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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

Adventures in Manga

Have I ever told you how much I hate manga? Because it’s a lot. Same goes for its more active cousin, anime.

No, that’s unfair. Actually, there’s some superb anime out there. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most affecting anti-war statements ever committed to film. Akira remains a classic of animation. Many of Studio Ghibli’s fine products should be viewed by Disney with a notepad in hand because that’s how you do family-friendly fantasy.

No, what I hate is all these annoying Western teenagers who think that it’s the greatest, nay the only style of cartoon out there. I once heard one, in all seriousness, suggest that the illustrations in an English children’s book written in the 1950s were “anime-style.” They get most upset if you point out that anime and manga were heavily influenced by American cartoons (hence the fact that all the characters look surprisingly Western for Japanese folk).

And don’t even get me started on all these wannabe-artists who claim to draw in the “anime style.” Pictures drawn by such people tend to have a forced look about them. I’m talking dead-looking eyes and stilted, lifeless “action” poses. Word to the wise: if you can’t draw full stop, you can’t draw manga. If I’m asked to admire one more weeaboo’s crappy drawing with its eyes on two different levels and Photoshop filters like they wuz going out of style, I’m going to kill the nearest person to me. These artists either can’t take criticism or remain oblivious to it. Spend a few minutes around Deviantart to see the sort of artwork I’m talking about or, better still, slam your hand in a desk drawer for a more fun experience.

So when I saw that the British Museum was doing a manga-themed exhibition, my initial reaction was, “Et tu, The British Museum?”

HOWEVER, the British Museum had not let me down. The Museum has a rotating exhibition by its front entrance called “Objects in Focus.” This is an agreeable way to spend part of a lunch hour if you’re in Bloomsbury. Objects in Focus is a room in which an unusual object will be placed on display. Past examples have included a Sami magic drum and a shrine to Iranian wrestler Takhti. The display will explain what the object is, its history and its cultural context. It’s a bite-size display that won’t ruin your appetite.

This was one of those. Admittedly they did feel the need to put posters advertising it outside, unlike most of their Objects in Context, but still.

The manga in question is called Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure by Yukinobu Hoshino, and the display consisted of a number of pages from this work, which I understand is soon to be published. Professor Munakata is my kinda hero. He’s an intellectual sort, rather withdrawn and a little bit sad, who goes around solving mysteries in ancient history. This, so says the exhibition, is a rare instance of his leaving Japan.

If you take a look at the panels above, though, you’ll see that manga itself, done properly, is superb. Contrary to the beliefs of Deviantart’s residents, manga is not simply “comics for people who can’t draw.” The panels of Professor Munakata himself there express a massive amount about the character. The detail that Hoshino puts into the artefacts he draws is impressive, and never looks out of place next to the manga-styled characters.

The exhibition gives you a little background to the comic, its creator and manga as a whole, and I feel that I learnt a little something about the symbolism of an artform that, if I’m honest, I often tend to dismiss. I blame Deviantart.

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Filed under Arts, Bloomsbury, History, Literature, London, Museums

The Greatest Cup of Tea in History

Working as I do in an office job (administration REPRESENT), tea is one of those things I like to keep an eye on. On Thursday I discovered the name of the greatest tea maker in history while visiting the British Museum – one Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591). He’s responsible for pretty much every aspect of every tea ceremony in the modern world – what Shakespeare was to Jacobean drama, Rikyū was to tea.sen_no_rikyu

Rikyū was born in the Osaka prefecture of Japan. I’m not making that up, even though “Osaka” is the default Japanese place name that people use when they think Tokyo’s too obvious. I’ve forgotten what my point was going to be.

He studied teamaking and Zen, probably both at the same time (according to sources).

His death came when his master, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, ordered that he commit ceremonial suicide for reasons that are still not entirely clear. Personally, I think they fell out over the “milk before tea/tea before milk” debate.

Anyway, to see a tea house as recommended by Mr Rikyū, I suggest visiting the often-neglected Japanese galleries at the British Museum. One of the things that bugs me about that museum is the fact that people tend to come for the mummies and ignore the rest, despite there being some fascinating galleries that don’t contain any dead people at all.

On the subject of the debate over tea first/milk first, I can throw some light on the matter. People will argue that tea first scalds the milk, or that milk first ruins the milk/tea ratio. The argument actually arose originally from a rather different source. See, I have folks from Staffordshire, so I know a little bit about pottery (it’s coded into my genes, that is totally how genetics works, ask Richard Dawkins if you don’t believe me).  The deal was that, back in the day, bone china was a luxury. If you weren’t so wealthy, you’d drink your tea from an earthenware mug. The thing about low-quality earthenware back then was that it couldn’t take the shock of boiling water and would crack (which would seem to be a fairly major design flaw). Therefore you’d put the milk in first to soften the blow. Expensive bone china, however, could take the boiling water and beg for more. Therefore, snobby types would take advantage of this by putting the tea in first, to prove that they could afford the real deal. And now you know.

George Orwell had something to say about tea: http://www.booksatoz.com/witsend/tea/orwell.htmteacup

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Filed under Bloomsbury, Food, History, London, Museums, Rambling on and on, Randomness

London Lies, Part 2 – A Trip to the British Museum

img_0178The Elgin Marbles, taken from Elgin in Scotland. The Scottish National Party wants them returned. The British Museum has defended its decision to keep them on the grounds that “they’re not even proper marbles anyway.”

img_0179This is the head of the horse that pulled Selene’s chariot. If you put fifty pence in the slot it will tell jokes and sing popular music hall songs, a useful fundraiser.

img_01771Above is seen the Nereid Monument, which according to the guide whose tour I listened in on, was built by the Lykians. You may not like them, but they’ll certainly “Lykia” (like ya)!

img_01801

This beautifully-preserved sculpture illustrates the bloody nature of Greek gladiatorial combat. Even with no head, the slave Xanthias fights on for his freedom.

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