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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.
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.
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?
Most people may know that the UK faces a crucial vote next week in the general election. However, what a lot of you may not know, is that there is an even more crucial vote that is taking place right now.
Yes, that’s right, the Looking For Ghosts Grand Ghost Poll, is a mere click away. Scroll down to find the most intense and rigorous paranormal poll that humankind has seen.
We intend to enter the results from the poll into a big computer to aid our long-suffering, and so far futile, search for ghouls.
Please vote. It’s below on the left. Ta.
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.
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.
Now, there’s nothing we like better here at Looking For Ghosts than some spine-chilling ghost stories. Especially, if they claim to be true. So, imagine our unbound glee when we espied True Ghost Stories by George Finch in the library.
We were especially cock-a-hoop because of the book’s spooky front cover (below). A black cat with red eyes and some sort of phantasmal miasma surrounding it. Brilliant!
Now, we don’t profess to have read every ghost story compendium in the world BUT… this has to rank as one of the scariest ever. The monotonous prose, lack of coherent punctuation and absence of any bloody ghosts scared the living daylights out of us.
George Finch’s bid for Booker Prize is not helped by the fact that he’s a gibbering goon with an ever so slight grip on reality. The gist of these true stories is that George’s dead mother is following him around in spirit guise causing all sorts of mundane occurences.
Pigeon noises, erratic household appliances, spilt milk and funny noises. These are just some of the terror-inducing issues that George tackles in his brief, yet boring, accounts.
The book is full of astute observations such as: “We all know when you buy a wind-up clock, you wind it up and leave it to do its job; tell the time.”
Yep, that’s the harrowing tale of when George bought a clock that didn’t work and blamed his dead mother for cursing his failing luck in telling the time.
“We all have days when things go wrong, but mine was forever going on, like when I was transferring milk from a cardboard box from the Co-op into a bottle; I made sure everything was as it should be. I cleaned the place ready, and a nice clean bottle, then I opened the carton – somehow the milk was on the floor. How it happened, I just do not know.”
He transferring milk from a cardboard carton into a bottle? And the milk went on the floor? Eh? Didn’t he just drop the milk? And why does he need to clean everything beforehand? Does he have history of dropping milk cartons and blaming ghosts? Most confusing.
This goes on. And on. And on. With vacuum cleaners, radios, electric blankets, more milk. The Co-op does feature quite a bit, as do exotic locations such as Rotherham, Croydon and Bournemouth.
In its defence, the book is quaintly old-fashioned and charmingly English – “Flipping income tax!”.
But some of the chapters are nigh on unreadable. Confusing stories, peppered with phantom commas which appear in the middle of nowhere and are absent from where they’re supposed to be.
However, it is great entertainment reading the stories. Not because they’re ghost stories but because they’re just so rubbish.
In conclusion, if you want to read a book by some clumsy oaf who thinks his spirit mother is the root of all his mishaps, then this book is perfect for you. Actually, the joke’s on us; George got a book published and we’re doing this blog for free.
We’ll let George have the final nonsensical word:
“There’s one thing good about ghosts. If there are ghosts, then it proves for once and for always, that nobody dies. We either get buried in a grave, or lots of people get cremated – burnt. That’s what happens when you get cremated; only ashes are left of the body, that was once a body.
“If we were all to die, there would be no ghosts, but we do not, our souls live on as spirits in spirit“.
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.
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!
Catharine Arnold’s grimly fantastic book Necropolis: London and it Dead states that London is “above, a city thriving with life. Beneath, a city filled with the dead”.
Which is lucky, as the Looking For Ghosts crew – all two of us – happen to live in this very Necropolis. Spooks aplenty surely?
The coming posts will explore London’s most haunted buildings and areas. And, hopefully, we will be able to strecth our budget to reach further into the UK’s haunted regions.
Before we began our spooky search for the existence of ghosts, we referenced another book to find out what equipment we might need to help us catch sight of our intended targets.
How to be a Ghost Hunter by Richard Southall claims that a good ghost-hunting kit should include:
Microwave Radiation or Electromagnetic Detectors – oh yeah just happened to have them in my bedroom
Pad of Paper and Pen
Watch or Stopwatch
Laptop Computer - Mr Southall obviously wants us to be prime mugging targets
Flour - to bake a cake for any hungry ghosts?
Thread - for extra jumpers in case of inclement weather?
We studied this list and decided that our eyeballs and and a couple of cameras are the most useful tools at our disposal. Don’t expect any terrifying photgraphs of ectoplasm-dripping phantoms but we’ll try. Oh, and if we get bored we might chuck a bag of flour at a ghoul or two.