Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Ghost of 25 Regent Terrace

Regent Terrace is a Georgian block of buildings in the New Town, not far from Edinburgh's Faerie Hill, Calton Hill and between London Road and Holyrood Park. 
 In 1979 No 25a was subject to a fairly classical poltergeist infestation which, unlike the Mackenzie Poltergeist, does not seem to have persisted.

The Haunting

In June 1979, the same year the late and unlamented (except by her family ) Margaret Thatcher came to power in England 25a Regent Terrace caught a poltergeist infection, described in Fortean Times 55 (Autumn 1990) by Bill Gibbons, who was also a member of the 1996 expedition to the Congo in search of a rumoured dinosaur survival known as Mokele Mbembe. Coincidentally I moved into Edinburgh the year his article appeared.

In June 1979 Bill had been discharged from the Army on medical grounds and was sharing 25a Regent Terrace with three friends. At that time the streets were not very different from what they were in the 19th Century and earlier. The flat was in reasonable condition for Edinburgh student accommodation at that time, a dingy basement flat with bars on all the windows, rising damp on the walls and creaky floorboards: many had worse. It wold have been comfortable with two people living there but not four.

Bill immediately noted the cold atmosphere and an atmosphere of gloom in the place and, when left alone in the flat, he had the sense of another presence. In the kitchen he started to fill a kettle to make tea when a voice close to his right ear barked “yes?”. After jumping and finding no one was there he searched the flat for practical jokers and found only the cat under the sink with claws drawn and hackles raised. The voice could have been an auditory hallucination, but the feline reaction suggests a genuine presence.

A week later he told a flatmate about the voice, The flatmate called down to the kitchen to ask his girlfriend to put the kettle on for tea and a voice, not that of the girlfriend, answered “Yes?”. When they reached the kitchen they found it empty. Soon after the front door opened and the girlfriend walked in. The students had moved in in March 1979 and been kept awake by strange noises, most commonly the sound of a baby crying that would reverberate through the flat getting louder and louder and suddenly stop. Sometimes there would be the sound of heavy breathing and objects would vanish an reappear in odd places (some people attribute this sort of vanishing to pixies and recommend asking them politely to give the missing items back). In one case a watch vanished from a bedside table and reappeared two days later in a biscuit tin kept in the pantry.

After a while all three beds in the house were moved into a one room the three young men were nervously sharing. One night a warm furry animal jumped onto one bed and the student began stroking it and talking to it. When asked to stop talking to himself he said he was talking to the cat, at which point the others each claimed the cat was on THEIR bed, as did a friend staying the night. When the friend switched the light on the room was catless. The same entity visited Bill one night prompting a check for rats, and a week later one of the others woke about 5am and found themselves unable to move, at which point the bed began to vibrate alarmingly and something heavy and furry leaped onto the bed and crept up towards the man. Suddenly the vibration stopped and the thing vanished: as much as anything evident to other senses but not seen CAN vanish. The cat, incidentally was on the outside of the living room window with teeth bared and claws drawn. It refused to enter the flat for days.

The next night before sleeping they locked the door to the room and put a stout chair against it. Then they heard heavy footsteps approach the door. They stopped, the hendle began to turn and the door bent inwards as if pushed by something very strong. This happened three times. The footsteps then retreated and they heard the kitchen door open and shut with a slam. One of the men had decided to sleep in the kitchen and one night he and his girlfriend saw the kitchen door glide open, despite the fact the kitchen door was hard to open because of a thick carpet. It then closed and opened again. When the man got out of bed to lock the door it slammed shut.

Eventually they held a séance where they contacted a French Trader and later time traveller from the future who wanted release from the 20th century. When one of the group made a joking remark the glass shot across the table and fell over. After that the lights went out, two of them men found themselves wrestling on the floor while the other three found the kitchen door would not open.

About 2am that morning there was a tremendous crash from the kitchen and the sound of the kitchen table being dragged across the room and objects being thrown around. After ten minutes the sound stopped. The following morning they found nothing was out of place in the kitchen

Three of the flatmates moved out but Bill, being curious, arranged to share a room with a young chef at the top of the house. One night something cold and furry grabbed his wrist as he was about to put the light on. He ran up the stairs and, looking over the banister, saw two slitted yellow eyes staring at him out of the darkness.

A couple of weeks later he left the flat.


On the face of it this is more or less a standard poltergeist case, with no mystery fires or pools of water involved. The voice is unusual and contacting a time traveller from the future suggests someone's unconscious was playing tricks. The infestation seems to have started gnetly, as these things do and become more and more extreme, again typical of poltergeists.

But thinking of Sabot's experiments recreating an American CivilWar soundscape and hearing anomalous voices at a roll call perhaps this was a case of creating a poltergeist by playing out standard culturally defined roles expected when a poltergeist occurs. But in that case, the cat would have been likely to remain unimpressed unless a real entity had been created.

Another unusual element is the two slitted eyes seen on the stairwell. Hennessy believes Edinburgh to be built on a system of caverns inhabited by an alien race and cites tales of reptilian creatures being encountered in underground cellars. But this creature was cold and furry not scaly and green, so the notion that Regent Terrace harboured or harbours an entrance to this underground world does not quite fit the facts either.

As a teenager my parents home suffered the vibrating bed syndrome and my parents had a phantom cat would walk up the bed, the real cats moving aside for it. I cannot dismiss this case with a mundane explanation

The Wrap
Like the Mackenzie Poltergeist this case defies easy explanation. After all this time no explanation is likely to be found, but the events may shed light on other cases. In the spirit (!) of speculation, perhaps a member of a tribe of extraterrestrial werewolves (vegetarian since Bill survived) decided to play pranks on the group and projected the voices. I suspect the truth, if it is ever found, to be stranger than that.

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