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After rubbing shoulders with dead celebrities on our London Cemetery jaunt, Looking for Ghosts realised that if there is one thing we love more than ghosts, it is ghosts of famous people. And we have a certified A-lister for you here, folks!
Whilst William Terriss isn’t exactly a household name now, back in the 19th Century he was one of the UK’s most celebrated actors. Sort of like a Victorian Jude Law with the possible distinction that Terriss was, presumably, a good actor.
A regular at London’s Adelphi, Lyceum and Prince of Wales theatres, Terriss achieved fame after his energetic performance in Robin Hood, as well Othello and Romeo and Juliet, earned him rave reviews. He became the darling of Theatreland and when he married fellow actress Jessie Millward, his female lead in The Harbour Lights, they became a popular power couple. They toured Britain and America extensively, increasing their international appeal. Sort of like a Victorian Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with the possible distinction that Terriss and Millward were, presumably, fairly interesting people.
However, it seemed not everyone was so smitten with this acting colossus. On 16th December 1897 Terriss was murdered by hapless, struggling actor Richard Archer Prince. Sort of like a Victorian Ralf Little, with the possible distinction that…actually, no; that’s pretty much accurate.
As Terriss was entering the Adelphi for the evening performance of Secret Service, fomer Terriss protégé Prince lay in wait and stabbed his old friend in a bitter act of jealousy and resentment.
As a result, the ghost of Terriss is often seen in Covent Garden, particularly in and around his favoured Adelphi Theatre and, strangely, the tube station. Many witnesses claim to have seen a gentleman dressed in old fashioned clothes who disappears before their eyes, later identifying Terriss as the man they had seen when shown a photograph. This could possibly be because all Victorian gentlemen look exactly the same or perhaps, more likely, many of these witnesses were simply mental.
After spending an afternoon elbowing tourists out of the way in Covent Garden, Looking For Ghosts are disappointed to report that we didn’t even catch a glimpse of this spectral thespian who, we suspect, is currently treading the boards of the great theatre in the sky. Possibly in Mamma Mia.
Visiting London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries was supposed to a haunting experience for Looking For Ghosts. Many tales of ghouls and spirits have surfaced from old burial grounds and we were anticipating myriad spook sightings.
In fact, we had quite the opposite experience. If anything, these wondrous spectacles of monuments and mausoleums serve as a reminder that, arguably, the only life after death is experienced in the messages on the weather-beaten gravestones that have survived for numerous years. Seeing rows upon rows of graves was a stark reminder of how ludicrous the concept of ghosts really does seem.
In Highgate Cemetery, we vaguely searched for the Highgate Vampire but, as it dawned on us that the story was so stupefyingly idiotic, we immediately halted and absorbed Highgate’s fantastic gothic architecture.
For those of you not familiar with Highgate’s most famous nocturnal character, we’ll explain what happened. Someone saw a goth visiting his granny’s grave. Case closed.
Similarly, Nunhead Cemetery features in the spooky tale of a “tall dark stranger”.
The peaceful surroundings and impressive architecture at the cemeteries in Highgate, Brompton and Kensal Green left a particular impression on us. Especially the detail and importance that the Victorian era placed on preserving the memory of the buried and entombed.
However, despite our belief in ghosts diminishing, we still scoured the cemeteries in search of nefarious spirits.
But there seems to be a lack of ghouls living in London’s cemeteries, even those we expected to be overwhelmed by spirits. The most interesting aspect of visiting the cemeteries was discovering who was buried where.
Abney Park: Salvation Army founder William Booth, the daughter of African slavery emancipator Olaudah Equiano, Joanna Vassa.
Brompton: founder of the V&A, the Royal Albert Hall, the 1851 Great Exhibition and inventor of the Crimbo card, Henry Cole, actor Brian Glover, leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and anaesthetist John Snow.
Highgate: sci-fi author Douglas Adams, novelist Beryl Bainbridge, dog fan Charles Cruft, George Eliot, Michael Faraday, Alexander Litvinenko, Karl Marx, original punk Malcolm McLaren, comedian Max Wall and artist Felix Topolski.
Kensal Green: original computer nerd Charles Babbage, tightrope expert Charles Blondin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father Marc Isambard Brunel, author Wilkie Collins, playwright Harold Pinter and novelist Anthony Trollope.
Tower Hamlets: Ahh…
West Norwood: Sir Henry Tate of gallery fame, CW Alcock, founder of test cricket and the FA cup.
Nevertheless, while visiting and researching these seven cemeteries and London’s other countless used and dis-used burial grounds, we began to understand that the city truly is necropolis – a home for the dead. The architecture and lay-out of London succumbs to the needs of the dead.
And, while searching Brompton Cemetery, we found a group of graves that were too worn to read. Among these half-submerged memorial lay the resting place of William Charles James Lewin, a murdered actor better known as William Terriss. It is the ghostly stories that suggest that Terriss does not, in fact, rest here but wanders the streets of London, that sent Looking For Ghosts to London’s theatreland in search of a glimpse of his ghoul.
