Spectral animals and birds are common in British folklore, but it is fairly unusual for them to be interpreted as the ghosts of specific individual creatures that died in known circumstances. Among these, the one haunting Pond Square in Highgate is unique, for it is the ghost of the world’s first frozen chicken.
On a snowy day in March 1626 (as John Aubrey records), Lord Francis Bacon, politician, philosopher, and one of England’s first experimental scientists, was riding in his carriage through Highgate and pondering on the preservative effect of snow and ice. How effective might this be with meat? He told his coachman to buy a chicken from the farm they were passing (Highgate was a rural area then), kill it, pluck it, and clean out its innards. Then Lord Bacon himself began stuffing the bird with handfuls of snow and stashing it away in a bag filled with more snow. While doing so, however, fits of vomiting and shivering which he had already felt on the coach journey from Gray’s Inn to Highgate grew worse, and he took refuge in a friend’s house in Highgate, where he died a few days later.
It is not known in what icy hell the chicken’s spirit spent the next 300 years or so, but (according to Peter Underwood and other modern writers) during the air raids of the Second World War several aircraftmen, firefighters, and residents of Pond Square reported seeing a fairly large bird, unable to fly because almost all its feathers had been plucked, running round in circles and pathetically flapping the stumps of its wings. It was reported again in the 1960s and ’70s, apparently dropping out of the sky with a pathetic squawk. Whenever it is seen, it is shivering.