A decade before the world famous Amityville and Enfield poltergeist cases came to public attention, a little heard of, but acknowledged as Europe's most violent haunting, took place in the town of Pontefract.
Number 30 East Drive, on the Chequerfields Estate, East Yorkshire, stood on a corner at the top of a hill, close to what was once the site of the town gallows. Living at number 30 were Jean and Joe Pritchard, their son Philip, aged 15 and daughter Diane aged 12.
The poltergeist, later to become known as the Black Monk of Pontefract, began disturbing the Pritchard family in 1966 with a wide variety of paranormal activity. Water pools, lights turning off and on again, furniture overturning, pictures being slashed, objects flying or levitating, knocking sounds, objects disappearing and appearing again, foul smells, farmyard noises, heavy breathing sounds, sudden drops of temperature, and a mysterious black-robed figure, whose appearances became more and more frequent were all reported at the house.
The police, a local MP and the vicar were all witness to the extraordinary happenings which continued to plague the household, and all attempts to exorcise the presence were unsuccessful and met with mockery.
First Occurrence of the Poltergeist
The events began in August 1966 during the August Bank Holiday week. The family had gone on holiday to Devon leaving 15 year old Philip at home with his grandmother, Sarah Scholes.
While alone in the house, Sarah felt a cold gust of wind, despite the warm weather outside. When Phillip re-entered the house, he noticed white powder falling from mid-air all around the living room, onto the floor. Their first assumption was that it was somehow falling from the ceiling, however it had only very recently been redecorated.
At this point the pair were more confused than scared, so Sarah went to consult her daughter, Marie Kelly, who lived just across the road. When Marie saw the white powder she went into the kitchen to get a cloth to clean it up and promptly slipped in a pool of water that had formed on the kitchen floor.
Numerous puddles of water began appearing on the kitchen floor. By now one of the neighbours, Enid Pritchard, had come round to number 30 to see what the commotion was about. Being the practical type she immediately went and turned off the water at the stop cock, however it made no difference and the pools of water still appeared. Mrs Kelly then decided to report the water leaks to the Water Board who advised that they would send someone around as soon as possible.
Later that afternoon the man from the Water Board duly appeared. After much checking of pipes, rodding of drains and surmising that the water may be condensation he went away to report the problem to his manager and an hour later the pools of water stopped appearing.
This was only the beginning though. Later that evening at around 7pm, Sarah was watching TV in the living room when from the kitchen, Philip shouted "Grandma, it's happening again!". The worktop in the kitchen was strewn with sugar and dry tea leaves and as they stared at it, the button on the tea dispenser went slowly in and out several times covering the draining board in tea.
This carried on even when the tea dispenser was empty prompting Sarah to shout in desperation "Stop it!". As she did so there came a loud crash from the hallway. They slowly opened the door leading to the hallway, half expecting to catch a burglar, only to find it silent, dark and empty until the hall light clicked on of it's own accord, startling them both.
They slowly made their way to the foot of the stairs and saw what had made the noise. A plant which was usually at the foot of the stairs was now sat halfway up them, missing its pot, which was on the landing above. As if this was not enough to fray their nerves another sound rang out from the kitchen making them jump once again.
On investigation they saw that the crockery cupboard was vibrating as though someone was trapped inside and trying to get out. As soon as Philip snatched open the door the vibrations stopped whilst almost immediately another loud banging noise started up somewhere else in the house.
Sarah now noticed a sudden chill in the air and decided to fetch Marie Kelly again. As soon as Marie stepped into the kitchen she was confronted by the shaking crockery cupboard and the sound of the cups and plates inside rattling. Sarah then went next door to ask the neighbours, Mr and Mrs Mountain, if they were responsible for the banging noises. Mrs Mountain looked in amazement at Sarah saying, "We thought it was you". By the time Sarah returned the noises had thankfully stopped.
The three of them sat discussing the unnerving events until around 9.30pm when Marie left hoping it was all over for the night. Philip decided to go to bed and Sarah figured a good nights sleep was needed also. After locking up and switching off the downstairs lights Sarah went into Philips room to wish him goodnight, as she did so, a heavy chest of drawers began swaying without explanation.
That was the final straw for the night, Sarah and Phillip left the house and went to sleep at a neighbour's out of fear for their safety.
The Second Phase of Paranormal Activity
When Mr and Mrs Pritchard returned home from their holiday, the disturbances had stopped, and thus they concluded that the phenomena must have had some logical explanation; especially since, for the following two years, they continued living in the house without the slightest sign of any paranormal activity.
However, as abruptly as it ended, the poltergeist phenomena suddenly began again, this time plaguing the family for several years, though they refused to succumb to it and move from their home. So common was the paranormal activity that the poltergeist became known to the Pritchard family as Fred.
The main target of the activity during the second phase seemed to be the daughter, Diane, who was often thrown from her bed, and, in one instance, was dragged up the stairs by her throat, by an invisible hand that left lacerations on her neck.
Loud inexplicable crashing sounds were common, especially in the presence of outside company. Objects too went flying around the air and crashing, or dematerialising and then reappearing in a different location. Though on two occasions, exorcisms were attempted, these measures seemed only to agitate the situation.
After a concerned family friend doused holy water throughout the home, the poltergeist responded by painting upside-down crosses on the living room walls and doors, and destroying the crucifixes that decorated the Pritchard house.
The physical manifestation of the poltergeist did not occur until quite late in the haunting. The figure first appeared to Joe and Jean Pritchard while they lay in bed. The two allegedly saw a black-cloaked figure hovering over their bed, but it soon dissipated. On a few subsequent occasions, other members of the family as well as visitors reported seeing a figure that looked like a monk, though no one ever glimpsed a face underneath the robes. Shortly after the physical manifestations of the monk appeared, the haunting abruptly ceased, never to occur again.
The Reoccurrence of the Poltergeist
The author Tom Cuniff, later identified the poltergeist as a 16th century monk, who was hung for the rape and murder of a girl during the reign of Henry VIII. Ever since, the poltergeist has been known as the Black Monk of Pontefract. Intriguingly, the Pritchards’ house was said to have been built next to the site of the town's gallows.
The events that occurred in the house have been recreated in director Pat Holden’s 2012 horror film 'When the Lights Went Out'. Jean Pritchard was Holden’s aunt and he witnessed many of the incidents first hand.
However, as the film about the haunting hit cinemas and public interest in the haunting rose, sparking numerous visitors to the house, locals say the Black Monk of Pontefract is beginning to stir again.
Current next-door neighbour Carol Fieldhouse, said things started to take a sinister turn shortly after the film was released. Carol didn’t know the former owner Philip Pritchard had just sold the long-empty property to the film's producer, Bil Bungay.
In a newspaper interview Carol said she had seen Philip tidying up the front garden. “I went out and asked him if he’d sold it to one of his nephews. I thought it must have been one of them because I knew they were deaf and I’d heard the telly blasting out all night."
“He said ‘There’s no TV in there. It’s empty’. Then he turned pale and said ‘God, it’s started again’. I haven’t seen him since.”