Well, it is the 31st October and Halloween is upon us again.
The night when the Celts believed that the veil between this World and the next was at its thinnest, so the night when it is possible for the dead to cross the boundary and walk the earth once more as spirits.
Of course, in London we have a long history of brutality and dark deeds that have resulted in many restless revenants returning from beyond the grave, brought back by all types of slights, tragedies and, of course murders.
Indeed, on the eastern fringe of the City of London you will find the Tower of London, which must be one of most haunted buildings in Britain, if not the whole World.
Since its erection by William of Normandy in the wake of his invasion of 1066, the Tower of London has witnessed so many acts of cruelty, infamy and brutality that its history, it might be said, is, quite literally, written in blood.
Two of Henry V111’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were beheaded inside it. The little Prince, Richard and Edward disappeared, and were probably murdered, whilst residing within its imposing walls at some time around 1483. Guy Fawkes was tortured here in the wake of the Gunpowder plot (still remembered every 5th November with the burning of his effigy on bonfires around the country). The Countess of Salisbury, a spirited old lady who refused to place her head on the executioners block when told to do so by her executioner, was, literally hacked to death here in one of the most shameful episodes in the Towers’s bloody history. The list goes on and on, and the majority of these aforementioned names from history are still said to roam the Tower as ghosts.
The there is 50 Berkeley Square, a location that for many years laboured under the enviable sobriquet of “The Most Haunted House in London.” One of its upstairs rooms was, so people were once assured, the domain of something so hideous and so terrifying that few who saw it ever survived their encounter, and those that did were rendered insane by coming face to face with whatever it was.
Nowadays the building is home to Maggs Bros, Antiquarian booksellers and the haunted room is now their accounts department! But, from time to time, a grey funnel of mist is known to hover over the desk in the rooms, and a little girl in a plaid dress is said to come skipping down the stairs to greet some of those who cross the threshold of this old, and very haunted, house.
Each Halloween, our Jack the Ripper guided walking tour sets out onto the streets of the East End to follow in the footsteps of an unknown man whose reign of terror added greatly to London’s reputation for bloodshed and mayhem.
Several of the sites where the murders occurred are said to be haunted.
In Buck’s Row, where the body of Mary Nichols was discovered, on 31st August 1888, the outline of the body of this particular victim is said to appear on the ground close to where her took place.
Albeit, at the moment, the construction of Crossrail’s Whitechapel Station has made it something of a restricted site, and getting anywhere near it is something of a squeeze, if not nigh on impossible!
In Mitre Square, where the murder of Catherine Eddowes took place, on August 31st 1888, – and whose shawl is at the centre of the recent DNA evidence that supposedly “proves” the guilt of major suspect Aaron Kosminski – the cobblestones are reputed to glow red at midnight on the anniversary of her murder.
Over in Hanbury Street, scene of the murder of Annie Chapman, Jack the Ripper’s second victim, who was murdered on the 8th September 1888, several of the offices of the former Truman Brewery, that now occupies the site of 29 Hanbury Street where her murder occurred, are said to become icy cold on the anniversary of her slaying.
And finally, close by, the Ten bells Pub, at the junction of Fournier Street and Commercial Street is haunted by all sorts of strange and inexplicable happenings which have placed it up there in the short list of the most haunted pubs in London.
Speaking of which, if you ant to pay a visit to a haunted pub today, then head over to the Viaduct tavern on Newgate Street. Its cellars are the haunt of something decidedly sinister and, in the 1990’s, a number of landlords found the ghost to be so irritating with its habit of moving things around, that they quit there job rather than endure the attentions of Fred any further! You can, if the pub is not too busy, you buy a drink, and you ask very nicely, descend to the pub’s cellars, which is where much of the ghostly activity appears to emanate from.
Across the road from the pub is the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court) where you can, if you wish attend criminal trial and witness the spectacle of English Justice at its best, or worst, depending on how you view these things.
The Old Bailey stands on the site of Newgate Prison and, it was in the Square, that still exists in front of the courthouse, that the executions were carried out in public between 1763 and 1868. These were always hugely popular and as many as 20,000 spectators would cram into the square to watch the felons plunge to their deaths with the hangman’s noose tied firmly around their necks.
A short walk from the Old bailey will bring you to London’s oldest parish church, the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, which dates from 1123, and which is haunted by the ghostly form of the monk who founded it, Rahere. You’ll know he’s around when the air suddenly begins to get cold.
It was in the square outside the church, now West Smithfield, that many of those who were executed in the reign of Mary Tudor, were put to death by fire. It was also in this square that the Scottish Patriot, Sir William Wallace, was hanged, drawn and quartered on the 23rd August 1305.
Needles to say, this square is also haunted, and some who work in the surrounding area at night say that, from time to time they hear agonised screams carried upon the night breezes, and they smell a smell “not unlike” the smell of burning flesh.
As you can see, London has more than its fair share of ghosts, many of them the result of the bloodthirsty and, decidedly, horrible history that the City has witnesses.
So, if you are looking for a ghostly place or two to head for over the Halloween weekend, you have more than enough locations to choose from. And, they are as varied a bunch of spooky locations as you could ever wish to find.
And, who knows, if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, or, as some might say, if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might well encounter a former resident of the City who might well come gliding towards you, arms extended in greeting, to welcome you to the streets of haunted London. Cheers and Chills for this Halloween.
Till next year.