As a result of the heat wave currently engulfing most of the UK, Looking For Ghosts felt an almost unnatural urge to get outside and get some sun on our faces. With our sallow complexions currently resembling custard as the closest colour match, it’s about bloody time.
So we headed for Highgate, a leafy, affluent North London suburb and, somewhat fortuitously, a haven for ghostly activity. How much fear we’d experience on a sunny Saturday lunchtime was unclear, but we figured it would be somewhere between “very little fear” and “no fear whatsoever”.
We noticed our first point of interest minutes after leaving the station. Ascending a steep pathway, stopping halfway up to peer through the foliage, we observed an abandoned train station in the mid-distance. This was originally built as part of London Underground’s Northern Heights project, but development was cancelled during the Second World War. Now the station stands empty, barely visible amidst mounds of twisting bracken, but there are several reports of a “ghost train” steaming along the tracks after dark. However, considering that no actual trains ever used this line makes this story about as credible as a Jeffrey Archer testimony.
Moving on we found ourselves in The Flask, another of London’s haunted pubs. Only slightly concerned that it was still technically morning, we sat down to ponder the pub’s history over a pint of something intoxicating and delicious. It is claimed a maidservant, who took her own life when an illicit romance turned sour, still frequents the pub and announces her presence with a sudden drop in temperature before going berserk with the lights and moving glasses along the bar. Yawn. Why can’t ghosts ever do anything more interesting than that? Flip the odd table over, maybe. Or put the Beastie Boys on the jukebox for four hours.
However, the Flask is an endearing pub with excellent food and even comes complete with a local lunatic who insisted on talking to us, for what seemed like an eternity, about soup. Perhaps he was a ghost? Frankly, we were too bored to check.
Leaving the pub we passed Pond Square, known in paranormal circles for being the site of a rather unusual haunting; the ghost of a chicken. No, we are not making this up. According to Walking Haunted London: “In 1943, one Terence Long was crossing Pond Square late at night when he heard the sound of horses hooves accompanied by the low rumble of carriage wheels. Suddenly, a loud raucous shriek, split the silence, and the ghostly chicken appeared before him and proceeded to race frantically around, before vanishing into thin air.” Alarmingly, this spectre has been seen several times since. Give us strength.
As laughable as the ghost chicken story undoubtedly is, at least it’s original. After all, if you’re going to make something up, make it interesting and faintly ridiculous rather than some vague and generic account of a jilted lover who slams doors and sometimes makes the air a bit chilly. Come on; get creative with your lies!
Slightly underwhelmed with Highgate’s supernatural offerings so far, we concluded our soirée by visiting somewhere ghouls were bound to be in abundance; Highgate Cemetery. Home to such luminaries as Karl Marx, George Eliot and, erm, Jeremy Beadle, surely this place would be alive (pardon the expression) with famous ghosts, swirling around the place with unbridled glee? Yes?
Well, what do you reckon? You’ll have to wait until our next post to find out…
Believe it or not, even a ghost hunter needs a holiday. But even when Looking For Ghosts were trundling down the runway at Heathrow, set for our week in the sun, we were still right near another reported spot of ghoulish activity.
On March 3rd 1948, a Sabena Douglas DC3 Dakota OO-AWH aircraft crashed in fog at the airport. Of the 22 passengers, 19 died. The ghost of one of the victims is said to roam Runway 1.
It is alleged that, in 1970, radar showed someone walking on this runway. Police were directed to the exact spot found nothing and were told they were driving through the blip on the radar monitor. A curious tale but surely one that can be attributed to a technology error.
However, the ghost has also been seen by human eyes. He is said to be tall, wearing a bowler hat and cavalry trousers. According to reports, shortly after the crash occurred, officials involved in the rescue of the passengers were approached by a man fitting this description, who then asked if they had found his briefcase. He disappeared before they could reply and was later found among the corpses that were retrieved from the wreckage.
This Pathé newsreel shows the wreckage. The flickering images of figures searching through the debris and torn metal are haunting enough without the thought that someone was already looking over their shoulders.
A chilling story for a mundane piece of tarmac.
However, why has this ghost only been witnessed by a handful of the millions of people that pass through Heathrow each year?
PS. Heathrow is also supposed to be haunted by the ghost of ex-Sex Pistol and ex-punk twat Sid Vicious after his mother accidently dropped his ashes on the runway. So also keep your eyes peeled for a talentless, drug-addled murderer whilst you’re ascending.
We here at Looking For Ghosts like a good practical joke. However, none of our pranks register on the same scale as ferryman John Overs, whose ingenious stunt not only resulted in him getting his skull mashed to pulp but also has a hand in a quirky ghost story. Thus, resulting in much paranormal mirth for us.
Mr Overs was reportedly a real-life Ebeneezer Scrooge. He treated his servants badly and prevented his daughter Mary from marrying the love of her life by refusing to cough up.
Now, in his infinite wisdom, Mr Overs pretended to be dead for a day, so that his servants would mourn. The ensuing fasting would save his house from paying for a day’s worth of food. Yeah, we know, what a tit.
