Category Archives: Occult

Dame Thora and the Killer Coat

London has no shortage of unusual ghost stories, from the Bald Chicken of Pond Square to Scratching Fanny of Cock Lane. Many of these unhappy shades choose to haunt Theatreland – and why not? If you’re looking for a spooky place to hang around scaring the living daylights out of people, you couldn’t do much better than a dark and gloomy playhouse.

Among the city’s many theatrical ghosts are William Terriss at the Adelphi and Covent Garden Underground Station, Sarah Siddons at her old house in Baker Street and the World War I soldier at the Coliseum. For those seeking less highbrow entertainments, Nell Gwynne was said to appear in the Gargoyle Club, a strip joint in Soho.

My personal favourite, though, involved the late and much-lamented Dame Thora Hird. In her long career, she played many roles, but is perhaps most famous for her long run on Last of the Summer Wine.

Long before that, she trod the boards in various venues, including a stint at the Embassy Theatre in Swiss Cottage. Here, in 1949, she played a lead role in a costume drama called The Queen Came By. Like many theatres, the Embassy had a store of old-fashioned costumes. Miss Hird was outfitted for her role as a seamstress with a short velvet jacket pulled out of a box of Victorian clothing that had been in store.

While it was initially a perfect fit, during the run she experienced a degree of discomfort – at first just a little tightness under the arms, which grew worse and worse even after the jacket had been let out. Worse still, the brooch she was wearing felt as if it was sticking into her throat. Attempts to adjust it were futile, and when the show moved to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End she simply did away with the painful piece of jewelery.

Yet still the jacket caused discomfort. The tightness was particularly noted around the neck. The Stage Manager tried it on, and felt the same. The Director’s wife felt a similar pinch, and when she took it off she had painful red marks around her throat, consistent with an attempt at strangling. When Thora’s understudy, whom Miss Hird described as “very psychic,” tried it on, she saw a vision of a teenage girl wearing the jacket in her bathroom mirror that night.

Eventually it was decided that the jacket itself had to go. But before it did, a cast member named Frederick Piffard, at the instigation of esteemed periodical Psychic News, decided that a seance was the only way to get to the bottom of this mystery. On the last night, after the final curtain, it was organised. Instead of indulging in the traditional last night pasttime of getting roaring drunk, the cast, crew and three mediums held the seance on stage in front of an invited audience.

Almost everyone who tried the jacket on reported the same sensation of strangulation, one even needing to be revived with water. A couple off the street, too, felt the hands of a mysterious assailant when asked to put the garment on. No conclusions were reached as to the identity of the spectre that had apparently taken residence in this coat (not least because the audience was rather more sceptical than the mediums and happily voiced this fact), but two of the mediums reported an image of a young Victorian girl violently struggling against an unknown assailant.

Speaking personally, at the risk of sounding disrespectful to the late Dame Thora, I’m not particularly convinced. There have been some pretty hard-to-explain ghost stories that I’ve heard of, but this one could mostly be accounted for by a too-tight jacket and hysteria. Theatrical folk prone to hysteria? Surely not.

As for the jacket itself, apparently it made its way to America. So watch out next time you’re vintage shopping and you come across a bargain, I guess.

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Filed under 20th Century, Arts, Covent Garden, History, London, Occult, Paranormal, Psychogeography, Theatre, West End

Beneath the Grave – Ghosts of the Central Line

Good evening, fright-fans, it is I, Tom, your extravagantly-cleavaged Master of the Dark [picture inadmissable]. As Halloween approaches with the inevitability of death, I thought an appropriately-themed entry might be in order. As last year’s entry on the ghosts haunting the Northern Line was so popular, I figured I might continue the theme with the hauntings on the old Central London Railway or, as the kids call it nowadays, the Central Line. Mind the gap…

Northolt

You’ve all heard of the Beast of Bodmin, but did you know there was a Beast of Northolt? In the early 1990s, there were several sightings of a big cat alongside the Central Line between Northolt and Greenford. Accounts vary as to the species of cat, although most seem to settle on “puma.” Whence it came and how it got to Northolt without being noticed remain to be explained.

