Tom Holland Profile picture
Feb 28, 2021 43 tweets 19 min read Read on X
London, Peter Ackroyd wrote, is "a spectral city, so filled with imitations of its past that it haunts its own inhabitants."

But what of the actual spectres? For today's walk through the capital, I am going in search of London's ghosts... Image
Unreal City #LondonGhosts ImageImage
Where else could I possibly begin a tour of #LondonsGhosts but the Tower? Easily the most haunted place in London, & quite possibly the world. Among its ghosts: Henry VI, the Princes in the Tower, Anne Boleyn, Margaret Pole, Lady Jane Grey, Lady Arbella Stuart, and a bear. Image
“Slowly down the aisle moved a stately procession of knights & ladies, attired in ancient costumes, & in front walked an elegant female whose face was averted from him...”

A beefeater in the 19th century sees the ghost of Anne Boleyn in the Chapel Royal in the Tower. Image
Accounts of Margaret Pole, the Countess of Sussex, executed on Henry VIII’s orders, are a good example of how ghost stories evolve over time. She went to the block bravely; but as the centuries passed, so it was reported that her ghost screamed & sobbed, & had to be dragged there
The ghostly bear seen by a beefeater in 1816 cannot have been Old Martin, a bear presented by the Hudson Bay Company to George III, & kept in the Tower, because he was still alive at the time. It must therefore have been the polar bear presented to Henry III by Haakon the Young.
I had not thought death had undone so many. Image
The south corner of Mitre Square, just off Aldgate, is haunted by Catherine Eddowes, Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim.

