Archive for October, 2007

Local Ghosts Quiz

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

As a consequence of reading Mr Godfrey’s books and other local volumes, trawling the Internet, going on numerous walks (which, by the way, are excellent if you get an official one) and consulting a storyteller friend of mine, I’m beginning to think that most of Greenwich’s ghosts are A Bit Crap.

So, by way of a bit of fun on this, All Hallows Eve, I thought I’d give you a little quiz. At least one of these 13 local ghosts is ‘real’ as reported by someone who reckons they’ve seen it. At least one is totally fabricated by Yours Truly. Your job is to work out which are true tales of horror and which are big fat lies.

Here goes: (in spookily chronological order)

1)The Roman Legion. Greenwich had a Roman encampment in the days before Ye Olden Days as it was on the route to Dover (there is, of course, what is assumed to be a temple in Greenwich Park) but it was with great surprise that two workmen removing an old boiler from underneath the Royal Naval College’s Jacobean Undercroft a few years ago witnessed an entire legion of Roman soldiers in full uniform appear through a wall, march across the room, then disappear through the opposite wall. The boiler had been placed well under the original ground level, which accounts for the fact that their feet did not touch the ground.

2)The Penitent Viking. In 1998, two young men were enjoying a takeaway chicken meal sitting in the churchyard of St Alfeges. They had thrown the chicken bones into the bushes when they saw a bearded man in clothes made from what looked like fur behind them. He was picking up the bones, carefully gathering them into a small sack. When they looked back he was gone. It has been suggested that this is one of the vikings at the feast where St Alfege was martyred; that perhaps he is trying to gather the saint’s bones together to give them a christian burial so his own soul can rest.

3) The Crew of The Boundless. After the removal of the bones from the burial ground at The Naval Hospital to East Greenwich Pleasaunce to make way for the new railway, a ghostly crew of sailors was reported in the mid 19th Century, making their way back to their original resting place in search of their missing crew member whose remains were left behind. It has been suggested that they are the crew of The Boundless, one of the ships that took part in the Battle of Trafalgar. There have been no sightings of the crew themselves for over a hundred years, although train drivers have reported seeing ‘a ghostly figure’ as they go through the tunnel. Could this be the missing man searching for his companions?

4) The Headless Pensioner. One evening during the 1990s, after a Naval Dinner in the Painted Hall, the manager came to turn out the lights and lock up. She was horrified to see a headless body in full Greenwich Pensioner uniform standing at the top of the steps, seemingly waiting for her.

5) The Helpful Handyman. An electrician who was carrying out rewiring in Queen Anne Court was delighted when a helpful old man in uniform hung around handing him the tools for the job. It was only later when he realised that friendly old chap had vanished that the electrician started to panic. It is assumed that this was one Admiral John Byng who was incarcerated in the hospital before being executed (unfairly) for failing in his duties. Far from being malevolent, he hangs around the college, opening doors for tourists and generally helping out.

6) Pistol Jack There are many ghosts associated with The Spread Eagle Inn, but the most enjoyable one is ‘Pistol Jack,’ a highwayman who terrorised Shooters Hill in the late 18th Century before being hanged at Tyburn in 1796. He might have been a fearsome robber up on the wilds of the heath, but he has only ever been kind to weary travellers resting at the Inn. Sightings have included him giving up his seat by the fire to a lady and replenishing the beer – when the barman has gone to change a barrel, he has found it still half full. He was usually to be found in the downstairs snug after hours but hasn’t been seen since the refurbishment.

7) The Creepy Cash-register During a wedding at the Old Royal Naval College, a cash register was set up on “Nelson’s table” – the table upon which his body is said to have lain in state. A guest bought two orange juices, but before the barmaid could touch the till, it opened up, having already calculated the correct amount.This happened twice that evening, each with different amounts and different orders.

8) The Grey Lady. There must be a veritable army of Grey and White Ladies haunting Britain. Our own local Grey Lady walks around the Chesterfield Gate section of Greenwich Park. Some have suggested she is the scandalous Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George IV, who decamped to Greenwich after being shunned at court. Her mansion, since demolished was on this spot. Since the excavation of Caroline’s bath (where she is known to have held raucous parties,) park rangers have reported hearing the sound of giggling and splashing coming from the vicinity.

