The Ghoulish Ghosts of Greyfriars Oct 26, 2013 17:07:06 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 26, 2013 17:07:06 GMT -5
The Ghoulish Ghosts of Greyfriars
If there is any truth to the theory that buildings record the events that happen inside them and walls are charged with the energy, personalities and emotions of those who have lived therein, then the area in and around London’s Greyfriars Churchyard has nigh on 2,000 years and millions of incidents crackling within its ancient fabric. It is here that a 16th century gatehouse stands cheek-by-jowl alongside a marvelous Norman church and a cherubic fat boy marks the spot where the Great Fire of London ended in 1666. It is where the Romans constructed sturdy walls to protect their city of Londinium and where, much later, magnificent medieval monasteries flourished. Later, London’s grimmest prison stood here and citizens in the thousands flocked to the square on execution days to witness the macabre spectacles.
Greyfriars Passage and Two Murderous Wives. This is the site of an ancient burial ground wherein lie the mortal remains of the “She-Wolf of France,” Queen Isabella, wife of English King Edward II. With her lover, Roger Mortimer, she instigated the overthrow of the king and had him imprisoned at Berkeley Castle. On the night of September 21, 1327, the king was brutally murdered by means of a “kind of horn or funnel ... thrust into his fundament through which a red hot spit was run up his bowels.” His screams could be heard far outside the thick castle walls and are still heard on the anniversary of the horrific event. Isabella and Mortimer’s reign was short-lived for in 1330, Isabella’s son, Edward III, deposed and executed Mortimer, and claimed his rightful throne. Isabella lived in considerable style until her death in 1358 and was buried at Greyfriars, with the heart of Edward II placed on her chest. (She had been presented the heart in a silver casket when her husband died in 1327.) At twilight, her beautiful, but angry, spirit flits about among the trees and bushes, clutching the beating and bleeding heart of her murdered husband in her hands.
Lady Alice Hungerford was a great Tudor beauty and she, too, murdered her spouse, in her case, with a lethal dose of poison. In 1525, she paid for her crime by being boiled alive. She was laid to rest at Greyfriars, where her lovely, serene specter was soon drifting through the cloisters and aisles of the monastery and, following its dissolution, through the graveyard that sprang up on the site.
Witchcraft at the Central Criminal Courts. At the corner of Giltspur Street and Old Bailey, stands the criminal courts buildings, better known as the Old Bailey. However, the site was once occupied by Newgate Prison and public executions were carried out on the square from 1783 until 1868, some of which drew as many as 20,000 jostling spectators vying for the best positions to watch the grisly exhibitons. The prison was demolished in the early 1900s and the court buildings erected. The courts are open to the public and visitors are invited to attend trials and other proceedings.
It might come as a surprise to some to learn the last witchcraft trial in England was held at the Old Bailey as recently as March 1944. The unfortunate defendant was the Scottish medium, Mrs. Helen Duncan. The specific charge against her wasn’t witchcraft, but pretending to “raise the spirits of the dead.” The case so annoyed Winston Churchill that he fired off a an angry missive to the House Secretary demanding to know why the 1735 Witchcraft Act was “being used in a modern court of justice.” The defense even offered to hold a séance in the court room and allow the dead to testify on Mrs. Duncan’s behalf, but the court, disappointingly, declined the offer. The unfortunate medium was found guilty and spent nine months in Pentonville Prison. Her supporters maintain her trial and imprisonment were the result of official paranoia because the government actually feared she might “see” and reveal the preparations for the D-Day landings. As a direct result of the trial, the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951 and replaced by the Fraudulent Medium’s Act.
Poltergeist of the Viaduct Tavern. This pub, on the corner opposite the courts, dates to 1875 and is London’s last surviving example of a late Victorian gin palace. It is also prone to poltergeist activity. The entity inhabiting the pub is infamous for taking customer’s drinks when they aren’t looking and switching the lights off in the ladies’ room. Much of the activity emanates from the cellars, which patrons are allowed to visit provided a member of staff is available to accompany them. The first thing people notice as they descend the flight of creaking, rickety steps to the cellar, is the sudden drop in temperature. Two heavy, wooden doors lead to an inner section that smells musty and damp and contains five brick cavities set back from the main cellar. Standing in the far cavity to the right – where several mediums have sensed “something” – visitors are often overcome by a feeling of melancholy. The light in the room is dim and shadows creep up the walls and spread across the ceilings. Some members of staff refuse to work in the cellar alone for they know that entering this area of the pub unaccompanied leaves them open to the unwelcome attentions of “Fred.”
A manager tidying the end room one Saturday morning was suddenly plunged into darkness when all the lights went out. Feeling his way to the door, he found, to his dismay, that it would not open. Fortunately, his wife heard his frantic screams and discovered the doors – which would not open from the inside – were unlocked and easily pushed open from without.
