A Halloween Special
With a history dating back some two thousand years it’s hardly surprising that London is widely considered one of the planet’s most haunted cities.
So with Halloween approaching I thought now would be a good time to take a look at the top five ghostly images snapped within the capital…
1. The Queen’s House Ghosts
Location: Queen’s House, Greenwich
Year of capture: 1966
This haunting image was taken by Reverend R.W Hardy, a retired Canadian who was visiting the Queen’s House with his wife.
Commissioned in 1616 by Anne of Denmark (wife of James I) Queen’s House was designed by pioneering architect Inigo Jones and stands beside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
A major feature of Queen’s House are the Tulip Stairs; the elegance of which drew Mr and Mrs Hardy to the building.
When the photograph was taken, Reverend Hardy was simply interested in recording the architecture- no other figures were visible and whilst he framed the shot his wife checked to insure no passers-by were around to spoil the frame. The staircase was also roped off, complete with a ‘No Admittance’ sign.
Yet when Mr and Mrs Hardy had their photos developed back in Canada, the Tulip Stairs revealed a pair of mysterious, robed figures clutching the railings.
Photographic experts have examined the original negative and found no signs of tampering.
To add to the mystery, another apparent sighting was noted more recently in May 2002 by gallery assistant Tony Anderson who, along with two other colleagues, encountered something most unusual one morning:
“Something caught my eye… I thought at first it was the girl who did the talks at weekends, then realised the woman just glided across the balcony and went through the wall, west side… the lady was dressed in a white-grey colour, old-fashioned, something like a crinoline-type dress“.
2. St Botolph’s Church Ghost
Location: St Botolph’s Without Aldgate Church, Aldgate High Street
Year of capture: 1982
Hailing from 7th century East Anglia, Botwulf of Thorney– more commonly known as Saint Botolph– is the patron saint of travellers which is why, during the medieval era, four London churches were dedicated to his name, each built beside one of the city’s gates so that those embarking on a journey could pop in and pray for a safe trip.
Although one of St Botolph’s churches (which stood at Billingsgate) was destroyed in the Great Fire, the other three remain at Aldersgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate.
St Botolph’s, Aldgate (officially named St Botolph’s Without Aldgate) has been rebuilt several times; the current building dates back to 1744 and was designed by George Dance the Elder.
A stone’s throw from Whitechapel, St Botolph’s Without Aldgate was known as the ‘Church of Prostitutes’ during the Victorian era as the women of the night used to stay close to St Botolph’s walls in order to avoid police harassment.
The church was badly damaged both in the Blitz and by a fire in 1965- of which the cause remains unknown…
The famous picture of a ghostly figure in period dress peering down from the church loft was taken by Chris Brackley in 1982.
At the time, Chris was aware of three other people in the church- none of whom were in the upper level. Experts examined negatives and concluded that no tampering or double exposure were evident.
Location: Hampton Court Palace
Year of capture: 2003
Nicknamed ‘Skeletor’ thanks to his resemblance to the villain from 1980s cartoon, ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe‘, this spook was captured on CCTV at Hampton Court, the huge palace on London’s south-western outskirts which was originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later snapped up by Henry VIII.
During late 2003, an alarm was activated indicating that a set of fire-doors had been opened- yet staff found the exit firmly closed and nobody in the vicinity.
But when examined the CCTV footage suggested a very different story, showing a bizarre figure quickly flinging and slamming the doors. Other cameras focused on the area behind the doors showed the building to be empty.
The doors opened by themselves again the next day, although no figure was present this time. Around the same time, a visitor to Hampton Court noted in the guest book that she’d glimpsed a mysterious figure…
Dr Richard Wiseman, an expert in debunking ghostly photographs is stumped by the footage “it could be the best ghost sighting ever…I haven’t seen anything that would match that at all.”
The Skeletor figure made headlines around the world, and it is reported that some staff at Hampton Court are now reluctant to work within the supposedly haunted area.
Please click below to view the CCTV footage:
4. The Bakerloo Electric Chair
Location: The Bakerloo Line, deep beneath Marylebone
Year of capture: 1983
This bizarre image was clicked inside the carriage of a Bakerloo line train by Watford resident, Karen Collett whilst on a day trip to London with her family.
The sinister figure in the window behind Karen’s nephew is a disconcerting mix of the known and the unexplainable.
It is generally agreed that the ghostly figure depicts the wax effigy of Bruno Hauptmann; a convict sent to the electric chair in 1936 for his part in the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son.
