The Enfield Poltergeist was a Poltergeist case in a London suburb that involved trickery along with some evidently genuine phenomena.
The house in Enfield, North London, was an ordinary suburban townhouse. It was occupied by Peggy Harper and her four children: Rose, age 13; Janet, 11; Pete, 10; and 152 Enfield Poltergeist Jimmy, 7. The disturbances began the night of August 30, 1977, shortly after Janet and Pete had retired to the bedroom they shared (the other children slept with their mother in another room). Their beds began jolting up and down—“going all funny,” as Janet expressed it to Peggy. By the time Peggy got to the room, the strange movements had stopped, and she was not at all sure the children were not making it up. All remained quiet for the rest of that night, but then the next night, things got going in earnest.
At around 9:30 in the evening, Peggy was called to Janet and Pete’s room by their excited chatter. This time they claimed to hear shuffling sounds coming out of the floor. Janet suggested that it sounded like one of the chairs moving, so Peggy carried it downstairs to the living room, then went back up and turned out the light, thinking this would help to settle the children down. But then she also heard something odd. It did indeed sound like shuffling, like someone moving across the floor in slippers. Peggy switched the light back on, but all the furniture seemed to be in place, and Janet and Pete were lying in their beds with their hands under the covers. She turned the light off again, and immediately the sound started as before.
Then there were four loud, distinct knocks that seemed to come from the wall adjoining the neighboring house. What happened next was even more bizarre. With the light on, and all three watching, a heavy chest of drawers moved away from the wall. After moving out about a foot and a half, it stopped. Peggy shoved it back again, but the chest returned to its former position, and this time when she tried to push it, it refused to budge. Shaking with fear, she ordered the children downstairs to the living room, and tried to decide on a course of action. Janet noticed the next door neighbor’s light was still on, and that decided things. The entire Harper family trooped over in their nightclothes.
When the neighbors walked through the Harper house, they could find nothing to explain the knocks, which continued at intervals, and which they also heard plainly. The next to be called were the police, who responded to the scene expecting to find a domestic quarrel of some sort. Instead, they too heard knocks, now on different walls, and one of the officers was in the living room when a chair suddenly slid several feet across the floor. The officer examined the chair at once, but found nothing to explain how it had moved. It did not seem that anyone was breaking the law, so the police left, promising that they would keep an eye on the house for the next few days.
The following day brought a new phenomenon—flying marbles and plastic Lego bricks. With the police unable to help, the Harpers and their neighbors turned to the press. The Daily Mirror sent out a reporter and photographer, who stayed in the house for several hours without anything happening and were about to leave when the barrage started up. A piece of Lego flew across the room and hit the photographer on the forehead hard enough to leave a bruise that lasted over a week, just as he was taking a picture. When he developed the negative, he noticed some strange things about it: the negative had an inexplicable hole in it, the flying Lego brick was not pictured, and the two people who were pictured were standing in such a way that it was clear that they had not thrown the brick.
The Daily Mirror called the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which in turn contacted Maurice Grosse, a resident of North London, who had been hoping to find a case to investigate. Grosse arrived at the Harper house for the first time on September 5, exactly a week after the disturbances had begun. His presence had an immediate calming effect on the family, and for a few days nothing out of the ordinary occurred. Then on the night of September 8, when Grosse and three men from the Daily Mirror were keeping watch, they heard a crash in Janet’s bedroom. Investigation showed that her bedside chair had been thrown about four feet across the room, where it was now lying on its side. Janet was asleep at the time, and no one saw the chair move—but when it happened again an hour later, a photographer was ready, and captured the event on film.
Shortly thereafter, Grosse was joined in the investigation by writer Guy Lyon Playfair. The two men were to spend the next two years studying the case, which took various twists and turns before the strange occurrences at the Harpers’ finally ceased.
Many poltergeist cases center around children who are about to reach or have recently reached puberty. Peggy Harper had one of each—Rose, at 13, was already well developed, and Janet, 11 was soon to come of age. The case also had another feature typical of such cases: interpersonal tension. Peggy had never altogether resolved her feelings surrounding her divorce from the children’s father. After she realized that this might have something to do with the phenomena, and came to terms with the emotions, the disturbances ceased. Or rather, they took a hiatus, and when they started up again, they had a somewhat different character. Now more than ever they seemed to focus on the two girls, Janet and Rose, and on Janet’s bedroom.
When SPR researchers Anita Gregory and John Beloff visited the Harpers some months later, all they saw was trickery. Over and over again, Anita Gregory wrote in her review of Playfair’s book on the case, This House is Haunted (1980), they would hear “a thump and a squeal,” and Janet would be found sitting on the floor of her room (from which everyone was now barred), where she said she had been thrown by an “entity.” Janet and Rose would also produce muffled voices (many of which used strong profanity), their mouths covered by sheets. A video camera set up in the room next door caught Janet bending spoons and attempting to bend an iron bar in an entirely normal manner, then bouncing up and down on the bed while she made little flapping movements with her hands.
The case appears to be one which began with some genuine phenomena, but which devolved into trickery by the two girls, probably prompted by the attention the case received from the media and from the investigators.
- Gregory, Anita. “Review of This House Is Haunted.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)50 (1980): 538–41.
- Playfair, Guy Lyon. This House Is Haunted. London: Souvenir Press, 1980.