9) The ‘Tween Deck of the Cutty Sark. Before the recent restoration, late-night revellers at functions on the Cutty Sark regularly reported the distinct feeling that they are not alone on the ‘Tween Deck. A Paranormal Investigation in the 1990s confirmed that it was the spirit of a young man from the tea clipper’s glory days. It remains to be seen what happens to his soul after the recent fire.

10) The Schoolboy Theatregoer. A particularly cold spot in Row E of Greenwich Theatre is said to be host to the presence of a young boy who probably visited when it was still Crowder’s Music Hall.

11) The Haunted Bag of Soot. During the 1920s, an horrific accident at Greenwich Power Station saw a young man crushed by a falling bag of soot collected from the coal furnaces. For several years after, his former colleagues claimed that sacks left in that part of the power station would mysteriously open and spill across the floor. It was always accompanied by a distinct drop in temperature in what was normally an extremely hot environment.

12) The American Officer. Among the many spirits who walk around the Old Royal Naval Hospital, one in particular stands out – that of an American Officer in WWII uniform. During the early part of the war, Americans were forbidden to sign up, but several felt so strongly they dodged the rule by coming to train in Britain. Few of them returned. This is probably Greenwich’s most romantic ghost – he appears only to young women and is never a frightening presence.

13) The Wedding Guest. In what is now Rick’s on Trafalgar Road, beloved by hen nights and engagement parties, there were several sightings during the 1980s and 90s of an “extra guest” sitting quietly in the corner. Dressed in outdated fashions, witnesses said she watched proceedings sadly. If approached she refused both offers of nibbles and dances but seemed grateful to anyone who spoke to her. She was always gone by 11.00pm, and nobody saw her leave. There are no theories as to who she was, but there has been a public house on this site for at least 120 years.

Answers tomorrow, folks…

Depressing Demolition

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I was up at the Blackheath Standard just now, full of the joys of sunny October, when I suddenly spied this:

It took me a moment to work out what exactly the workmen were demolishing. Then it came to me.

What on earth did that little 1950s bus shelter ever do to anyone? Okay – it wasn’t a paragon of design, but it fitted rather well, with it’s honest brick sides and little tiled roof, within the 1950s crazy-paved design of the village green.

Presumably it attracted “the wrong sort” or something – though I can’t say I ever noticed hoodies or graffiti there. Did it really warrant demolition?

I suppose we’ll get some horrid glass affair as a replacement which will soon be a source of permanent employment for glass repairers.

Oh – I get it. They’ll be able to put advertisments in the new one. So. A revenue-generating move.


Devonport House Burial Ground and Admiral Hardy’s Tomb

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

The strange thing about the somewhat austere frontage of Devonport House and its even more austere grounds is that on a first glance it just looks like a patch of grass with a few trees in it.

It’s only when you start to peer in a bit further that you realise that what used to be the main cemetery for Greenwich Hospital still has some rather splendid monuments and even the odd grave. By the time naval veterans made it out to Greenwich they were already pretty decayed (if you look at old engravings of Greenwich Pensioners there’s always at least one with a peg-leg – either the same guy got himself into every picture or there were a lot of limbs blown off by cannon fire) so the cemetery filled up quickly.

Actually, the very first graveyard was at the bottom-east corner of Greenwich Park – where that little row of cottages snakes its way up the side of the park now. By 1749 it was full, so they decamped to a new one on Goddard’s Garden (no relation, I hope, with Goddard’s Pie Shop…no – let’s not even go there…) on King William Walk.

This was a purpose-built graveyard – which already included a posh Mausoleum for officers. It’s still there – although you have to crane your neck to see it unless you care to do what I did, which is sneak around the back (or front – I can never quite work out the geography of Devonport House) and tiptoe across the grass. It’s by Nicholas Hawksmoor (a man who certainly got around) and was built between 1713 and 1714 in his signature dour neo-classical style. When it was first built it had open arched columns but they were filled in sometime about 1820 and the whole thing re-roofed.

