27 October 2011
Ghosts and skeletons wander the streets of the capital at this time of year, eager to scare unsuspecting adults into handing them sweets.
But to feel cold shivers, pointed polyester hats and candle-lit pumpkins are not needed. Southwark is heaving with mysteries and myths, some dating back centuries.
A place to recover, Dulwich Hospital does not make everyone feel at rest. The spirit of a wounded soldier who lost his sight during World War I is said to be wandering the corridors of the hospital, restlessly searching for his fallen comrades. A lady who worked on the premises as a cleaner in the 1960s was convinced to have seen a pair of legs and a coat of a soldier suspended through the ceiling.
And one user of East Dulwich Forum tells another Dulwich tale. Rodwell Road in Dulwich Village is said to have been home to an elderly lady who enjoyed sitting by the window at her Edwardian table every day, sipping her tea.
When she died, the new owners inherited the table and decided to leave it in its place, overlooking the street. But as the new occupier went to clean the table, a round mark, like that from a tea cup, appeared on the table top and she felt the room getting very cold. This happened again and again until the family moved the table into one of the upstairs rooms.
But whenever there was someone alone in the house, enjoying a cup of tea by the front window, their name would be called out. Years after moving in, the new owners were visited by the lady’s son, who told them about his mother’s tea ritual and about her peaceful death, sitting in her chair by the window, the dregs of her last hot beverage beside her.
No matter how busy Elephant and Castle Underground Station gets, one passenger takes her time to leave. Staff and travellers have on different occasions reported having seen a young woman boarding a train on the Bakerloo Line at Elephant and Castle, gliding through the carriage before disappearing into nothing. When the station is closed, unexplained foot steps and rapping noises have also been heard.
Another ghostly tale concerns William Daniel Jenkins, a Bank of England clerk who, at 6ft 7, was considered a giant in the 1700s.
While he was alive he worried that his body would be snatched by people keen to use it for dissection.
Jenkins therefore agreed to have his Peter Crouch-length body buried in the bank itself, where his presence continued to stalk its corridors.
However, in 1923 his eight-and-a-half foot coffin was moved to the consecrated ground of Nunhead Cemetery.
But Williams’ worst dreams in life came true in death when his coffin was stripped of its lead in the 1970s by grave robbers. Soon after, a council worker saw a “tall dark stranger” dressed in black emerge from catacombs and disappear into the undergrowth. He has not been seen since.
And not much consideration for protection was given to prostitutes. The bodies which were laid to rest in the “Cross Bones” burial site on Redcross Way in the 16th century are believed to be those of the ‘Winchester Geese’, who were denied a Christian burial because of their profession. Over-crowded, the site may also have served as a plague pit. In the 19th century, body-snatchers in search of specimens for the anatomy classes at Guy's Hospital are said to have frequented the plot.
There was also a reported presence in what used to be The Thomas A Beckett public house at 320 Old Kent Road. It spooked its owner, who refused to sleep in the building on his own. According to Guy Lyon Playfair’s ‘The Haunted Pub Guide’ (1985), the ghost would make itself useful by making up a coal fire.
Less helpful were apparitions of three nuns who were seen meandering the 2nd floor corridors, whispering. One customer who would not buy into the spooky stories of his host and made a derogatory comment on this matter was perhaps taught a lesson when his glass fell apart while he was holding it.
Other residents who have not been able to wave a final farewell to their favourite haunts have been heard in what was once The Kings Arms in Peckham Rye. The original pub was destroyed during World War II, killing 11 people. People have been spooked by voices singing wartime songs to a piano playing and a lady dressed in original 1940s clothing.
The roads of Southwark are paved with fear-inducing stories. Some screams have been heard centuries ago and some may echo through the streets on Halloween - accompanied by the sound of sweets rattling in pockets.
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