London has no shortage of ghost stories. It’s almost inevitable in such a large, old and densely-populated city.
For instance, there’s the tale of Thomas Cox the hackney-cab driver, who picked up a passenger one night in Fleet Street who caused his horses a great deal of distress. When he went back to investigate, the passenger had turned into the apparition of a giant bear before vanishing in a flash of flame. This is coincidentally Yr. Humble Chronicler’s favourite way of fare-dodging, too.
Then there was the ghost of Old Jimmy Garlickhythe, an unknown medieval gentleman named after the church of St James Garlickhythe in which his mummified remains were displayed. His tomb was hit by a bomb in 1942, following which his ghost would appear around the church looking reproachful.
Bank Station, we are told, is haunted by a strange and unearthly sense of dread and misery, but this is actually normal for the Northern Line and is nothing to worry about.
On the left you may see a black-liveried Routemaster belonging to Ghost Bus Tours, and this reminded me of a particularly memorable haunting. This one didn’t take place in the City, but in the rather more suburban surroundings of North Kensington. This area, although historic enough, wasn’t really a part of London until the coming of the District Railway in the 1860s (Yr. Humble Chronicler was once able to impress a resident by guessing precisely the year in which her house was built, in what might have been the nerdiest chat-up technique ever).
The ghost in question was first noted in June 1934, when a motorist swerved off St. Mark’s Road at 1.15 a.m. for no apparent reason, hit a lamp post and was killed. The accident was a mystery. When the police appealed for information, a number of people came forward with the same somewhat bizarre suggestion. Namely, that the motorist had swerved to avoid a ghost.The ghost supposedly took the unlikely form of a Number 7 bus, and would always appear on St Mark’s Road (near Ladbroke Grove tube station, if you’re interested). It most commonly appeared at the junction with Cambridge Gardens, but could be sighted anywhere along St Mark’s Road between there and the junction with Chesterton Road. It would appear very suddenly, accounting for the motorist’s sudden swerve, and always at 1.15 a.m (this, you must remember, was long before the introduction of night buses). What was more, the driver appeared to be somewhat homicidal, and would apparently head straight for anyone witnessing his vehicle.
What led witnesses to think this was a ghost? These days, psychotically-driven late night buses are the norm, and the ghost would probably go unnoticed. In this case, the big thing that seems to have tipped people off that the bus was not all it seemed was the fact that it was painted in the livery of London General. In 1933, this company was taken over by London Transport. Frankly, this part of the story is the least spooky aspect for me – public transport vehicles taken over by new owners tend not to get repainted until they go to the works for a service.
Regardless, stories persisted – particularly after the inquest. Strangely enough, though, within ten years they had died down, and the ghost has not now been seen in more than half a century. Even the author of the book on London ghosts that I’m reading at the moment is sceptical as to whether there ever was a ghost bus. Sceptics suggested that it was perhaps a late night staff working or an optical illusion caused by tiredness and reflections, and the sudden appearance of the vehicle might be put down to the fact that that part of the road had notoriously poor visibility.
Nevertheless, the story goes that that blind curve was rebuilt in part because of fears of the Ghost Bus. Perhaps so, although I would imagine that spooks or no, a blind curve that causes accidents is a bad thing.