This might have something to do with the fact that it was attacked by grave robbers in 1806. Perhaps it was very stupid grave robbers who were hoping to find Nelson’s remains – he’s buried in St Paul’s Cathedral of course – though had they returned in 1839 they would have found Admiral Hardy – he of “Kiss me, Hardy” (or “Kismet, Hardy ” as it is more fashionable to say these days) fame. It also contains the mortal remains of Lord Hood and Tom Allen, who was Nelson’s personal servant.(I’ll get onto these guys another time.) You’ll be glad to know it’s listed.

The big move to East Greenwich Pleasaunce took place in 1857, after the graveyard at Devonport House just got Too Full. It didn’t help that not long after, the railway was being extended with a new-fangled cut-and-cover tunnel under Greenwich Park that went straight the cemetery. I’ll get onto that some other time.

But for now, it’s definitely worth a sneak around the grounds of Devonport House (which, in time-honoured tradition, I’ll cover some other time) and taking a closer look at the monuments that are left, looking ever so slightly lost, in the grass. If I understood the complex Victorian language of funerary monuments (a bit like a goth-version of the Language of Flowers) I’d be able to tell you what a broken pillar covered in a marble cloak or Britannia with her shield lowered meant. Sadly the book I had with it all in got lost years ago…

There was more disruption in the 1920s when building work began on Devonport House, when 1247 skulls and 58 boxes of bones were dug up for removal to East Greenwich.

For now, though, I’ll leave you to ponder upon the ghostly consequences of such deathly upheaval…

A Warning

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Lorna has sent me this disturbing email:

Hi Phantom

Just wanted to pass on a warning to your readers if possible.

I was walking home from Cutty Sark DLR on saturday night with my boyfriend about 1.30am having been to a party in north london and having caught one of the last trains/DLRs home.

The town/high street was packed, and we crossed the road (over to by the Thai place and the pet accessories shop) to avoid a rowdy group of people, when a guy started a fight with a guy walking towards us. I looked back and noticed the guy who had challenged the man walking towards us, had a large empty glass bottle (a litre bottle of Smirnoff). I quickly sped up with my boyfriend to get out of the way – the next thing I know, the guys had begun fighting and the bottle was thrown – hitting me on the head.

Luckily the bottle didn’t break, and I was left with only a large bump on the side of my head – the fight was carrying on, so I thought we’d better get out of the way. Typically, there were no police to be seen anywhere on high street.

I would recommend to all your readers to walk the longer way round from the station (turning left out of the DLR round by Waterstones), as this doesn’t mean walking past the Weatherspoons pub where most of the ‘drunken louts’ hang out.

I am completely disgusted, and quite frightened that Greenwich has become so unsafe. I don’t see the point in reporting this to the police – I wouldn’t be able to describe the men who were fighting, or the guy who threw the bottle, and didn’t want to waste my Sunday in the police station.

I think it’s high time that either the police have more presence in Greenwich on a Saturday, or drinking hours in that area are lowered. During the day Greenwich is a lovely place, and week night evenings it’s also fine, but Friday and Saturday nights seem to attract a completely different type of person, who are out to make trouble.

I’m also wondering if all the new housing that is springing up is meaning the town is over crowded in the evenings? I hope to have time in the near future to write to the police and the council requesting greater police presence over the weekends… but I’m not convinced this will have any effect. Let me know if you, or your readers have any other suggestions to making our streets safer…

The Phantom Replies:

This is utterly awful – and you do need to report this, Lorna – even if you couldn’t recognise the thugs concerned – because the police work on statistics. So these particular louts won’t get caught (though maybe they were later if it was that bad) but your experience, if reported, will add up to a bigger picture which could mean that measures are taken around that vile place.

