10 Creepy Phantoms and Urban Legends of London

london-legends (Image: Marc Barker)

There’s nothing like a good ghost story. In every settlement since time began, we humans have gathered to whisper frightful tales to one another. Urban legends of corpses returning from the grave; of alligators living beneath our feet, and so on… wherever humans have gone, terror has always followed.

But some cities are seemingly steeped in chills. Sometimes gloomy, overcrowded and alienating places where campfire stories seem so much more believable. Cities like London. The fact that many of its ghost stories are undoubtedly rooted in urban myth and legend only serves to make them more intriguing, perpetuating them for future generations of Londoners. Here are 10 creepy tales from across England’s capital.

The Suicide Pool (Epping Forest)

Stretching from the fringes of London deep into Essex, Epping Forest has long been a place of myth and mystery. It was here that Dick Turpin’s gang plied their trade and Elizabethan poets found their inspiration. But it’s also a place of dark, unsettling legends; the darkest of which has to be the Epping suicide pool.

epping-forest-suicide-pool (Image: ProfDEH)

Many decades ago, so the story goes, a young couple in love were followed to a pond by the girl’s father. Although the tale is hazy on what exactly happened next, it’s generally agreed that the two confronted him… and the father responded by killing them. Not long after, something strange happened. The waters of the pool turned a dark, impenetrable black. Wildlife began to die at its edges and the clearing soon became barren. Then the bodies started to appear.

First a woman was found dead beside the pond. Then a girl was found, her young child dead beside her. Rumours began to surface that the pool was drawing people in, leading them to their deaths…

And there the legend stops. Supposedly, Epping Forest’s suicide pool is still out there somewhere, unmarked on any map, waiting for someone to find it. But we’ll understand if you’d rather not go looking. Just in case.

The Corpse Train (Whitechapel)

Although it sounds like a low-budget horror movie, the Whitechapel corpse train is probably the most-intriguing item on our list. Unlike many we’ve discussed, it has no supernatural origins or manifestations. Instead, it features a very human horror: hundreds upon hundreds of corpses.

whitechapel-corpse-train-urban-legend (Image: Anthony Woodman)

In the early days of the tube, death was not an uncommon occurrence in London’s many hospitals. Faced with overflowing morgues and nowhere to put the steadily-mounting bodies, the Royal London Hospital came up with a solution equal parts genius and grotesque. Without telling anybody, they allegedly installed a new line on the underground running underneath the hospital and into Whitechapel. A line they could use to ferry human cadavers away from the morgue, to lie unremarked upon in the station’s spare ticket office; just metres away from oblivious commuters.

As good as this story is, it’s almost-certainly untrue. But it makes for an interesting urban legend; one that communicates our fear of death and the unknown as effectively as any number of ghost stories.

The Shadows of Cane Hill (Croydon)

If you’re looking for a location for your ghost story, Cane Hill Asylum would be hard to beat. In operation between 1882 and 1991, thousands upon thousands of patients passed through its doors.

cane-hill-asylum-ghosts-hauntings (Image: Paul)

Some of them – such as Charlie Chaplin’s mother and the brothers of David Bowie and Michael Caine – would later be immortalised by those they left behind. But the majority lived and died unnoticed, hidden from sight. All of which may explain why they – some say – never left.

Over the years, disturbing reports have come in from the derelict hospital of figures moving in the grounds. Others swear they’ve seen shadows flitting by the windows, or vanishing into the night. Dogs are known to fear the site, and it’s said the dead are watching from the windows, turning their cold and envious eyes upon the world of the living.

At least, that was once the case. In 2010, a fire gutted the hospital. Today, only a shell remains of the place a many lost souls once called home.

The Crying Girl (King’s Cross Station)

At roughly 7.30pm on November 18th 1987, someone carelessly dropped a match on a King’s Cross Station escalator. The resulting fire gutted the ticket office, killing 31 and trapping hundreds of people underground. Today, the terrible memories of the fire still linger on in the form of the crying girl.

kings-cross-crying-girl-legend (Image: Sunil060902)

A young woman with long brown hair, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the crying girl has been spotted around the station, seemingly inconsolable with grief. Passengers have reported trying to comfort her, only to see her suddenly disappear in the crowd, or feel their arms going right through her. More creepily, people have heard her sobs when the platforms are empty, and others have smelled smoke curling out from underneath the escalators.

Although no-one has ever got a clear look at her, it is thought she’s one of the fire’s victims, her spirit left behind to wait forever on the platform where she died. That said, crying children often turn up in urban legend, many of which are cautionary tales, and may go some way to explaining the King’s Cross haunting.

The Beast (Hackney Marshes)

With acres of woodland, overgrown paths and a scattering of reed marshes shrouded by mist in the early morning, it’s perhaps no wonder Hackney Marsh has attracted some curious legends. But at least one of these legends goes right past curious and into outright weird.

hackney-marshes-beast (Image: Derek Harper)

It started in 1980, when two small bear carcasses were found in Lea River. They’d been decapitated and dumped, left to rot in the stagnant water. Fast forward a year and four young boys decided to take a walk across the marsh one winter morning. It had been a cold night and there was snow on the ground. About halfway across, they stumbled across a strange set of tracks they couldn’t identify. Thinking nothing of it, they walked on.

And then they saw it. Something they’d later describe as “a giant, great, growling hairy thing.” Whatever it was, the creature allegedly reared up on its hind legs and roared at them. The boys fled. When 50 policemen descended on the area a couple of hours later, they could find no trace of anything living out on the marsh.

