Fortean London: The Greyfriars Ghost Fight?

By Scott Wood Last edited 96 months ago
Fortean London: The Greyfriars Ghost Fight?

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Christ Church Tower, Greyfriars by Brron
Fortean London is strolling through July in knee-length khaki shorts and a pith-helmet to point out some open spaces in the city haunted by spooky stories. Think of it as your guide to eating sandwiches with spectres or picnicking with phantoms.

Come with us first to Christchurch Tower on Newgate Street near St Paul’s Cathedral, which is the tower of a Wren church destroyed in the Blitz. The site of the church and graveyard was left as a garden after the war though some walls still remain. It often goes by the name of the friary that previously occupied the site: Greyfriars.

The Franciscan order of grey robed monks had a lot of influence before the dissolution of the monasteries and it’s this part of its history that lingers. Gentleman ghost writer Peter Underwood records, in his book ‘ Haunted London’, that a russet-robed monk haunted here, walking barefoot in the “early hours of misty autumn mornings”. The Franciscan’s wore russet-red robes on arrival in England before reverting to their traditional grey garb.

He is the only peaceful ghost here. Elizabeth Barton, the ‘holy maid of Kent’ was a nun who had started having prophetic visions in 1525. Her prophecy and enthusiastic Catholicism made her popular until she made the mistake of predicting the death of Henry VIII after he broke with Rome. Henry lived and Elizabeth was hanged at Tyburn for treason and buried at Greyfriars. Her ghost roams “wild and restless” around the remains of the graveyard.

Pre-Henry VIII Greyfriars was a popular place for monarchs to rest, some with alleged sex lives more varied and hectic than Henry’s. Isabella of France is buried here holding the heart of her king, Edward II. She couldn’t get hold of much else of him as he was, apparently, an enthusiastic bisexual philander. Isabella, with her lover Roger Mortimer, staged a coup and the legend (or 'old, old conspiracy theory' as some legends are) tells of Isabella having Edward murdered by ordering a red hot poker to be shoved up one of the many places a red hot poker shouldn’t go, burning his “inner portions beyond the intestines”.

Homophobic hate-crime or act of passion? Her ghost haunts Greyfriars so perhaps you could ask her yourself. Richard Jones’s ‘Walking Haunted London’ reports that she clutches Edward’s ghost heart as she “flits amongst the trees and bushes”.

The ghost of Lady Alice (or Agnes) Hungerford also haunts Greyfriars. She only poisoned her husband before being hanged in 1523 and deposited in to Greyfriars graveyard. A watchman recognised her ghost one summer evening from her dignity and beauty but also her arrogant attitude. He was so scared he fled and gave up his job. “He had seen enough of the ghosts,” Underwood writes, “and he saw only one.”

But in ‘Walking Haunted London’ and JA Brook’s ‘Ghosts of London’ Alice and Isabella’s haughty, husband-slaughtering ghosts met within Greyfriars and a night watchman got ‘caught in the midst’ of their fight. He, according to Jones, fled and gave up his job ‘without pay’. Whether he the same apocryphal watchman that Underwood mentions or Greyfriars is not the place to loiter at night, Fortean London does not know as present. We merely recommend Greyfriars as a fine place to have lunch but maybe not a midnight snack.

Last Updated 08 July 2010