For all its familiarity, given the right time and the right weather, Harrow can easily have a certain eeriness to it – and nowhere is this clearer than at our famous hill. Only the other day was I out on a run up West Street, and with the weather misty and the light a pale, ghostly white, the school’s medieval architecture and St. Mary’s churchyard became that much creepier. Perhaps it was just the timing – with Halloween upon us – perhaps I just have ghost and ghouls on the brain. But with that timing in mind, there seems no better an opportunity than to look into the history of the paranormal in the borough – a history that, somewhat worryingly, in many ways the one of the fullest that the borough has to offer.
Unsurprisingly, much of these tales take place on our borough’s famous hill. Indeed, the hill’s pagan origins – looked at a few weeks back – has made for a certain realness to the landmark’s supposedly insidious nature. In the 1960s, an archaeological dig at the hill unearthed an arrangement of oxen heads. While it was interpreted as an Anglo-Saxon animalistic shrines of sorts, it’s not hard – especially considering the devil-like appearance of oxen skulls – to picture something much more sinister as having taken place on our beloved hill.
It hardly stops there, though. Ghostly sightings on the hill have been recorded for centuries. The entrance to The Grove, for example, is purportedly haunted by the former rector of Harrow, Doctor Layton – who played a role in the plundering of the monasteries under Henry VIII’s reign way back in the sixteenth century; now supposedly lingering in the world for his actions then. Likewise, Roxeth School is also believed to have once (or perhaps still) been haunted – by one ghostly ginger cat, no less. In an interview with the Observer in 1986, a secretary and welfare worker at the school claimed that they had seen a ginger cat in the school’s staff building. The cat, it was believed, was the ghost of a teacher who had once worked there years before, still prowling the grounds in the present.
There is also, of course, St. Mary’s itself – rumoured to be the stalking grounds of a phantom nun. With the image of a misty church steeple and headstones half-lost amidst fog fresh in my mind, such an apparition, real or not, is not an image I particularly want to dwell on.
Hauntings can be seen beyond the hill also – most frequently in Pinner. Some of these come again in the form of ghosts – such as the ghost that supposedly haunts The Queens Head. Here, centuries ago, the granddaughter of Lord Nelson, of Napoleonic fame, met her end whilst leaving the pub – being knocked to the ground by a horse as it bolted from the stables. Robbed of her life so suddenly, she is now reported to haunt the pub, dressed in a grey skirt and white blouse by all who have seen her.
A more colourful, though no less chilling, haunting in Pinner is the phantom beast that has been sighted over the decades in Pinner Memorial Park. Witnesses have described the creature as black and big – the size of a small horse, despite its feline physique – with hot, burning red eyes. The creature is believed by many to be the ghost of a panther from the seventeenth century. The story goes that this was a creature captured by Lionel Cranfield Sackville, the 2nd Earl of Middlesex as part of the collection of exotic animals that he kept on the grounds of his manor house. In 1674, however, the panther turned on the Earl, biting out his throat and mauling two groundskeepers before it fled into the countryside, pursued by a mob of panicking villagers.
Eventually hunted down and shot, the panther was set ablaze on a roaring bonfire by the mob, only for a piercing growl to erupt as the flames reached their highest point, after which two bright red eyes were purported to have been seen staring out of the blaze – vicious and raging. Ever since, sightings of a beast in Pinner Park have continued – most recently in 1996, when a man walking his dog in the early morning caught something that he initially thought was a Labrador drinking from the park’s lake. It was only when he got closer that the walker met a pair of burning red eyes – eyes that seemed to burn hotter in that instance until the beast disappeared into the morning’s mist. There have been no further sightings of the Beast of Pinner since.
Elsewhere in the borough, there are other reported hauntings still – notably at places that have featured in Harrow Online articles in the past. Bentley Priory, for example – both the home of the nineteenth century queen Adelaide and the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command in the twentieth century – has a history of ghostly wailings being heard echoing across the halls of the large house, though nothing has yet come about of this. Likewise, Headstone Manor – one of the most historical landmarks in the borough – is also at the centre of much reported paranormal activity. Several entities are reported to haunt the grounds – including manifestations of a phantom woman with child and a light floating noiselessly up the house staircase – whilst the sounds of a baby crying has also been reported.
The borough, then, is quite the source for the supernatural. From phantom nuns stalking graveyard grounds to vengeful beasts from centuries ago haunting the parks of the present, Harrow has much to offer when it comes to the paranormal – and with Halloween upon us, the time when the veil between this world and the next is supposedly the thinnest, there may be no better time to try, should you so dare, seek these entities out.
If you know anything more to these stories, or have hauntings of your own to share, be sure to share in the comments below…
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: Patently Photographic