The Enfield Poltergeist – The Story We Know

First Published: July 13, 2016 Last updated: November 22nd, 2017 Written by Ian Stephens Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

As one of the most commonly heard of themes of the supernatural, poltergeists tend to be divisive debates. At UFO Insight, we’ve spent plenty of time looking into various different supernatural events that have taken place over the years. The most common – and fascinating – stories, though, are those of poltergeists.

For the uninitiated, a poltergeist is a ghost which is responsible for discrepancies and disturbances in a home. They tend to be quite physical in nature, usually moving objects and causing frightening events. Some people even claim to have been hit, punched and even BIT by a poltergeist in the past. Many claims of floating furniture and the like also tends to get put down to poltergeists.

Janet jumping

Janet jumping

For this reason, we wanted to take a closer look at just what a poltergeist story might actually entail.

A poltergeist is something that it does not take long to find hints of in various horror stories. From movies like The Conjuring to the simply titled Poltergeist, entertainment products are easy to find. But what of the more convincing stories? What of those who claim to have found something more sinister?

“Real” stories of poltergeists are easy enough to find, too, if you wish to look.

One of the main poltergeist stories out there is the Enfield Poltergeist. This is the name given to a two-year long sell in Brimsdown, Enfield, England during 1977-79. It was at this period that two sisters, aged 11 and 13, were involved in a very mysterious haunting event. Many believe it to be real entirely, such as the Society for Psychical Research (or some of its members). However, others believe that it’s a hoax, a load of cobblers.

We’ll try and break down what appears to be the most likely chain of events here.

The Basis

The story itself is quite an interesting one, as far as poltergeist claims go. Many stories tend to be generic or dull, but the Enfield Poltergeist story has some rather eyebrow-raising events.

The claim comes from that of a single parent, called Peggy Hodgson. In August 1977, she made contact with the local police force to her rented Enfield home. The reason for calling the police, though, was a rather unusual one. Peggy claimed that two of her four children had been claiming that furniture was moving.

Alongside these fanciful claims, the Enfield Poltergeist also continued claims of being able to hear knocking sounds on the walls.

Her children were all relatively young;

  • Margaret, 13
  • Janet, 11
  • Johnny, 10
  • Billy, 7

When the PC turned up to have a look around and determine if anything funny was actually going on here, things turned strange. The PC claimed to have seen a chair begin to actually slide along the floor. The constable could not decide if it was moved by someone else, or if the chair indeed had moved on its own.

As time went on, the claims became far more pronounced and more bizarre than the previous call. For example, one claim was that regular demonic voices could be heard. These voices would utter distressing terms, and made deep and loud noises. The physical element of this poltergeist event, though, was also present in many different forms.

For example, there were many claims of rocks and toys being thrown heavily and across rooms. There was also discussion about chairs being found mysteriously overturned, as if thrown in an argument. The most haunting of the discussions, though, came from the levitation of the four children in the home.

The story kept running and developing, and before long was a part of the national news. It started to receive widespread coverage in some of the major news outlets of the day, such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror. Both carries the story for two years, until the reports faded and left in 1979.

The actual poltergeist events, though, were never truly rectified or discovered. Over the years these elements became more pronounced, and the story continued to change and alter. This has led to major criticism of the veracity of the claims, sparking major debate over reality.

284 Green Street - the house the story happened.

284 Green Street – the house the story happened.

The Investigation

Many investigations had taken place over the years to do with the Enfield Poltergeist. Indeed, the Society for Psychical Research became involved quite regularly. Two prominent members, Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair, were heavily engaged with the story of the Enfield Poltergeist. They claimed that curious whistling and strange barking noises had come from the direction of Janet, the daughter.

The investigation descended into a mild farce at some points, with people unlikely to believe the story. The Enfield Poltergeist went to such incredible lengths to be severe that many people were doubtful. Indeed, one psychical researcher, Renee Haynes, noted that doubts existed as early as 1978. These doubts were raised about the realism of the poltergeist voices at a Second International SPR Conference in ’78.

The review team looked at video cassette tapes from the case, and found that it was quite unlikely to be true. Indeed, one of the major investigators, Anita Gregory, claimed that the Enfield Poltergeist was “overrated”. They found that some of the behaviour of the children was suspicious, and believed the girls had staged much of the events to create publicity.

John Beloff, another SPR investigator, believed Janet was a practicing ventriloquist. By the end of the investigation, most believed that Playfair and Grosse were being strung along by the family.

VIDEO: Rare BBC Footage

Childlike Interference

However, the investigation became muddied as Playfair held major doubts. Although he believed that the entity was true and did truly exist, he believed it had been exaggerated. It was the belief of Playfair that the children were behind some of the faking, making it hard to know what incidents were true.

