5 Chilling City Churchyards That'll Freak You Out

5 Chilling City Churchyards That'll Freak You Out

Here are some spine-tingling tales of London's spookiest churchyards. And the scariest part? They're all open to the public. Enter at your own risk...

1. 'Saint Ghastly Grim' (St Olave's, Hart Street)

"There is attraction of repulsion for me in Saint Ghastly Grim…" - Charles Dickens

The entrance to this churchyard should strike fear into the hearts of men, yet passers-by routinely miss the spectres lurking above. Three stone skulls with gaping eye sockets stare fixedly out across Hart Street, waiting for someone, anyone, to catch their gaze. Spikes adorn the top of the arch to discourage graverobbers from meddling in the affairs of the dead.

Charles Dickens was so compelled by the drama of the unsightly arch that he decided to pay it a visit in the midst of a thunderstorm. Writing later, Dickens reported that he "found the skulls most effective, having the air of a public execution, and seeming, as the lightning flashed, to wink and grin with the pain of the spikes." Yikes.

Still not scared? The plague is said to have broken out nearby. 300 victims are thought to be buried within the churchyard walls, including the first person to be infected.

2. The Ghost of Rahere (St Bartholemew the Great)

Gravestones line the open churchyard

A man named Rahere founded St Bartholemew the Great church and nearby St Bartholomew hospital. He became a monk, and was later buried within the church.

That was, until renovation work is said to have disturbed his tomb. Rahere's casket was opened to reveal his remains, complete with monk's sandals. So the story goes, a workman stole Rahere's foot, still encased in the sandal, and it was lost.

The agitated spirit of Rahere now stalks the church, looking high-and-low for his missing piece. And some peace.

Still not scared? William Wallace was hung, drawn, and quartered nearby.
Too scared? Don’t worry, Hung, Drawn & Quartered is just a pub now.

3. The Execution Bell (St Sepulchre)

For whom the bell tolls...

St Sepulchre without Newgate church is just a short walk from the Old Bailey and the former site of Newgate Prison.

In the 18th century, anyone unlucky enough to find themselves in the bowels of Newgate Prison awaiting execution could expect a chilling visit at the stroke of midnight. A man would pass through a tunnel connecting the church with the prison to deliver 12 tolls of the execution bell, striking fear into the hearts of those set to meet their maker in the morning.

The church still houses the bell to this day — and who knows how many spirits.

Still not scared? The bell-ringer would also recite this spine-chilling rhyme:

"All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die.
Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near,
That you before Almighty God will appear.
Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you not to eternal flames be sent,
And when St Sepulchre's bell tomorrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls."

4. The Plague Pit (adjacent to St Anne's and St Agnes)

Lonely graves at St Anne’s and St Agnes churchyard

In the 1920s, two office buildings called Armour House and Union House were built on the corner of Gresham Street and St Martin's-le-Grand. In the 1980s, an employee working at Armour House says he explored the sub basement with colleagues, finding a soil area that had been left untouched.

The employee says that, later, a floor plan was found detailing that the patch in question had been a burial pit for victims of the plague. The building has since been redeveloped, with little information available on what the work entailed. Could it have been disturbed?

St Anne's and St Agnes churchyard is adjacent to the old Armour House site, with known (and possibly unknown) buried of its own.

Still not scared? There are 'tens, if not hundreds' of plague pits all across London. This is just one of many pits mapped by Historic UK, all of which are just a bit too close for comfort.

5. The ghost of Miles Coverdale (St Magnus the Martyr)

Haunted by the spectre of the Shard - and other ghostly figures

Miles Coverdale, a preacher involved in bringing the first Bible to Britain, is said to haunt St Magnus the Martyr church where he was laid to rest.

A ghostly figure wearing a dark traditional robe has been seen in various spots around the church. This has allegedly been confirmed by a former rector and others who once helped with the running of the church.

Still not scared? St Magnus the Martyr used to be the gateway to the original London Bridge, which was so narrow and congested with carts and pedestrians that some said it could take up to an hour to cross. A true nightmare.

All photos © Patrick Ross. Check out more of Patrick's work on his website, or follow him on Twitter.

Last Updated 30 October 2017

Gregory Farquar

Item No.1. You neglect to mention the reason why the entrance to church from that arch is stepped. That is where the bodies are buried from the C17 plagues. It was also the parish church of Samuel Pepys and has remained remarkably unchanged since his time. Apart from aerial bombardment in 1943.