Ghosts of London

Eva de Valk

Summer is drawing to an end and the inevitable arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte makes us turn our thoughts to the long nights ahead. Fortunately, autumn brings many attractions of its own, including the opportunity to explore the city’s darker side. With London’s murky history, it’s not exactly surprising that there are lots of things that go bump in the night in this city. So where should you head for some prime ghostbusting locations?

Let’s start with the obvious one. The Tower of London is said to be haunted by many a deceased royal, and the best place to encounter them is the Queen’s House, where the Resident Governor of the Tower lives. One of the sad souls who dwells here is Arabella Stuart, a cousin of Elizabeth I and James I. Being rather high up in the line of succession, Arabella was repeatedly thwarted in her plans to find herself a nice husband by her royal cousins, who didn’t fancy her marrying well and getting too close to the throne. When Arabella finally took matters into her own hands by eloping with William Seymour, James was not best pleased and had the couple imprisoned. Arabella was confined to the Queen’s House, where she died, or was murdered, in 1615. One of the former Governors of the Tower said that it was a house rule to never put unaccompanied female guests in the room where Arabella died; they’d had repeated reports of female visitors waking up in the middle of the night, feeling like they were being strangled.
Another royal palace with its fair share of ghosts is Hampton Court: the palace is even home to the Haunted Gallery. This is where the ghost of Catherine Howard, also known as the Screaming Lady, is said to appear. Catherine was the fifth wife of Henry VIII, and she was placed under house arrest at Hampton Court in 1541 following accusations of adultery. On one occasion, she managed to escape her guards and ran down the gallery, but was dragged back screaming to her apartments. Guests and staff at the palace have heard screams coming from the gallery, and visitors are often ‘strangely affected’ when visiting this part of the palace, according to its website.

A more recent resident is Skeletor, who gained notoriety when he was captured on CCTV in 2003. Despite his innocent fondness for opening fire doors, one look at his picture will convince anyone that this is not a guy you’d like to run into after dark.

Of course, it’s not just royal residences that are affected. The most haunted house in London is 50 Berkeley Square, which is said to be inhabited by the spirit of a girl who threw herself out of the top floor window. Several people were reportedly frightened to death while staying at the house, and there are other stories about visitors going mad or being unable to speak after their stay.
Fortunately, not every ghost is quite as malevolent. The spirit haunting the house where the composer Handel used to live only manifested herself as a ghostly presence and a lingering smell of perfume. Nevertheless, the Handel House Trust hired a priest to perform an exorcism in Handel’s old bedroom shortly after they opened the house to the public. The lady in question is thought to have been an opera singer who performed in one of Handel’s pieces. She was, in any case, probably musically inclined, because she also decided to pay a visit to Jimi Hendrix when he was living next door.
Of course, there’s much more to ‘haunted London’, from the Highgate Vampire to the ghost in room 333 at the Langham Hotel. While the bravest souls may opt to explore the city’s supernatural side on their own, there are alternatives available for those who’d like some company while pursuing London’s undead. Whether you prefer your ghosts to be East End, West End or City-based, or you’d rather try to glimpse into the beyond from the comfort of a vintage Routemaster, the city’s paranormal tour guides cater to any taste. But whichever option you choose, be careful out there… you never know who, or what, you might run into.

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