Archive for October, 2009

Fortean Phantom

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Today I bring you something very odd indeed, courtesy of Haydn in Notting Hill.

Greenwich has the spooky honour of being the venue for one of the most famous ‘ghost’ photographs ever – the Ghost of the Tulip Stairs in the Queens House. Curiously, the Queen’s House is in this photograph too, taken by Haydn on Boxing Day last year, but only, he tells me, scrutinised a week or so ago. Could it be a rival to the famous Tulip Phantom? Who can tell. I present it to you today, for your consideration – Haydn – and myself – await your thoughts – especially the photographers and paranormal enthusiasts among you…

You’ll probably have to click on the images to get them big enough to really see what I’m talking about here. Such is Blogger.

We’re talking about the funny little dwarf-like character who appears to be hanging around the flowerbeds in a suspicious manner. Here – this is what I mean:

If you look, he’s much, much smaller than the ‘mortal’ couple striding along next to him, and much fuzzier. With not an awful lot of imagination it’s possible to make out a frock coat, wig and rather florid face and hand, though Haydn points out that the shoulder’s at a bit of an odd angle. The character’s cane/sword is the brightest thing about him – and oddly, if you fiddle with the contrast button on the picture, it’s also the only part of the photo that’s completely burned-out.

He looks like a painting – if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s a digital pic, I’d think it was one of those old double exposures that used to happen occasionally with film. I even wondered if he was a cardboard cut-out left over from an exhibition, though what it would be doing in a flowerbed on Boxing Day is anyone’s guess.

Haydn wondered if it could be the tragic Admiral Byng, whose ghost is said to walk the Old Royal Naval College, but I’m not convinced – Byng was a prisoner in a very specific part of the then Greenwich Hospital, which had nothing to do with the Queen’s House; I can’t imagine he’d have been allowed to wander around the park.

I guess a possibility could be a Greenwich Pensioner – several of them are supposed to haunt the area, and their uniforms were of a much older period than the one in which they lived.

Haydn sent me the hi-res of this, which, sadly, I can’t reproduce here, but I showed it to several people who know more about both phtotography and ghosts than me and I’ve had a mixed reaction. Some are convinced it’s a fake, but can’t tell exactly how, others are more open to other interpretations. Haydn tells me the photo is untouched, save for the obvious red box and a lightening of 8%.

Here is a slightly fuzzy enlargement of the strange, creepy little fellow:

I spent some time peering at it myself. It’s curious that the dark area behind him is as fuzzy as the ghost itself, when much of the other greenery is sharp, but there are a lot of trees around there, and it’s possible it’s in shadow.

I did go and have a peek at the actual place, but stupidly forgot to bring a copy of the picture with me, so wasn’t able to exactly pinpoint the spot again – besides, being camera-less just now (not that I’m going on about it or anything…) I couldn’t have taken a pic anyway. He seems to be at a lower level than the current flower bed, but that’s no surprise – it would have been raised several feet by generations of gardeners applying a thick layer of manure every year. If anyone with a camera’s going near that part of the park, I’d love a picture of that spot…

But what do you think? Have you any ideas of what – or who – this could be? Were you in Greenwich Park on Boxing Day? Did you see anything weird? Are you the happy couple in the photo? Did you see anything strange? Are you an expert on paranormal photography? Or, for that matter, any kind of photography?

What do you make of this picture? I confess I’m stumped…

Haunted Hotel

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

After the small hiatus in spooky Halloween-type posts yesterday (unless you count the creepy disappearing footpath at Maze Hill) we go back to Ghostly Greenwich and a modern tale that master storyteller Robert of Number 16 St Alfege’s Passage tells about getting rid of a particularly stubborn phantom, who just didn’t know he’d outstayed his welcome (takes one to know one…)

So, pull your armchair a little closer into the fire, wrap the Turkey rug a little tighter round your shoulders, re-light the candle that extinguished itself in that sudden draught and listen as Robert, in silken dressing gown and tasselled smoking cap, seats himself in the chair opposite and begins…

“When people come down for breakfast I usually ask if they slept well,” he says. “We had a gentleman from New Zealand staying and he was the only guest at the time. When asked if he had had a good night he said ‘Well not really because one of the other guests kept walking up and down the stairs.’ When told that he was the only guest he seemed rather shocked,and said “Oh God not again.”

The second night, Robert tells me, all was well, but on the third he too heard footsteps on the stairs, and wished the New Zealand guy would just go to bed. At breakfast the following morning the man looked tired and rather drawn.”He said the foot steps were even louder and at 2.30am he could bear it no more,” he continues. “He opened the door to his room and there on the landing he meet a young man in ‘Victorian-looking clothes.’ He had long wet hair which he was drying with an old towel. The young man said “I will be late for work” and walked into what is now a bathroom – via what is now a boarded-up doorway.”

The New Zealand man told Robert that he felt that he should come clean and that he had had several encouters with other ‘ghosts’ before. He left, and all was well for a while.