What was running through the old miser’s head as he lay in a coffin, as his servants had a massive party, we will never know. But we should think it was something along he lines of “bollocks”, for as he raised out of the coffin in anger, one of his employees beat him to death, thinking he was a raised spirit.
Mary, free from her father’s clutches, sent for her lover so they could be wed. Unfortunately, Mary didn’t have much luck with the men in her life, as lover boy was chucked off his horse to his doom whilst he was hurrying to her.
Obviously frustrated with the ineptitude of the male race, Mary founded he priory of St Mary Overies. Today, the priory is named Southwark Cathedral.
And, for any sticklers out there, the cathedral retains the alternative name The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie. We say sticklers, we mean losers.
Admittedly, there isn’t actually a ghost in this story but its contents were so bizarre it intrigued us greatly. It seems that if the ferryman’s servants hadn’t believed in ghosts then the cathedral in Southwark would not exist.
Let it never be said that Looking For Ghosts are afraid to address the big issues. So far, we’ve tackled the controversial ZOZO debate and attempted to debunk numerous myths and stories, but today we scale new heights. We are going to talk about the persecution of Jews. We are on uncomfortable ground indeed.
Amazingly, we’re not going to mention the holocaust (apart from just then, obviously) but something far closer to home than many Brits would care to remember. We have to cast our minds back to 1290, a time when the internet was powered by horses and dinosaurs roamed London’s gas lit streets.
At this time, before Hitler and the Nazis had their wicked way, Jews were being run out of Britain. Presumably not in the most reasonable and orderly fashion either.
According to one ancient account, a boat due to transport Jewish families from London to Poland was moored on a small island in the middle of the Thames, leaving the ship and its passengers stranded. After evacuating the ship, the captain and crew managed to free the vessel and retreat back to the shore, leaving hundreds of Jews stranded in the middle of the river. As the tide rose, they inevitably drowned and it is said that their anguished cries can still be heard under London Bridge to this day.
Call us cynical, but a few things about this story don’t quite add up. Firstly, how is it possible for anyone to beat a hasty retreat in a gigantic passenger ship? It’s not like it’s a speedboat. Surely they didn’t just stand there looking at the ship slowly lumbering away? “It’s alright, they’ll be back. They’ve probably just forgotten about us. Boy, are they going to be embarrassed when they realise!”
Also, at the risk of sounding callous, if they were stranded in the middle of the Thames then they weren’t actually that far from the river’s banks. Couldn’t they have just swam for it? We’re not suggesting it would have been the most pleasant dip they would ever have, but if their lives depended on it (which evidently they did) then it must have been worth a try. Realistically, only about 30 metres of rancid water separated them from safety.
We’re not intending to sound facetious or disrespectful, but this whole scenario just seems far too elaborate and cumbersome a process to carry out a mass murder.
More likely is that the ship simply sank, probably nowhere near London Bridge, but this wouldn’t have been quite interesting enough. Besides, why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
Another account reveals that the anguished screams are more likely to be from the souls who were beheaded at nearby Traitors Gate and whose heads were flung into the Thames. Yes, that seems far more likely.
Suffice to say that we didn’t hear any anguished cries under the bridge, although the fact that 720 years have passed since this event would suggest that their spirits have probably grown tired of all that screaming and are now resigned to their rather dubious fate.
Having rediscovered our ghost-hunting form, we continued our jaunt around haunted London.
The last couple of posts about churches may have been fairly interesting (mainly to us, we suspect) but were they really that scary? No. Standing atop a mound of buried bodies at Priory Church was fairly unsettling, but we wanted more than that. We wanted to soil ourselves with frightened glee.
With this in mind, our next stop would surely not disappoint; the most haunted house in London. Yes, you read that correctly – do not adjust your eyes. We really were going to the most haunted house. In London.
Arriving at 50 Berkeley Square on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, we were initially quite underwhelmed. On the face of it, it was just a normal house in snooty Mayfair. We couldn’t even go inside.
But the stories about this place are plentiful, each one more horrifying than the last.
In the late 19th Century, a nobleman apparently unconvinced by the ghoulish stories associated with the place agreed to spend a night alone in the most haunted room in the house. It was arranged that if he encountered any trouble he would ring the servant’s bell and his friends downstairs would come to the rescue.
Sometime around midnight they heard a faint ringing of the bell, which got louder and louder until it was almost deafening. By the time they had got upstairs and burst into the room, their disbelieving companion was sprawled on the floor with his face contorted in horror, eyes almost bulging from their sockets. He couldn’t speak to explain what filled him with such fright, but he was dead within the hour.
Blimey, if this place has got it in for cynics then we could be in serious trouble.
Understandably, 50 Berkeley Square was uninhabited for a long while after this with seemingly no one in London brave enough to house-share with a violent ghost.
Standing empty, the house still attracted reports of strange lights flickering in the windows, “disembodied screams” and, perhaps most chilling of all, the sound of a body being dragged down the stairs.
