Who Exactly Are The Ghosts Of London?

By Nick Young Last edited 13 months ago
Who Exactly Are The Ghosts Of London?
Bank of England. Photo: Lee

London, so we're told, has always been haunted by ghosts. The historian Peter Ackroyd once called it "a spectral city, so filled with imitations of its past that it haunts its own inhabitants". There have been many lists of haunted buildings, but what of the ghosts themselves — who were these people? Whether or not you believe their ghosts exist, the living people did.

Queens of England

Anne Boleyn was only married to Henry VIII for three years but remains one of England’s best-known queens. Since being beheaded at the Tower of London after trumped-up charges of adultery, she's become the most famous of the Tower's various ghosts, and has often been seen — sometimes with her head, sometimes without — on Tower Green (the site of her execution) and occasionally in the chapel located within the White Tower.

Anne's cousin, Catherine Howard, shared the same fate. Her ghost has reputedly been seen — and her screams heard — in Hampton Court, where she briefly escaped from the guards who came to arrest her and ran down the corridor to plead with Henry, who was attending mass in the chapel.

There have been several reported ghost sighting in the White Tower at Tower of London. Photo: Doug

More Tudor ghosts

Another victim of Henry’s who reappears at the Tower from time to time is Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who is said to re-enact her own execution. One of the last surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty, she went to the block in 1541, but apparently tried to escape, running around Tower Green several times before the executioner caught her and cut her head off.

Over in Bethnal Green, the ghost of Edmund Bonner, the Bishop of London, who gained the nickname 'Bloody Bonner' for his persecution of Protestants under Mary I, has allegedly been seen. He used to own property there; Bonner Road and Bonner Street are named after him.

On the other side of the Reformation, the bible translator (and, for a brief time, Bishop of Exeter) Myles Coverdale is reputed to haunt the City church of St Magnus the Martyr, where he is buried.

St Magnus the Martyr church, close to London Bridge. Photo: Kestas Balciunas

The ghost of courtier, explorer and writer Sir Walter Raleigh has been spotted at the Tower, where he was imprisoned for 13 years. As well as various sightings in his native Devon, Sir Walter's restless spirit has also haunted Beddington in south London, where he owned land. Legend has it that his wife arranged to have his body secretly buried in the church there, although the historical record states that he was buried at St Margaret's in Westminster after his execution in 1618.

Murder victims

Several of London's many murder victims are said to haunt the places where they were killed, including two of the prostitutes killed by Jack the Ripper; the ghost of Annie Chapman has been spotted on Hanbury Street (where she died), while visitors to Mitre Square have occasionally seen a spectre believed to be Catherine Eddowes.

Hanbury Street. Photo: Advers.com

A less well-known tale is that of a 13 year-old girl called Anne Naylor — also known as the 'Screaming Spectre' — whose cries have been heard in and around Farringdon station. An orphan who was apprenticed to a hat-maker called Sarah Metyard in the mid-18th century, she was poorly treated and died after being tied, standing, to an attic door and not fed for four days. To conceal her death, Metyard and her daughter hid Anne's body in a trunk, later dismembering it and trying to get rid of it, first by burning it and then throwing the remains in an open sewer.

Not long after, locals claimed to have seen the ghost of a girl and heard screams in the area. The Metyards were tried and hanged for murder after the daughter confessed, and their house was demolished to make way for Farringdon station.

Thespians

London's theatres have plenty of tales about actors sticking around for an encore after life's final curtain call. A couple of these haunt more than one place, such as the regency actor and clown Joseph Grimaldi. His ghost has been seen in both the Sadler's Wells Theatre in Clerkenwell and the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. The latter's best-known ghost, though, is the anonymous 'Man in Grey' which, unusually for a ghost, has been known to appear during the daytime.

The Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. Photo: Treble 2309

Then there's the Victorian actor William Terriss, who haunts the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand and Covent Garden tube station. He was murdered at the former in 1897 by another actor, Richard Archer Prince. Prince had fallen on hard times after his drinking had rendered him unemployable. Terriss took pity on him and gave him money, but Prince had wanted more; when Terriss refused, Prince attacked him with a knife just outside the Adelphi. Terriss was carried into the theatre, where he died — and where his ghost has sometimes been seen. His occasional appearances at the tube station can be explained by the fact that it was built on the site of his favourite baker's shop where he often took his children.