Time passed, and Robert had all but forgotton about the ‘Victorian man.’ But when a neighbour brought his sister and her ten year-old son from Scotland round for a drink, he did ‘the usual guided tour’ of the B&B. At this point, I can just hear Robert’s usually sonorous voice lowering to a deathly whisper…

“We arrived at the landing outside the bathroom. Suddenly the Scots woman put her hands to her neck and said ‘I can`t breathe, I can’t breathe!’ She became very distressed and cried buckets. She then said ‘I have to leave this house – something very bad happened in there.’ We gave her a glass of water and she left, very shaken.”

More time passed, and once again all creepiness was forgotten for merry times at Number 16.

But then a theatre director came for tea to discuss a book he was writing. When he asked directions for the loo, Robert said ‘Oh, use the one upstairs; the downstairs one is out of use.’

“No sooner than he got to bathroom door on the upstair landing. I heard a scream and the sound of someone gasping for air. “Just,” Robert says, “as my mother did as she died.” He, too, was very shaken. “I kept rather quiet,” he admits. When the director left, he seemed very interested in the fact that a large beam outside the bathroom had never been removed from the house.

Nothing happened for ages. Then ‘things’ started happening. “I would lose objects for a while such as a kitchen knife and then the lost item would turn up in, say, a draw full of socks. More foot steps on the stairs – this time where there were no stairs – though there was a staircase there originally it was removed in 2000.”

Robert himself was never frightened by the presence. “I am often alone in the house and found myself telling the phantom “Please be quiet I`m trying to work,” he says.

But then it took a more nasty turn. “Returning from the shops to an empty house I found every lightbulb neatly placed by each lamp. Having replace all lightbulbs, I was sitting at the end of my bed when a wooden blind which had hung as a bedhead for several years flew off the wall and hit me. That was it.”

Robert called Giles Harcourt, the previous vicar of St Alfeges church. “Far from saying that I was off my rocker,” he says, “he said he would visit Number 16. He did this three times, each time deeply questioning me about the goings on. Then suddenly he said ‘You have a very troubled soul that needs to be let free. It is the right thing to do.’ He felt that the ‘Victorian man’ had taken his life with a rope from the large beam on the landing.

He returned with all his robes, a set of candle sticks, a lot of salt and a bowl filled with water. There was a short service where the phantom was asked ‘to go in peace.’ The house was blessed and the black and white cat drank the salty water from the bowl.”

Robert has never heard or seen The Phantom of Number 16 since. But Robert himself is omnipresent. Find him in the November issue of Homes & Gardens, on a live broadcast radio from the Olympic site to mark 1000 days until the 2012 games for BBC London 94.9 over the weekend, and a soon-to-be-released thriller set in Greenwich, called the Cost of Love, which I know nothing about (nothing on IMDB yet) but will look forward to….

Oooh. Shiver….

Baby Bonfires

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Lucy asks:

“We have 2 young kids and while we’d like to take them up to the big Blackheath fireworks display on the 7th, I was wondering if you know of any smaller bonfire + fireworks events around Greenwich? It’s their first time so I’m thinking they would be actually very happy with just a few fireworks rather than a half-hour bombardment!”

The Phantom replies:

It’s possible someone round here knows of a smaller one – but I can’t imagine there will be much going on round here on the 7th itself as no one will be wanting to try to compete with the Big Bang on Blackheath.

If you’re worried that half an hour of what a killjoy friend of mine calls “tawdry whizz-bangs” will be too much, perhaps you could take them over for the last five minutes or so – you get the big finale but not the numb fingers…

Does anyone here know of any small events going on round here, though?

Maze Hill Pathways

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

A lot of people have been asking about the ex-pathway on the south side of Maze Hill station where the new Seren Park development has been built. It’s been closed ever since the hoardings went up and I’ve been regularly asked when it’s opening again.

Well, Michael, who lives in Tom Smith Close, has just got back from a meeting with Seren Park developers, Network Rail and Greenwich councillors and thought we’d like an update. His report will prove for anyone who thought that South Eastern don’t give a damn about community relations (read ‘customers’) that you’re absolutely right.

He writes:

“Seren Park’s land was purchased to include permission to reinstate direct access to the platform using the narrow short path in between the allotments and Tom Smith Close. The pathway is all owned by Network Rail and used to be much longer and previously ran alongside the platform but has been amalgamated with the platform itself a little while ago.

Agreement was made with Connex (South Eastern’s predecessors) to grant the access gate and for Seren park to meet all associated costs. But South Eastern are not interested despite all efforts by the developers to make contact and offer both recompense and upkeep generously.

Us residents (of Tom Smith Close- TGP) support the developers on this issue because we don’t want people attempting to break down barriers and turn our cul-de-sac into a walk-through – we have minimal pavements and this would cause litter, disturbance, noise and security issues for a predominantly elderly populace. South Eastern don’t want any additional hassle and want to avoid additional access points to their stations.

