Tag Archives: chancery lane

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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Duck and cover

Yr. Humble Chronicler must confess a morbid fascination with the nuclear paranoia of the Cold War era. I have both Threads and The War Game on DVD and, in the event of an atomic strike on London, I know exactly where to place my fallout shelter for maximum safety (Antarctica).

So I was intrigued to learn that there’s a nuclear bunker directly under the streets of London. Of course, Kelvedon Hatch out in Essex is more well-known (and, if certain conspiracy theorists are to be believed, it was the main reason for the Ongar branch of the Central Line being kept open for as long as it was). But there was, and still is, one rather closer to the action – right beneath High Holborn.

I have spoken previously about the deep-level shelters constructed during World War II as a joint venture between the Home Office and London Transport. To briefly sum up, this was a series of air raid shelters built next to existing Underground stations with the intention, post-war, of turning them into the basis of an express line. These were mostly on the Northern Line, but one was built at Chancery Lane and turned into a bomb-proof communications centre. It briefly served as a billet for troops awaiting D-Day, but in 1949 was handed over to the Post Office and became known as the Kingsway Telephone Exchange.

Goods entrance, Furnival Street

Work was carried out to expand and improve the site with the intention of making it atomic blast-proof. The idea was that, in the event of nuclear war, it would be possible to maintain communications between London, Birmingham and Manchester even after a strike. I’m not sure what conversations would consist of. “How’s things over there?” “Oh, you know, same old, same old. My teeth fell out today.” “Oh, what a drag. It’s the vomiting I can’t stand.”

To this end, the tunnels were turned into, effectively, an underground village. They featured accommodation for staff, an artesian well, rations for up to five weeks, a cinema screen, a billiard room and even a bar. This latter was reputed to be the deepest bar in Britain, bringing a whole new meaning to the term “dive bar.” It’s fair to say that if I was a telephone engineer stuck down there while my family and friends burned up above, the first thing I’d want to do is get blind drunk, so that was most prescient of the builders.

The nearly-200 staff down there didn’t just sit around waiting patiently for the world to end, of course. The site saw plenty of other use, most of it to do with telecommunications and probably not of interest to you. Apologies to the three people reading this who actually are interested in telecommunications. However, one very notable cable that passed through was that of the famous “Red Phone,” the hotline between the Premier of the USSR and the President of the USA following the colossal foul-up that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Is it ironic that a bomb shelter should help to prevent war?

Vents for the shelter. These were demolished in 2001.

During the Cold War, it goes without saying that the whole thing was top secret – legend has it that foreign labour was used to prevent anyone communicating its whereabouts, and even now its exact location is supposed to be top secret. Having said that, the Daily Express went and revealed the whole thing in 1951, and in 1979 a detailed plan was published and may be viewed online.

Shelter entrance at 32 High Holborn. Sadly blocked by scaffolding when I took this.

As you might imagine, the shelter lost its function with the end of the Cold War. Quite apart from anything else, the equipment therein was by now largely obsolete. Therefore, in 2008, the whole lot was put up for sale. There’s not a whole lot you can do with an old air raid shelter, described by its workers as being like “living in a submarine.” It’s unsuitable as living, working or leisure space, and its best bet would probably be as storage space.

These days, there’s even less to show that the Kingsway Telephone Exchange was ever there. If you know what you’re looking for, you can find entrances on High Holborn and Furnival Street. There are those who proclaim that this was part of an even vaster network of underground tunnels stretching as far as Whitehall, Waterloo and Bethnal Green, though I remain sceptical. What is true is that there was an entrance from the main Chancery Lane Underground Station.

So, you knew about the Tube shelters in the Second World War. Now you know about one for the Third. Sleep well.

Further Reading

https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/underground-cinema/ – A bit about the Aldwych branch of the Piccadilly Line, yet another weird abandoned thing under Holborn.

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