I love Halloween, probably because it allows me to combine my perverse fascination with the macabre with my love of high camp. It’s funny, I was never really bothered about it when I was small. Anyway, that in mind, there’s a certain theme to the blentries this week.
I thought it would be nice to talk about something spooky. Britain is apparently the most haunted country in the world, and London makes up a significant proportion of that. And if we’re talking about hauntings and London, the subject of the Underground is never far behind. With its long and complex history, its hundreds of miles of tunnels (not all of which are accounted for, so a former London Transport worker tells me) and the fact that it’s, you know, under the ground, it’s inevitable that spooky stories would arise around it.
I’m going to largely limit myself to the Northern Line for now, simply because there are so very many ghosts on the entire system that I’d be here all night if I attempted to catalogue them all, and I appreciate how busy you are.
The most southerly sighting was at Stockwell, and took the form of an elderly workman spotted by a trainee. This gent was apparently quite sociable, having a brief conversation with the trainee who saw him. Indeed, were it not for the fact that no maintenance was due on that stretch of tunnel, the man might never have been noticed. It was surmised that he was the ghost of someone killed in the 1950s.
You might think Kennington was troublesome enough without spooks, but drivers with empty trains waiting in the tunnel for clearance to come into the station proper have reported the sound of doors on the train opening and closing, as if there’s someone walking up the train – approaching the cab…
Elephant and Castle might be the most haunted station on the network. Maybe this is because one of the tunnels on the Bakerloo Line cuts through a plague pit. Whatever reason, there have been numerous eerie occurances here. The most common was the sound of running footsteps along the platforms and up the stairs when the station was supposedly deserted apart from staff. Doors would open and shut, and a porter named Mr Horton refused to go back there after one night shift when he was alone in the break room and heard someone approaching and knocking on the door. He opened up to find the corridor deserted. A familiar ghost consists of a woman who gets on the train, walks towards the front and then disappears. This ghost supposedly haunts the last train on the Bakerloo Line, but I include it for completeness’ sake. I should also mention one seen by commuters seated alone in the carriage who, upon looking in the opposite window, are startled to see a woman sitting next to them.
The Northern Line ticket hall at Bank was built in the crypt of the church of St Mary Woolnoth, which may go some way to explaining the oppressive feeling of terror experienced by commuters there, often accompanied by a foul stench. Down on the platforms, a figure known as the Black Nun has been sighted. This ghost has also been seen in and around the Bank of England, and is named Sarah Whitehead. Her brother was executed for forgery in 1811, following which Sarah went mad with grief.
Oppressive feelings have also been reported at Embankment, in a staff-only tunnel known as “Page’s Walk”. Unexplained gusts of wind and the sounds of doors opening and closing are heard.
At Moorgate, in the mid-1970s, workers in the Northern City Line tunnels (then part of the Northern Line, now National Rail) spoke of a man in blue overalls who would approach them. As he came closer, a look of unspeakable horror would appear on his face, and he would vanish into the tunnel wall. Some paranormal enthusiasts have suggested that seeing this ghost might have been the cause of the 1975 tube crash in that part of the station, the true cause of which is unknown to this day. Others have suggested that the haint may have been a premonition of the disaster.
At King’s Cross, in the entrance tunnel, a rather modern spectre has been seen – a woman in jeans, crying piteously. The most likely event to have caused such a spirit to become manifest would have been the fire in the Underground station in 1987, in which 31 people lost their lives.
At East Finchley, on the sidings near the station, a ghostly steam train of the Great Northern Railway has been sighted, a relic of the days before the line was run by London Underground.
Highgate, in addition to the Northern Line station that is still very much in use, has an abandoned station that was to form part of an extensive expansion project for the line, a project known as the Northern Heights. The plan was abandoned, as was the station, but the buildings remain. This ruined station is situated in a deep cutting, and is described by author W. B. Herbert as having “an emotive, eerie atmosphere.” Local residents have reported the sound of trains in the cutting, and visitors to the ruins describe a feeling of being watched.
Last train, anyone?