City of the Dead

As Halloween approaches, the deceased start to stir. From the headless lady of St James‘s Park to the chicken that killed Sir Francis Bacon, the capital is awash with all manner of spirits and sprites. We seek out London‘s greatest ghouls.

  • The murdered actor

    Where is it? Covent Garden tube, W1.What’s the story? Ticket inspector Jack Hayden claims to have seen a tall spectre in grey suit, tight trousers and Homburg hat around 40 times through the 1950s. He would rattle the door of the ticket office, stare at Hayden without speaking, then disappear. Another inspector, Victor Locker, also claims to have seen this mysterious apparition late at night, after which he refused to ever work at Covent Garden again. Who is it? A seance discerned this was the ghost of actor William Terris, who was murdered by a fellow actor outside the Adelphi Theatre in 1897. He visits the station because he used to frequent the baker’s that previously stood on the site: even in death, a man needs his buns.How scary is it? Tube stations late at night are inherently scary, so inexplicable noises and unexpected apparitions would really crank up the tension. A number of other tube stations are said to be haunted, including Elephant & Castle, where ghostly footsteps are often heard running along the platform, and Bank, which sometimes smells like a newly dug grave. Chill factor 4

    The most haunted house in London

    Where is it? 50 Berkeley Square, W1.What’s the story? This place earned its title in the nineteenth century after a series of infamous incidents. Stories differ, but the following is the favoured version. By 1840, the house had already acquired a reputation as haunted, and a maid was said to have been driven mad by a ghost. Undeterred, high-spirited toff Sir Robert Warboys, scoffing at stories of a hideous Thing, agreed to spend the night in the haunted upstairs bedroom for a bet. All was quiet until midnight, when the bell in his room was heard ringing frantically. By the time his friends found him, the man was frozen rigid with terror, his eyes bulging on stalks, incapable of speaking. Seconds later, he keeled over stone dead. After this horrible incident, nobody would live at the house, but neighbours claimed that lights would flicker on and off, faces would appear at the upstairs window, screams would rent the air and bumps and bangs would be heard from within.

    A few years later (some say 1843, others 1887), two sailors searching for a place to stay broke into the house and inadvertently settled down in the haunted room. Suddenly, they were awoken by heavy footsteps, the door was flung open and a horrible oozing mass began to fill the room and take the shape of a man. One sailor escaped through the door; the other jumped from the window and impaled himself on iron railings below.
    Who is it? There are two theories. One is that it is the ghost of a lunatic who was locked in the attic and fed only through a hole in the door; the other is that it is one Mr Myers, who confined himself to his room when jilted on his wedding day.
    How scary is it? Historically, terrifying. However, the ghost has lost some of his vim in recent years and was last seen in 2001 dashing somebody’s spectacles to the ground.
    Chill factor 9

    The boozed-up bodysnatchers

    Where are they? Rising Sun, Cloth Fair, EC1.What’s the story? Very spooky things have been known to take place in this city boozer – for instance in 1989 two Brazilian barmaids sleeping upstairs were woken by a ‘presence’ who would ‘tug their duvets off’.Who is it? The pub was said to be used by a gang of bodysnatchers in the early ninteenth century, who are rumoured to have bolstered their dark trade by drugging and murdering patrons of the Rising Sun.How scary is it? Sounds like a lecherous bar manager chancing his arm to us, but that’s not to say the Brazilian barmaids had no reason to be afraid. However, it is probably preferable to the ghost who haunts the Bow Bells on Bow Road, who flushes the toilets in the women’s loos while patrons are using them. Either way, it’s remarkable how many ghost stories seem to feature places that serve alcohol on the premises.Chill factor 5

    The headless lady of the lake

    Where is it? St James’s Park, SW1.What’s the story? Late at night a headless woman is sometimes seen emerging from the lake, drifting on to land and then breaking into a frantic run. The same figure has also been seen on Birdcage Walk. In 1972, a driver swerved to avoid her and crashed into a lamp-post. When the history of the haunting was brought up in court, the driver was acquitted of dangerous driving.Who is it? The wife of a sergeant of the guards – her husband decapitated her, buried the head and flung the body in the lake. How scary is it? A good deal scarier than a woman with a head.Chill factor 7

    The bum fiend

    Where is it? Charlton House, SE17.What’s the story? A spirit here preys on the women of the house, rattling bedroom door handles and pinching bottoms.Who is it? This Jacobean house was owned by the fruity Sir William Langhorne, who married a 17-year-old when he was 80 and was generally considered to be the sort of lusty fellow who wouldn’t let the inconvenience of his own death get in the way of a good old-fashioned goosing.How scary is it? More ‘Carry On Screaming’ than the ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Chill factor 4

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