Eventually, two drunken sailors on shore leave stumbled upon the vacant house and, needing a dry place to rest, decided to break in. Not long after bedding down for the night they were awoken by heavy footsteps creeping up the wooden stairs, before a “hideous, shapeless, oozing mass” (no, not Chris Moyles) began to fill the room. One sailor managed to escape, but when he returned to the house with a policeman found his friend impaled on the metal railings outside the house with his face frozen with the familiar look of terror.
Fascinating stories but sadly, we suspect, stories nonetheless.
Why the house is haunted, no one knows. Theories range from the romantic (a jilted lover lived his remaining days in the house wandering around by candle light before, heartbroken, he took his own life) to the macabre (a Doctor locked his violent, lunatic brother in the attic until he died).
Whatever the reason, the house is famous amongst paranormal investigators for having a sinister and disturbing atmosphere, which is about as far away from scientific proof as it’s possible to get.
We noticed no such atmosphere and, despite pressing our faces against the front door, we noticed no significant feeling of despair or woe. No more than we normally carry, anyhow.
To contemplate our visit, Looking For Ghosts headed to Guy Ritchie’s nearby Punchbowl for a couple of ales where we encountered, no lie, an aging Clint Eastwood enjoying a meal with his family. By far the closest we’ve come to seeing a ghost so far.
Despondent from a lack of mummies at St Garlickhythe, we limped away to another church in the City of London. At the Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, near Smithfield market, we were met with an altogether different experience.
Now, if like us, you like to frequent graveyards in the darkness, you’ll realise that they are generally all quite spooky. However, Priory Church’s small graveyard is made all the more haunting when its grisly past is revealed.
Entering the churchyard at night is an experience in itself; old Tudor buildings border a shallow decline to the front of the church which is shrouded in deep shadow, away from electric light and the hubbub of the main street. To the left is the graveyard, which is much higher than the rest of the churchyard because of the extent of bodies piled up inside it.
The church is haunted by the eerie tunes of a phantom organist and by the ghost of its founder, a monk named Rahere. This spook is particularly miffed that one is sandals was nicked off is foot post-death.
However, even without the tales of ghosts, Priory Church is an unsettling place when the sun goes down. Unlike Looking For Ghosts‘ other favourite haunting churchyards – Christ Church Greyfriars and the Parish Church of St John in Hampstead - Priory Church is cut off from the rest of London by steep walls giving it a secluded yet deathly feel.
So, we’ve actually had a spooky experience! Praise be! Although, it didn’t actually feature a ghost. Still, it’s a start.
Now that we were out of the office and back on the ghost trail, Looking For Ghosts returned to the City to visit a location we had heard some fairly creepy stories about; St James Garlickhythe.
This picturesque church, nicknamed “Wren’s Lantern”, is tucked away on Garlick Hill by Upper Thames Street and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1683 after the original building was destroyed by the great fire. Thinking about it, the Great Fire of London was probably the best thing that ever happened to Christopher Wren, whose office rebuilt no fewer than 50 parish churches after the tragedy. Wonder how much he got for all of that? Quite a lot, we’re willing to wager. Not that we’re suggesting that it was in his best interests to start the fire in the first place or anything. It just seems pretty convenient.
Recent research has revealed the mummy is likely to date back to the 17th Century and could be one of the early Mayors of London, who were often buried here.
Several things have disturbed Jimmy’s rest over the years, including the church being hit by a bomb during the Blitz. After such events his spirit is often seen and heard on the site, possibly with his arms outsretched in front of him, making a low groaning sound as he walks. We just don’t know.
Many believe that the ghost of Jimmy Garlick is also responsible for items being moved around or mysteriously vanishing. Not surprised he’s so peeved; mummies are known to get easily wound up. Sorry.
Despite watching The Mummy Returns 17 times in preparation for our visit, the Looking For Ghosts team failed to spot Jimmy or his remains which have, sadly, been moved into the tower and out of public view.
And so, after studying numerous photographs, reading myriad charmless celebrity ghost stories and conducting extra research on our paranormal friends, we set out again in our never-ceasing search.
Looking For Ghosts travelled to the grand Apsley House on the corner of Hyde Park. Here, one of Britain’s biggest bastards has been seen as an apparition. And, for once, the person who saw the ghost isn’t some blithering eejit; it was our noble and forthright prime minister!
Arthur Wellesley was Tory Prime Minister (topical!) in 1832 when he caused outrage after opposing a Reform Bill. An enraged mob had gathered at Apsley House when, suddenly, the PM performed a U-turn and accepted the bill.
Why? Because of a ghost of course! Oliver Cromwell’s ghost obviously.
Legend has it that Cromwell appeared to Wellesley and cast his disapproving finger at the mob. Wellesley being quite the detective, deduced that this meant that he was making the wrong decision and thus, he gave an unexpected thumbs up to the bill.
Most probably the old Prime Minister didn’t want to be lynched by a revolting gang of ne’erdowells. What a wuss.
Unfortunately, we were far to eager in our ghost-gathering; we turned up too early to the house and it was closed. We will have to return another day to see the spot where Oliver Cromwell didn’t appear.
