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Not Brentford New

Richard Stibbons's memories of the Barge Aground ghost, 1960s

In the early sixties, when I was 18, I was in training as an engineer at the BBC in Shepherd’s Bush but I had a hobby interest in player pianos. This led me to discover Frank HOLLAND and his collection in St George's Church. I used to spend all my free time helping to repair the instruments and became closely involved with the activities of the museum.

At that time "The Barge Aground” pub was abandoned awaiting re-development but the building was in good shape. It looked very much as it does in the post war photo on this website. Frank Holland had persuaded the brewers, Fuller, Smith & Turner to allow him to use it for storage of surplus pianos etc. It didn’t take me long to discover that the upstairs apartment was in a perfectly habitable state so, rather than constantly travelling to and fro from my bed-sitter in Hornsey, I moved in.

Frank had an elderly helper in the museum who used to do the cleaning, a gentleman called Mr WILSON who was a retired gas worker and lived in one of the terraced cottages in North Road. Mr Wilson chuckled when he heard I’d moved into the pub :-

“You won’t be in there long!”

“Why?”

“The ghost. They haven’t been able to keep a tenant in there for more than a few months since the war. They all get scared out”

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I spoke to our contact at Fuller’s who had kindly turned a blind eye to the fact that I’d moved in. He confirmed that he’d heard about the ghost but, like me, didn’t believe in any such nonsense. He did concede that there had been a very fast changeover of tenants in recent years but attributed it to declining business rather than the supernatural.

I wasn’t going to be put off. I loved that pub. It had the original brass beer engines mounted on a three inch thick solid mahogany bar. The frosted screens with engravings such as “Gentlemen Only” were still intact. Even the original cast iron tables were still in there. I dreamed of re-opening it as a wild west theme pub with player pianos and nickelodeons, of which we had plenty. That wasn’t going to happen but, with the help of a few friends we did fix up the bar and had some great parties!

I emphatically do not believe in ghosts but I have to admit strange thing used to happen. I used to sleep in the upstairs room to the right of the photo which was almost directly above the door to the flat. Time and time again the doorbell would ring in the night and I became adept at leaping out of bed and looking out of the window to try and catch the culprit. I never saw anyone and eventually had to admit that there couldn’t have been anyone there or I would have seen them. In the end I used to disconnect the doorbell when I went to bed.

We had an old German Nickelodeon downstairs in the bar. I plugged it in fleetingly in the early days and it made a fearsome racket. Clearly in need of much work. One night I was in bed and it started up! The noise had woken me but as soon a I turned the light on it stopped and I went downstairs and discovered that it wasn’t even plugged in.

I came home late one night and the side door wouldn’t open. It appeared to be jammed. I managed to climb up onto a wall at the back and get in an upstairs window and when I went into bar I discovered that a very heavy old upright piano which had been standing against the opposite wall had been pushed against the door from the inside. Some poltergeist! He must have had good muscles.

Following one of our parties a friend had crashed out on the sofa in the front upstairs room which I used as a sitting room. (Fabulous view across the river) He woke in the night screaming and was certain that someone had touched him and was breathing in his face. He was so frightened he got up there and then and slept the rest of the night in my car outside. He remembers the experience to this day, 45 years on.

I lived in “The Barge Aground” for about nine months, probably around 1964/5 and finally had to leave when I gained promotion which took me to Birmingham. The only other mention I’ve heard of the haunting is that someone told me it was very well known and had even featured in a book called “Twinkle Toes” I can’t remember who told me that and I’ve made several unsuccessful attempts to trace the book. Can anyone throw any light on this please?

If you have heard tales of the ghostly occupant of "The Barge Aground" or can help with details of the book “Twinkle Toes” please get in touch.

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Published September 2010