Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you will be afraid – very afraid – if you walk the deserted, dimly lit alleys of the City at night and hear footsteps following you but turn to find nobody there.
“Remember, in London, the dead far outweigh the living,” warns Richard Jones, ghost expert and the author of 16 books on haunting, who conducts spooky night-time walks around London – reputed to be the most haunted capital in the world. These are his top choices…
The Tower of London
With over ….. years of horrible history, this is where Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh spent their final days. Among the many illustrious ghosts is the White Lady of the White Tower, whose pungent smell wafts around the entrance to St John’s Chapel. “Guards passing from the chapel into the gallery containing Henry VIII’s armour have spoken of a terrible crushing sensation,” says Richard of another of the White Tower’s ghosts. “One guard got a sudden and unnerving sensation that a black cloak had been flung over his head. As he struggled, his phantom assailant pulled it tight around his throat. After freeing himself, gasping and choking, the marks on his neck bore vivid testimony to his brush with the unseen horror.”
Anne Boleyn’s ghost is said to haunt the Queen’s House and one sentry who challenged the headless spectre that suddenly came at him from the darkness fainted. His commanding officer, who found him, assumed he was drunk.
“He was court-martialled for dereliction of duty, but was saved from disciplinary action by two witnesses who testified that they had seen the entire episode,” adds Richard.
The Viaduct Tavern
Many pubs in London are said to be haunted. However, this former gin palace opposite the Old Bailey has had more sightings than others with one, nicknamed Fred, said to empty people’s drinks. The poltergeist has another nasty habit, according to Richard – switching the lights off in the ladies’ toilet. However, the spookiest part of the pub is the cellar. One manager, who was tidying the end room when the lights went out, found that he was unable to open the door. Fortunately his wife heard his screams.
Some say it is the ghost of Dick Turpin who is often seen galloping across the heath as twilight falls. “This was where highwaymen lurked, perfect for robbing and murder,” adds Richard. “Some walkers have been known to fling themselves to the ground believing they are about to be trampled – only to look up and find that horse and rider have disappeared.”
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
The Theatre Royal’s most sighted ghost (there are several) is said to be the Man in Grey. ”This limping apparition, wearing a powdered wig, grey riding cloak and three-cornered hat, always appears at the beginning of a successful West End run,” Richard says.
“Some say he is the manifestation of Arnold Woodruffe, murdered at the theatre by the actor Charles Macklin … years ago. Another theory is that, when the theatre was being refurbished in the ..th century, a bricked-up room was discovered. Inside was the skeleton of a man with a dagger protruding from his rib cage and fragments of grey cloth hanging on his bones.”
Theatre Royal, Haymarket
This ghost recently made the news when Patrick Stewart was said to have sighted a man wearing what looked like a beige coat and twill trousers in the wings as he performed in Waiting for Godot with Sir Ian McKellen. This benign apparition only appears if he likes the performance and is said to be the ghost of John Baldwin Buckstone, actormanager of the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the mid-19th century and a friend of Charles Dickens.
50 Berkeley Square
Home to Maggs Bros, sellers of rare, antique and first-edition books, a century ago this building was famed for its haunting. Passers-by were startled by strange lights, disembodied screams and the spooky bumping sound of a body being dragged down the staircase.
“On one occasion a new maidservant was given an upstairs room and duly retired to bed,” says Richard. “Two hours later the family were woken by her terrified screams and found her standing in the centre of the room, as rigid as a corpse and with her eyes wide and staring. She was never able to tell what she had seen, for she never regained her sanity. Soon afterwards a young man boasted that he would spend a night in that room and arranged that, should he require assistance, he would ring a bell. No sooner had he gone to the room than the bell began to ring furiously. When his friends raced upstairs they found him dead, his face contorted with terror, open eyes bulging from their sockets.”
After this the house became empty and neglected. However, after a night on the town two sailors broke in and made their way to the upper room to sleep. Woken by the sound of heavy, determined footsteps, they looked up to see the door bang open and a hideous, shapeless mass oozing into the room. One sailor escaped only to return with a policeman. He found his friend’s mutilated corpse impaled on the railings. “The twisted face and bulging eyes were grim testimony to the terror that had caused the man to jump to his death,” says Richard.
The Old City and The East End
The sinister dark lanes and labyrinth of historic alleyways around Whitechapel are the setting of London’s most enduring murder mystery – that of Jack the Ripper – while to the east of the City is St Botolph’s Without Bishopsgate, home to one of the few ghosts in London to be photographed.
“In 1982, photographer Chris Brackley took a photograph of the inside of this splendid church,” says Richard. “On developing it he saw the figure of a woman in old-fashioned garb standing on the right balcony. Yet the only people in the church at the time were Chris and his wife.
“A builder contacted Chris and told him that, while working on the crypt restoration, he accidentally disturbed a pile of dusty old coffins, one of which came open. Gazing back at him was a well preserved body whose face bore an uncanny resemblance to that of the woman in Chris’s picture.”
Meanwhile the Bank of England is haunted by the Old Lady in Black – said to be the ghost of Sarah Whitehead,whose brother Philip was executed for forgery in 1812. Refusing to accept his guilt or death, she called at the bank daily to ask if they had seen her brother. The bank’s governors eventually gave her a sum of money on condition that she never return. She kept her word in life… but not in death.
This is the site of a plague pit dating back to 1348, where some 50,000 victims were buried – some still alive. Some say they can still hear their screams on dark, still nights.
“In the Charterhouse there are ghostly monks and the ghost of a nobleman,” claims Richard. “It is said to be the Duke of Norfolk, who strides down the main staircase, head tucked under his arm, as he returns to where he was arrested.”
Room 333 of the Langham
“One lady guest checked out very suddenly with no explanation,” says Richard. “She later wrote to the hotel to explain that her sleep had been disturbed by the ghosts.”
In 1973 the announcer James Alexander Gordon is said to have awoken in the middle of the night to see a fluorescent ball floating on the opposite side of the room. It became irritated when he asked what it wanted and floated towards him, arms outstretched. He rushed from Room 333 and, when he recounted his experience, colleagues told of similar sightings.
Richard Jones is the author of Walking Haunted London and conducts evening walks including: Hidden Horrors of Haunted London (Fridays) and the Alleyways and Shadows of the old City (Saturdays). http://www.london-ghost-tour.com
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