Footnote: Arthur Wellesley was the 1st Duke of Wellington who gave his name to the Wellington boot. Now, dear readers could a man with such sensible footwear really be mad enough to make up a ghost?
There’s not many things more terrifying than Dick van Dyke. Luckily for Looking For Ghosts, the world’s worst cockney wasn’t gracing the boards at Wimbledon Theatre in the latest interpretation of the flying car classic.
In fact we visited the theatre to seek the Grey Lady. This cackling head and torso appeared in one of the bedrooms of the theatre and has been accused of setting off the sprinkler system at the venue.
Another paranormal presence at the theatre is J B Mulholland, the original manager from 1910 who likes to return to the stalls to watch the new favourites.
We witnessed neither. However, we did hear some hideous wailing from the stage. We hope for the punters sake that it was a ghost and not rehearsals for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Between boozing sessions in Hampstead’s antiquated pubs, we had to venture across the Heath. Reportedly used as a cruising ground for George Michael, Hampstead Heath is also one of North London’s most popular attractions.
Nearly 800 acres of woodland, lakes and rugged gorse make this space the perfect activity centre for a hot summer’s day. Swimming, rambling, cycling, bird-watching and cottaging are just some of the things that the thousands of Londoners who flock here every day can expect to enjoy. Why not take a Frisbee? Or enjoy a picnic whilst being tugged off by a senior Tory MP? The choices really are limitless.
We at Looking For Ghosts had other things on our minds, though. We were doing a different kind of cruising altogether: cruising for ghosts.
Back when Hampstead was a village on the outskirts of London, Highwaymen and robbers would hide out on the Heath to target the carriages of luminaries travelling in and out of the City. The tall, imposing trees and vast thickets made the perfect cover for sinister “Gentlemen of the road”.
Even to this day it isn’t considered unusual to be charged at by a phantom robber on horseback emerging from the trees, the hooves hitting the earth in silence even in full gallop.
So convinced was one lady she was about to be trampled, she threw herself to the ground and braced herself for the inevitable impact only to open her eyes several seconds later to find herself alone in the clearing.
All of this sounded promising, until we turned up one Saturday afternoon to discover that, even when cloudy and miserable, the Heath is one of the most populated places in the capital. There was even a marathon going on. In fact, there couldn’t have been more people on the Heath that day if they had been holding a nationwide People’s Convention, with extra bloody people. We literally couldn’t move for people.
All of which made for the least scary investigation we’ve done so far, with no sign at all of ghostly apparitions, wraiths or even Tree Spirits for that matter.
We did, however, talk to a very friendly gentleman who kindly informed us that if we were to come back at night, we’d find all manner of bandit just waiting to cover us in “ectoplasm”.
Sounds like a promising lead, we’ll keep you posted…
A lot of people like to drink alcohol. A lot of people like to get drunk. And a fair few people claim to have seen ghosts. See where we’re going with this?
Humans + alcohol = loads of bloody ghosts (H+A=GGGGGGGGGG!!)
We began at The Spaniard’s Inn at the peak of Hampstead Heath. Reputedly the home of highwayman Dick Turpin, customers have seen a shadowy figure striding around the pub in a domineering fashion. Black Bess’ haunted hoof beats are heard in the car park, while ghostly tugs at sleeves have been felt in Turpin’s bar.
While it is a fantastic pub, which no doubt has seen a lot of history in its 500+ years, it’s hard to be spooked by it when it’s packed to the rafters with tourists, clumsy waiters and whining children.
We plodded over Hampstead Heath, making sure to avoid any ghostly horsemen and found ourselves in Hampstead village. We recovered from our trek across the heath in The Flask Tavern. This pub is haunted by Monty, a former landlord who likes to pay the occasional visit to his pride and joy. In 1997, some definitely-not-pissed customers saw Monty moving tables and chairs around due to his annoyance at a recent refurbishment. We didn’t see Monty unfortunately, probably because we didn’t stay for long.
The pub benefits from an idyllic location and attractive interior, but on a negative point, all the customers seemed to know each other from a recent bank robbery they’d committed. Monty would not approve.
We re-located to the William IV. Legend has it that a doctor murdered his wife here and concealed her corpse in the pub’s cellar. Her ghost has ever since been a-haunting here. Obviously gagging for a pint. Although, we didn’t see here; she must have had a hangover. We stayed for a few more pints here, waiting for the second of the pub’s spooks to arrive.
The spectre of a young girl in a white shroud has been seen looking up at the pub from the high street. She is supposed to be a suicide victim that killed herself after some particularly atrocious dental treatment in a cunning tactic to avoid her next appointment. Maybe her ghost stands on the pavement thinking “bugger, maybe I should have just got battered here before having my molar done”. We raised a glass or two to her.
A bit of bush
We then stumbled through the back streets of Hampstead to the Holly Bush Inn. We trekked through graveyards, deserted streets and winding alleys, up and down the area’s hilly terrain. The secluded nature of Hampstead really reveals itself when wandering the sparse streets at night.
