Hidden Highgate Canvas

Hillcrest street sign (c) Dave Milner

The Hillcrest Estate

Hillcrest has been in the news quite a bit recently because of Haringey Council’s decision not to carry out much needed maintenance work. This has has left parts of the estate despairing of ever receiving vital repairs. But when it was first conceived, the estate was considered a model achievement in the realms of social housing. Located slightly north of old Highgate village Hillcrest, which was built in 1948 as a pioneering post-war housing development, is situated on a large mound. Known as the Bulwarks, this hulking prominence was formerly the site of a brewery, a possible Napoleonic-era fortification, and Park House mansion which during the Victorian era operated as an ‘Asylum for Idiots’ and as a home for ‘fallen women’. Christina Rossetti, sister-in-law of Lizzie Siddal who was famously disinterred from her grave in Highgate Cemetery in 1869, did charity work here for many years and it is this experience which may have inspired her famous poem Goblin Market.

Park House when it was known as the Asylum for Idiots, circa 1847

Park House when it was known as the Asylum for Idiots, circa 1847

Falling sharply away to the north, the hill top is almost the highest point in London. Appropriately, this heavily haunted estate was used as a filming location for the 2004 cult zombie film ‘Shaun of the Dead’.

But there’s nothing funny about a horror film you can’t turn off. At least four separate households have complained about strange disturbances in their flats at night, and of being plagued by an entity which seems to come at go as it pleases with no regard for walls, doors or windows.

Kenny Frewin, a friend of this author, remembers life on the estate during the 1970s. Kenny is a down to earth man, but he found it hard to laugh off the claims of the kids on the estate that a tall black shape with a ‘nasty face’ was gliding across the grassy banks and through the walls of the blocks – when the adults started seeing it too.

Aleander House, Hillcrest (c) Dave Milner

Alexander House, Hillcrest (c) Dave Milner

As people on the estate began talking amongst themselves about what they were experiencing, it became clear that many of them were being woken up at night with a feeling of dread and the sensation that something was in the room with them – or worse – on their bed. Strange banging noises, doorbells that still rang with the batteries removed, dark silhouettes at fifth floor windows and pets and babies staring transfixed at invisible forms seemed to have become the norm at Hillcrest. Parents felt helpless as the assailant left their children screaming at night, families huddled together in their living rooms for protection and single women were reduced to hysteric panic upon finding a strange man in their bedrooms. These intimidating patterns continued at least until the 1990s, perhaps they are still happening today.

You can read a full account of the experiences of the Goodchild family – just one family who eventually packed up and moved to get away from this spectral harassment –  here.

Alexander House

Alexander House (c) Della farrant

Is the nocturnal intruder the ghost of a corrupt and bullying warden from the days when the House of Mercy stood on the site? Or is it something altogether less human? It has certainly affected much of the estate with a sense of preternatural dread at various times. We will probably never know, but its height, general appearance and behaviour are reminiscent of the same entity which stalks Swains Lane and Highgate Cemetery. Could they be one and the same?

Path into Hillcrest Estate (c) Dave Milner

Path into Hillcrest Estate (c) Dave Milner


Have you had a frightening encounter at Hillcrest? If so, please feel free to share it below.


3 Responses to The Hillcrest Estate

  1. Michelle Cassell, better known as Annie Fenton November 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    I also grew up in Hillcrest Estate and wish my mother was alive to read this article, very interesting. I remember complaining that someone was at my window at night, as if i seeing things. Im not sure if someone died in my bedroom or did my mother hear rumors that Hillcrest was haunted. I think we were told that the flats were built on a cemetery or something to that effect.

  2. DEBORAH THORPE November 11, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    I grew up on this estate with the Goodchilds and Frewin’s my dad was the caretaker.In the 70’s

    • Della Farrant November 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

      Hi Deborah, was that when Harry was the caretaker, and was he your dad? Kenny mentioned Harry and his wife just the other day on the phone. I’ll drop you an email if you don’t mind. Thanks for commenting!

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