So what was it? Ghost? Urban legend? Local lore today tends towards it being a nasty prank pulled on a group of easily-frightened kids. But officially the mystery remains unsolved, with dog walkers even now keeping one nervous eye out for the mysterious beast.

The Screams of the Dead (Bethnal Green Station)

In 1943, Bethnal Green in East London experienced one of its worst wartime tragedies. Not from bombs or flying shrapnel, but something potentially far deadlier: panic.

bethnal-green-screams (Image: Sunil060902)

During a routine air raid siren test, civilians on their way to shelter in the Tube station all happened to converge on the entrance at once. In their panic to get downstairs, some people tripped… and then the stampede began. As more and more people fell to their knees and bodies kept piling in the door, the panic became a deadly crush. One hundred and seventy-three people were trampled to death, including at least 41 children. The disaster was Britain’s worst civilian tragedy in the entire war.

Over 70 years after the accident, its memory still scars the station. Underground staff and late night passengers have reported hearing women screaming and the sound of children crying. Do the voices of the dead still linger beneath East London’s streets? The only way to be sure is to go down there late at night and find out for yourself.

The Faceless Woman (Becontree Station, Barking)

If you ever find yourself catching the Tube back from Barking late one night, do yourself a favour and steer clear of Becontree Station. Small and unassuming, the station is nonetheless said to hold one of London’s creepiest ghosts: the faceless woman.

becontree-station-faceless-woman (Image: Sunil060902)

The most-famous iteration of the story takes place in 1992. A station supervisor was closing up when he heard a rattling on the handle of his office door. Going outside to look, he found a female figure waiting on the platform. She was blonde, in a pale white dress. As she stared into the distance, the supervisor approached. He had almost reached her when she turned around. Where her face should have been, he simply saw a ghastly blank. Other iterations of the story have her appearing directly before someone; or simply standing down the far end of the platform, waiting for a train that’ll never come.

It’s theorised that she’s the ghost of someone killed in the 1958 crash, when a train skipped a signal and ploughed into the back of another, killing ten. Why she’s stayed behind when all the others have long since vanished is a question no-one can answer. However, it’s also worth noting that the faceless woman haunting has been associated with various sites across the world, and may be rooted in urban legend.

The Figure in the Studio (Southwark)

Not all ghosts have to be seen by dozens of people to qualify as creepy. In fact, some have only ever been seen once.

southwark-london-ghost-radio-studio (Image: Andreas Praefcke)

The story takes place in the studios of art radio project Resonance FM. In an interview with Londonist, a couple of the station’s presenters recently claimed they’d seen a ghost in the studio late one night. Not just any old ghost, either, but a chillingly malevolent one. According to one presenter, it looked like a shadow with angry, burning eyes. The other said it was the teeth he noticed: sharp, dark, malformed things that the creature bared at him before disappearing. Whatever it was, it hasn’t been seen since.

So was it just a hoax tale told for fun? Maybe. But there’s also the chance that something weird was witnessed. If that’s the case, we don’t even want to think about what that snarling, dark and angry figure might have been… or who it was looking for.

The Tulip Staircase Ghost (Greenwich)

In 1966, the Rev. R.W. Hardy was visiting the Queens House in Greenwich. At the foot of the Tulip staircase, he paused to take a picture. At the time, he thought no more about it. Until he got his photo back.

tulip-staircase-ghost-london (Image: Rev. Ralph Hardy via Oddee)

It transpired that the Reverend had accidentally taken one of the most-infamous pictures in supernatural history. Featuring a mournful, hooded figure clinging to the railings of the staircase, it appeared to be impossible, the sort of ghostly picture you couldn’t fake. When news of the photograph got out, the British Ghost Club decided to investigate. With recording equipment in tow, they headed to the Queens House to perform a séance. Their records of the evening make for some uniquely disturbing reading.

Starting at 10.54pm, the team began to make observations. These start off in a fairly boring fashion at first, noting bell rings and stones and whatnot. But as they go on, things start to get spooky. At 11.15pm, they record a slightly damp smell, followed by the distant ringing of a bell. Then suddenly something happens. The handwriting becomes illegible, as if distorted by intense fear. Then it descends into mad scribbles, before stopping altogether.

Even now, no-one really knows what the team saw that night. But the legend of the Tulip Staircase Ghost lingers on; just daring some amateur ghost hunter to try and solve it.

The Highgate Vampire (Highgate)

Crumbling, overgrown and dead to the outside world, Highgate Cemetery is the perfect setting for a spooky story. And they don’t come much freakier than the tale of the Highgate Vampire.

highgate-vampire (Image: Derek Harper)

In 1969, a local man called David Farrant reported seeing a ghostly grey figure walk through the cemetery. He wasn’t alone. Dozens of others contacted the local papers with descriptions weirdly similar to Farrant’s. Then another man called Sean Manchester got involved and things got really strange.

Manchester claimed the graveyard was the resting place of a vampire that had to be killed. Although he seemed delusional, many believed him and the rumour spread. Not long after, Farrant was arrested in the graveyard carrying a crucifix and a heavy wooden stake. Now in a state of panic, locals began to march on the cemetery, looking for the vampire. At the same time, Manchester claimed a sleepwalking girl had led him into the graves one night to kill the monster. He and Farrant became convinced a group of Satanists were using the cemetery to summon demons; of which the vampire was merely one.

Although the rumours died down with Farrant’s conviction for desecrating memorials, the legend of the vampire still lives on. Was it real, part real or just a form of mass delusion? We may never know but, interestingly, Highgate isn’t the only UK cemetery with a vampire legend attached to it.

Related – 10 Creepy Phantoms & Urban Legends of Australia

 
 


 
 
 

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