The 13th Floor

The Mysterious Poltergeist Known As The Black Monk of Pontefract

In 1966, as the world rocked out to the Beatles’ instant classic REVOLVER and the Kray Twins ruled the British underworld, the Pritchard family moved into their new home at 30 East Drive in East Yorkshire. With the August Bank Holiday coming fast, 15 year old Philip chose to push his teenage independence by deciding not to go on vacation to Devon with his parents and sister. Jean and Joe were a tad bit craftier than their son though. They agreed that he could stay home, as long as Grandma Sarah stayed with him. No hijinks for Philip!

His hopes for a week not unlike a John Hughes movie, Philip decided to spend as much time out of the house as possible. It was while he was off doing whatever teens in 1966 East Yorkshire did (most likely drinking and some weed, not unlike today) that Grandma Sarah first got the spooks. A cold wind kept going through the house even though it was a rather warm, sunny day. Grandma Sarah couldn’t figure it out.

When Philip returned home, he noticed a white powder seemingly appearing out of thin air and slowly falling to the floor. Confused by what they were seeing, Grandma Sarah called her daughter Marie Kelly, who happened to live across the street, to see what she made of the powder. The two women and the teen boy came to the same conclusion – the powder must be coming off the ceiling. Marie went to the kitchen to get something to wipe up the powder. As she entered the kitchen, she slipped on a puddle of water. Before Marie’s eyes, more puddles of water appeared on the ground.

The three relatives considered what could cause the pools of water, discussing logical reasons. A broken pipe maybe. Or maybe condensation.

What they had not considered was that the falling powder and pools of water were the calling card of a poltergeist who would come to be known as the Black Monk.

That evening, as Grandma Sarah watched a bit of the TV, Philip headed into the kitchen for a snack. When he entered, he saw that sugar and tea had been thrown about the counter. The boy called to his grandmother, who came as quick as she could. As soon as she entered, Grandma Sarah noticed a clicking sound. The two would quickly determine it was the button on the tea dispenser. With each click, tea would pour out, creating even more of a mess. When the dispenser was empty, the clicking continued, the pace getting faster and faster. Confused and more than a little frightened, Sarah yelled out. Everything stopped.

For a moment, there was perfect silence.

It wouldn’t last. Before either resident of 30 East Drive could take a breath, a loud crash came from the hallway. Philip carefully opened the door to the hall and peeked through. It was dark, but nothing seemed out of place. He opened the door fully so Grandma Sarah could see too. They both peered into the darkness of the hall, looking for anything that seemed out of place.

The hall light turned on suddenly and by itself. While I would have taken this moment to run out of the house, Grandma Sarah and Philip had that old English bravery and soldiered on. They entered the hall and looked about. It was then that they noticed the plant that normally sat at the foot of the stairs was now halfway up the stairs. The pot that held the plant sat at the top of the stairs.

A second crash rang out, this time from the kitchen.

Keeping on with that British courage, Grandma Sarah and Philip headed back to the kitchen. There, they watched as the cupboard vibrated for a moment before Philip mustered up the balls to open it. Once he did, the vibrating stopped.

A third crash rang out. Grandma Sarah and Philip left the house.They returned with Marie Kelly, who witnessed the vibrating of the cupboard herself. Upon checking with the neighbors to see if they were responsible (they weren’t) the banging and vibrating stopped. Marie Kelly went home while Sarah and Philip went to bed.

Grandma Sarah stood in Philip’s doorway as Philip lay in his bed. They discussed the weirdness of the day. Maybe they even laughed a bit about how scared they had gotten. As Sarah turned to go to her room for the night, Philip’s dresser began to sway back and forth on it’s own accord.

Grandma Sarah and Philip spent the night at Marie’s.

By the time the rest of the Pritchard clan came back from Devon, the weirdness had stopped.

It had been two years since the odd night in August. What had happened was little more than a passing thought to Philip and Sarah, but still, both would sometimes hesitate before entering the kitchen.

Not long after Philip’s sister Diane turned 14, the activity started up again. This time, it was far more terrifying.