A banker, and a banker's sister

William Jenkins was a 6'7" clerk (although reports of his height vary) at the Bank of England who had a fear that, after his death, his corpse would be dug up by body-snatchers who would sell it to surgeons for dissection. When he died in 1798, his colleagues managed to persuade the Bank's directors that he should be buried in the Bank's Garden Court. His longer-than-average coffin was unearthed during excavations in the 1930s, and his tall ghost has been spotted walking the bank's corridors.

Also haunting the Bank of England is Sarah Whitehead, the sister of a clerk called Philip Whitehead who was arrested for forging cheques in 1811. This being a capital offence at the time, he was hanged after being found guilty — which drove his sister mad. Every day for the rest of her life, Sarah would visit the bank and ask to see her brother. As she always did this in mourning dress, staff nicknamed her the 'Black Nun'. She continued to come and ask after she died, and her ghost has also been seen on Threadneedle Street and even in the passageways of Bank station.

Nurses

UCL Hospital — home to the ghost of Lizzie Church? Photo: Mac Spud

At least two London hospitals are reportedly haunted by the ghosts of former nurses. In St Thomas's Hospital, the anonymous 'Grey Lady' is said to appear to dying patients, visible from the knees upward, due to the floor levels having been altered over the years.

University College Hospital has Lizzie Church, who worked there in the early 20th century and accidentally administered a fatal dose of morphine to a patient — her fiancé. She was so traumatised by her mistake that she killed herself, and her ghost has appeared to patients and staff; some patients have even commented on the kind treatment they received from the nurse in the old-fashioned uniform who no-one else saw on the ward.

Criminals

Any talk of ghostly criminals in London must begin with the highwayman Dick Turpin, who is reputed to haunt the Spaniards Inn on the northern edge of Hampstead Heath. It has been claimed that he was born there, but that's not the case (he was actually from Hempstead in Essex). Turpin — whose horse Black Bess is said to haunt the car park at The Spaniards — has also been seen in Epping Forest and in the graveyard of St Mary's Church in Wanstead.

A ghostly figure in 18th-century clothes spotted on the roof of the Old Bailey is believed to be Jack Sheppard, a thief who became famous for his numerous escapes from prison before he was hanged at Tyburn. The Old Bailey stands on the site of Newgate Prison, from which Sheppard escaped twice.

The Old Bailey. Photo: Matt Brown

The fact that no one knows who he really was has not stopped Jack the Ripper from being dubiously linked to more than one ghost. A spectre which haunts the Old Bull & Bush pub in Golders Green was claimed to be that of the unknown serial killer when a skeleton surrounded by Victorian surgical equipment was unearthed during renovations in the 1980s. Then there's the ghost that's been seen jumping from Westminster Bridge on the stroke of midnight, which some have attempted to tie in with Montague Druitt, one of the more plausible Ripper suspects who committed suicide by drowning in December 1888.

Bodies of evidence?

Even if we don't include the mummies at the British Museum, there are a couple of London ghosts linked to human remains on public display. For many years, the City church of St James Garlickhythe displayed a mummified body which had been found there during renovations in the 19th century. 'Jimmy Garlic' is thought to have been a man who died around the time of the Great Fire, following which the present church was built. Jimmy is no longer on show, but that hasn't stopped stories of his ghost being seen in the church.

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham took great pains to ensure that his body would be preserved in the form of an auto-icon after his death. This consists of his skeleton covered by a 'body' made of straw and other materials, dressed in his finest clothes and topped by a wax likeness of his head. It's on display in a glass case at University College London, which he founded, and this has perhaps inevitably led to stories of him haunting the place. He's apparently been seen wandering the corridors, while others have heard the tapping of his walking-stick (which is on display in the glass case with him).

Animals

Who said that the spirits of the dead have to be the ghosts of people? Black Bess (see above) is not the only non-human spirit said to haunt London. There's apparently a spectral dog at Bentley Priory in Stanmore, and ghostly bears have been spotted on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea and at the Tower.

Rossetti's house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea - possibly where a ghostly bear originates from. Photo: shadow_in_the_water

The Chelsea one probably has its origins in the private menagerie that was kept there in the 1860s by the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti — one of his animals was a black bear. The one at the Tower harks back to the Royal Menagerie, a collection of exotic animals given to the monarch as gifts by the rulers of other countries in centuries past. The Tower's best-known bear was the 'pale' (polar?) one that was given to Henry III by the King of Norway in the 13th century, which was said to catch fish in the Thames.

Last Updated 13 October 2016