London ghost walks
Backtrack up St Andrew's Hill, bear left onto Carter Lane and then immediately right along Creed Lane. At the end cross Ludgate Hill, bear left and left again into Ave Maria Lane. Continue to its junction with Amen Corner, and there turn left to walk to the gates of:-
Amen Court, a delightful enclave of 18th and 19th century houses where the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral live. Famous past residents have included wit and author Sidney Smith who lived at number 1 from 1831-1834; and R.H Barnham, author of the evocative and eerie Ingoldsby Legends, who occupied the same address from 1839-1845.
At the rear of the court, behind the bushes, there looms a large and ominous dark wall, behind which once stood the fearsome bulk of Newgate Prison, until its demolition in 1902. However, on the other side of the wall, there still is a tiny passage, which was known as “Deadman’s Walk” in the days of the prison, on account of the fact that prisoners were led along it to their executions, and were buried beneath it afterwards.
Although many ghostly tales have evolved around this sinister old wall, the most chilling is that of the “Black Dog of Newgate.” This shapeless, black form slithers along the top of the wall, slides sloppily down into the courtyard and then melts away. Its manifestations are always accompanied by a nauseous smell, and are often accompanied by the sound of dragging footsteps. Its origins are said to date back to the reign of Henry 111, when a fearsome famine struck London and the poor felons incarcerated within Newgate Prison, faced with the prospect of starvation, turned to cannibalism as a means of survival. One day a scholar was imprisoned there on charges of sorcery. His portly figure proved too much of a temptation for the older inmates, and within a few days they killed and ate him, pronouncing him to be “good meate.”
However, they soon had cause to regret their actions, for a hideous black dog with eyes of fire and jowls that dripped with blood, appeared in the dead of night and proceeded to exact a terrifying revenge. Some hapless prisoners were torn limb from limb by the ferocious beast, as their anguished screams echoed through the gaol, striking terror into the very souls of the other inmates. Others simply died of fright, when they heard its ghostly panting and its heavy paws, padding towards them across the cold, stone floors. Those who survived the first nights of its lust for blood and vengeance became so terrified, that they killed their guards and escaped. But no matter how far they travelled, the beast hunted them down one by one. Only when the murder of its master, the Sorcerer, had been fully avenged, did it return the prison’s foetid dungeons, where it became a hideous harbinger of death, always appearing on the eve of executions or the night before a felon breathed his last. When the prison was demolished in 1902, it was hoped that the black dog would become a thing of the past. But it was not to be. For people walking in Amen Court at night, who have happened to glance at the dark wall, have reported seeing its seething black shape, shuffling across the wall, and have watched as it slithers into the courtyard where it disappears before their very eyes, leaving the smell of death its ghostly wake.
Another ghost associated with the courtyard is that of Amelia Dyer, the ‘Reading Baby Farmer.’ Paid to look after unwanted babies, this evil woman would drown her charges in the Thames and other rivers, whilst continuing to draw a substantial income for their upkeep. Brought to justice she was sentenced to death and, on the 10th June 1896, she took her final stroll along “Deadman’s Walk.” As she did so, she passed a young warder named Mr Scott. Stopping abruptly, she slowly turned towards him and fixed him with her evil gaze. Her small, dark eyes looked into his, her face cracked into a toothless smile and, in a low, rasping voice, she sneered, “I’ll meet you again some day, sir.” Moments later, she was dead, dangling at the end of the hangman’s noose.
The years passed, Scott progressed in his chosen career, and memories of Amelia Dyer and her prophecy were soon forgotten. Then one night, just before the prison was to close, he found himself along in the warders’ room, his back to the grille that looked out onto Deadman’s Walk. Suddenly, a cold shiver ran down his spine and got the distinct impression that someone was watching him. And then he heard it, that low, sneering, rasp as the unmistakable voice of Mrs Dyer echoed from the passage: “Meet you again, meet you again….” Turning, he saw her evil face, framed by the grille, grinning at him. Stirred to action he rushed at her, but she promptly vanished. Throwing open the door, the passage was silent and empty. Had he imagined it? Possibly, yet he could never account for the woman’s handkerchief, which at that very moment, fluttered to the flagstones and lay still by his feet…