Pond Square lies in Highgate, North London. The body of water that gave the area its name is long gone, filled in in 1864, but the square is now famous for a much more unusual reason – London’s weirdest ghost.
Sir Francis Bacon was an Elizabethan/Jacobean ‘courtier’, one with many hats, as he dabbled in politics, philosophy, writing, orating, law and scientific experimentation. One bitter morning in January 1626, Bacon was hurrying through the snow alongside his good friend and comrade, the aptly named Dr Winterbourne, physician to King James. Suddenly, Bacon was struck by inspiration! He had lately been wondering if (what would come to be known as) refrigeration might be the best way to preserve fresh meat. All around him lay heaped dunes of snow; it was the perfect opportunity to test his theory.
Bacon purchased a chicken from an old woman living on Highgate Hill and had it slaughtered, plucked and properly butchered. He then proceeded to stuff the carcass with handfuls of snow. Unfortunately, Bacon never lived to realise just how right he was about refrigeration. In a case of eye-rolling irony, the day out in the snow meant he contracted a severe chill, which eventually became pneumonia and killed him mere days later.
It seems the poor chicken has been denied such rest. Ever since that fateful day, frequent reports have been filed telling of a ghostly white object – resembling, apparently, a plucked chicken! – that appears from nowhere to race in circles around the square, frenzied and flapping, before disappearing as suddenly as it arrived. The last formally recorded sighting was in the 1970s, where the bird appeared suddenly next to a kissing couple – quite a shock!
So if you’re ever around Pond Square, take a moment to nod a thanks and pay your regards to the featherless phantom, a hapless pioneer in the push towards modern convenience!