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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.
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.