Explore the capital’s haunted corners for a spine-tingling view of historic London WORDS: Alyson Gagne
Londoners love a good ghost story. And with centuries of history to draw from there’s no shortage of haunting tales to go around.
Some might be fanciful, others slightly naff – but that doesn’t mean they’re not damn interesting and just a touch spooky.
Here are the choicest places round town where a haunting time is all part of the fun.
Hampton Court Palace
King Henry VIII must have been a sex maniac – either that or he got bored once he’d conquered each successive shag – cos he got married more often than a Hollywood celeb.
It’s no surprise his former home, Hampton Court Palace, is crowded with apparitions of his exes, and others he didn’t like the look of.
Keep an eye out for third wife Jane Seymour, fifth wife Catherine Howard (who was beheaded for adultery), and his son’s nanny, Sibell Penn.
In 2003 CCTV cameras even caught footage of a mysterious figure who many claim is the ghost of ol’ Fatty himself.
Spook factor: 4/5
» Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU Hampton Court (0844 482 7777). £13.30
The Tower of London
Chopping off people’s heads is what the Tower has specialised in during the millennium since it was built, so it’d be quite a disappointment if it didn’t have at least a few eerie stories.
The most common sighting is of Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded in 1536 having been accused of (among other things) incest and witchcraft. She is buried under the chapel altar.
Also keep an eye out for the scariest kids in England, aka the ‘Little Princes’ – 13-year-old King Edward V and his nine-year-old brother Richard.
They disappeared in 1483, after being locked up in the Tower by their uncle Richard III. It’s claimed the two boys were murdered, and their apparitions have been seen huddling together in girlie white nightgowns.
Spook factor: 3/5
» Tower of London, EC3N 4AB Tower Hill (0844 482 7799). £16.50
The National Gallery
If you had to spend all night in a gallery staring at a security monitor, surely you’d need mind-bending drugs to cope with the boredom.
But, tripping or not, security guards at the National Gallery saw what they presumed to be someone who’d sneaked in appear on CCTV cameras late one night in 1999.
But after ogling a Van Dyck painting, the figure vanished into thin air. Although several guards swore they saw it, nothing appeared on the footage when they reviewed it later.
Spook factor: 2/5
» The National Gallery, Trafalgar Sq, WC2N 5DN Charing Cross (020 7747 2885).
St James’s Palace
It’s not just Charles and Camilla who haunt St James’s Palace.
In 1810 a manservant of the Duke of Cumberland committed suicide – but his injuries indicated he’d been murdered, and evidence pointed to the Duke.
Now the servant wanders the halls with his throat slashed, reeking of blood and seeking justice. The palace isn’t open to the public so we’ll never know if he gets it in the end.
Spook factor: 1/5
» St James’s Palace, Pall Mall, SW1A 1DH Green Park.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Actors are a superstitious bunch – but who can blame them, given the fickle nature of their profession. So it’s no surprise actors working their craft in the Theatre Royal believe in The Man in Grey.
The story goes that if this mythical geezer appears in his long grey coat and tricorn hat during a dress rehearsal, the show will have a long, successful run. Fingers crossed for the cast of Oliver!, which is currently on there.
Spook factor: 1/5
» Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine St, WC2B 5JF Covent Garden.
Here are a couple of the more dubious ghost stories we’ve heard about London.
» The statue of Queen Anne in Westminster comes to life and walks around every August 1.
» West End Lane in West Hampstead is haunted by a yellow, dog-sized cat.
» Former PM Winston Churchill haunts Queensway Tube station.
» The Underground tunnels are haunted not only by a steam engine near South Kensington, but also by a pack of mutated Londoners who feed on discarded junk food and lone commuters.
» In 1804 a woman died of fright after seeing a ghost in a Hammersmith churchyard. The ensuing mob killed the evil spirit – which turned out to be an innocent man with the great misfortune of wearing all white that day.
» Chiswick House is haunted by the smell of bacon.
» Want more ghostly goings-on? London Walks (020 7624 3978) runs ghost tours of the capital every night of the week. £7.