(Do read @HallieRubenhold’s The Five for an account of Catherine Eddowes’ life.) ImageImageImage
The Bank of England is haunted by Sarah Whitehead, aka the Bank Nun. After her brother, who’d worked at the Bank, was executed for faking cheques, she turned up every day to ask for him. Her ghost is still seen to this day in the Bank’s garden. #Allegedly ImageImage
St Magnus the Martyr, on Lower Thames Street, is haunted by perhaps the most boring ghost in London: “a short black-haired priest wearing a cassock.” It is haunted as well by the ghost of old London Bridge... ImageImageImage
St James Garlic Hythe is haunted by a grey, withered figure, its hands crossed over its chest, to be seen standing in some obscure corner, staring at the altar. The ghost is ‘Jimmy Garlick’: a naturally mummified corpse discovered in 1855 in the vaults, & now kept in a cupboard. Image
The tomb of Prior Rahere, reputedly once the jester of Henry I, & founder of @StBartholomews. His ghost has been appearing in the church ever since the 19th century, when his tomb was opened by workmen, one of whom removed his sandal. Image
In 1849, workmen digging opposite the entrance to the church found a mass of blackened stones ‘covered with ashes & human bones, charred and partially consumed’ - witness, no doubt, to the execution of Protestants in Smithfields, the great market on @StBartholomews’ doorstep. Image
Cock Lane, which in 1762 played host to perhaps the most notorious haunting in London’s history: a poltergeist which claimed to be the ghost of a woman murdered by a former lodger, was investigated by Dr Johnson, & ended up denounced by Hogarth & many others as a fraud ImageImageImage
The Screaming Spectre of Farringdon is Anne Naylor, a girl murdered by a hat-maker who’d apprenticed her, murdered her & disposed of her in a sewer. The ghost’s screams led to the crime’s discovery. The hat-maker was hanged & her house - where the station now stands - demolished. Image
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, plays host to 2 ghosts: the Regency clown Joseph Grimaldi, & the 'Man in Grey,’ who wears a powdered wig & grey cloak. He appears in the upper circle, where he was stabbed by a rival over an actress. His appearance is viewed by actors as a good omen. ImageImage
Just down the road from the Theatre Royal is the Lyceum, where Bram Stoker was the theatre manager. Here he is leaving the theatre with Sir Henry Irving, the great actor on whom Stoker modelled Dracula Image
In the 1880s, a couple in a box at the Lyceum looked down at the stalls, “& saw a woman calmly sitting there with a man’s severed head in her lap.” Years later, they saw a portait that had the same face as the severed head: a man who’d owned the site of the Lyceum & been beheaded
A ghost, spotted in the Naval & Military Club in 1994, was subsequently identified as Major Braddell, who had survived an air-raid on the club in 1941, only to be killed the following week in another raid. The club refused to have him exorcised “because he is still a member.” Image
50 Berkeley Square was, in the mid-19th century, the most famous haunted house in Britain. In 1872, Lord Lyttleton replied to an inquiry about it in a newspaper by writing “There are strange stories about it, into which this deponent cannot enter.” He then killed himself. Image
One room in particular was said to be haunted. First a housemaid & then a young gentleman who had slept there for a dare were found staring at the same spot in speechless horror. The housemaid died of terror; the gentleman, although he recovered, refused to say what he had seen.
Steve Roud, in his hugely enjoyable book London Lore, doubts any of these stories are true. “The most likely explanation is simple & prosaic: an apparently empty & neglected house in an otherwise respectable neighbourhood began to attract speculation.” Boo!
An elm in Hyde Park was haunted by the ghost of Black Sally, an old gypsy woman who was found dead beneath it in 1940. The elm tree died; when it was pulled down, the ghost of Black Sally died as well. Image
Montpelier Square, just off Harrods, was the scene in December 1913 of a truly excellent ghost story. Since I have already told it on another thread, I will save myself the effort of telling it again by linking to it here: Image
Wycliffe Road, home in the 1950s of the Battersea Poltergeist - “Britain’s strangest ever haunting”. The recently released podcast is excellent & eerie.… ImageImage
Clapham Common, where In 1900 a cyclist was almost run off the road by a hansom cab hurtling in eerie silence along the side of the Common. The cyclist looked up to remonstrate with the driver – ONLY TO SEE THAT THE DRIVER’S SEAT WAS EMPTY!!!!!!!!!! Image
Anyway, I’m tired. I need to be getting home...
I cannot recommend a day of tracking down London's ghosts highly enough. There are so many, and in such a range of fascinating locations. London looked absolutely beautiful today - oddly, bearing in mind the theme of my walk, like someone near death coming back to life.
And if you're interested in ghosts - on no account miss @Skionar's A Natural History Of Ghosts. A fantastic survey of hauntings as mirrors held up to national psychosis. Includes a great chapter on the Cock Lane ghost.
Up bright and early to resume my wanderings across London in search of its numerous ghosts. The sites I hope to visit today are haunted by the spectres of, variously, Oliver Cromwell, a dog, and a featherless chicken. Image
Dan Leno’s house on Ackerman Road, Brixton. The comedian Roy Hudd had a recurring dream from childhood of visiting a house; then one day, visiting friends who’d moved into the house where Dan Leno, the music hall star, had lived, realised it was the very house from his dream... Image
In 1932, a postman on Blackfriars Bridge saw a woman in black climb its side. He tried to stop her but was stopped in turn by a policeman, who told him he had seen the same woman do the same thing at the same hour day after day. “What you saw was no living person BUT A GHOST.” ImageImage
Newgate Prison, which once stood on this site, was haunted by a fearsome black dog. It was first mentioned in 1596 by a poet imprisoned there. According to legend, it was the spirit of a scholar who, during a famine in the 13th C, had been killed & eaten by his fellow prisoners. ImageImage
Red Lion Square is haunted by the cloaked ghosts of 3 regicides: Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw & Henry Ireton. After the Restoration, their bodies were exhumed, & - so says improbable tradition - kept overnight here before being taken to Tyburn, to be hanged from the gallows. Image
The truth - according to one theory - is that the corpses were actually taken by sympathisers, John Milton among them, who switched the bodies, and buried the real regicides in the garden behind the Red Lion inn. The lamp post supposedly marks Cromwell’s last resting lace. Image
More on Cromwell’s corpse at Red Lion Square
Tavistock Square covers what was once a field called the Brothers’ Steps. 2 brothers in the reign of Charles II fought a duel over ‘a worthless woman’; one died. No grass ever grew on the the place where he had fallen, nor where the brothers had walked when meeting for the duel. Image
“There is one thing I nearly forgot to mention: that a place on the bank is still to be seen, where, Tradition says, the wretched woman sat to watch their combat. The Almighty has ordained it as a standing monument of his just displeasure at the horrid sin of duelling.”
As late as the 1980s, apparently, there were still a few bare patches to be seen in the south-west corner of Tavistock Square. Image
UCH on Gower Street is haunted by Lizzie Curch, a nurse who died of grief after killing her own fiancé by giving him an overdose of morphine. She is said to appear whenever patients are being given morphine, to make sure that the doses are safe. Image
Fittingly for the cemetery that plays host to the mortal remains of Karl Marx, a man much obsessed by spectres & blood-suckers, Highgate Cemetery is haunted by London’s most notorious vampire: a tall figure with hypnotic red eyes, who wears a tall hat & drinks the blood of foxes. Image
The Vampire’s fame is due mainly to the rivalry between 2 latter day van Helsings who, in the 70s, kept breaking into the cemetery to hunt the vampire & perform exorcisms. The backstory – that a ‘King Vampire from Wallachia’ had been buried there in the 18th C - is very Dracula. ImageImageImageImage

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