Halloween is bearing down on us like some gibbering black and orange dog that’s hungry for pumpkin soup and a room full of slinky goth girls. So Fortean London has decided to saddle up and ride it all the way to All Soul's Day by marking a ghost in every London borough. This week we begin with Barking and Dagenham and circle London widdershins to finish in Enfield.
Barking and Dagenham
Let’s start with a traditional, wholesome, archetypal ghost story. The borough council of Barking and Dagenham lists the ghost of Agnes de Valence of Valence House, murdered at home and still haunting her Dagenham pile. A dagger was found in the moat of Valence House; it is supposedly the one that did for Agnes.
Avenue House, in East End Road, Finchley had a creepy and inconvenient ghost during the Second World War. An upstairs room had been converted into a women’s dormitory for female switchboard operators. A ghostly presence would approach one bed in particular; it’s not stated in Ghosts of London, whether this was down to one particularly saucy occupant of that bed or whether it was just a really nice bed.
The Haunting of Hall Place, in Bexley, provided the sounds of ghostly footfalls and slamming doors for journalist Lucya Szachnowski. But was it the mansion's White Lady stomping around, supposedly the ghost of Lady Constance At-Hall, who threw herself from the tower after seeing her husband killed by a stag? Or Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince whose ghostly appearance at Hall House, according to Walking Haunted London, always bodes badly for Britain? Or was someone, somewhere, taking the piss out of a certain News Shopper journalist?
Neasden, the ‘nose shaped hill’ once named the ‘loneliest village in London’ is now safely snuggled into Brent. Walking Haunted London tells us of the jovial monk in black robes haunting the churchyard of St Mary’s Church on Neasden Lane and of the spectral priest who causes annoyance to all by regularly rattling the vestry door handle.
We’ll forgive the London Borough of Bromley for pretending to be in Kent on this forum as it is full of people who report seeing a man dressed in a blue RAF uniform walking along Chatterton Road. “The person didn't seem to look at us at all when he passed by but I felt very uncomfortable. I was so uneasy I turned my head around as soon as we had passed but he had gone” reports one witness.
London’s goth borough has plenty of ghosts but never mind Dick Turpin galloping across the Heath or the over-hyped and troublesome Highgate Vampire, we love the ghost sensed by singer Lynsey de Paul while out to dinner with James Goddam Coburn.
The author of the theme to Golden Girls was sitting at table three in the restaurant Turpin’s on Heath Road when she said to Coburn “There’s a ghost here”, sensing a girl who had been strangled in the 1700’s. According to Ghosts of London she tested the waiter, asking if a girl had been stabbed to death in the pub and the waiter came back to her saying a girl had been strangled, not stabbed, and other people had asked to be moved from that table.
The Eurovision Song Contest 1977 runner-up was right in her strange sensation. We like to think that James Goddam Coburn just carried on savaging his steak while all this was going on.
City of London
The City of London is alive with ghosts, as it were, none better than the ghost of Old Tom the Goose. He escaped being slaughtered at Leadenhall in the 19th century and became a popular figure honking around the inns of the area begging for scraps. He died in 1833 at the age of 38 but, according to Haunted London Pubs, he honks there still.
City of Westminster
Meanwhile, the City of Westminster has a memorial to one of London’s finest pieces of social and scientific history. John Snow had the handle removed from the water pump on Broadwick Street in September 1854 thus preventing the further spread of cholera from the pump. Through his research, using ghost maps to track the pump down, Snow proved that cholera was a water-borne disease and not an air-borne one as previously thought, no doubt saving countless lives.
The supernatural had to get its face into this story of the triumph of scientific inquiry, so the ghost of the diseased pump has appeared on Broadwick Street. It apparently ceased appearing when the replica memorial pump was installed. “Presumably “it” is satisfied being replaced by its replacement - incidentally it does work!” says Walks Around Haunted London. Meaning, hopefully, the pump provided passers-by with fresh water and not cholera.
Remember: beer can kill you too, as two clairvoyants, an astrologer and a journalist discovered when aiding a ghost that lingered in the Purley Arms, Purley. The unfortunate had his back broken by a falling beer barrel in 1830 and had passed his time messing about with beer pumps and, when they were invented, juke-boxes. The ghost did go free from the pub but another spirit remained to distil 'its protection and loving warmth over the whole pub’. Cheers!
The late, great ghost hunter Andrew Green had an early ghostly encounter in the tower of a house on 16 Montpelier Road, Ealing. The house was a sort of suicide house; people kept throwing themselves from the seventy-two foot high tower. Green described nearly jumping himself while thinking it was ‘only 12 inches to the lawn’. His father saved him by grabbing him by the scruff of the neck.
In his investigation Green discovered that 20 suicides had taken place there and caught the image of a spooky girl glaring out an upstairs window when he photographed the house. This is thought to be the ghost of 12 year old Annie Hinchfield who started the whole thing by throwing herself from the tower in 1887. (Not that we can find any trace of this image on the internet but it’s in Green’s book Our Haunted Kingdom and reprinted in Ghosts of London.)
The house has since been demolished and flats build in its place but Andrew Green found that the occupants were troubled by ‘unusual noises’. Want to investigate yourself? Flats on 16 Montpelier Road are currently available to rent.
There are a few ghostly coaches racing across London. One hammers along Bell Lane in Enfield under the name of the Enfield Flyer. It dashes towards people, according to Ghosts of London, and disappears just as it’s about to hit an innocent pedestrian. The ghost, carrying two female passengers wearing large hats, disappears as it approaches the river Lee and it's been suggested that is the ghost of a coach that crashed into the river and perished, if coaches can perish, one ill fated day.
There are plenty more ghosts and other urban strangeness in the Fortean London archives.
Image: ghost of an octopus by mondoagogo