Pond Square Chicken, Highgate
Pond Square in Highgate has the reputation of being haunted by the apparition of a chicken. Not just any fowl though, this chicken is rumoured to be the worlds first frozen chicken which participated in the final fatal experiment of Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount of St. Albans (born 22 January 1561 – died 9 April 1626), a scientist and lawyer who had served as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England.
John Aubrey (born 12 March 1626 – died 7 June 1697) in his Brief Lives describes the events of that fateful Spring morning in 1626.
“As he (Sir Francis Bacon) was taking the air in a coach with Dr Witherborne (a physician) towards Highgate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my lord’s thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow, as in salt. They were resolved they would try the experiment at once. They alighted out of the coach, and went into a poor woman’s house at the bottom of Highgate Hill, and bought a hen, and made the woman gut it, and then stuffed the body with snow, and my lord did help to do it himself. The snow so chilled him, that he immediately fell so extremely ill, that he could not return to his lodgings, but went to the Earl of Arundel’s house at Highgate, where they put him into a good bed warmed with a pan, but it was a damp bed that had not been laid-in about a year before, which gave him such a cold that in two or three days, as I remember Mr Hobbes told me, he died of suffocation.”
However, this may not be entirely accurate as it is suggested that no snow was on the ground in Highgate, early April 1626 and that the above account maybe little more than folklore. Sir Francis did die at the home of the Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, 4th Earl of Surrey and 1st Earl of Norfolk (born 7 July 1585 – died 4 October 1646) in Highgate on 9 April 1626. Bacon had fallen ill following an experiment and was forced to prevail upon his hospitality of his absent friend Arundel, so wrote a letter to him.
“My very good Lord,—I was likely to have had the fortune of Caius Plinius the elder, who lost his life by trying an experiment about the burning of Mount Vesuvius; for I was also desirous to try an experiment or two touching the conservation and induration of bodies. As for the experiment itself, it succeeded excellently well; but in the journey between London and Highgate, I was taken with such a fit of casting as I know not whether it were the Stone, or some surfeit or cold, or indeed a touch of them all three. But when I came to your Lordship’s House, I was not able to go back, and therefore was forced to take up my lodging here, where your housekeeper is very careful and diligent about me, which I assure myself your Lordship will not only pardon towards him, but think the better of him for it. For indeed your Lordship’s House was happy to me, and I kiss your noble hands for the welcome which I am sure you give me to it. I know how unfit it is for me to write with any other hand than mine own, but by my troth my fingers are so disjointed with sickness that I cannot steadily hold a pen.”
*Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder)(born 23 AD – died 25 August 79 AD) commander of a Roman Fleet at Misenum died on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, possibly after inhaling the harmful gasses being emitted on the fateful day it erupted and destroyed Pompeii.
It is speculated that perhaps Sir Francis Bacon had attempted some other kind of experiment that resulted in his fateful illness.
“He died on the ninth day of April in the year 1626, in the early morning of the day then celebrated for our Saviour’s resurrection, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, at the Earl of Arundel’s house in Highgate, near London, to which place he casually repaired about a week before; God so ordaining that he should die there of a gentle fever, accidentally accompanied with a great cold, whereby the defluxion of rheum fell so plentifully upon his breast, that he died by suffocation.” (William Rawley)
Given that Bacon may or may not have actually experimented in preserving food in snow lying in Highgate just prior to his death, there have been reported sightings of a phantom chicken around Pond Square.
During Word War II the apparition of a chicken was seen several times. One night in 1943 Aircraftsman Terence Long was crossing the square and reported hearing the sound of horses hooves, turning wheels and a screeching noise. He turned expecting to see a horse drawn carriage or cart but was surprised to see a half plucked, chicken flapping it’s wings and going around in a circle before vanishing.
Air Raid Wardens were said to have seen it several times in the square and one day it had vanished through a brick wall.
Mrs Greenhill said “It was a big, whitish bird”. She lived in Pond Square during Word War II and the chicken had seen the phantom fowl.
In January 1969 a large white half plucked bird was seen by a motorist suffering car problems at Pond Square. Fearful that the bird may be harmed and in need of help he approached it, only to have it disappear when he turned away.
In February 1970 a couple were kissing each other goodnight when the ghostly white half plucked chicken landed beside them, ran two circles and then vanished. One account I read of this suggested the bird was squawking, another says it was silent.
It has been suggested that the ghost of the first frozen chicken has been haunting Pond Square since the 17th century, but I don’t know of any actual individual witness accounts.