We finished our night with a few at the Holly Bush Inn, which is frequented by a phantom waitress. She didn’t serve us.
Let’s cut to the chase. We had quite a few drinksssh a we didn’t shee a sshingle bloody ghossshht.
That’ssh becausshhe they don’t exisssht. Right? I’ll tell you another thing, hic… I jusht felt shomething on me leg… What wassh that? Oh no, forget it… I pisshed meshelf again.
Sadly, we ended the day ghost-less. Half cut we flagged down the nearest ghost bus, paid the spectral driver and headed back to LFG HQ to hold each other’s hair as we vomited the night away.
After the disappointment of the Tree of Death, we at Looking For Ghosts were feeling despondent and disillusioned with the paranormal world. Why couldn’t someone throw us a ghost or two? Even the ghost of Rod Hull would have been a start. At this point we’re really not being fussy.
Trudging over from Green Park to neighbouring St James’s Park we were reminded of a tale involving the seemingly serene lake that tourists so gleefully flock to.
Little do they know, however, that the lake is an important aspect of a ghost story apparently so convincing that even the authorities seem to accept that it’s true.
In the 15th Century, so the story goes, a Sergeant in the military murdered his wife and to avoid her being identified he hacked her head off. As he was in the process of dumping the rest of the corpse in the lake he was disturbed by two soldiers returning to the nearby barracks. To this day, The Red Lady of St James’s Park is frequently spotted in a blood-stained smock, sometimes with the stump of her neck spurting blood, sauntering around the park looking for her head or, terrifyingly, rising slowly from the murky water.
In 1972 a motorist driving in the area crashed his car after seeing the apparition, only to be acquitted of dangerous driving after the court believed his tale. All of this leads us to ask why more misdemeanours aren’t blamed on ghosts? If only John Terry had been that creative with his excuses then England might still have a half-decent captain for the World Cup.
Try it yourselves. Late for work again? A poltergeist flung your alarm clock against the wall. Caught staring at a checkout girl’s chest? You were possessed by ZOZO. That hideous noise coming from your bedroom at night? Banshees. Help us fill the world with implausible ghost stories; if nothing else it will keep this blog in material for a lot longer.
Ever had the feeling you’ve been cheated?
When Johnny Rotten said this, we here at Looking For Ghosts know exactly how he felt.
For this is how we also felt when, on hearing about a haunted tree in Green Park, we were sorely let down by a thoroughly unspooky quest to find said frightening foliage. Imagine our chagrin when we discovered not one, but hundreds of trees in the royal park. All with branches. Gnarled branches.
The Tree of Death (whichever one it may be) is said to emanate a woeful feeling of melancholy. It has reputedly been the site of many suicides and, to add to an impressive list of questionable paranormal accolades, it is the source of a low unexplained gurgle and is avoided by even the parks animal residents.
Oh, and standard ghost-hunting fare; a shadow figure has been seen darting behind it on occasion.
We can report to you EXCLUSIVELY that none of these things happened while we prodded and inspected every bloody tree in the park. Seems like ghosts still don’t exist. What nonsense next? A ghost bus? Never mind the bollocks, here’s the ghost hunters.
Annoyingly, our paranormal quests often lead us into one of London’s many haunted pubs. Sometimes, if there are two or three haunted boozers in one area, the whole investigation can take on the form of a spectral pub-crawl; hour upon hour spent getting rat-arsed on flagons of ale and leering at attractive barmaids. The things we do for ghosts…
Returning to the City we settled in to the Viaduct Tavern in St Pauls, one of the last remaining examples of a Victorian London Gin Palace. Opposite the Old Bailey court house, the pub’s cellars still contain prison cells from the now demolished Newgate Prison. It is also supposedly home to some pretty frightening poltergeist activity.
Many staff members over the years have been disturbed by a particularly malevolent ghost, including the landlord in 1996 who, when stocking up on supplies, was locked in the cellar after the door slammed shut. Hearing his panicked shouts, his wife came down to let him out and found that the door, impossible to budge from the inside, could be easily opened from the outside. “Ha! Men…” She might have chuckled as her useless husband struggled upstairs with the Bacardi Breezers.
Add to that numerous tales of moving objects and terrified workmen and the Viaduct Tavern has built quite a reputation as one of London’s prime haunted sites.
To find out more Looking For Ghosts accosted a barman, who we figured would be thrilled to have his busy Friday night interrupted by a couple of half-cut ghost hunters.
As he led us down into the cells we were casually informed, with a mixture of sympathy and disdain, that tours of the cells are regularly requested by paranormal enthusiasts. With our social status diminished to the level usually reserved for those with leprosy, our doting guide ushered us inside. But had he ever experienced anything strange down here himself?
Easily the most unsettling place we’ve been so far, these cold, musty cells remain completely unused by anything other than cobwebs and damp. The eerie atmosphere is a huge contrast from the bustling City pub upstairs and provided us with a macabre insight into London’s grim Judiciary system.