When Karen took her photograph in the early 1980s, Hauptmann’s wax figure was on display in Madame Tussauds Chamber of Horrors section- a venue which the Bakerloo line passes deep beneath.
What is unusual is this: when the photo was taken, Karen and her family had not been to Madame Tussauds, let alone take any pictures of figures strapped in chairs. Nor does Hauptmann’s waxwork have electric blue flashes zapping out of his wrists.
No evidence of tampering has been found with this image and the only explanation offered so far is that the electrifying image is a poster… although the photo was taken whilst the train was speeding through a tunnel (where, of course no posters are displayed) and neither Madame Tussauds or London Underground have any record of using advertising containing such imagery.
5. The Enfield Poltergeist
Location: Green Street, Enfield
Year of capture: 1978
Caught by a remote camera during the early hours, the image above is one of many documenting the case of the ‘Enfield Poltergeist‘ which occurred in suburban North London during the late 1970s.
The story of the Enfield Poltergeist is deeply unsettling… either the result of true psychic malice or two supremely manipulative teenagers. A full article- written as last year’s Halloween special can be read here.
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After bridging the London Overground tracks, the arches of the London to Greenwich Railway cross Landmann Way; an isolated industrial road named after Thomas Landmann who first envisioned the pioneering viaduct in the 1830s.
The arches then approach the junction of Trundleys, Grinstead and Surrey Canal Road.
The Grand Surrey Canal
The route traced by Surrey Canal Road wasn’t originally a road at all- it was a waterway; part of the 2 ½ mile long Grand Surrey Canal which opened in 1810 for the purpose of transporting timber.
Linked to the Thames at Rotherhithe’s Greenland Dock, the canal’s route headed directly south, passing beneath the London and Greenwich railway arches before turning onto the stretch covered by the now tarmacked over Surrey Canal Road.
The waterway then headed along the present day Verney Road, passed underneath the Old Kent Road and then on through the area now occupied by Burgess Park before terminating at a basin between Albany Road and Addington Square in Camberwell.
The canal carried freight well into the 20th century but as the decades wore on, it began to receive increased competition from road transport.
Between the 1940s and 1970s, the canal was gradually closed down section by section, leaving a collection of muddy, rubbish-strewn troughs in its derelict wake.
In the 1980s the obsolete trench was filled in; its route transformed into paths and roads which have pretty much erased all trace of the former canal.
However, if you know where to look there are a few clues here and there as the following images illustrate:
A Further V2 Catastrophe
After the Trundleys Road junction and close to where the canal once flowed, the London to Greenwich arches run past a small park called Folkestone Gardens.
The land now covered by Folkestone Gardens once bustled with streets and housing.
However, at 3.20am on the 7th March 1945 the site was struck by a V2 rocket, the huge explosion destroying much of the housing stock and killing 53 people.
Most of the fatalities were railway employees and their families, housed in flats owned by the Southern Railway.
The bombsite remained until 1970 when the rubble was cleared away and the peaceful green spot laid out.
Cold Blow Lane’s Cold War Politics
Shortly after passing beneath the viaduct, Trundleys Road becomes Sanford Street, off of which branches Cold Blow Lane.
On the corner of Sanford Street and Cold Blow Lane, you’ll spot a bold mural entitled Riders of the Apocalypse, painted on the end terrace of the Sanford Housing Co-op.
Created by Brian Barnes in 1983 when the cold war was decidedly chilly, the mural depicts Ronald Regan, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine (UK minister for defence at the time) and Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, jockeying recklessly around the world on nuclear-tipped cruise missiles; a controversial weapon at the time due to its deployment on British soil at RAF/USAF bases Greenham Common and Molesworth.
The mural was a sequel to another of Brian Barnes’ south London murals… the terrifying Nuclear Dawn which was unveiled on Brixton’s Coldharbour Lane in 1981.
Today, Nuclear Dawn can still be seen but is in a far sorrier state than its Deptford counterpart. There is currently a campaign to save it- please click here to learn more.
Deptford Station; Old Man of the Network
As we’ve seen in previous posts, in its first year the London and Greenwich Railway only ran a short distance between Spa Road and Deptford before being extended to London Bridge a year later; a quirk of history which granted Spa Road the accolade of being the capital’s first official railway terminal.
Spa Road has long since closed… but the Deptford stop is still very much in operation, essentially making it London’s oldest station to remain in service- and pretty much the world’s oldest working suburban station.
For many years, the station was from salubrious, characterized by dingy stairwells and small, cramped brick buildings.
