Thursday


Haunted by the ghost who loved babies



No one could pretend it was a wonderful place to live but to Martin and Joan Hutton the rather damp basement flat in London's Balham district was at least a home of their own.

After nearly two years of staying with relations and lodging in furnished rooms they had almost despaired of finding anywhere permanent to live. This was 1951, the height of the UK housing crisis.

Joan was working in the local branch of a national grocery chain and Martin was an electrician. While there were just the two of them they didn't mind the continual moving, but when baby daughter Leslie came along, things were very different.

The rent of the flat took most of Joan's wages but they accepted it and also were glad of the second hand furniture offered by relatives and friend. In June 1951 the Huttons set up home in Nevis Road and looked forward to a happy and tranquil family life. They could hardly have known what was in store. For the next six months Martin and Joan would claim that they were subjected to a mysterious presence which was labelled by the newspapers as "The ghost who loved babies."

Years later, living in their own comfortable home in the leafy London suburb of Beckenham, the couple remembered their days in Nevis Road, still wondered about the cause of the strange violence... and what would have happened had they stayed longer.

"It was a pretty depressing place," Joan remembered. "There were two rooms, a kitchen and a shared bathroom. We painted the place out in white before we moved in but it still had a gloomy feeling.

"Lesley's cot was put on a small low table in the corner of the bedroom. The first night we were there I looked in around 9pm and she was fast asleep, but there was what I can only describe as a funny feeling in the room.

"I went into the kitchen where Martin was washing up and a few minutes later we heard the bedroom door slam. Thinking it had been closed by a draught - and there were plenty of them - I went to have a look.

"Lesley was awake and crying - which was not surprising... The cot had been moved from the table to the floor and an extra blanket put over the baby. I assumed Martin had done it, but he said he hadn't been into the room."

This was only the start of a long series of inexplicable incidents which took place in the following weeks - on one occasion Joan went into the bedroom to find the cot rocking gently and baby Lesley chuckling and gurgling. But she wasn't big or strong enough to rock the cot on her own.

Other times, toys and rattles were removed from tables and shelves and placed on the baby's bed. Most of these incidents happened when Martin was out at work, but one evening he was baby-sitting while Joan was spending time with her mother, and heard the baby crying.

"I went to the bedroom and Lesley was crying and obviously upset. A small chair near the cot had toppled over on its back and the room seemed strangely chilly even though an electric radiator was switched on." Such incidents continued for several months. "It could all have been imagination or it could have had some rational cause," Joan said. "We just couldn't be sure."

But this was in fact only the beginning of the couple's strange ordeal. In late spring there was a spell of fine weather and Joan put her baby out in the pram in the tiny square of garden behind the flat.

"One afternoon she was out there asleep and glancing through the kitchen window I saw a women bending over the pram. There was no way I could have imagined that.

"But when I ran out into the garden there was no one there. Lesley was asleep and the pram hadn't been disturbed. The following week it happened again and by now I was getting frightened. This time a friend was with me and she saw the woman too. She was in her twenties and was wearing a long black coat or raincoat."

When the visitations continued, the Huttons contacted the police. Officers kept watch on the house but no intruder was seen. Finally, the Huttons moved out. "We couldn't take any more of it," Joan said. We felt our daughter's life was possibly in danger from something we couldn't understand."

Ironically it was just before she left the house that Joan got some possible clue to the source of the mystery. "I was saying goodbye to an elderly lady who lived on the first floor and had been virtually bedridden for years. 

She told me that she wasn't surprised we were moving out - no one stayed in our flat for very long and there seemed to be some sort of curse on the place ever since an unmarried mother who lived there had her child taken away by the welfare authorities.

"Apparently she committed suicide in the flat a week later. Ever since any child who lived in the flat had been subjected to similar treatment to Lesley. I don't believe in ghosts and the supernatural. But I have yet to find any other more convincing explanation for what happened to us and our baby."

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