Ghosts of London. Haunted Pubs.
Retrace your way to Amen Corner and turn right along Warwick lane. Go all the way to the end and turn right along Newgate Street, crossing immediately to its opposite side. Take the first path on the left and turn in through the iron gate to enter the churchyard of Christchurch Greyfriars.
This is the site of an ancient burial ground where lie the mortal remains of ‘the she-wolf of France’, Queen Isabella, wife of the English King Edward II. With her lover, Roger Mortimer, she instigated the deposing of the king and had him imprisoned at Berkeley Castle. On the night of 21 September, 1327, he was brutally murdered by way of ‘a kind of horn or funnel… thrust into his fundament through which a red hot spit was run up his bowels’. His screams could be heard far outside the castle walls, and are still heard there on the anniversary of the horrific event. Following Mortimer’s execution by her the king’s son, Edward III, in 1330, Isabella retreated into a polite retirement. She died in 1358, her last years having been racked by violent dementia. She was buried here at Greyfriars, with the heart of Edward II placed upon her breast. At twilight, her beautiful, angry ghost flits amongst the trees and bushes, clutching the beating heart of her murdered husband before her.
Lady Alice Hungerford was considered a great beauty of the Tudor age and she too murdered her spouse, in her case with a lethal dose of poison. In 1523 she paid for her crime by being boiled alive. She was laid to rest at Greyfriars, where her beautiful, serene phantom was soon drifting through the cloisters and aisles of the monastery and, following its dissolution, through the burial ground that sprang up on its site.
And so the two ladies went about their nocturnal rambles, each blissfully unaware of the other’s existence, until one night, in Victorian times, they met among the tombs. Eyeing each other with curiosity, then surprise and finally hostility, they each became jealous of the other’s beauty, and a fearsome battle erupted as they fought over their territory. Bemused witnesses could only look on in terror as the spectral fight became more and more vicious. A night watchman, caught up in the midst of the ghostly squabbling, was so frightened by the experience that he fled the scene and ‘never … came back to collect his pay’.
Leave the peaceful churchyard, then go back to and turn right along Newgate Street. Characterless 19th-century developments now line a thoroughfare where butchers once plied their trade and which was known accordingly as Blow Bladder Lane.
Upon arrival at the junction with Giltspur Street cross to the courts, better known, the world over, by the name of the street in which they stand – Old Bailey.
This was the site of Newgate Prison and public executions were carried out in the square outside from 1783 until their abolition in 1868, with as many as 20,000 people cramming into the area to ensure themselves a good view. The prison was demolished in the early 1900s and the courts were built on the site. They are open to the public, who can attend the trials.
It might come as a surprise to learn that the last witchcraft trial in England was held at the Old Bailey as recently as March 1944. The unfortunate witch was the Scottish medium, Mrs Helen Duncan. The specific charge against her was pretending ‘to raise the spirits of the dead’. The case so annoyed Winston Churchill that he fired off an angry missive to the Home Secretary demanding to know why the 1735 Witchcraft Act was ‘being used in a modern court of justice’. The defence even offered to hold a seance in the courtroom and allow the spirits to testify on Mrs Duncan’s behalf, but the jury, disappointingly, declined. The unfortunate medium was found guilty and spent nine months in Prison. Her supporters maintain that her trial and imprisonment were due to official paranoia and that the government actually feared she might ‘see’ and reveal the preparations for the D-Day landings. As a direct result of the trial, the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951 and replaced by the Fraudulent Medium’s Act.
On the opposite side of the road at the junction with Giltspur Street stands the wonderful:-
Viaduct Tavern. It dates from 1875, and is the last example of a late Victorian gin palace left in the City of London. It is also prone to suffer from bouts of poltergeist activity. “Poltergeist” is derived from two German terms Poltern meaning “to knock” and Geist meaning “spirit.” The restless spirit that haunts the Viaduct Tavern has a propensity to haunt the pubs cellars where several members have staff have experienced its unwelcome attentions. In 1996, a manager was tidying the cellar one Saturday morning, when the door suddenly slammed shut and the lights went out. Feeling his way to the door, he found that no matter how hard he pushed it just would not open. Fortunately, his wife heard his cries for help and came down stairs to investigate. She found that the doors, which would not open from the inside, were unlocked and easily pushed open from the outside.
In May 1999 two electricians, working in one of the pubs upstairs rooms, also attracted the ghosts unwelcome attentions. They had rolled the carpet up and were taking up the floorboards, when one of them felt a hand tap him on the shoulder. Thinking it was his workmate he turned round, but found that he was on the other side of the room. Believing he’s imagined it he went back to work and yet again he felt a tap on his shoulder. Standing up, he went over to his friend to ask if he was playing a prank, but the man denied any involvement. As he was about to return to his chores, both men watched as the heavy carpet, that lay rolled up by the window, was lifted into the air and dropped heavily onto the floor.
Exit the Viaduct tavern and cross over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which can be seen on the other side of Giltspur Street.
Founded in 1137, and dedicated originally to St Edmund, the fact that, like the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, it stood just outside the north-west gate of the City, made the church the favoured venue for the Knights of the Crusades to set out from on their journey to the Holy Land, and thus it acquired its present name. It was rebuilt in 1450 and, although damaged by the Great Fire of London (c.1666) it wasn’t destroyed, and thus the edifice that greets today’s visitor is a veritable cornucopia of differing architectural styles.
During the Blitz of World War 11, the nearby City Temple was destroyed, and its congregation were invited to make use of the church of St Sepulchre, as it was by then better known. As the vicar handed over the keys to the Temple’s minister, Dr Weatherhead, he commented casually that, if he were alone in the church at night and happened to see a tall, pale clergyman, then “don’t be alarmed; it’s just a ghost.” The vicar went on to explain “...he’s quite often there, and when I speak to him he never answers.”
A few Sunday’s later, following the morning service, Dr Weatherhead and his wife, invited a female friend to dine with them. Over lunch, the woman, who had been told nothing of the haunting, informed the minister, that on the occasions when she had watched him take communion at the church, she had noticed a “tall, pale-faced clergyman, with you in the Sanctuary. At first I thought he was assisting you and then one morning I saw you walk right through him, and I knew he was a ghost.”