Happy Halloween. In the spirit of Halloween I will give you five horror stories and urban legends from old London town. Enjoy!
1) 50 Berkley Square
50 Berkley Square is the most haunted houses in London. Berkley Square itself has an interesting history, Robert Clive the man who won India for the British Empire lived in the square, as did one of Briton’s most famous Prime Minister’s Winston Churchill. Another Prime Minister, the lesser known George Canning lived at number fifty and reported hearing strange noises around the house.
The first death was a girl called Adeline. She died jumping from the attic window in an attempt to escape her abusive uncle. A ghost reacting Adeline’s death was witnessed by more than fifty people during the following years.
In 1872, the house attracted the interest of Lord Lyttleton who stayed the night in the attic to stop the rumors of ghosts. Despite being sceptical Lord Lyttleton took a shotgun with him. That night the lord spotted a brown mist in the doorway of the attic. In fright he fired at it. The next morning the spent shotgun shells were recovered but the monster had disappeared.
In 1879 a new family moved into number 50 Berkley Square. The family’s maid was sent into the attic to fetch an item. The family found her screaming ‘Don’t let it touch me, don’t let it touch me.’ She died in an asylum the next day. A nobleman stayed in the attic to once again stop the rumors of hauntings. The family gave him gun to defend himself and a bell to ring if there was any trouble. That night the family heard the bell ringing, swiftly followed by a gun shot. They found the nobleman dead, his gun discharged into the wall. The coroner ruled he had died of fright.
In 1885 Mr Myers came into procession of number fifty. He had been recently jilted before moving into the house and was known as a recluse. He lost his sanity while living in the house which he allowed to fall into disrepair.
Another notable haunting took place on Christmas Eve 1887. Two sailors Edward Bluden and Robert Martin slept in number fifty after being unsuccessful in finding shelter for the night. They were awoken by unknown forces. Martin fled. When he returned with the police Bluden was dead. Accounts differ as to how he died. Some say he jumped out of the second floor window where he had been sleeping, some say he jumped out of the attic window or he tripped on the doorstep while fleeing the house and broke his neck. Mr Myer’s ghost has been credited to Bluden’s death but so has the brown mist. Whichever version of the story you believe, they are all equally terrifying.
2) Spring Heeled Jack
This is a favourite legend of mine. The creature is ludicrous yet terrifying and I love the name.
Like Jack the Ripper (what is it with all the evil Jacks?) Spring Heeled Jack was never caught or identified. Official complaints were made against Jack but historians are not sure if Jack was a man, a ghost or a demon like figure. Some of the descriptions even describe him to similar to Batman.
The two most infamous sighting of Jack are as follows. Jane Alsop answered her door to a policeman in 1838 who claimed that Spring Heeled Jack had been captured in a nearby lane. Jane followed the policeman to the lane only to find that it was empty. The policeman removed his cloak and breathed blue flame into the night air. He caught hold of Jane and tipped at her clothes. Jane managed to fight her way free and fled back to her house. Eight days later, Lucy Scales and her sister were returning home from their brothers’ house when they encountered a fire breathing man, dressed in black. Before their brother could reach them, after hearing their screams, the figure jumped away, leaping over rooftops.
In many Jack sightings few facts remain consistent:
- Jack has the ability to leap large distances.
- He can breath fire.
- Jack is normally dressed in black or in the disguise of a policeman.
- Many of his victims have reported him to be wearing metal gloves.
- He had red eyes, like balls of fire.
A demon stalking the streets of Victorian London or a case of mass hysteria?
3) The Highgate Vampire
Highgate Cemetery was “reportedly” home to a vampire. On December 21 1969 a grey figure was spotting lurking in the cemetery. When this report was published in the newspaper several local residents came forth admitting they had also seen this figure. Soon dead animals started to appear in the cemetery grounds, drained of blood but with no clear wounds. People started to wake up in the cemetery grounds unsure as to how they got there, as though they had been hypnotized. Rumors started that there was a local vampire.
The story grew. The vampire was said to be the “King of the Vampires” and resurrected by modern Satanists. An official vampire hunt was held on Friday 13 March 1970. Two local priests formed a rivalry as to who could catch and kill the vampire first. They were both interviewed on ITV. Years later one of the priests, Sean Manchester claimed in his book to have broken into the vampire’s tomb and opened the coffin but was persuaded by a friend not to stab the creature through the heart. Instead they hung garlic and crucifixes around the tomb before leaving.
If you want to believe the vampire story I suggest you stop reading here.
The credibility of each priest was called into question when the people who had submitted the original claims of bloodless animals, grey figures and being under hypnosis said they may have been mistaken. The priests then admitted that they embellished certain aspects of their stories but insisted that they were more or less truthful. The men later met for a wizard’s duel at Parliament Square to decide who the real vampire hunter was. Now they are mocked and ridiculed by the public.
4) Elephant and Castle, Bank Tube station
When the London Underground was first built the Victorians were dubious. The trains were steam hauled and when they plunged under London many passengers feared they would encounter the devil. Some of the lines pass through medieval graveyards and plague pits and as a result many supernatural sightings have been credited to the railway.
One such station, and a station I used frequently during my university days is Elephant and Castle at the end of the Northern Line. When the station is closed to the public, staff members have reported hearing sprinting footsteps and an odd tapping sound. The CCTV cameras shows nothing. A driver, waiting for his train to arrive, witnessed the apparition of a woman walking through a carriage door.
One of the most notorious ghosts of the London Underground is the black nun at Bank station. The ghost is thought to be waiting for her brother who was charged with fraud in the Victorian era and paid the death penalty. Unaware of her brother’s fate or perhaps unwilling to believe it the women is known to haunt the Bank of England, where her brother worked and Bank tube station.
5) Sir Frances Bacon and the ghost chicken
Yes, this is an actual ghost story. You can decide for yourself if the story is true or not.
Sir Frances Bacon. Keeper of the Seal, Attorney General, Lord Chancellor, General Advisor to the Monarch and most importantly for this story Scientist. In 1626 Sir Frances Bacon died testing a hypothesis. He (correctly) theorized that the cold could be used to preserve meat.
Bacon was traveling when the idea occurred. He stopped his carriage, brought a fowl from a local farmer, killed the animal and then stuffed the carcass with snow. While doing so Bacon caught pneumonia, was rushed to a manor house and died. According to the story, the chicken was so traumatized at being killed by Bacon that its spirit deliberately killed him… somehow. The ghost chicken has been sighted after the event spooking anyone unfortunate enough to stumble across it. The story apparently gave birth to the phrase “running around like a headless chicken” but that fact is up for debate.
Those are five real ghost stories from London, you can decide for yourself which ones, if any, to believe.