Maybe we’re just supernaturally sensitive to this kind of thing, but it seems you can’t cross London town these days without running across another Haunted London tour, Ghost Bus or the undead hordes that gather outside the London Dungeon, hungry for brains and tourist shillings.
Clearly there’s something in the air, and when we heard that a new book by novelist, comics and TV writer Paul Cornell not only sought to chart London’s mystical mean streets but also had an eerily familiar title, London Falling, we felt compelled to investigate.
London Falling mixes Sweeney style cop-shockery with sinister urban fantastic elements to produce a paranormal police procedural with a pinch of pitch-black laughs.
Not content with simply reading the book this time, we called our own intrepid investigator, Professor Simon Gilmartin, and equipped him with a map, notepad and change for the bus ride home (just so long as it wasn’t the ethereal old No 7) and sent him out in search of the real-world stories behind London Falling’s sinister settings. Read on if you dare…
First stop, 50 Berkley Square can be found in the deep Monopoly blue of Mayfair, one of those quiet squares of grass surrounded by rows of elegant pied-a-terre's of the one-percenter population.
As the plaque on the front of this old four storey town house declares, 50 Berkley Square is currently home to an antiquarian book dealership dealing in “Rare books, Manuscripts, Autographs.” An enterprise that somehow feels fitting for a house of such haunted repute.
Legend has it that a young woman committed suicide by throwing herself from the attic window and that her spirit not only still haunts this same attic but has been known to scare people to death.
Sometimes taking the form of a brown mist and other times a white figure, she’s claimed to have sent some residents mad, driven others running in fear to their deaths, committed the hired help to the insane asylum and killed noblemen from fright.
With this history in mind we recommend leaving Berkely Square to the signature-buffs and mega-rich.
Charterhouse - the second stop on our tour can be found nestled amongst the flower draped concrete blocks of Barbican and London Wall and leads us to a resistant knot of Old England.
The Tudor building of Charterhouse is nestled in amongst modern office buildings and overlooks a pretty-looking square where manicured green grass hides its original purpose as a plague pit.
The building, now a hospital, was one of the holdouts against Henry VIII when he was on one of his kicks to restructure all things Church in England. The Friar at the time didn't truck with jolly old Henry's multi-wedding brand of Christianity and for his troubles found his arm nailed to the door of the Abbey, sans Friar, as an example to others.
Its bloody tally continued when owner Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, was arrested in the Charterhouse and taken away to be hung, drawn and quartered, because of his plans to marry Mary Queen of Scots.
It’s said that at night the ghostly figure of the Friar can still be seen crossing the cobbles of the Charterhouse courtyard, and that further down the main staircase the spectre of the Duke of Norfolk descends, his head neatly tucked by his side in the epitome of timeless (and headless) ghostly fashion.
London’s Night(mare) Bus Service
Last stop on the tour of the London Falling haunted spots, and we head west in a hunt for a killer Double Decker, the number 7 to be exact.
It was at the junction of Cambridge Gardens and St. Marks Road in 1934 where a young motorist suffered a terrible death when his car swerved suddenly off the road for no apparent reason and hit a lamp post, At the inquest several witnesses spoke of their own encounters with a ghost bus which frequently appeared on that same stretch of road, usually at the Junction between St. Marks Road and Cambridge Gardens, and may have caused the hapless motorist to make an emergency manoeuvre as it bore down upon him.
There wasn't so much spookiness at the rather contemporary London junction when we got there - although the font of the Chelsea and Kensington borough street sign did have a somewhat Gothic air to it - but we did see a number 7. The modern age had turned it into a single-decker but at least it wasn't a bendy bus.
Sadly any hope that it might fade away like a cheap 70's VT special effect was lost when it stopped to allow a queue of impatient Londoners to board; their Oyster cards held aloft like magical talismans and entirely unaware of the ghostly aura that still clung to the bus’s blood-red livery.
Paul Cornell has written some of Doctor Who's best-loved episodes for the BBC. He has also written a number of comics for Marvel and DC, including The X-Men and Batman & Robin. He has been Hugo Award-nominated for his work in TV, comics and prose, and won the BSFA Award for his short fiction. LONDON FALLING is his first urban fantasy novel.
The longest day may have passed but don’t worry, it’s not all downhill from here. London lights up in the summer with a series of festivals and unique events. Here’s our pick of the week’s best, from Leonardo Da Vinci and French film to pianists and the future of the London Underground.
Ellie Kendrick first came to our attention for her theatre roles and her portrayal as Anne Frank in BBC’s 2009 adaptation of her diary. But it’s her genre roles which have thrust her into the spotlight – a season of Misfits and her role as Meera Reed, Bran’s protector beyond the wall in Game of Thrones. Now she returns to a different sort of fantasy with Native, a psychological sci-fi drama about two telepathic aliens on a search for a new planet to colonise. We chatted to her about hive minds, empathy and imaginary hell demons.
Japan’s most famous artist returns to London for an exhibition across the three spaces of the Victoria Miro gallery in Islington and Mayfair. Her central themes – dots, pumpkins, infinity – all return in a selection of completely new work, testament to the artist’s ageless creative spirit.
Eunice Olumide’s list of accomplishments could put anyone to shame. After rising to fame as a supermodel she’s worked as an actor, journalist, musician and presenter alongside charity work. She’s just launched a new art gallery with a focus on contemporary pieces. Does she ever just feel too busy? We chat to her about equality, cake, and her first foray into the art world.
Fancy going somewhere different for your weekly tipple? Then why not head to one of London’s Speakeasy bars for something a bit more private. Originally Speakeasy bars popped up in the USA during the Prohibition between 1920-33 when alcohol was illegal. These bars rebelled against the law and sold your favourite drink anyway. In London, they’ve become increasingly popular as bars, some might even say de rigueur, here’s the best of the bunch…