Marble Arch

If you should find yourself leaving Marble Arch late at night, when the station is quiet, you may find yourself being followed up the escalator. Several people have reported a sinister man in 1940s clothing who they sense close behind them on the escalator and see out of the corner of their eye. Upon turning around completely, the man vanishes. Again, no explanation has been offered as to who this restless spirit might be.

British Museum

Perhaps the most unlikely ghost out of the many on the Underground was sighted at this now-closed station. The ghost would, so the story goes, appear at one end of the platform and walk to the other, wailing mournfully. What marked this particular spectre out, however, was the fact that he was dressed in the clobber of an Ancient Egyptian. Being the intelligent and probably very sexy reader that you are, you’ve no doubt figured out why there might be an Ancient Egyptian haunting British Museum Station. To be more specific, the Egyptian is said to have some sort of link to the so-called Unlucky Mummy (pictured right), a sarcophagus lid in the Museum that is said to be cursed. This is just one of many legends attached to it, the most interesting of which says that it was responsible for sinking the Titanic.

Even bearing in mind that I’m a sceptic, I’m inclined to take this one with a pinch of salt. The accounts are lacking in detail and only emerged shortly before the station was closed down. I’m inclined to believe it was the invention of a journalist looking for a spooky story. Nevertheless, the story persists, albeit with the ghost now haunting Holborn. Why Holborn and not the closer Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road stations? It is a mystery.

Chancery Lane

Chancery Lane has plenty of secrets of its own, but in the tunnels between here and Holborn, there’s said to be one more surprise. During the 1960s,drivers stopping at signals here would often be freaked out by the appearance of a man standing next to them in the cab. Apparently some sort of fellow crewman, he would be staring straight ahead, and would vanish as soon as the train pulled away.

Bank

I covered the manife-stations (see what I did there) at this stop in last year’s entry, but I thought I’d mention that it’s a haunted station on the Central Line for those pedants who’ll leave comments if I don’t.

Liverpool Street

This terminus is built on the site of a plague pit and one of the several incarnations of the notorious Bedlam. The building of this and neighbouring Broad Street Station involved the disturbance of many final resting places, so really it would be surprising if there were no hauntings here. Sure enough, Liverpool Street and environs are said to be haunted by the ghastly screams of a woman.

The most popular suggestion for the screamer is one Rebecca Griffiths, an inmate at Bedlam in the late 18th century whose illness included a compulsive need to hold on to a particular coin. Upon her death, one of the staff (who were not known for their selflessness) stole it from her lifeless fingers and Rebecca’s inconsolable spirit searches for it still.

More recently, in 2000, the Line Controller sighted a man in white overalls in the tunnels who should not have been there. He sent the Station Supervisor to investigate, who found nothing. What made this particularly peculiar was that the Supervisor found no man down there – even though the Controller could see the man on the CCTV screen right next to him.

Bethnal Green

I’ll finish with the Easternmost of the haunted Central Line stations that I’m aware of, and one of the most frightening hauntings. This one is traceable to a specific incident that took place on 3rd March 1943. As often happened in the East End at that time, when the air raid siren sounded, the local people made for the Tube station. Unfortunately, on this night it had been decided to carry out a test-firing of an experimental new type of rocket in nearby Victoria Park. Panicked by what sounded like a very nearby explosion, the crowds surged forward. A woman on the stairs lost her footing and fell, taking several others with her and causing further panic, which in turn worsened the stampede and the crush inside the station. 173 people were killed in the disaster, crushed or asphyxiated. For reasons of morale, the Bethnal Green incident was covered up until 1946.

From 1981 onwards, however, there were reports of an extremely unnerving nature from the station. Staff working late at night spoke of hearing screams – at first one or two, then more and more, clearly identifiable as women and children. These screams would go on for up to fifteen minutes before dying down.

