Many people say they can make out a figure in the window of this Victorian house – known as ‘The House of Suicides’ – that stood at 16 Montpelier Road, West Ealing London. Taken in 1944, does it show the ghost of a servant girl, believed to have committed by jumping from a tower of the building in the 1880s?
Did the haunting play a part in multiple suicides which supposedly occurred at the house?
The person who asked these questions for some sixty years was the man who took the photograph, the influential British ghost hunter Andrew Green (1927-2004). He obtained the picture on his first ever ghost hunt, and his photograph and experiences at the house started him on a life-long quest pursuing the paranormal. In 1973 he wrote the book Ghost Hunting: A Practical Guide which has now been edited and re-issued for the 21st century by Alan Murdie.
Minutes before taking this photograph Andrew Green had climbed a ladder up a tower at the back of the building. On the way up he had felt himself lifted by unseen hands. On getting on to the tower roof he had felt the strange urge to jump off, a message forming in his mind that it was safe to step down to the garden and that it was ‘only 12 inches to the ground’ (in fact it was over 20 metres, nearly seventy feet)
Fortunately, he was saved by his father, Malcolm Green, from jumping to certain death. Later Andrew Green wondered if other people may have had a similar experience on the roof of the tower (local police told him that there had been 20 suicides at the house over a 60-year period). One was a 12-year old servant girl called Anne Hinchfield who killed herself in the 1880s. Green wondered if other victims had felt a strange urge to jump from the tower? Was the haunting connected?
Following this near-fatal incident, after leaving the house locked and empty, Andrew Green went into the garden and took the photograph. As with many claimed ghost photographs, he did not see anything unusual at the time. But when the prints were received back from the developers a week later, a close-up of the window was found to contain this image resembling a young girl.
Andrew Green contacted the manufacturers of the film (Kodak) who reported they could find no flaws in the picture, the film, its development or the camera. In 1945 a member of the Royal Photographic Society examined the print and tried to recreate the picture but without success.
In 1966, both the photograph and negative were examined by the magazine Photography which concluded there was no double exposure or fault to explain the image. The most recent specialist examination in 2014 was by a member of the Society for Psychical Research and confirms the same. It remains a genuinely unexplained image. But what it ultimately shows we do not know.
Number 16 Montpelier Road was turned into flats in the 1950s and a succession of residents complained of hearing unexplained noises, such as footsteps and knocking sounds, and of persistent sulphurous smells, strange reactions of the part of pets and minor poltergeist phenomena. The whole building was eventually pulled down in 1971, being replaced by a modern block of flats. However, the new residents still complained occasionally of banging noises, and stories about a ghostly girl circulated in the area for many years afterwards.
For his part Andrew Green was sceptical of the idea that ghosts were spirits of the dead, but was prepared to consider ghosts as a residual energy that could occasionally be photographed. He took the view that images perceived or experienced as ghosts existed on the electromagnetic spectrum.
Over many years Andrew tried to find out more about the history of the house, but little information could be obtained from official sources. In 2010 Alan Murdie met the 81 year-old grandson of Judge Wallace Dunlop who had built the house in 1884. He was told that stories about the house had been greatly exaggerated, but the grandson recalled a family account of a servant killing herself in the property in the 19th century. With the passage of time, many aspects of the case are likelt to remain a mystery, and this photograph taken on Andrew Green’s first ghost hunt still remains unexplained.
Sources: Our Haunted Kingdom (1973) by Andrew Green. Wolfe Publishing.
‘Ghost Hunt at the House of Suicides’ by Alan Murdie in Fortean Times No.342 July 2016.