In September 2014 I recorded an interview at the theatre above Ye Olde Gatehouse public house in Highgate Village. For centuries The Gatehouse has been the alleged haunt of ‘Mother Marnes'; a Jacobean ghost who in life was allegedly murdered in a building on the site of the existing premises for her money. The Gatehouse sits on a crossroads, on the oldest known site of occupation in Highgate (circa 1330). The clearly mock-tudor facade is deceptive, dating from 1905, as its remaining core can be dated back to at least the 1700s and possibily a lot earlier.
The theatre on the first floor is aptly named “Upstairs at The Gatehouse”, and occupies the most haunted area of the tavern. Owned and managed by seasoned thespians John Plews and his wife, the theatre inherited many ghosts after the building was separated into an upstairs events venue and a ground floor Wetherspoons pub in the mid 1990s. John was kind enough to participate in the podcast, which was organised by David Saunderson of The Spooky Isles, and confirmed in his own words many of the uncanny events which have occurred during his tenure and which he allowed me to detail in Haunted Highgate.
We were also joined by paranormal author Paul Adams, and historian Jon Kaneko-James, both of whom have had an avid interest in The Gatehouse’s alleged hauntings for many years. I am not a massive believer in the significance of orbs, but was interested to note that the image below, taken by David Saunderson, seems to show one in the vicinity of the (now disconnected) burglar alarm which refused to stop going off at 3am for quite some months after John took over the lease. In the photograph John is pointing to the balcony which is the scene of so many paranormal incidents, although Mother Marnes’s activity is certainly not limited to the balcony! I include the photograph here merely for the record; the theatre is cavernous in its dimensions and it is quite possible that the light is a simple dust speck magnified by the flash. Great coincidence in its placement though!
I had a slight advantage over my fellow guests viz the winding strangeness of the upper floors of The Gatehouse, having been taken on private behind the scenes tours of the theatre before (thanks to John), and on my previous visits I had been unable to shake off the feeling that we were being followed. It is generally considered bad form amongst paranormal researchers to recount personal encounters lest we cloud readers’ faith in our objectivity. But in the case of The Gatehouse I really don’t mind sharing a couple of minor experiences – readers of my book will hopefully gather why! There are so many witness accounts pertaining to the site that I have no worries about being accused of ‘helping it along’. Not that my experiences there have been revelatory, although they were very memorable. On one occasion on the haunted balcony, sensing someone standing uncomfortably close to me, I turned to apologise to the young female sound engineer who I assumed was standing squashed behind me in that cramped space. There was no one there – no one visible, anyway – the technician had departed some minutes previously. I was wearing a scarf, but was sure that had my neck been bare the person standing behind me would have been breathing upon it she felt so close. I stand at 5 feet and 7 inches, but the sound technician who I had assumed was standing so close to me is about 5 feet 1 inches tall – about right for a Jacobean lady.
On the afternoon that we recorded the podcast I again had a strange experience on the balcony, this time at the end furthest from the stairs. As the conversation turned to the question of just who Mother Marnes may have been in life, and I mentioned the research conducted by my colleague Ian Topham regarding a widowed “Judith Barnes” who was known to live adjacently, I began to feel very claustrophobic and overwhelmed, to the point where the crew asked if I was feeling ill as I apparently went very pale. I was feeling very ill, and very suddenly to boot! But excited too, I must admit. The Judith Barnes line of enquiry certainly affords further research in my opinion, if only from an historical starting point. It certainly felt to me, at least, that once again someone else was up on that balcony with us – perhaps the same figure that John Plews regularly spots out the corner of his eye when he is alone in the theatre at the end of the night ?
The balcony in question has been the scene of at least three known encounters with a smocked figure which has been reported to utter cryptic threats, and to loom menacingly before bar staff turning off the lights for the night, leading to dramatic stumbles (or pushes) down the narrow staircase. Two of these encounters in the previous century resulted in hospitalisation.
But please DON’T let this put you off visiting Upstairs at The Gatehouse! It is a great theatre, obviously soaked with atmosphere but not a negative one generally – at least not in the public areas!
You can listen to the podcast here:
I hope you all enjoy it.
And a BIG THANKS to John Plews for all the time and effort he put into not only this podcast, but into Haunted Highgate itself. John also puts himself out to help with local events throughout the year, and contributes much else to the local community, but he is self-effacing so I shall shut up about all that. John, you are a star.
I am really looking forward to sharing this podcast with former landlord Jack O’Connell, whose family had many experiences of the shade of Mother Marnes during the 1960s.