Get better soon, Lorna, and in the meantime, folks – take care…

Walking Ghostly Greenwich Parts 1 & 2

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Malcolm C. Godfrey, Time For Greenwich, 2004

I guess if anyone was qualified to write a book about Ghostly Greenwich, Malcolm Godfrey fits the bill, having been the last resident of The Lieutenant Governor’s Residence in the Old Royal Naval College. He has always been interested in the supernatural and his role as Hospitality and Events Manager at what he claims to be the most haunted spot in Great Britain (a tough call IMHO – but you need to be bold when you’re writing a book) meant that he, his family or friends were personally witness to several of the chilling events he describes. Does this make it even more authentic or slightly flaky? Well, I always say a tale is in the telling – and Malcolm Godfrey is clearly a raconteur…

If I’m honest, it does feel a teeny-tiny bit on the flimsy side. Of the two books, the first, about The Old Royal Naval College, is the most substantial. It’s an easy, quick read, entertaining (if only for the typos,) and has a ring of personal conviction and enjoyable anecdotal evidence. Most of Greenwich’s ghosts seem to be benign – either slightly sad – or even downright friendly. Several of the stories describe kindly spectres helping out with chores or keeping a watchful eye on things.

Where the book comes into its own are the little historical asides that Godfrey throws in almost, seemingly, by accident – several things I had neither read nor heard anywhere else. He is uniquely placed to know choice details about the building and function of the place and I wonder whether he might have been better employed writing a lighthearted history of the ORNC buildings (maybe he should think about that next.) I get the feeling that it’s ever-so-slightly ‘padded,’ with descriptions of creepy places that don’t actually have any supernatural history or sightings but send shivers down your spine anyway – but if a book’s enjoyable, it doesn’t really matter if its course alters from time to time.

The second book, which deals with Greenwich at large, “From Deptford to the Dome,” is equally easy to read, if even lighter on ‘ghostly’ substance – but yet again has fascinating nuggets of historical detail and some curious photographs that stand up on their own for pure historical interest. Sometimes places don’t need an actual ghost to give you the creeps and Malcolm Godfrey is very good at raising the fear temperature (just as the ghostly temperature drops) whilst telling stories about places that you’d not instantly associate with spirits. And just as he can make places that have no supernatural connotations feel phantasmagorical, he’s equally (and frustratingly) good at not telling us the exact address of a haunted house because the present owners are unaware of the place’s history. Now that’s storytelling…

How much of it do I believe? Well, in the cold light of this sunny Monday morning, absolutely none at all. But stick me in the haunted skittle alley alone at midnight…

Hi- Yaa!!

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Greenwich Mutiny asks:

Can any of those folks in the know recommend a children’s class for Kung Fu/Karate?

The Phantom replies:

I cannot begin to tell you just how many ways this is not a question for me. But I bet there’s someone out there who can help you.

A week of Ghostly Posts

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

‘Tis the end of October, traditionally The Phantom’s favourite time of year, and in celebration, I will be having a creepy time on the blog with a week’s worth of Greenwich spookery.

Hallowe’en seems to be getting bigger and bigger these days – but here is not the place to go into the rights and wrongs of trick-or-treating. Let’s look on the bright side – while everywhere is full of pumpkins and paper chains in the shape of witches on broomsticks (and have you noticed that even the Blackwall Tunnel seems to be getting in on the act – black, sooty walls, sodium orange lights and bright green one-way arrows…) it’s NOT full of Christmas decorations. We used to be plagued with festive decor and Christmas muzak from mid-Spetember onwards. Now, with Hallowe’en to celebrate, the shops all wait a bit longer. As Ian Drury would say “reasons to be cheerful…”

Hallowe’en starts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Folks – I’ve just accidentally deleted some emails in my spam folder, that even as I pressed the button I realised were actually genuine messages. If I haven’t replied to a message you’ve sent me recently, please send again. I am not ignoring you!!

George II

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Alex says:

I know that you are a very busy Phantom but please try to review George II in the covered market, it is on the site of what used to be a perfectly good, slightly greasy spoon cafe with tables outside. We went there for coffee yesterday and had to wait ages to be served, no table service, from staff who had so obviously had a row it was comical. She glared at him, he rolled his eyes at her at one stage we thought they were going to come to blows.

All the tables had dirty stains on them as all the coffee is served in mugs, spoons with coffee on them are left on the tables hence the stains – not once did we see a cloth when the tables were cleared. As it is half term there were lots of mums and kids and without exception everyone that ordered baked potatoes in their jackets returned them as they were not cooked (microwaved) in the middle.