There you have it, readers. I hope you enjoy your Halloween this year and whatever you do, don’t have nightmares…

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Filed under 18th century, 19th century, 20th Century, Bloomsbury, Disasters, East End and Docklands, Flora and Fauna, Hackney, History, London, London Underground, Museums, Occult, Paranormal, Suburbia, The City, Transport, West End

London Lit: Neverwhere

I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to finally get around to writing this entry. If I’m going to be meta about it, this is actually one of the first entries I planned to write, and that must have been, what, two and a half years ago? Daaaamn.

So yeah, Neverwhere. One of the best-known works of urban fantasy and one of the best-known London novels, I think I’m being fair when I say these things. Neil Gaiman’s first novel and my personal favourite.

The story is fairly simple – our protagonist is the slightly Arthur Dent-esque Richard Mayhew, a relative newcomer to London. One day he comes across what he thinks is a wounded homeless girl and offers to help her, only to swiftly and unwittingly find himself drawn into a bizarre and fantastical version of the city existing below and around our own – London Below. Worse, the girl – Door – is being pursued by a couple of bizarre and apparently time-travelling assassins. And so we find outselves journeying through London-as-filtered-through-Neil-Gaiman’s-brain.

If any of you saw the superb Gaiman-penned Doctor Who episode, ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ you’ll recognise the hallmarks. Strange people living in a thrown-together world and plenty of whiplash between scary and funny. If it was a movie, it would probably be directed by Tim Burton. Hence we get bizarre scenes like the visit to Earl’s Court. That is to say, an actual Court held by an Earl. A medieval court on an Underground train. There’s also an Angel called Islington and an order of Black Friars. Oh, and you get to learn the real reason why you should Mind the Gap.

For those of you familiar with the history and mythology surrounding the city, there’s even more. From abandoned Tube stations to a throwaway reference to Gog and Magog (blink and you’ll miss it), it’s very clear that Gaiman’s done his homework in researching his fantasy world.

My first exposure to the phenomenon, oddly enough, was not via the book. It was over a decade ago, on TV. You see, Neverwhere was originally developed as a fantasy TV series at the behest of none other than Lenny Henry. This was long before the revival of Doctor Who, and so the general attitude towards fantasy on TV was that it was all a little bit silly. As a result, the whole thing looks a bit cheap and naff. Which is a pity, because it’s really not. There is some superb location filming, including the use of Battersea Power Station, HMS Belfast, Down Street Station and the old Post Office Underground. The cast features some interesting before-they-were-famous faces, including Paterson Joseph, Tamsin Greig and Peter Capaldi (as the aforementioned Angel Islington). It was a bit weird, to be sure, but it piqued my curiosity and I went out and bought the book. And I was hooked. I’m told that the version in print today differs somewhat from that 1997 publication, so I should probably buy the new one as well. Not that I’m a fanboy or anything.

It’s not the only urban fantasy set in London, nor is it even the first. But it is perhaps the best-known and tends to be very highly rated – China Miéville, for instance, lists it as an influence on his own London fantasies.  I think the reason for its success is that it never takes itself too seriously.  The characters are strange, often scary, but strangely likeable – I want to see more of the sinister Croup and Vandemar, for a start.

As I say, Gaiman is clearly familiar with the folklore and history of London, but you don’t need to be in order to enjoy the book. It’s my experience that a lot of the more well-read authors want you to know just how clever they are and their work suffers as a result. In the case of Neverwhere, a passing familiarity with the city will see you just fine. And having read it, you may want to increase that familiarity.

That’s a thought – has anyone ever done a Neverwhere tour?

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Filed under 20th Century, Film and TV, Islington, Literature, London, London Underground, Occult, Paranormal, Psychogeography

A League of their own

Now, get any group of comic book fans together and ask them which comic creator still living has had the greatest influence on the medium, and you’ll get a lot of different answers. My own answer would be Alan Moore. The only creator I can think of who’s had a comparable influence would be Stan Lee, but there’s a certain amount of dispute over the extent to which he “created” many of the characters credited to him.

