By Len A.Hynds

One night duty in 1953 whilst Acting Sergeant, and taking the parade of night duty men, awaiting the Duty Officer to appear to make his inspection, when the late turn station Sergeant came in and said that there was a young woman with her small son, in the waiting room, after complaining that someone had access to her flat, and she could hear that person moving about at night. I decided to deal with it myself, and told PC Ron Bowman to remain behind to assist.

After I had marched the troops out we went to speak to her, and she told us that Walworth Borough Council just three weeks previously had moved her from an unmarried mothers’ hostel in Westmoreland Road with her four year old son, into a flat of a very old house at 86 Sultan Street, Camberwell. Every night since she had been there she had heard the street door closing two floors below, and heavy footsteps climbing the stairs up to her level, She occupied two rooms on the top floor with her gas stove and sink on the landing. From inside her locked bedroom, she always heard the person outside, climb onto the gas stove, lift the attic entrance panel above and climb up into the attic. I decided at that stage that it was a deserter on the run, and using the attic for sleeping.

After giving me her spare key, I told her to return home, and would follow her at a discreet distance, and gain entry when I felt it clear.

We got into this very old house without being seen, and I noted every noise, like the closing of the door, and quite distinctive croaks and groans of the staircase. I put half a crown in the gas meter in case we needed a light in an emergency, and after sending her and the boy into the small back bedroom, and hearing it locked, Ron and I sat in the front room with the door open in the darkness, and I could see the landing and gas stove from the faint light coming from the street lamp outside. We sat there in complete silence for over an hour, until at midnight we heard the street door open, and then close, and heavy footsteps coming along the passage and climbing the stairs, making all those quite distinctive sounds of creaking wood. It stopped on the floor below, and knocked six times on the passage wall.

Who-ever it was climbed right up to the top floor onto the landing which I could see clearly. I left my seat with my torch in one hand and truncheon in the other, but before I could reach the landing, only a matter of a few steps, I heard her locked door squeak open. Letting the leather truncheon thong slip down onto my right wrist, I let go the truncheon to grasp the intruder, but my hand hit the still locked door, and there was nobody there. I shone my torch down the stairs but there was nobody there either. I called out to the young woman if she was alright, and she replied nervously, “Yes did you hear it, it tried to get in the room this time.” I told her to light the gas mantle and stay locked-in whilst we searched the house.

Ron and I searched the house, and on the ground floor we found two very elderly ladies in bed with their hair in curlers. One was the occupier of the rest of the house, and the other lady someone who stayed with her sometimes. I explained why we were there and she said, “Oh, that’s my husband my dear.” I asked where he was and she said, “He’s been dead for several years. He used to be a night watchman, but always crept home at midnight for a nights sleep before going back. He used to come in and knock on my bedroom wall and then either go to sleep in a spare room at the top, or go up into the attic and work on something on his workbench. When he died, he still kept on doing it. I was so pleased when the council offered the top floor to that young woman. Has she been hearing him?”

Suddenly there was screaming from the young woman above and racing up the stairs, she said that the trap door over the gas stove had been banging up and down violently. We had in fact heard that noise from below. I climbed up onto the gas stove and got into the attic but there was nobody there, just a dust covered work bench with tools laying about, but it was deathly cold up there.

On climbing down, the young woman said to her small boy, “Tell the policeman what you saw.”, and the four year old said, “A man came through the door” When asked what he was like he said, “He shined.” The young woman being on the verge of collapse, I removed her and her son back to the hostel. The newspapers made a meal of that story, but senior officers on later evenings detected everything that we had.

Ghost on stairs