.”
Sky Silverstone, with Zoe and Tony
By ‘it’ she means the spirit, the poltergeist, Fred. Tony says he checked the spot on the stairs where Zoe had felt a presence, and it did feel strangely cold, more so than the rest of the staircase. He takes me to the stair in question but I feel nothing. Fred has moved on.
Just after midnight I pluck up courage and go upstairs on my own. Thanks to the pint I had in the pub, I’m pretty much forced into the bathroom Carol had warned us about. It may be the quickest pee of my life, but the windows don’t rattle and nothing falls on my head.
Then I cross the hallway to the smallest bedroom, the room that 40 years ago had been occupied by the daughter of the house, teenager Diane Pritchard. According to accounts, as the haunting became more violent Diane became its focus. On one occasion she was dragged upstairs by an invisible hand and on another thrown out of bed and across the room.
I close the door behind me and sit on the bed. There’s just a glimmer of light in the room from the streetlight outside. I remember what Bil had told me earlier. The actress that played Diane in the film had visited this room a week or two earlier, and said the lampshade had started swinging on its own.
I watch the lampshade. Has it started to sway, ever so slightly? Or is it a trick of the light, played on my tired eyes and spooked mind? I look away, blink, and look back again. All is still in this silent suburban bedroom. I get up and go downstairs, where the clock, seemingly in an instant, has ticked on to 1am.
I get into my car and lock the doors. Do I believe there’s a poltergeist at East Drive, Pontefract? Probably not, but I wouldn’t spend the night there alone.