Wooo...b-kerk, b-kerk. Wooo...? A strange question, but one that can be answered. The ghost chicken of Pond Square, Highgate, London, UK of course! Ghost chicken? Yes. Read on for the truth, if you can handle the terrifying nature of the subject at hand...
An Experiment in Frozen Goods
In early April, 1626, Sir Francis Bacon was being driven through Pond Square, Highgate in his open horse-drawn carriage with friend Dr Witherborne, physician to James I. They were discussing the idea of using snow in the same way salt was used to preserve food, most likely because the day itself was bitterly cold with the ponds frozen over and snow and ice covered the ground. Bacon, in particular, noted that when the carriage wheels passed over the grass under the snow, the visible greenery that appeared afterwards looked fresh and like new.
Like any 17th-Century gent, Witherborne scoffed at the concept of preservation by refrigeration and an infuriated Bacon ordered the driver to stop. He ran from the carriage to a nearby house at the bottom of Highgate Hill and purchased a hen then and there. Once it was prepared Bacon stuffed the dead chicken with snow, placed it in a bag and packed more snow about the carcass - ostensibly creating the world's first frozen chicken.
Bacon Gets His Chips
It is not known whether the experiment was a success, however, as Bacon had a little more to contend with shortly afterwards. After running about in the extreme cold, and stuffing the chicken full of snow with his bare hands, Bacon quickly became ill. He was taken to another of his friend's, Lord Arundel's, and put to bed (a damp one from all accounts). The 65-year-old contracted an acute case of pneumonia, and Sir Francis passed away a few days later on 9 April, 1626.
Against cold meats was he insured?
The chicken apparently lived on though.
For frozen chickens he procured -
brought on the illness he endured,
and never was this Bacon cured.
- A poem by Pip Wilson
Not long after Bacon's death, reports were filtering in of a strange occurrence at Pond Square. Many people had either been witness to or heard the eerie screeching of a chicken, and some insisted they had seen a half-naked bird running in circles around the square1, or perched on the lower branches of nearby trees. On further investigation, the chicken would vanish into thin air. Many felt it was the public's imagination getting the better of them after the death of the great Sir Francis Bacon, but the ghost chicken continued to haunt the area for years to come.
The Phantom Fowl
During the Second World War, Air Raid Precaution Wardens patrolling Highgate saw the ghostly chicken on many occasions, and one man actually attempted to bag himself a free dinner. The chicken put a quick end to the game however, swiftly disappearing into a brick wall.
A British airman home on leave during December, 1943 was passing through Pond Square one night when he heard the sound of horses' hooves and carriage wheels - followed by a terrible screeching. The man could see no sign of a horse and carriage, but in the middle of the square he saw the half-bald figure of a chicken, running round in circles and apparently shivering with the cold. The airman approached the featherless fowl, but it promptly vanished.
In January, 1969, a motorist whose car had broken down near Pond Square saw the bird. On his approaching it, the chicken disappeared. It was not seen or heard of again until 1970, when a couple who were embracing in a doorway of one of the houses on the square were rudely interrupted by the apparition of a plucked, squawking chicken.
Cluck In Hell
The ghost chicken has a strange reputation, but for those that are not fearful of the unknown or supernatural, why not take a visit to Pond Square, Highgate during a cold April night? You never know what you may see - or hear...