London is known as one of the most haunted cities in the world, thanks largely to our layers of long and varied history. It makes sense, then, that some of the capital's most ghost-ridden places are also the oldest and most frequented: our pubs. If you like your pint with a spirit or your gastro grub with a ghoul, then these nine pubs will be right up your street.
The Bow Bells, Bow
A ghost with a penchant for toilet humour is believed to be in residence at this Mile End boozer. He or she makes themselves known by flushing the toilet in the women's loo when someone is on it. The prankster has apparently struck on many occasions from the 70s right up to the present day. At the height of the problem in 1974 the pub's then-landlord attempted to rid the ghost with a séance. At the point when the spirit was asked to make itself known, the door of the women's toilets swung open with such force it smashed a pane of glass. No one knows who the perpetrator is or why they are there, but for ladies in need, it's certainly a bit of a bummer.
The Bow Bells, 116 Bow Road, E3 3AA
The Flask, Highgate
This leaf-flanked Fuller's pub next to Highgate Cemetery is not as peaceful as it might look. One spirit who likes to make herself known from time-to-time is reputedly the ghost of a Spanish barmaid who hanged herself in the pub's cellar — where you can now sit — over a failed romance with the publican of the time. She's been known to move glasses and blow down the backs of customers' necks, while the pub's lights have also been seen to sway and temperatures noticeably drop when she's around. As if that's not enough, a man in a Cavalier uniform may also be glimpsed crossing the room and disappearing into a pillar.
The Flask, 77 Highgate West Hill, N6 6BU
The George, Temple
Another Cavalier has been repeatedly seen in the basement of this pub opposite the Royal Courts of Justice. Although the current building — complete with black and white timber frontage — dates back only as far as the 1930s, its foundations are much older, explaining the association. The most publicised sighting of this unknown cavalier came in the 1970s when painters and decorators were carrying out refurbishment work. After seeing the figure, one decorator fled upstairs and appealed to the landlord. The latter told the painter: "I shouldn’t worry about him… my wife sees him all the time".
The George, 213 Strand, WC2R 1AP
The Old Bull & Bush, Golders Green
A farmhouse was built on the site of this Hampstead Heath-side pub in 1645 and it gained a licence to sell ale in 1721. For centuries there has been local talk of hauntings. Strange bangs and bumps surprise visitors, and a shrouded Victorian-style figure moves across the bar area. A potential explanation was uncovered during refurbishment in the 1980s: behind one of the cellar walls, a skeleton was found surrounded by Victorian surgical equipment. The skeleton has now been buried, but the haunting is said to remain. Though spectacularly unfounded, the discovery led to claims at the time that the body could be that of Jack The Ripper, who — the story goes — was hiding in the cellar when the wall was built.
The Old Bull & Bush, North End Way, NW3 7HE
The Grenadier, Belgravia
This quaint-looking pub just off Hyde Park Corner roundabout dates back to 1720. It was originally built to house the First Royal Regiment Of Foot Guards, later known as the Grenadier Guards, for the heroism they showed fighting off the French Grenadiers at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. While the upper floors of the building were used as an Officer's Mess and frequented by King George IV, the cellar was used as a place to drink and gamble for the lower ranking soldiers.
The story goes that one of these soldiers — now affectionately known as Cedric — was caught cheating at cards by his comrades. His punishment was a beating so aggressive that he died and many believe he still haunts the pub to this day. The visitation is most common in September, perhaps the month in which he died. Many objects in the pub have been said to either disappear or move without explanation, while punters have reported long-lasting icy chills. Both drinkers and landlords have heard footsteps wandering around empty rooms, and pained moans coming from the cellar. In one particular instance it is said that a chief superintendent from New Scotland Yard was having a drink in the pub when he noticed smoke start to waft around him. As he reached into the smoke, he shouted in pain and withdrew his hand, now marked with the burn of an invisible cigarette. The pub's ceiling is covered with banknotes, put there by visitors hoping to rid the ghost by paying off Cedric’s cards debt. It doesn’t seem to have worked.
The Grenadier, 18 Wilton Row, SW1X 7NR
The Spaniard’s Inn, Hampstead
Spirits come in triple measures at this pub by the Heath, which was immortalised in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers. The first is Dick Turpin, infamous for highway robbery, whose father is often cited as the pub's landlord during the 18th century (he wasn't). The highwayman's spirit is said to roam the upstairs rooms, causing intermittent bangs and clangs. Downstairs, a moneylender by the name of Black Dick, who was run over by a horse and cart outside the pub, presides over the bar area and has frequently been felt pulling on the sleeves of drinkers. Outside, Dick Turpin’s faithful horse — affectionately known as Black Bess — apparently haunts the car park. Neighs and hooves have been heard by many over the years.
The Spaniard’s Inn, Spaniards Road, NW3 7JJ
The Rising Sun, Smithfield
Legend has it that this Sam Smith's pub set next to St Bartholomew’s Hospital was, in the early 19th century, the preying ground of a particularly brutal form of body snatcher. These gangs would drug drinkers at the pub and later murder them to sell their bodies to the hospital for medical research. This grisly past has seemingly left its mark, with numerous barmen and women experiencing ghostly goings-on. Two barmaids who lived above the pub in 1989 claimed they were often woken in the night by a presence that would sit on the end of their beds and slowly pull the duvet off them. Many others have heard footsteps in the upstairs bar while cleaning away downstairs late at night. In 1990, the then-landlady was showering in the staff bathroom when she heard the door open and close again. She then saw the shower curtain pulled to one side and felt an icy-cold hand run down her back — again, there was no one to be seen.
The Rising Sun, 38 Cloth Fair, EC1A 7JQ
The Viaduct Tavern, St Paul’s
This Fuller's pub opposite the Old Bailey dates back to 1875 and occupies the site of a former jail. The Viaduct was previously a thriving gin palace, and is the last example within the City boundaries. Aside from knocks, footsteps and the odd shiver, two particular stories cement its haunted reputation. In 1996, a manager was tidying the cellar when the door suddenly slammed shut and the lights went out. After feeling his way to the door, he found that no matter how hard he tried, it refused to open. Hearing his cries for help, his wife came and opened the door, claiming it was unlocked and easy to move. On another occasion in 1999, two electricians were working in one of the pub's upstairs rooms. They had rolled the carpet up to get to the floorboards when one worker felt a couple of taps on his shoulder; shortly afterwards, both men apparently saw the rolled-up carpet lifted and then heavily dropped back onto the floor.
The Viaduct Tavern, 126 Newgate Street, EC1A 7AA
The Volunteer, Baker Street
This pub close to Regent's Park is so-named as it was a recruiting station during the second world war, but its haunted history goes much further back. It is built on the site of a large 17th century house which belonged to the wealthy Neville family. When it caught fire in 1654, it burned to the ground taking the entire family with it. A well-dressed man in surcoat and breeches now wanders through the pub's cellar — believed to be former man of the house, Rupert Neville. Footsteps have also been heard, and on occasion the pub's lights have mysteriously flickered on and off. The pub's cellar is believed to be the original, built for the house, the only part of it which remains after the fire.
The Volunteer, 247 Baker Street, NW1 6XE
A version of this article appears in Londonist Drinks, our book about pubs, bars and the history of drinking in the capital.