Staggering outside after last orders we felt satisfied that our search for ghosts had taken us one step closer. But then again we always get emotional after a couple of Bombay Sapphires…
Still in West London, Looking For Ghosts ventured along Cambridge Gardens in fashionable Notting Hill.
Now, when we set out to investigate the paranormal we accepted that we would have our beliefs stretched, often to breaking point, on a semi-regular basis. However nothing quite prepared us for the tale we heard about a ghost bus. Yes, you read that right: a ghost bus.
There have been several sightings of the phantom no.7 throughout the decade, sometimes causing startled drivers to swerve out of the way to avoid the speeding double-decker. Witnesses would later deny there was any such vehicle in on the road (presumably because there wasn’t).
We did see a no. 7 bus, but it seemed pretty real to us. Not that we’ve ever used public transport; with a chartered jet to fly us to and from LFG Towers we have the luxury of arriving in style to all of our gruesome destinations.
To conclude, the very notion of ghost buses existing is so laughable that if you entertain the idea, even for a nano-second, then you may as well claim that Lord of the Rings is a documentary and live the rest of your life wrapped in tin foil in your bedroom claiming that Aliens are coming to get you.
Next on our ongoing search for paranormal friends, Looking For Ghosts visited Eaton Place in Belgravia. Sandwiched between the dim opulence of Knightsbridge and the gormless splendour of Sloane Square, it is no surprise that the ghoul that haunts this grand terrace is a posh div.
In 1893, Admiral Sir George Tryon was floating about in his boat Victoria off the coast of Syria. Our hero gave orders for his ship and the nearby Camperdown to sail merrily into each other. Clever move George.
Four hundred men died, including the loopy Admiral himself. Apparently, his last words were: “Oh bugger”.
At the exact time of his comeuppance, his spectre was seen by a room of party-goers at his home in Eaton Place. Preposterous really isn’t it? At the exact time we read this tale of idiocy on the high seas, we felt this spooky sensation of nauseous disbelief.
A load of old poop-deck.
More recently, Eaton Square has been home to more famous names: sexy food botherer Nigella Lawson and her husband Charles ‘artoholic’ Saatchi; professional eyebrow-raiser Roger Moore, Scarlett O’Hara (or Vivien Leigh to her friends), Roman Abramovich, Lord Boothby (he of questionable acquaintances), Neville Chamberlain, Jose Mourinho and last but not least, Sean Connery.
Churches, churches, churches. You can’t move for churches in London. So it was a relief when we stumbled upon The Old Red Cow; a haunted building in the City that isn’t a bloody church.
Rumour has it that the Barbican pub’s former owner, Dick O’Shea, can be seen in his rocking chair on the establishment’s balcony.
Nothing strange about that surely? Ah, but he died in 1981.
It’s a cosy pub with a suspiciously free jukebox and welcoming staff.
Unfortunately, Dick chose not to appear while we were there. So The Old Red Cow loses points on the hospitality front.
Still, the pub is located in part of London that is spookily quiet at weekends when the financial district is at its quietest. Located nearby are Smithfield market, several weathered graveyards and countless other ancient pubs, giving you a true sense of London’s history.
As Looking For Ghosts continued to search for the paranormal amongst London’s concealed past, we arrived at St Mary-le-Bow. It is said that you can only truly be considered cockney if you were born within earshot of the churches’ chimes; the Bow Bells. It is also, along with a few other London churches, immortalised in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. However, few people are aware that this famous church once suffered a deadly curse…
In the 11th and 12th centuries black masses were held at the site, leading many locals to believe it had become cursed. In 1091, the roof blew off killing a considerable number of local residents, whilst more people were crushed to death in 1271 as the tower collapsed into the street below.
The church was also nearly destroyed in 1196 when the Archbishop of Canterbury used fire to smoke out murderous tax-dodger William Fitzobert who had been hiding out in the tower. How that plan went wrong we’ll never know.
St Mary’s houses many a grim tale, as Lawrence Duckett was murdered within the building at the end of the 13th Century. Consequently 17 men were hanged (and one woman burned to death) for this crime.
Almost inevitably St Mary-le-Bow was destroyed by the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1673 , when many people say the curse was lifted. Nice one, Chris!
Fire, murder, toppling towers; whilst there can be no argument that St Mary’s is the unluckiest church in the world, is it the result of some ancient hex? Or just poor infrastructure?
Despite us pressing our ears up against the door of the crypt, we still didn’t experience any bloody ghosts. Probably because the crypt, which for centuries amassed decaying corpses, ironically houses a fashionable vegetarian restaurant these days.
The City is the oldest quarter of London, yet now houses some the most modern skyscrapers in the metropolis. Old churches, pubs and cobbled streets are hidden from view by these new, towering structures, giving their existence a strange, off-kilter existence.
One of these older structures is St Botolph’s Without Bishopsgate, which sits behind Liverpool Street station and lies just opposite London’s newest skyscraper Heron Tower.
We visited St Botolph’s, hoping to catch a glimpse of this ghost.
