Fortean London: A Ghost In Every Borough: Greenwich to Kingston

Shadow man by LiamCH.jpg
Shadow man by LiamCH

The hooves of Halloween’s headless mare are thundering toward us as we consider cowering under a bramble bush. But instead Fortean London has decided to saddle the mare and ride it all the way to All Soul’s Day by marking a ghost in every London borough.

Last week we covered Barking to Enfield, and this week we’re going from Greenwich to Kingston upon Thames. Did you know that there are seven boroughs that start with the letter H? Rome has seven hills but London has seven H’s.

Greenwich’s most famous ghost is probably the Tulip Staircase photograph of a ghost ascending the stairs in the Queen’s House. The Greenwich Phantom blog has gathered a few Greenwich ghost stories too, including another photograph of something strange around the Queen’s House. It looks like a small, melted old man hobbling toward the park with a stick. “I guess a possibility could be a Greenwich Pensioner,” speculates the Phantom, “several of them are supposed to haunt the area” or perhaps it’s the Gouty Goblin of Greenwich caught on film?

Has Iain Sinclair scared all the ghosts out of Hackney for fear he writes something interesting about them? The best we can find is the ghost of a little old lady in a grey shawl who was removed from the Nag’s Head pub on Hackney Road sometime before Peter Underwood’s Haunted London was published. A warning to those who would remove a building’s spirit occupants: the Nag’s Head has since shut?

Perhaps London’s most ironic ghost haunts the Black Lion pub in Hammersmith. In 1804 the area was in the grip of the ‘Hammersmith ghost'; a trickster who dressed up in a sheet scaring the good people of west London. One Francis Smith ‘filled his blunderbuss with shot and himself with ale’ and went out looking for the ghost. In this state Smith shot dead a bricklayer who was on his way home dressed in his white work gear. The brocklayers body was taken to the Black Lion and Smith was sentenced to death for murder, though this was commuted to one year’s hard labour. But is it murder if you think you’re shooting a ghost? It’s a question that was only settled in 1984. The book Haunted London Pubs wonders whether it’s Francis Smith’s own ghostly footsteps pacing in an upstairs room of the pub

According to Wikipedia, the Parkland Walk, a woodland track that follows the path of an old railway line across Haringey, is haunted by the rumbling of trains near the Highgate tunnel and the ghost of a railway workmen who threw himself under a train near Highgate.

Roxeth School on Roxeth Hill, Harrow, is said to be haunted by a ginger cat. In 1986 Jennifer May, a former teacher from the school, told the Harrow Observer that two staff saw the ghostly ginger feline in their office, a converted house on school grounds. They believed the cat was the ghost of a teacher who had lived in the house many years before. Which makes sense; if one can’t reincarnate as a cat, why not just have an afterlife as a ghost cat?

Do museums have the most ghosts, or do pubs? Probably pubs, as they trade on any available heritage feature they have and a real live ghostie is a very heritage-y thing to have. Musuems, too, can’t resist offering the opportunity of interacting with an actual piece of the past. Take the example of the ball on display at Havering Museum with a creepy smiling child’s face on it. It was found under the floor boards of a house in Emerson Park and a few days after it’s discovery a ghostly young girl in Edwardian dress appeared to ask “’scuse me but can I have my ball back please? Much obliged.”

Ickenham station, Hillingdon, is a haunted tube station with the ghost of a woman in a bright red scarf who first appeared in the Fifties. It’s thought that she is the ghost of someone who died falling on the electric rail and now she occasionally seen at the end of the platform waving to catch people’s attention before disappearing. This one strikes us as impossibly sad, for some reason.

What could say ‘twenty-first century suburban ghost’ better than a haunted car park in Hounslow? The car park is on School Road and a “concentration of energy” is described there by a member of the Ghosts UK forum who also glimpsed “a shadowy figure running away before vanishing”. Investigating another time the correspondent saw a figure that “looked like an Indian man – he had dark skin and was wearing a beige jacket.”

“I have a feeling that this man may have been murdered in this car park” they reported. “It’s not a nice place – it has been neglected and run-down for as long as I can remember. The ghost didn’t react to me, and it seems like this is a “recording” rather than a true spirit.”

The Old Queen’s Head pub on Essex Road, Islington, is one of London’s famously haunted pubs, not to mention a pretty good drinking hole. There’s plenty of royal ghosts in London, royalty, suicides and murderers seem to make up a huge amount of ghost sightings. The Queen’s Head is thought to be haunted, according to various ghost books, by a woman in Tudor dress who may, or may not be, Liz the First whose saddler resided here or would visit the Earl of Essex who had his summer residence here back when Londoners took holidays out in leafy Islington. Perhaps she liked it so much she decided to stay.

One of the first ghost cases investigated by the Society for Psychical Research was in an artist’s studio in Kensington and Chelsea. The artist had been haunted by the grisly vision of a young man, around 25, with his right arm torn away at the shoulder. The ghost also had a ‘mournful, pleading expression’ in his eyes, which isn’t really surprising for a ghost with a limb ripped off. The SPR were given a drawing of the ghost by the artist and declared it a bona fide case as apparently there was a ‘distressing suicide’ forty years before the ghost was seen. However the next occupant of the studio, interviewed with the SPR, has not seeing anything of this ghost.

Afraid your area hasn’t got any ghosts? One blogger in Worcester Park, Kingston upon Thames, said he was and bemoaned the lack of spectres in his area. He was then bombarded by local stories, including the ghost of a cinema projectionist so upset with the closure of his beloved cinema on Windsor Road that he killed himself in his projection room. The cinema was converted into a supermarket and the projection room into a storeroom which was always icy cold and had stock moving about in it when the shop was empty. The supermarket, in turn, closed down, and became a Pizza Express. Which, perhaps, cheered the morose phantom projectionist up no end. Antther ghosts of the area amuses himself in other ways, there is a spectral bottom-pincher in the wine cellar of the Old Rectory in Cheam Village. That’s what they say, anyway.

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Fortean London: A Ghost In Every Borough: Barking to Enfield

ghost of an octopus.jpg 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.

Barnet

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.

Bexley

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?

Brent

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.

Bromley

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.

Camden

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.

Croydon

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!

Ealing

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.

Enfield

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

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