Fortean London: Foliage of Terror

By Scott Wood Last edited 168 months ago

Last Updated 27 May 2010

Fortean London: Foliage of Terror

Killer Trees.jpg
Killer tree incident captured by MykReeve on the Londonist Flickr pool.
Privet is usually scary for what is signifies: the tight and tiny-leafed uniformity of suburbia. But is there a cursed privet hedge out there on the edges of London that is actually killing people? And did Dutch elm disease really save Hyde Park’s tramps from death by haunted tree?

‘Black Sally’s Tree’ was an elm tree in Hyde Park named after the lady tramp who died under it. Sally had ignored warnings to not sleep under the elm and after her death, around the 1930’s, a sad moaning could be heard around the tree until Dutch elm disease finished it off.

Or was the moaning there first? In the 1890’s Elliot O’Donnell fell into conversation with a Hyde Park tramp over sandwiches and sherry. The tramp described a night beneath a haunted tree in the park. There were deathly cries of “Oh God! Oh God!” and “awful groaning” followed by a gurgle and death rattle. Thinking someone had died nearby the tramp sat up but, despite the bright moon, could see no one. Fearing ghosts he fled the tree and slept on a bench. Later he was told the other Hyde Park tramps shunned the cursed tree as Black Sally should have. O’Donnell recorded the encounter in his classic book “Trees of Ghostly Dread”.

Curses plants are not just a subject for sherry-fuelled Victorian speculation with the homeless. Take the privet hedge of Gnanasuravi Raveendran of Ashmore Grove, Welling. Both his sister and brother-in-law died within three months of trimming the hedge. When his brother trimmed it he suffered his first epileptic fit in twenty-years.

"I am an accountant, I am not superstitious” said Mr Raveendran “But there are too many coincidences. Even if there is only a one per cent chance it is the hedge that is causing this I do not want to take the chance."

His quite poetic explanation for the evil hedge has to do with it’s previous owner: “"She was a widow and seemed to have an air of sadness about her. Maybe she left her sadness behind in the hedge." And the danger grows: Mr Raveendrans friend Colin Sharp said in 2002 that it will take three years for the hedge to smother the front of the house. By 2010 who knows? Welling is, by London standards, quite remote. Has anyone heard from anyone in Welling recently?

More in the Fortean archives