From literature to urban legends, there have been some pretty creepy Londoners dreamt up over the years. Here are 12 of them guaranteed to give you the chills (or at the very least, ideas for your Halloween costume).
The Pig-faced woman of Marylebone
Rumoured to have been exiled in a plush house on Manchester Square, this David Cronenberg-esque hybrid was hot gossip around 1815. Elegant body aside, the noblewoman’s bonce was 100 percent sow, a condition meaning she dined from a trough (albeit a silver one) and could only communicate in grunts. The moral of this grim fable? Don’t mess with a witch on your wedding day.
First sighted on Clapham Common one misty evening in October 1837, this eerie figure boasted glowing red eyes, metallic claws and the ability to spit blue flame, making him the perfect mascot for a heavy metal band. The following night Jack startled a coach on Battersea's Lavender Hill, causing it to crash, and then fled the scene by vaulting a nine-foot wall, cackling all the way. Over the following year, reports of Spring-Heeled Jack – as he came to be known – flooded in from Ealing to Forest Hill, although who or indeed what he was remains unsolved.
Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett
Said to have been tucked away up Fleet Street’s Hen and Chicken Court, Sweeney Todd’s barbershop was the last place you’d want to have popped for a short back and sides. As the urban legend goes, the demon snipper’s chair concealed a crafty mechanism that tipped hapless customers through a trapdoor into the the cellar below. A crack to the head inflicted the victim’s initial injury, after which ST finished the job with a swift razor to the throat. Each corpse was carted off to nearby Bell Yard where Sweeney’s soulmate Mrs Lovett baked the flesh into pies, dishing them up to unsuspecting punters as London’s most gruesome street snack.
In Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ’Dracula’, Lucy Westenra is a vivacious young woman who falls prey to the blood-hungry Transylvanian Count. Transformed into a vampire herself, she sneaks away from her tomb at night and wanders zombie-like across Hampstead Heath in search of necks to nibble.
A sinister Thought Police agent in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, O’Brien is tasked with torturing and reconditioning those who’ve dissed Big Brother. Operating from the ominous Ministry of Love, his ultimate tool is Room 101 – a petrifying chamber where a prisoner's personal phobias are made manifest. As O’Brien drily describes, this can be anything from 'Burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.' What would your Room 101 be?
Cruella de Vil
Originally created by Dodie Smith for her 1956 novel ‘The One Hundred and One Dalmatians’, you'll be pretty familiar with Cruella de Vil – a wealthy London heiress who embodies evil. Her hair’s skunk-like and her eyes are tinged red. She drinks ink and purple soup. Her home – Hell Hall – resembles Beelzebub’s crib. Most odious of all though? Her appalling cruelty to animals.
A vicious sociopath who delights in a spot of the old ultraviolence, Alex DeLarge is the anti-hero of Anthony Burgess’ 1961 work, ‘A Clockwork Orange’. When Stanley Kubrick adapted the novella in 1971, he planted Alex firmly in London. The brutal opening assault on a homeless man was filmed beneath Wandsworth’s Trinity Road roundabout. Alex’s digs are on the Thamesmead Estate, and by day he hangs out at the former Chelsea Drugstore on the King’s Road. The young brute is later incarcerated in Wandsworth prison before undergoing controversial rehab at Brunel University.
When American diplomat Robert Thorn is appointed ambassador to Britain in 1976’s ‘The Omen’, he heads to London with high hopes and his family in tow. Little does he realise that his son Damien, who was craftily swapped at birth, is the devil incarnate. Despite his tender years, the wee Satan unleashes havoc, mercilessly bumping off anyone who threatens his rise. This includes having a priest impaled in Bishop's Park and seeing that his mum plunges to her death from a window at Harrow's Northwick Park Hospital. The six-year-old Damien was played by Putney-born Harvey Spencer Stephens, whose final, unsettling grin to camera is now the stuff of cinematic legend.
After surviving a werewolf attack on the Yorkshire Moors, amiable American backpacker David Kessler is transferred to a London hospital. Once discharged, he shacks up with nurse Alex at her flat on Redcliffe Square, Earl’s Court and it’s here that the true impact of his werewolf encounter reveals itself. After morphing into a lycanthrope (manwolf), David unleashes horror on early '80s London, mauling an array of people from tube commuters to courting couples beneath the light of a full moon. His nocturnal spree culminates in a mass assault on Piccadilly Circus, although the location in which he’s finally cornered by police was filmed on Southwark’s Winchester Walk.
Broadcast on Halloween night, 1992's ‘Ghostwatch’ was presented as a live investigation into spooky goings-on at an ordinary suburban house in Northolt. Inspired by the case of the ‘Enfield Poltergeist’ the story focused on a single mum and her two daughters who were being haunted by a malevolent spirt, the clanging and banging of whom earned him the nickname ‘Pipes’. The ghost appeared on screen for just moments at a time, famously hoodwinking many viewers into believing the unfolding drama was real. Needless to say Mary Whitehouse and co weren't amused.
A supposedly benign being in Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’, Angel Islington is the guardian of the strange world London Below, a role he inherited after the fall of Atlantis. In truth, Islington’s a fallen messenger, a ruthless entity hellbent on conquering Heaven via a portal hidden beneath the capital. In dramatisations, this twisted, two-faced cherub’s been portrayed by both Peter Capaldi and Benedict Cumberbatch.
When ‘Mighty Boosh’ lads Howard and Vince attempt to woo two goth girls with a seance they inadvertently unleash the ‘Nanatoo’, an apocalyptic demon with a five-star rating. Resembling a kindly old lady, the Nanatoo heads for Shoreditch where she targets hipsters with her deadly knitting needles and ninja-star-like bus pass. 'Satan’s evil in a nylon gown' for sure.Share the story