Indeed, Janet was even caught red-handed when dealing in deception during the investigation. A video camera that was put in the room next door to hers found footage of Janet bending spoons. It even showed Janet attempting to try and bend a metal bar. Was this just a child playing mischief? Or was it just one part of the plan that the kids had put in place?

Grosse even found Janet smashing a broom against the ceiling, and also of the girl hiding his recorder. Stumped for answers, the group brought in a ventriloquist called Ray Alan. Alan believed that the voices were simply a trick put on by Janet and used for added fear factor.

Indeed, Playfair also noticed that Janet had a bad habit of changing the topic out of nowhere. He then found that one of the male voices – Bill – had the same problem. Was this nothing more than Janet trying to make a bit of mischief? Or is there something a little bit more to the Enfield Poltergeist?

When Janet and her sister Margaret admitted to playing some pranks, it hurt the researchers. Both Playfair and Grosse suffered in credibility, having been “duped” by a couple of kids. Alright, so the kids were involved in some pranks – but is there any proof they were involved in all of the events?

A 1977 photo showing the investigation in the house.

A 1977 photo showing the investigation in the house.

Strange Activity?

The first of the strange activities to take place in the Hodgson household was Janet and Johnny having shaking beds. They believed their beds would not stop rattling, and convinced their mother as such. The next night. The children claimed to hear mysterious and major knocking sounds. One of the girls even noted that a chest of drawers had begun sliding along the floor.

With more knockings a common part of the story that the kids told, Margaret relented. She phoned the local police, and they came to see her at 284 Green Street. By the morning after the PC visited and left, everything from kids toys to marbles were scattered around the house. The family claimed that the pieces would merely appear and bounce off the walls at pace.

The events would get worse as time went on and this obviously created unease within the house. However, over time there was plenty of discussion – even among investigators – that things weren’t as they appear. Whilst the Enfield Poltergeist is one of the most popular poltergeist stories around, a huge part of the intrigue comes from the role of the children.

Janet – The Culprit?

The interesting element here, though, is that Janet is commonly seen as a major culprit. Regularly seen nearby just about every supernatural event that occurred, Janet was seen to be a major player. When you are always near the fire with burnt hands, it’s likely that you’ll be accused of starting the fire!

Janet Hodgson

Janet Hodgson

Janet was regularly accused by experts and others of being the true source of the Enfield Poltergeist. However, investigator Grosse believed that some of the events would simply be beyond that of a child to manage. Some disturbances would even follow her outside of the home!

Could they really stretch that far?

Another sister, Peggy, was regularly involved as part of the blame game as well. The trouble seemed to follow both girls. Peggy stayed at a neighbour’s house one night, and the trouble occurred there as well.

However, investigator Playfair spent a full night in the house by himself and found no issues at all. Given that most people would immediately suspect Janet even just by meeting here, it soon became harder for the Enfield Poltergeist to hold any weight. Researchers would merely just blame an over imaginative child.

Either the poltergeists were attached the children and followed along with them, or the girls were up to some dirty tricks.

One interesting part, though, is that when Janet spent six weeks in hospital for an evaluation, the problems still took place back at the home. Was this Peggy filling in? Or something else altogether?

Children or Something Else?

So, looking at much of the evidence proposed, it looks likely that this was the construct of children. Even both researchers had their major doubts about the veracity of what was going on. From hearing suspicious creaking noises en route to any incidents which were recorded to actually being caught, the kids had a lot to answer for.

One of the major reasons why people believed it could have been the kids was when events happened. They only seemed to occur when nobody was not being watched – it never happened in plain sight. Given that poltergeists are supposed to look to make us scared, and show their presence, this is off-character.

Whilst Playfair put this down to the poltergeist knowing what was going on, and not wanting to arouse any suspicion, others were less certain of such a hypothesis. When Janet was aware a camera would be on, nothing would occur. Playfair even noted in his notes that the children seemed to want to “add to the activity” as if they all thought it was a game.

Although Playfair always maintained that he seen incidents occur that were beyond the power of children, most other researchers concentrated on this.

One big concern was the fact that the voice only ever seemed to raise itself when the girls were alone in a room, with the door closed. Investigators did also note that when the voice could be heard, Janet’s lips “hardly” seemed to be moving.

The concern comes from how sincere Playfair appeared to be. For example, one point he claimed that Janet would clearly say things that “The Voice” was meant to have said, and vice versa. He seen this not as proof that the girl was scamming him, but proof it wasn’t the girl who was talking. That’s a very strange conclusion to make.

