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When the lights go out...

Pontefract & Castleford Express journalist, Lauren Potts, at number 30 East Drive, Chequerfield Estate, Pontefract, where poltergeist activity was recorded during the summer of 1966.
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Pontefract & Castleford Express journalist, Lauren Potts, at number 30 East Drive, Chequerfield Estate, Pontefract, where poltergeist activity was recorded during the summer of 1966. p317a235

A ‘HAUNTED’ house steeped in decades of Pontefract folklore is set to make its big screen debut next month.

Based on true events, When the Lights Went Out hits cinemas nationwide on September 14, documenting the story of a violent poltergeist who terrorised a family in their Chequerfield home during the 1960s and 70s.

Ever the cynic, I took my chances of incurring the sleeping wrath of the Black Monk – the alleged source of the Pritchard family’s trauma – and crossed the cursed threshold of 30 East Drive.

From the outside, the three-bed semi-detached looked like any other home built on a 1960s council estate.

But on the inside, its soft pastel walls, floral wallpaper and rosy pink carpets belie an infamously dark past.

Director Pat Holden, who now owns the Chequerfield property, said: “It is recognised as the most violent poltergeist haunting in European history.

“Many people experienced it firsthand – the police, neighbours, relatives, priests, even the local mayor.

“One thing I have never questioned about it is its authenticity. It’s an interesting topic for a film because it’s such an extraordinary thing that happened to such ordinary people in such an ordinary place.

“I’ve always found that fascinating.”

Legend has it the paranormal activity started on September 1 1966, when Joe and Jean Pritchard, along with their 12-year-old daughter Diane went on holiday, leaving their son Phillip, 15, behind with his grandmother, Sarah Scholes.

While alone in the house, the pair allegedly saw white powder falling around the living room and puddles of water forming in the kitchen, while cold gusts of air sliced through the warm summer evening.

It wasn’t until two years later that the ghost turned his violent attentions to Diane, often throwing her from her bed and dragging her upstairs by her hair.

Pat said: “It all took place in an average, though nice, council house in Pontefract – and to a normal working class family.

“I always felt it deserved to be made into a film.”

Loud crashing sounds were also common, especially in the presence of outside company. After a concerned family friend doused holy water throughout the home, the poltergeist responded by painting upside-down crosses on the living room walls and doors.

In his final, and most chilling, appearance the monk – who according to myth was hanged at gallows nearby – appeared as a faceless black-cloaked apparition, hovering over the Pritchards’ bed.

Pat said: “I’ve had to make some changes to the story, as you’d expect for a narrative film aimed at a wide audience.

“Most of the major events in the film happened. Only the climax is made up because poltergeists just stop doing things, which doesn’t make for a memorable ending.”

As I stood in the parents’ former bedroom, I heard a muffled banging emanating from the floorboards.

I left the house to ask the neighbour if she had been moving furniture, when I noticed the thermostat read 19 degrees.

Looking back at 30 East Drive, I wondered why a house whose windows allowed the afternoon sun to stream into its rooms retained such an inexplicable chill.

And as for the neighbour – the only physical activity she had done that day was to mop the floor.

Unexplained, perhaps. Ghostly? The jury’s out.

When the Lights Went Out will be previewed in Yorkshire on September 12.

 

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