It started with the family being startled by strange banging and the cupboard vibrating just as it had done two years prior. The Pritchards learned to deal with the noises, even going so far as to name their unwelcome guest Fred.

Fred upped his game. Framed photos would be found slashed and knocked to the ground. Foul odours would fill the home, as would the sound of barn animals. Diane would be woken up at night by the sound of breathing in her ear. Activity seemed to pick up when the Pritchards had guests over. Plates would fly through the air and the banging would get much louder. The local police were called in, and multiple officers reported seeing objects fly through the air and furniture flip over by itself.

With the authorities being useless, the Pritchards brought in the Church, who attempted two exorcisms on the house. Instead of cleaning the house of spirits, the exorcisms appeared to irritate Fred, making him more violent. For a time, Fred turned his attention to the religious items in the home. Crucifixes would be found on the ground broken into pieces. Inverted crosses would appear on the walls, painted in red and black, though no paint was found in the home.

Activity would happen for days, bringing the family to the edge of insanity, before stopping for weeks. Just as the Pritchards were sure everything was back to normal, Fred would show up again, and with each visit, it seemed more and more focused on Diane.

The breathing in Diane’s ear upped its game, throwing her out of her bed in the middle of the night. It was only at this point that Fred was seen. The first time was when Jean and Joe woke up in the middle of the night to see Fred standing at the edge of their bed, watching them. He was a figure in black robes, not unlike the kind a monk would wear. The hood hid his face. Jean and Joe stared at Fred in silence for a moment before the robed figure faded away. Before long, others would see Fred as well. With each sighting, the activity increased.

Fred’s actions came to a violent end when Diane was grabbed by the throat by an invisible hand that pulled her up the stairs of the home. Her neck would display the bruises from Fred for a week.

And as quickly as Fred had shown up, he was gone.

Tom Cuniff was a paranormal investigator who had been allowed to check out 30 East Drive by the Pritchards. In his research, Tom discovered that the Pritchard home was built on the land that once held the town gallows. Cuniff was sure that whoever Fred was, he had almost certainly met his end by swinging on a rope. As he looked deeper into the executions that occurred in East Yorkshire, Tom found the records of the hanging of a 16th Century Clunaic monk, found guilty of the rape and murder of a young girl. The name of the monk was not recorded, instead being referred to only as “The Black Monk of Pontefract.”

The Pritchards sold the house in 2012, just before the release of WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, a film based on their experience (the headline image comes from the film). 30 East Drive is still a hotspot for paranormal investigators in England, and while there have been reports of activity from time to time, there has been nothing on par to what the Pritchard family, and Diane in particular, dealt with.

This year, East Drive Paranormal investigator Claire Cowell claimed to have captured the Black Monk on camera, his hand holding a rosary.

Is the Black Monk of Pontefract real? Was the Pritchard family really assaulted by a 16th century murderer in the late 1960s? In my research for this piece, I found endless pieces that didn’t fit together. Some articles, for example, say Philip was 13 when he and Grandma Sarah had the first encounter. Others say he was 15. I went with 15 mainly because no reports have him being a part of the story when the activity started up again two years later, and I figure if he was 17/18 he was either not home much, or had moved out already, which would explain the lack of information on his further experiences. There also seems to be a question as to when the figure of the Black Monk was first seen. Some say it was early into the second set of occurrences, others say it came towards the end. I chose to go with the Black Monk appearing towards the end of everything because that was how it was more often reported. Still, there’s a lingering question in my mind if that is the right choice.

As I researched this piece, and as I wrote it all out, I went back and forth on what happened at 30 East Drive. Are the stories true, or did the Pritchards make it up for some reason? This was a decade before the Amityville haunting and the Enfield poltergeist would suggest that one could become famous because of a haunting, so I’m not ready to lay chicanery at the feet of the Pritchard clan. Still, the unexplainable halt of activity strikes me as odd. Then again, what the hell do I know? At the end of the day, I listen to the words of the great hero Fox Mulder.

I want to believe.

*Header Photo: WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT (2012) Kintop Pictures


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