The coffee was fine, although it would have been nice if either of the fighting staff had smiled – at least once; we stayed for two cups as we were having such fun watching the rows.

The Phantom Replies:

I have tried to review George II twice but each time have been so put off by the massive queues, the chaotic atmosphere and the unexciting-looking fare that I’ve just turned round and walked out again. I didn’t see any staff at all – let alone rowing ones.

If you’ve been a reader for long you will know that The Meeting House used to be listed as one of my favourite haunts – for just plain good value, good food. Your visit just adds to my fears.

Perhaps Greenwich Inc are spreading themselves a little too thin here. Contrary to popular belief, I am not actually anti-Greenwich Inc. In some places they do very well – inside the O2, for example, they take on the big multinationals at their own game and don’t come off badly at all. If we’ve got to have a chain at least it’s a local chain and I congratulate them on having a go in a Dome that could have all been major conglomerates.

I notice they also have a licence application for the eaterie in the new apartment building on the Thames Path next door to the power station. Seems to me that no other bugger would touch it in over a year and Greenwich Inc have at least got the guts to go for it. But some of their outlets just seem like a cash-in, and, by the sound of it, at George II quality is being sacrificed for profit.

I am very sad to hear about the jacket potatoes – it was the spuds that used to bring me back again and again to The Meeting House. Microwaved? Yeuch. Not even cooked? Double yeuch.

It does at least sound as though you enjoyed the experience in a manner of speaking – sometimes a place is so terrible that it stops being a cafe and starts being theatre.

Trouble is, that as with so many eateries in central Greenwich, George II does not have to convince us locals to return. There is a steady flow of one-off tourists who will not be expected to tell their friends or create any kind of buzz to keep the pounds rolling in (I will be interested to see what happens in the new place by the power station – fewer tourists will mean Greenwich Inc have to appeal to locals – hopefully we will see something new and exciting there – and I will be the first to trumpet it if we get something really good…)

I will try to brave George II one day soon – but they don’t need my – or your – custom and I cannot think that they will care what I, or anyone else has to say. It’s a shame that The Meeting House closed, but it’s even more of a shame if what has replaced it is a shadow of its former greasy glory. Greenwich already has a dodgy reputation for food. This is not going to improve that reputation.

Has anyone else been there yet?

Olympic Families…

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Now here’s a cosy concept. The Olympic ‘family.’ This is the nausea-inducing title given to the group of ‘clients’ that the Olympic Delivery Authority actually care about for 2012. They include National Olympic Committee officials, athletes, workforce, media and, most tellingly, ‘marketing partners’ – i.e. advertisers. The Paralympic ‘family’ has similar categories.

So why am I writing about this today? Because on the 23rd, the ODA produced the transport plans for 2012. We’re all going to go by public transport. No ifs. No buts. Unless we can manage to join The Family…

So what will The Family enjoy that we can only stand in our queues and watch?

Well, traffic lights will be rephased so that traffic going to the games gets priority and where necessary roads will be closed. Routes will be diverted and ‘kerbside controls’ (Parking restrictions) brought in. Special ‘Olympic’ lanes created for more than 1000, officials who will be entitled to their own car and driver. For us this will mainly mean that the Blackwall Tunnel will be down to one lane because most of the roads in Greenwich won’t support a separate lane.

The ODA are, at least, good enough to accept that the most important sub-category of The Family is the athletes. Fair enough. It would be most annoying if the race began and the runners were all stuck on the Northern Line. But after that I start to wonder just how many of these dignitaries really justify a dedicated lane in already-congested roads. The rest of us are expected to leave time for our journeys – which will be worse because The Family are taking up an entire lane. I like the way they put things: that less than 50 percent of the ORN (Olympic Road Network) will be affected – a good news-way of telling us that nearly half of our roads will be fiddled with.

Do I ultimately care? Probably not that much for the total of four weeks during the two sets of games. But I will not be happy if it is extended for months before and after the festivities because the building work is going at its usual Olympic speed (late) creating designated lanes for JCBs…

What do you folks think?

The Phantom lights the blue touch-paper and retires…