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The Haunting Of Coxwell Road: A Tragic Story, A Phantom Dog, Loud Bangs & A Terrified Family

In 1955, the Pells family moved into their council house at 32 Coxwell Road, Ladywood, Birmingham. The family claimed to have been tormented by paranormal activity since their arrival, even linking the tragic death of their newborn baby to the terrifying events that occurred.

Haunting of Coxwell Road, Birmingham.
Coxwell Road, Birmingham, in 1955 before mass redevelopment in recent years.

For years after 1945, the painfully-slow progress up the housing lists preoccupied the minds of tens of thousands of families even more than it does today. As through the 1950s the building program staggered under the weight of shortages, priorities, and political pressures, many councils bought older property, modernized it as far as they could, and let it to those most in need.

Number 32 Coxwell Road, Birmingham, was one such house: in a faceless row built about the turn of the century for "respectable" artisans, it might not, even with its new mod cons be the ultimate in luxury, but compared with the squalor of the condemned premises in which Frank Pells and his family had been compelled to live for two years, it was a palace.

By the time they moved in in May 1955, a fifth child had been born and when Father Etherington, their local priest, blessed the house, gleaming in its new utility paint, they felt that all the struggle and waiting had not been wasted. But within a week, the family was faced with a minor puzzle: everyone in the house was awakened by the violent slamming of doors, which when checked, were found to be securely fastened. Inexplicable tapping noises came from the bedroom ceilings, and from time to time, the house was permeated with an overpowering smell that seemed to begin as garlic and then gradually transform itself into burning rubber.

Frank Pells, an ex-paratrooper with 40 drops, many of them on active service, was not the man to be intimidated by such distractions: he and his wife decided that though odd, these trivial disadvantages were infinitesimal compared with the advantages of a sound, three-bedroom house at a reasonable rent.

Three weeks later the first body blow fell: the month-old baby was found dead in the bed where it slept with its parents. The post-mortem showed suffocation, but Mrs Pells had reservations because she felt that had either of them lain of the child it would have shown some sign. As strong Catholics, they were comforted by the hope of resurrection and determined to re-create happiness around the rest of the family and their new home.

But as so often happens with hauntings, the intensity of the manifestations began to increase as if some malign spirit had sensed victory. Rappings in the ceiling above the kitchen, heard by relatives and friends as well as the Pells, began regularly at about 10.20 pm: the door slamming sounds were consistent although everything was checked before the family went to bed. The temperature of the room above the kitchen changed almost hourly, and the strange variable odors filled all corners of the house. Far more disturbing was a new manifestation in the form of menacing whispering of indistinguishable words, rather like someone whispering into a microphone.

A few days after the baby's death, 4-year-old Alan asked, "Did baby go away with the little white dog?" Terrified, Mrs. Pells asked, "What dog?" The lad replied, "The little white dog that comes and sits on my bed. I saw him sitting on the baby's face the night the baby went away."

The police were sent for to deal with a dog unlikely to be real, and Father Etherington to take care of a more probable ghostly one. The police found nothing: the priest, assisted by a relative of the Pells, Joe Neill, sprinkled his holy water, and both men heard the rapping and the sibilant whispering. Father Etherington advised the Pells to leave the house at once, but the journey to Coxwell Road had been such a bitter one, they did not wish to have to cover the ground again. A fortnight later, however, had the road been to Golgotha, they might well have chosen it.

Frank Pells was downstairs shaving at the kitchen sink when the terrible jibbering began right behind him: there was obviously no one there, and the only other person in the house was his wife, who was in the bedroom. He rushed to the stairs: at the top stood his wife, her face distorted with terror and her mouth obviously screaming, though no sound reached him.

Frank Pells dashed up the stairs towards her, but halfway up he hit an invisible barrier that pushed him back. He seized the banister with both hands, and pulling and thrusting with all his considerable strength, he burst through: instantly he could hear his wife's sobs and cries. She too had heard the frightening, threatening mutterings. They left the house at once, not waiting even to pack or make the beds. Mr Pells' niece and her fiance volunteered to return to clear up, but a single evening was enough: the constant whisperings and noises drove them away with the vow they would never go back.

The council, convinced that the Pells were convinced, rehoused them immediately. A reporter from a national paper and his photographer spent a night in the house, and though there was no spectral form to photograph, nor phantom noises to record, they did confirm that there were very definite fluctuations of temperature and strange smells that came and went.

After word spread about the reported haunting, the council was bombarded by requests from people wanting to carry out paranormal investigations on the property.

Whatever inhabited 32 Coxwell Road for the early summer of 1955 may have been a completely random entity, or it may have had particular malice towards the Pells. Certainly, all has been silent there ever since.

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