However, in the past two years Deptford Station has undergone a drastic re-development, with a brand new forecourt introducing much needed doses of light and air.
The Deptford Project
On the high street, just over 100 yards south of the station, there sits The Deptford Project, based in the grounds of a former railway yard which was once annexed to Deptford Station.
The centrepiece of this refreshing community centre is a decommissioned 1960s train carriage which has been jazzed up and converted into a quirky café- I can safely vouch that the food and coffee served here is pretty marvellous!
The 35 tonne carriage has held pride of place on Deptford High Street since 2008 after being carefully towed by road from Essex at the achingly slow speed of two miles per hour.
When the carriage passed beneath the Deptford Station arch, there were just a nail-biting two inches to spare…
Rockin’ Out of Deptford
After departing Deptford Station, trains on the London to Greenwich arches brush past the Crossfield Housing Estate which, despite appearing pretty run of the mill, actually boasts some surprising links with the history of British pop-music….
In the late 1970s, one of the estate’s blocks- Farrer House, which sits right beside the viaduct on a road known as Creekside, was deemed by the local council to be unsuitable for housing those with families.
Consequently, the accommodation was offered to young, single tenants; many of whom happened to be struggling artists and musicians.
Amongst these down-at-heel residents were a number of performers from Deptford based band Squeeze (for whom Jools Holland was famously the original keyboard player).
Very much a quintessentially London band, Squeeze went on to have success in both the UK and the USA with songs such as Cool for Cats, Tempted and the bittersweet classic, Up the Junction which can be heard below:
Around the same time, Farrer House was also occupied by the fledgling band, Dire Straits.
In 1977, the Crossfield Estate provided the unlikely setting for Dire Straits’ first ever gig.
With the Deptford Music Festival in full swing outside, the band decided to plug their instruments into the flat’s electrics, trail the wires outside and preform an impromptu set on the lawn.
Like Squeeze, Dire Straits were a regular act on Deptford’s club and pub scene, playing in venues such as The Duke and The Bird’s Nest before hitting the bit time.
The atmosphere of this south London pub scene was evoked in Dire Straits’ 1978 hit, The Sultans of Swing (please click below to listen):
In 2009 a plaque was unveiled on Farrer House by the Performing Rights Society to commemorate Dire Straits’ earliest gig.
The band is also linked to mural entitled Love Over Gold (the title of a Dire Straits album and single) which was painted outside Farrer House in 1989.
Commissioned by the Inner London Education Authority and Dire Straits themselves, the mural was painted by local youngsters in support of Outset UK; a now sadly defunct charity which had been established to help disabled people.
Today, Farrer House maintains its artistic links thanks to the Cockpit Centre, to which it is now home.
Dancing in Deptford
Creekside is also home to the Laban Dance Centre; a major college of dance and arts named after its founder, Rudolf Laban.
Born in Austria-Hungary in 1879, Rudolf Laban opened a number of schools across Europe, pushing dance towards the level of accepted art form.
Following the rise of Nazism, Laban fled to Britain in 1938 and, ten years later, opened a dance school in Manchester; the genesis of the centre which now stands in Deptford.
Designed for a competition in 1997 and unveiled in 2002, the current Laban Centre on Creekside is the world’s largest purpose built dance school and one of London’s most intriguing examples of contemporary architecture.
It was designed by Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron- the team who also masterminded the conversion of the Tate Modern and the design of Beijing’s 2008 Olympic stadium.
History in the Making
Creekside itself takes its name from Deptford Creek; the point at which the 11 mile long Ravensbourne River enters the Thames.
As it approaches Greenwich, the railway viaduct crosses this body of water.
It was at Deptford Creek in 1580 that The Golden Hind finally came to rest after its monumental circumnavigation of the globe. Shortly after its arrival, Queen Elizabeth I boarded the ship to bestow a knighthood upon the captain, Francis Drake.
And now the end is near…
After crossing the Thames tributary the three and a half mile long viaduct finally begins its descent into Greenwich; our final destination on this tour.
The arches reached Greenwich in December 1836 and the handsome station building, designed by architect George Smith, dates from 1840.
As well as helping commuters travel back and forth between the city, Greenwich station was also instrumental in encouraging poorer Londoners to take daytrips away from the squalor of the city centre.
Today, the pleasant district remains a popular destination, noted for its seaside like atmosphere.
Back in the ticket hall of the station, a small plaque hangs quietly on the wall, commemorating the railway’s place in the capital’s history.