More mysteries Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Readers of this blog will no doubt be aware of the rich history of The Gatehouse public house in Highgate Village. Some will also be aware of just how heavily haunted this ancient building at the crossroads of Highgate High Street, Hampstead Lane and North Road is reputed to be. Today the building is divided up into two main areas of operation; The Gatehouse pub, which is managed by the Wetherspoons chain, and Upstairs at the Gatehouse, a successful theatre run by John and Katie Plews. I have covered many aspects of the tavern’s haunted reputation in my book Haunted Highgate, including interviews with and newspaper reports about previous landlords, and in the process uncovered some fascinating details. If readers of this blog have not read my book, you can read a preview of the references to The Gatehouse here.

One of the most interesting aspects of the building’s hauntings is how they overlap. The majority seem to manifest upstairs, and we seem to be ‘contending’ with at least three distinct ghosts, Mother Marnes being the most famous – a Jacobean widow murdered for her money.   But there are two other ghosts who have been recorded; a man in seventeenth century dress who apparently throttled a punter in an upstairs room in the late 1960s, and a smocked smuggler, first recorded in 1947. While the suggestion that ‘Mother Marnes’ could in fact be one ‘Judith Barnes’, a lady who has historically traceable associations with the area, has been suggested, the identity of the smuggler, and indeed the murderously inclined tall-hatted figure, remain shrouded in mystery. The similar epoque suggested by their costume merely serves to tantalise further viz. whether these spectres knew each other in life, or were involved in each others’ deaths.

The 1947 occurrences were reported in the national press. Astute readers of Forteana may have noticed something familiar about a piece of information pertaining to The Gatehouse which appears in Peter Underwood’s Haunted London of 1973. If so, this would be because the text was originally published in the Daily Telegraph, as explicated by Peter Haining in The Mammoth Book of Ghosts, published posthumously by Running Press in 2008. Haining correctly attributes the text to the Telegraph, as follows:

evil apparition

It is clear from Underwood’s inclusion of the ‘borrowed’ and unattributed Telegraph article under the ‘Hampstead’ section of Haunted London that he had not visited Highgate at the time of his book going to press. For surely he could not have failed to notice the hulking mock-Tudor presence of The Gatehouse in the heart of Highgate – not Hampstead – village? But that’s a story for another day.

In any case, I am grateful to paranormal author Paul Adams, who was fortunate enough to be gifted the bulk of the late Mr. Underwood’s paranormal letters, photographs and other ephemera, for retrieving the following Psychic News article of January 28th 1967 from said archives:

Psychic News Jan 28 1967
Psychic News Jan 28 1967

The article is interesting on several levels. As someone who has had access to many primary sources pertaining to The Gatehouse and the various landlords who have taken their leave after being confronted by its ghosts, I can spot instantly the possible conflation of the 1947 incident involving Brian Harvey, and the early January 1967 experience of landlord George Sample. Why is Trixie, who had not apparently visited The Gatehouse for 20 years, given headline status whilst poor Miss Ruth Plant who had been there just that week only gets credit for intuiting the materialisation of a lightbulb? And why is Miss Plant’s studio portrait captioned as Trixie Allingham? Is there any implication for modern-day readers that Sample hoaxed his experience after stumbling across the 1947 account? With regard to the latter hypothesis I am (personally) disinclined to agree, after listening to the experiences of the landlord who almost directly preceded the Samples, and not wishing or seeing the need to call the credibility of Mr. Andrews, Mrs. Mafalda Sample, and the Samples’ grown up daughter into disrepute.

Trixie Allingham photographed with her husband Dom Macquire at Bognor Regis in 1978 © Mj Benning.
Trixie Allingham photographed with her husband Dom Macquire at Bognor Regis in 1978 © Mj Benning.

Shoddy journalism is most likely the answer, but although Psychic News may have jumbled things up somewhat, their direct use of quotes is most likely accurate.   It also makes sense that just weeks after landlord George Sample quitted the Gatehouse in January 1967, after he and his head barman Rodney Andrews encountered on three separate occasions a smocked and terrifying spectre on the stairs to the balcony (now part of the modern theatre), barmaids would have been performing impromptu séances at just that spot. For reference purposes, this balcony overlooks the main theatre space which in times past was used as a ballroom.

We are left to ponder what these manifestations and intuited ‘facts’ have in common. Contemporary newspaper reports inform us that Mr. Sample and Mr. Andrews were in the process of turning off lights at the main fusebox on the balcony when they experienced the entity. It would be reasonable to assume that this was also Mr. Harvey’s purpose in ascending those narrow, winding stairs. The two barmaids not only had a candle snuffed out, but a lightbulb (whether materialised or not) was similarly destroyed. Then we have the case recounted in Haunted Highgate of Andrew Hubbard, circa 1976:

I was aged 14 and my mother was relief manager. A function was on in the ballroom and due to my age I was sent to the balcony out of the way. The large old fashioned electricity box turned off (this was about 8 feet from me) All of the lights went out and after a minute or so my mother appeared to throw the handle on the box to “on”. As soon as she had done this I saw the handle slowly move back up unaided and all power tripped off again. A little too young to understand or be spooked, I reset the handle myself after my mother running away screaming! I was later told that other incidents had occurred including all of the chandeliers in the ballroom swinging wildly while a young barman was stocking the bar prior to opening time.

If the ghost on the stairs to the balcony really is that of a murdered smuggler, replaying a game of hide and seek with a long-dead assailant, perhaps he resents living people’s ability to control whether he is illuminated or not.

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