The Golden Boy of Pye Corner. The Golden Boy (above) on the wall marks the spot where the Great Fire burnt itself out in 1666. The fact the fire began in Pudding Lane and finished at Pye Corner was considered by Londoners a clear sign from God that the conflagration was punishment for their overindulgence, hence, the writing beneath the Golden Boy:
This boy is in memory put up for the Late Fire of London
Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony 1666
Weird Tales of St. Bartholemew’s Hospital and Smithfield. Above the main gate of the hospital is the only statue of Henry VIII in London. The gate itself was built in 1702 by the stonemasons working on St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In the depths of London’s oldest hospital is the “Coffin Lift.” In the silent hours of early morning, it has been known to take bemused passengers down to the basement, irrespective of their destinations. The story is that a nurse was once murdered in the elevator and it is her spirit causing the malfunction, leaving staff stranded at the lower levels of the hospital. Many who take the stairs from the basement level find to their horror that the lift begins to move up the well around which the stairs twist following their progress from level to level. The hospital is also haunted by the “Grey Lady” of Grace Ward, said to be the ghost of a nurse who administered a fatal overdose to a patient and, in her remorse, committed suicide. Nurses have felt what they describe as a light tap on their shoulders and suddenly becoming aware of the apparition shaking her head in warning.
Farther along Giltspur Street one can see the shrapnel damage from a 1916 Zeppelin raid. Additionally, in August 1345, Sir William Wallace was executed at this site, which was then known as Smoothfield (now Smithfield). This wide open space was used for public executions and many unfortunate souls suffered a variety of gruesome deaths that included boiling and roasting alive.
In the reign of Queen Mary Tudor, more than 200 Protestants were put to death, many being burnt at Smithfield. “Bloody Mary” insisted that green wood should not be used because it smoked and victims were likely to suffocate before suffering the full agony of the flames. Today, black cabs park where the stake once stood and trucks arrive from all over Europe, offloading animal carcasses for the Smithfield Meat Market, opposite. Nevertheless, those who work in the area say that sometimes, early on misty mornings, the smell of burning flesh wafts across the square and agonized screams rend the air.
As one passes through the gateway beneath the black-and-white timber building dating from 1595, an uneven flagstone path passes by a churchyard that rises some six feet into the air. This elevation is the result of numerous corpses buried one on top of the other.
Priory Church of St. Bartholemew the Great. London’s oldest parish church is overhung by huge trees, whose gnarled branches reach across and scratch against its dark, flintstone exterior. The pathway slopes downward and arrives at the entrance to the church, which was founded in 1223 by a monk named Rahere, who reputedly began his career as jester to the Court of King Henry I. Little has changed in hundreds of years, the air is heavy and musty and even on a bright summer’s day, the church is dimly lit. Beneath the floor in dusty vaults that have not seen daylight in many years lie those who worshiped here in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Occasionally, the silence is shattered by an unseen organist, whose tuneful wailing bounces off the walls, rebounds along the aisles and fades into the gloomy shadows of the church’s hidden recesses. Massive stone pillars and graceful arches span walls that literally drip with atmosphere.
To the left of the altar is the tomb of the church’s founder, Rahere. The stonework at the rear reveals the results of a hasty repair carried out in the 19th century when the authorities decided to check the state of the founder’s body. It was well-preserved and even the clothes and sandals were still intact. Two days later, one of the officers of the church fell ill and confessed that when the tomb was opened, he had taken a sandal. He returned it and recovered from his illness, but the shoe was never replaced on the foot of its rightful owner and since that day, Rahere has haunted the church as a shadowy, cowled figure, who appears from the gloom, brushes by astonished visitors and fades slowly into thin air. However, on some occasions, he is more active. Early in the 20th century, the Reverend W.F.G. Sandwich was showing two ladies around the church when he sighted a monk standing in the pulpit giving a very animated sermon to an unseen congregation, although there was no sound. The women apparently saw nothing, but to be certain, Sandwich directed their attention to the pulpit, observing, “I don’t think that pulpit is worthy of the church, do you?” The visitors merely nodded in agreement, obviously quite unaware of the phantom monk.
Ye Old Red Cow. On nearby Long Lane, one comes to Ye Old Red Cow, a pub that was for many years under the tenancy of Dick O’Shea, a colorful Irishman who attracted the likes of Bernard Miles and Peter Ustinov to try his legendary hot whisky toddies. The pub opened at 6:30 a.m., serving the workers after their evening duties at Smithfield Market, opposite. Dick would sit in his rocking char on the upper balcony keeping a patronly eye on his customers below. He died in 1981 but, for almost a year afterward, regulars often caught sight of him sitting on the balcony, rocking back and forth, as genial and watchful a host in death as in life. Sadly, the pub has been radically altered and the balcony is no more.
Sources: Ghost & Vampire Tours of London; Walking Haunted London by Richard Jones; and Scandalous Women.