Top right. On the balcony. Yeah, trust us. That’s supposed to be a ghost. That “ghost” was taken by Chris Brackley in 1982 while his was photographing a church that he says was only inhabited by him and his wife. Which begs the questions… Is his wife see-through?
Allegedly, a few years later, coffins were found in the wall of crypt revealing a preserved corpse of a woman who bore some sort of resemblance to the figure in the picture. Details are sketchy and wholly unconvincing.
So, Looking For Ghosts searched for this wispy madame but, unfortunately, did not find her. Probably because it was a smudge on the lens or, for want of a better word, bollocks.
Formerly a gothic church, the ruined gardens situated between the Old Bailey and St Paul’s Cathedral are allegedly the home to some feisty female ghosts.
This site was the last resting place of Isabella of France – the wife of Edward II and the mother of Edward III - who was given the dubious moniker of ‘She-wolf of France’. The conniving Queen consort plotted to depose her husband and, one night in September 1327, the King met with a death most foul. According to a rather teeth-clenching account, the monarch met his maker by way of ‘a kind of horn or funnel…thrust into his fundament through which a red hot spit was run up his bowels’. Hot stuff indeed.
Isabella was imprisoned by her son and died incarcerated. She was buried in her wedding dress at Greyfriars with the heart of Edward II on her chest. Lucky she was dead; red stains are a bugger to get out of white.
Apparently, Isabella’s beautiful but angry ghost can be seen at twilight still clutching her old man’s beating heart. Hell hath fury…
If one paranormal pin-up wasn’t enough for you, then maybe Lady Alice Hungerford will satisfy your needs. Alice, considered a great beauty of the Tudor Age – a time when false teeth and small pox scars were de rigueur among many high-class women.
Alice, like Isabella, was in a murderous mood. In 1523, she bumped off her husband with a dose of poison. She was put to death by boiling, which, even though it was nearly 500 years ago, seems like a ludicrous punishment. She too was interred at Greyfriars and she too spooks the graveyard.
Now this is were it gets saucy. Many years later, during the reign of Old Queen Vic, the spectral stunners were seen to be catfighting by a night-watchman. Ladies please. Let me loosen my tie.
So, when the Looking For Ghosts team turned up at Greyfriars in our dinner jackets, armed with red roses and Belgian chocolates, we were disappointed not to catch the slightest glimpse of these nocturnal nymphs.
Whilst we were in the City, we continued our search for ghouls by walking the short distance from Cornhill to Threadneedle Street and the Bank of England.
Standing outside these imposing metal doors many questions were racing through our minds. What dark secrets lie within? What of the strange, cryptic symbols emblazed on the doors? What time do you open? I’ve got a cheque to pay in.
The Bank of England houses one of the most famous London ghost stories of all time, that of the Lady in Black (or Black Nun) Sarah Whitehead.
We were confident of catching a glimpse, with us being something of a hit with the ladies and all…
In 1812 Philip Whitehead, a clerk at the bank, was found guilty of forgery and hanged. His sister, Sarah, was not informed of her brother’s execution until one day she turned up at the bank to ask of his whereabouts.
The news left Sarah devastated and she refused to accept his death, opting instead to turn up at the bank every day dressed in funeral attire to ask staff where her brother was. Eventually, the bank got so tired of her daily visits that they offered her a large sum of money to go away and never return.
A woman of principles, Sarah kept her promise. However, in death she was not so virtuous.
For several years after she died, late night city workers regularly encountered a lady, dressed in black robes, on Threadneedle Street or by Bank station always asking the same sorrowful question: “Have you seen my brother?”
Predictably, we didn’t see her. Either she was immune to our charms or, more plausibly, she never existed. Either way, our ghost count still stands at a paltry zero.
Now that we were suitably prepared, it was time for the Looking For Ghosts team to embark on our first hunt. We figured that a promising starting point would be the City of London itself, known as the “Square Mile”, whose grim and lurid past surely means that thousands of ghosts from centuries past spill out of every church, crypt and alleyway hidden away among the capital’s financial district.
With this in mind we stumbled across St Peter upon Cornhill, an ancient church curiously nestled between modern city buildings and designer boutiques, and soon discovered it boasts an interesting history.
According to an inscription in the churchyard, it is the oldest Christian church in Britain, with the original site founded by King Lucius in 187 AD.
Even if this is not the case (several churches in the UK have stated similar claims) the building, re-designed by Christopher Wren in 1687 after the original building was destroyed by the great fire, houses a more provocative tale.
In the nineteenth century, a vicar at this church noticed that plans for a building next door encroached on to church territory by a slight margin.
A bitter legal dispute ensued, with the architect forced to re-draw his plans. By way of revenge, he added three sinister stone gargoyles to the building to sneer down upon the churchgoers below.
The intimidating devil looming over the church door is said to be created in the image of the fastidious vicar (who by all accounts got just what he deserved for being such a kill-joy).
Verdict: whilst this building is of some historical significance (and the gargoyles are an unsettling sight on a gloomy Sunday afternoon in a largely deserted city), it’s no more haunted than your average branch of HMV. Ghost count so far stands at a pitiful zero. But we shall continue!