Alan Moore, basically, has changed the face of comics. You may not know the name, but he was responsible for writing (among many other things) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and – most famously of all – Watchmen. The latter, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, took the superhero genre in a darker, more adult direction from which it has never returned – although none of the imitators has had quite the same success as those two.

My personal favourite of his works is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,  which is rather more fun than some of the works for which he’s best known. The basic concept is that every character within the fictional universe of this comic is from a pre-existing work of fiction. In the first volume, for instance, Mina Murray (from Dracula), Allan Quartermain (from King Solomon’s Mines), Dr Jekyll, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man form a team under the supervision of James Bond’s grandfather and foil a gang war between Fu Manchu and Professor Moriarty. In the second, they participate in the events of War of the Worlds with the assistance of Dr Moreau and the father of the Wolf of Kabul. You get the idea. The number of works alluded to is immense, and much of the fun of the series comes from looking through to see how many allusions you can spot. Many of these come from artist Kevin O’Neill, whose manic and highly-detailed panels overflow with incidental characters and background references.

So you may imagine my excitement when I heard that the newest volume was due to be published and, not only that, but Moore and O’Neill were doing a signing in London at Gosh! Comics. Gosh! is, to my mind, about the best comic shop in London. It emphasises unusual and indie stuff,  and judging by the calibre of some of the creators they’ve had in to do signings (Gilbert Shelton and Dave McKean among them), it seems to be pretty well-respected. It’s based in Bloomsbury, but is about to up sticks to Berwick Street in Soho.

Yesterday, Succubusface, Izzi and I went up to indulge our inner geek at the signing. As you might imagine, if you know anything about comics culture, the event was huge. Succubusface nobly arrived an hour early and bagged us a spot – even so, we were queued right around the building. The line snaked considerably further than that, and God only knows how long the last fans in the queue were waiting. We were in line for several hours, in fact. We’re just that cool.

Eventually we got in. Now, you read interviews with Alan Moore, he comes across as a very grumpy man. He’s had public fall-outs with movie studios and comics publishers alike and is not afraid to express his feelings – combined with the often eclectic and obscure nature of his comics, the impression one gets is that he’d be this huge intimidating monster who’d have you thrown out for saying that you’d even seen the movie of V for Vendetta. And Kevin O’Neill’s scratchy, intense style leads one (well, me at least) to expect some sort of insane, wide-eyed boho who talks only in a stream of consciousness and reserves the right to bite you at any time.

This is Alan Moore.

Actually, they were both lovely. Very obliging, very willing to chat – Succubusface had a brief discussion with O’Neill about researching his artwork. The overall impression I got was that while Moore has his disputes with a lot of the men-in-suits, he has plenty of time for his genuine fans. Which is awesome. We left thoroughly pleased with our signed purchases.

The volume I was there to get was Century: 1969. Century is, officially, the third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, although in practical terms it’s actually the fourth (Black Dossier, basically a series of supplemental material for the League universe framed by a shortish story, was published before Century but is not counted). It’s being published in three parts and is, as the title implies, a story spanning the twentieth century. In the first part, 1910, the League – now consisting of Mina, Allan, Raffles the Gentleman Thief, Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – attempts to foil an occult scheme by Aleister Crowley-analogue Oliver Haddo (of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Magician) and find themselves caught up in the events of The Threepenny Opera. In 1969, Haddo’s scheme resurfaces in Swinging London, where he has enlisted the help of Turner (from Performance) and Tom Riddle. Organised crime, the hippie movement, pop music and the occult clash, with the remains of the League and Jack Carter investigating the murder of Molesworth’s Fotherington-Tomas.

It’s been a long wait for this second part, but again, I feel it was worth it. Following Century, which often felt obscure to the point of self-indulgence in Yr. Humble Chronicler’s opinion, Century is a return to the kind of storytelling that made the first two volumes so enjoyable. While it’s not essential that you know that, e.g., this character is from The Long Firm or that character is from Round the Horne in order to understand the story, it adds immensely to your enjoyment if you do. Cameos abound, with such diverse personalities as the Second Doctor, Andy Capp and Dame Edna Everage all putting in background appearances.

