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.
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…