Fortean London: Lincoln's Inn Spectres

By Scott Wood Last edited 166 months ago

Last Updated 15 July 2010

Fortean London: Lincoln's Inn Spectres

Fortean London continues its July series of outdoor oddness with a visit to the legends, lunching lawyers and London Plane trees of Lincoln’s Inn.

Lincoln’s Inn is at the heart of legal London. Some trials end more happily than others: Lord Antony Babington was convicted of plotting the murder Elizabeth 1st in 1586 in the Babington Plot and he and his followers were hanged, drawn and quartered at Lincoln’s Inn. Babington was said to be still conscious after he was hanged and while he was being quartered. His screams so shocked Elizabeth enough to request the rest of the traitors were disposed of more quickly.

Another bloody execution was of William Russell, Lord Russell on 21 July 1683. Russell was convicted of planning the murder of Charles II. Russell said, on his way to the block, that decapitation would be ‘less pain than drawing a tooth’. Sadly his axe man was the legendary and notoriously incompetent Jack Ketch who took ‘three butcherly strokes’ to remove Russell’s head claiming that ‘his Lordship moved.'

So a shadowy figure haunts Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the dead of night at the central shelter and pain-wracked screams echo amongst the trees.

The Royal College of Surgeons sits on one side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It’s one of London’s many shrines to scientific inquiry and so must feel rather galled to have two ghosts moping around. They arose from the same event, Professor Aldini’s famous demonstration of the effects of electricity on a corpse. An executed murderer’s body was obtained and when the current was applied the jaw quivered, the right hand was raised and clenched and one eye opened. The beadle of the Royal College of Surgeons was said to be so terrified he died when he got home. According to Jonathan Sutherland’s ‘Ghosts of London’ the dead beadle haunts the college, as does the ghost of the man whose body was frazzed for the experiment.

Robert Percival managed to be haunted by himself while studying law at Lincoln’s Inn. He partook in ‘riotous and unprofitable pursuits’ and one night, whilst studying, a clock struck midnight and a sinister, cloaked figure appeared in his room. He ran at it with his sword which passed right through. It lowered the arm from its face to reveal itself to be Robert Percival, but a version of him with terrible wounds on his face and chest. The living Percival took this distressed doppelganger to be a warning against his dissolute life and knuckled down into his studies. Sadly good living is hard and bad living is easy and Percival ended his life by being murdered on the Strand by former friends he had cheated. His corpse bore the scars his spectre had. From then on Percival’s room at Lincoln's Inn was haunted, though whether it is by the ghost of the dead man or the failed warning keeping itself busy no one can say...

If this is all too gory to consider while you tuck into your sushi, or if it’s raining, how about a trip to the nearby Ship Tavern on Gate Street? The invisible ghost at the Ship makes itself known through a sense of relief and happiness which some have suggested comes from a Catholic priest, tucked away in the pubs priest hole, breathing a sigh of relief for escaping capture during a time of persecution and living to give mass at the pub another day. Like most ghost, no one ever sees him, he mucks about in the pub, hiding kitchen untensils and keys and indulging in other pranks that must make eternity in limbo fly.

See also some Lincoln's Inn Fields Saturday Strangeness.

Image from jdheywood from the Londonist flickr pool.