The characters, particularly Mina, are developed and expanded in Moore’s usual thoughtful fashion – the implications of the characters’ extended lifespans (long story if you’ve not read the previous volumes) are considered in some detail, but without the irritating navel-gazing that bedevils many comics that try to be mature. There are lots of callbacks to previous episodes and, knowing Moore, plenty of elements that will become significant in the next.

The art, too, is up to Kevin O’Neill’s usual high standards. As I mentioned, his style is very weird, so much so that the Comics Code Authority banned it simply because they found it too freaky. 1969, which contains many psychedelic and generally bizarre sequences which allow him to unleash his full freakiness. I don’t think there’s another artist who could have done this quite as much justice as he.

Overall, it’s a worthy addition to the League canon, and I look forward to 2009 eagerly.

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You’re Kraken me up

Ah, lazy bank holiday weekend, I’ve been celebrating with a substantial fried breakfast and heinous amounts of coffee. Be still, my beating heart – and it probably will. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I’ve just finished reading China Miéville’s Kraken, his most recent work of urban fantasy, you see. It’s taken me a while – I do, as I think I have said before, have a reading list as long as my arm.

I’ve talked about Miéville before in these pages, but to sum up – he’s a fantasy author with something of a cult following who writes work set primarily in an urban environment. Kraken, like his earlier works Un Lun Dun and King Rat, is set in a strange alternate fantasy version of London.

Our protagonist is Billy Harrow, a curator at the Natural History Museum. One morning, he discovers that one of the Museum’s star exhibits, a preserved giant squid in a tank, has vanished without trace. Almost immediately, Billy finds himself dragged into an utterly bizarre underworld of cults and magic, the target of a police unit dedicated to investigating weirdness, a church that worships the Kraken and a gang leader who happens to be a living tattoo. Oh, and the Apocalypse is coming. Make that Apocalypses.

What I would say marks this book out among Miéville’s work is the fun he has with it. He did have a few laughs in Un Lun Dun, but like so many adult fantasy authors who try to break into kids’ books, they came across as forced. Kraken, on the other hand, is written with a kind of 2000AD sensibility, a real sense of deliciously black humour. We are introduced to the Londonmancers, magicians who might best be described as pro-active psychogeographers. The Tattoo’s henchmen are the Knuckleheads, whose name is rather more literal than you might expect. Wati, an ally of the protagonist, is a spirit who can manifest in any statue or carving, right down to a Captain Kirk action figure. And there’s the rather disturbing question of what actually happens when you teleport a person…

For someone who’s made his name subverting the fantasy genre (he once described J R R Tolkien as “a wen on the arse of fantasy literature”), the author does get a lot of mileage out of playing with clichés. The best (and funniest) example of this might be when the foul-mouthed police magician Collingwood goes after Wati using spirits literally created out of copper stereotypes (“bring this little toerag in, overtime, nonce, slag, guv, sarge, proceedin long the eye street”).

This is London fantasy in the grand tradition of Neverwhere – Miéville has acknowledged his debt to Neil Gaiman in the past, and in particular has noted the similarities between Kraken’s Goss and Subby and Neverwhere’s Croup and Vandemar. However, unlike many works of London fantasy, this one plays off the incoherence of the city – the fact that London cannot simply be summed up according to any particular mythology or structure, that it’s many different places coexisting at once, perceived in many different ways by many different people.

As a Miéville book, it’s much more lightweight than most of his other work. If it has a major fault, it’s that there is perhaps too much going on – so much is thrown in by way of crazy ideas and characters that it’s hard to track down the central core of the book. When the big revelation comes at the end, it doesn’t make you think, “Of course! Why didn’t I realise that?” so much as it makes you think, “Eh? Where did that come from?”

In short, if you’re hoping for another The City and The City, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a work of urban fantasy that’s intelligent and gripping and doesn’t take itself too seriously, then it comes highly recommended from me, for what that’s worth.