Image showing the ghost activity in the house

Image showing the ghost activity in the house

The Case for Creation

The researchers, as we mentioned before, went and hired the help of a proper ventriloquist, Ray Alan. He believed the girls were at the fake because they loved the attention. When a professional ventriloquist can spot the signs, it might be time to take heed. The two researchers, seemingly caught in a hole now, believed that “even if” the voices were faked, it didn’t disprove the Enfield Poltergeist.

Even when two of the girls, Janet and Peggy, were caught red-handed they still continued in their belief that this was all real. Although other researcher into paranormal events were happy to believe that the Enfield Poltergeist began paranormally, they believed it never continued that way. What was potentially a genuine “bump in the night” may have turned into what we now know as the Enfield Poltergeist.

One of the most significant voices against the realism of this story came from Milbourne Christopher. Christopher has investigated the property briefly and was scathing in his discoveries. According to this expert, “third rate phenomena” was appearing to try and protect the rapidly deteriorating evidence. At one point, Janet claimed she was stuck in the bathroom as the door was shut.

Another even seen Janet sent to her room. Shortly after, “The Voice” returned. Christopher made his way upstairs to confirm his suspicions, and seen Janet sneak out of her room to look downstairs to ensure she was not being watched.

When Janet spotted Milbourne, it threw her. The voice stopped afterwards. Coincidence?

VIDEO: The Enfield Poltergeist

An Embarrassment of Evidence

One of the most damning parts of this breakthrough, though, was the “proof” of an image. It supposedly shows the ‘recorded poltergeist activity’ for the first time in actual footage. However, investigator Melvin Harris weighed in and disagreed heavily. Indeed, Harris said that the photo actually shows proof that the events were fabricated, not the other way around.

The photographs were taken by Ed Warren, who had a reputation for jumping the game. Nobody noticed him record these supposed caught levitations, nor did it show the girls “levitating”. Warren was known for transforming potential haunting imagery into a case for demonic possession.

Harris even stated that Janet was a school sports champion, making it likely that the “levitation” was simply mid-gymnastics.

A Messy Consequence

Well, as you might imagine, the story died out quite quickly once these critiques began. By 1979 the poltergeist had moved on. The odd isolated incident would occur from time to time, but nothing worth noting. The most common critique for the whole event was a family of kids furious at the divorce of their parents. By creating such a scary situation for the mother, it was some form of childish revenge.

The best explanation for the Enfield Poltergeist is that it’s a children’s prank. The best “evidence” that Playfair and Grosse could fine was that objects would appear “from nowhere”. However, ask any magician and this is relatively easy to produce. Pick up the object when others aren’t paying attention, and you can catch anyone off their guard.

Even if you look around for more evidence, the two girls have admitted to some fabrication. In a 2011 interview with the Daily Mail, Janet stated that she and her sister had faked some of the events. They claim it’s just 2%, but even that’s fanciful.

The Hodgson Family

The Hodgson Family

Useful Media

Are you interested in perhaps finding out a bit more about the Enfield Poltergeist?

Then you should definitely consider watching The Conjuring 2. This was released in 2016 as part of the Conjuring series and is going to be well worth paying attention to. The movies will be covering major poltergeist and supernatural stories over the years, and the second instalment covers Enfield.

Obviously it uses some artistic license to make it jump off the screen a bit, but the movie is well worth watching. It gives you a major look into some of the other elements and discussions about the Enfield Poltergeist that we haven’t looked into quite so heavily. Either way, whether you believe in the Enfield Poltergeist or not, this is worth taking the time to watch.

Even if you are staunchly certain that it’s not true at all, this is still a good watch in terms of horror movies. OK, it might be a bit over the top at certain points but it’s a good watch. Given the paucity of good movies in the horror genre these days, it’s a welcome addition. Take the time to watch it and compare it with what we’ve got here – what’s more likely?

What Do You Think?

What’s your take? Given the lack of real evidence and anecdotal & circumstantial events, we’re out on this one. The Enfield Poltergeist is a great story but it needs to be just that, a story. There is very little out there to suggest this is more than what it seems.

A Poltergeist? We massively doubt it. What do you think, though? Having looked at the evidence around, is there anything here that suggests there may be more to this than we believe?

Let us know what you think! This is an interesting topic, and one that deserves more discussion.

About Ian Stephens

Ian Stephens is an editor and writer for UFO Insight. He has a keen interest in the fields of strange phenomena, UFOs and aliens. He is also interested in space, physics and science in general. Writing for over 10 years in these fields, Ian has a lot of experience and knowledge to share.

Ian has written a total of 95 articles for UFO Insight. You can contact Ian via email.

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