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Bill Crome, Window Cleaner

November 23, 2010
by the gentle author

This is Bill Crome, a venerable window cleaner with thirty years’ experience in the trade, who makes a speciality out of cleaning the windows of the old houses in the East End. You might assume cleaning windows is a relatively mundane occupation and that, apart from the risk of falling off a ladder, the job is otherwise without hazard – yet Bill’s recent experiences have proved quite the contrary, because he has supernatural encounters in the course of his work that would make your hair stand on end.

“It wasn’t a career choice,” admitted Bill with phlegmatic good humour, “When I left school, a man who had a window cleaning business lived across the road from me, so I asked his son for a job and I’ve been stuck in it ever since. I have at least sixty regulars, shops and houses, and quite a few are here in Spitalfields. I like the freedom, the meeting of people and the fact that I haven’t got a boss on my back.” In spite of growing competition from contractors who offer cleaning, security and window cleaning as a package to large offices, Bill has maintained his business manfully, even in the face of the recession, but now he faces a challenge of another nature entirely. Although, before I elaborate, let me emphasise that Bill Crome is one of the sanest, most down-to-earth men you could hope to meet.

“I’ve heard there is a window cleaner in Spitalfields who sees ghosts,” I said, to broach the delicate subject as respectfully as I could. “That’s me,” he confessed without hesitation, colouring a little and lowering his voice, “I’ve seen quite a few. Five years ago, at the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in Spital Sq, I saw a sailor on the second floor. I was outside cleaning the window and this sailor passed in front of me. He was pulling his coat on.  He put his arms in the sleeves, moving as he did so, and then walked through the wall. He looked the sailor on the Players Navy Cut cigarette packet, from around 1900 I would guess, in his full uniform.

And then I saw a twelve year old girl on the stair, she was bent down, peering at me through the staircase. I was about to clean the window, and I could feel someone watching me, then as I turned she was on the next floor looking down at me. She had on a grey dress with a white pinafore over the top. And she had a blank stare.

I did some research. I went to a Spiritualist Church in Wandsworth and one of the Spiritualists said to me, ‘You’ve got a friend who’s a sailor haven’t you?’ They told me how to deal with it. When we investigated we found it was to do with the old paintings at the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, amongst the collection were portraits of a sailor and of a girl. Once I was walking up to the top floor, and I looked at the picture of the girl and she had a smiling face – but when I went back to collect my squeegee, I looked again and she had a frown. It sounds really stupid doesn’t it? I found a leaflet in the house explaining about the history of the paintings and how the family that gave them was dying off. The paintings are off the wall now, yet they had a nice feeling about them, of sweetness and calm.”

Bill confirmed that since the paintings were taken down, he has seen no more ghosts while cleaning windows in Spital Sq and the episode is concluded, though the implications of these sinister events have been life changing, as he explained when he told me of his next encounter with the otherwordly.

“I was cleaning the windows of a house in Sheerness, and I looked into the glass and I saw the reflection of an old man right behind me. I could see his full person, a six foot four inch very tall man, standing behind me in a collarless shirt. But when I turned round there was no-one there.

I went down to the basement, cleaning the windows, and I felt like someone was climbing on my back. Then I started heaving, I was frozen to the spot. All I kept thinking was, ‘I’ve got to finish this window,’ but as soon as I came out of the basement I felt very scared. Speaking to a lady down the road, she told me that in this same house, in the same window, a builder got thrown off his ladder in the past year and there was no explanation for it.

I won’t go back and do that house again, I can tell you.”

As Bill confided his stories, he spoke deliberately, taking his time and maintaining eye contact as he chose his words carefully. I could see that the mere act of telling drew emotions, as Bill re-experienced the intensity of these uncanny events whilst struggling to maintain equanimity. My assumption was that although Bill’s experience at the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings might be attributed to a localised phenomenon, what happened in Sheerness suggests that Bill himself is the catalyst for these sightings.

“I feel that I have opened myself up to it because I’ve been to the Spiritualist Church a few times,” he revealed to me. “I do expect to see more ghosts because I work in a lot of old properties, especially round Spitalfields. I don’t dread it but I don’t look forward to it either. It has also made me feel like I do want to become a Spiritualist, and every time I go along, they say, ‘Are you a member of the church?’ But I don’t know. I don’t know what can of worms I’ve opened up.”

Bill’s testimony was touching in its frankness – neither bragging nor dramatising –  instead he was thinking out loud, puzzling over these mysterious events in a search for understanding. As we walked together among the streets of ancient dwellings in the shadow of the old church in Spitalfields where many of the residents are his customers, I naturally asked Bill Crome if he has seen any ghosts in these houses. At once, he turned reticent, stopping in his tracks and insisting that he maintain discretion. “I don’t tell my customers if I see ghosts in their houses.” he informed me absolutely, looking me in the eye,“They don’t need to know and I don’t want to go scaremongering.”

6 Responses leave one →
  1. November 23, 2010

    I posted a blog on ghosts recently as experienced by my parents. It’s here – scroll down to the coloured type:

    There were many ghosts stories that circulated in Malaya at that time, the fifties. One I remember concerned a newly built school for the local Malay and Chinese population, where the children started to saying the strangest things in English, and not one of them an English speaker, like odd bits verse or colloquialisms such as ‘I could murder a pint and a pie’. It turned out the school had been built on a former Japanese execution centre. The school, so my mother told me, was later torn down.

  2. jeannette permalink
    November 27, 2010

    great find, thank you!

  3. gary permalink
    May 15, 2013

    wonderful blog. im a teacher and think i will use this every lesson next year

  4. isa permalink
    May 28, 2013

    Wonderful accounts of the other world I totally believe in what was seen and also say I have encountered a few sightings in one of my homes a few years back.There is nothing to fear and I take it as a honour to have a sighting.

  5. Miriam Delorie permalink
    May 28, 2013

    Really interesting…I would love to hear more stories in that area. Is there any ghosts in Artillery Lane? Does anyone know any stories of the Artillery Lane area?
    I look forward to these Spitalfield emails – they are all amazing and so interesting. Thank you to everyone who contributes. regards Miriam

  6. Russell Heff permalink
    September 26, 2022

    I worked with Billy for many years and have experienced strange sights and happenings whilst being with him, like the children’s paintings that all fell from the walls as we walked down a corridor to the schoolkeepers lodge (we ran)5 minutes later they were all back in place, this was at 6.20 in the morning in an old convent in Harlesden, we were the only people in the building the school keeper was opening doors for us in the main school, he said that he was sure it was haunted.

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