Here’s to the upcoming release of Embassytown…

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Filed under Literature, London, Occult, Paranormal, Psychogeography

Salem Particulars

Yr. Humble Chronicler finds himself, for the first time in years, back on stage. Regular readers may recall my alluding to my time spent treading the boards in both an amateur and professional capacity in the past. Well, I’m doing it again.

The play in question is a youth theatre production of Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible. This is a perennial favourite, partly because of its quality and permanent relevance, but also because it has a lot of female roles. One of the standard problems with amateur theatre is that most plays with a substantial cast are heavily male-orientated while most amateur drama groups have more women than dudes.

The play, if you’re not familiar with it, is a dramatisation of the Salem witch trials. This was an unusual case of mass hysteria that took place in 1692-93 in and around the town of Salem, Massachusetts. A great number of liberties are taken with historical accuracy for dramatic purposes, but what happened was basically this: in Salem, a number of people apparently became afflicted by seizures and tantrums, starting with the young girls Abigail Williams and Betty Parris. Witchcraft was cited as a cause. Accusations were initially levelled at more vulnerable members of the town – the Barbadian slave Tituba and the homeless Sarah Good, for instance. These allegations then spread to more “upstanding” members of the community, regular churchgoers and landowners, snowballing out of control. Over a hundred and fifty were accused of witchcraft, including those who suggested that maybe everyone was getting a little hysterical. Nineteen people were executed in all, plus one elderly man – Giles Corey – was tortured to death in an attempt to get a plea from him.

Even by the superstitious standards of the day, this was an unusual event. Indeed, the American colonies were notably more level-headed about witchcraft than communities in Europe, and in Virginia, false accusations came with a fine equivalent to a year’s income for a prosperous farmer.

A possible reason for the sorry mess might have been the isolation of the area. Massachusetts at this time was a loosely-linked group of colonies, with much authority deriving from the Church. When the Church was Puritan, this spelt trouble. Primary-school history will tell you that the Puritans went to America to be free to worship in their own way. In practice, when a sect claims it wants freedom of worship, what it often means is “we want to do all sorts of horrible and dubiously-legal things without being questioned” (coughChurchofScientologycough). And so the Massachusetts colonies, at least the ones that concern us here, were effectively theocracies to rival the Taliban. Non-attendance at church was seen as deeply suspicious, folk song was banned (have you ever heard a Puritan hymn? They sound like a group of cats dying of boredom) and education in anything other than religious matters was considered highly unnecessary and probably Papist.

Coupled with this was the fact that Massachusetts was effectively frontier territory. Not particularly economically prosperous, with no infrastructure and no effective authority, and with famine, disease and native attacks an ever-present threat (due in no small part to the standard colonial method of diplomacy), it was perhaps no surprise that hysteria could take hold.

Then you had the question of personal feuds, of which there were plenty in the town. The minister, Reverend Parris, was utterly crap at resolving these and was in himself not a popular man. So when the accusations started flying, some historians (and Arthur Miller in the play) have suggested that many in the towns saw it as a means to settle old scores.

The character I’m playing is Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, who, in the play, oversees the trials. Now, when I play a real historical figure, I like to research the character to get a feel for him. My information on Louis Wain and Arthur Phillip came from my research into plays in which I have performed. Danforth was a powerful and influential man in reality, owning large amounts of land – his lands are now the site of the appropriately-named town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The character in the play has obviously been tweaked – again for dramatic purposes – and is essentially a composite character with elements of the hangin’ judge. I think he’ll be a lot of fun to play, he’s portrayed as a pious hypocrite, something of a bully and rather insecure. Good times.

I suspect this will not be the last you hear about this play within these pages. The performance will be in early April at the Hampton Hill Playhouse. Come and see if you’re in the area, I’ll give you more info when I have it.

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Filed under Churches, Crime, History, Occult, Only loosely about London, Politics, Suburbia, Theatre

Ghosts of the Northern Line

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.

Possibly one like this.

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?

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Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Crime, Disasters, History, Kings Cross, London, London Underground, Occult, Paranormal, Psychogeography, Suburbia, The City, Transport, West End