Unless South Eastern change their minds, the access won’t be reinstated and permanent barriers will have to be erected by Network Rail, the council and developers to secure their respective boundaries and force Seren Park residents to the long way round. The privacy of Tom Smith Close and security of the allotments will be fought for ! (there has never been any kind of accessway through the cul-de-sac and it’s one of our car parks).”

So – there you have it. And just in case those of you who hump prams, wheelchairs, shopping trolleys or small children the long way round from Vanbrugh Hill/Humber Road etc. think there’s any kind of chink of hope in this bleak news, read on…

“Also, note that the access was only ever to be exclusive to Seren Park with keyfobs and special security gates,” says Michael, “I think newly moved in residents are going to be disappointed at South Eastern and will want to take issue with the developers for unintentionally misleading them about this ‘direct access’ – could be expensive for them !

This issue has been debated constantly for the past few years and South Eastern have had a tactic of avoidance and failed to show up at every opportunity and meeting.”

So – yes – give up now on ever seeing this useful path ever reinstated for anyone who can’t afford the ridiculous prices at Seren Park (even the ‘affordable’ ones require people to have incomes far higher than the average wage) but even if you can manage the squeakingly high prices of the new development, get used to that hike around the north side, eh…

Goddesses, Guardians And Groves

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Goddesses, Guardians and Groves – The Awakening Spirit of the Land

Jack Gale, Capall Bann, 1996, £10.95

Continuing with my week of alternatively-spiritual Greenwich, I bring you what is without doubt the oddest book about the town I have ever read.

It’s so odd, in fact, that I haven’t really worked out how to approach it. Written by Jack Gale, member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Pagan Federation and the Fellowship of Isis, the book is a guide to the Pagan spiritual sites of Greenwich, and its alternative history, as discovered by decidedly alternative methods – dowsing, rituals, visions and psychometric readings. Gale’s findings have been verified by at least two independent psychics.

Most of the sites, for fairly obvious reasons, hover around the park, heath, cavern and the Point and they’re populated by a whole pantheon of deities and ancient figures, from a selection of alternative religions.

Everyone from Diana to Odin, Anubis to Cernunnos, Merlin to the Snow Queen, congregates around Greenwich, especially in winter, around wintry-named sacred places like the Snow Well and Plum Pudding Hill. Holda (aka The Snow Queen) was welcomed psychically by Gale himself, in his mind later, after a ritual held to reintroduce her to Greenwich Park, where they were having such a great time they forgot to do the deed itself.

Every page of this book carries some new fascinating concept – Did you know that William Boreman’s 1662 design (sic) for the layout of Greenwich Park is based on the Qabalistic Tree of Life? Perhaps you will be terrified the grisly tale of Jumping Jack Black, a young man who fell victim to mob justice for a trivial crime of which he was actually innocent. Black revealed to a psychic friend of Gale’s that he was hanged from an oak in Greenwich Park during the late Victorian/Edwardian period. Gale has done his homework and looked for this story in The Times of the period and, creepily, can find no reference whatsoever to the incident. He concludes that “likely it was hushed up and swept under the carpet” by the authorities.

The book is illustrated throughout with psychically-received portraits of gods, goddesses and mythological figures, and squirly automatic drawings made by psychics at the various sacred sites.

I have no idea what to make of this book – and yet I highly recommend it to all. It is utterly fascinating. You will never be stuck for topics of conversation after reading it. Buy it here

The Candlelit Crypt

Monday, October 26th, 2009

In the days leading to All Hallows Eve, I’m beginning a week of posts about pagan/occult/ghostly and otherwise-spiritual Greenwich. We’re out starting gentle today, with some atmosphere, courtesy of John – but expect some very odd stuff indeed…

I could have sworn I had a photo somewhere of the entrance to St Alfege’s crypt – wonderful looking doors that you can peer through and get some sort of idea about what lies below, but heaven only knows where it is on my computer, and still no chance of me taking any more for the moment.

The guys at St Alfeges opened up the crypt on the same weekend as Open House, but I confess I didn’t know about it, so I’ve never been down there myself. John, however, took the initiative to contact the warden, who agreed to take him and his brother on a special visit. Ask – and ye shall receive…

John was particularly keen to see the tomb of General Wolfe, which, given the glory in which our other great military/naval hero, Lord Nelson, is interred, is rather modest.

John forgot to bring a torch, so he had what must have been a much more thrilling experience – a tour by candlelight.

I can’t work out how old the crypt is – I suspect it doesn’t predate the current Hawksmoor building as it would have been a nightmare to build a new construction of a different shape and size to the original on old foundations – but Hawksmoor was a clever chap, and it’s possible he would have had instructions not to disturb the vaults, which included that of Thomas Tallis.

John didn’t mention that he saw either Tallis’s tomb or Greenwich’s favourite bad-girl-made-good, Lavinia Fenton, but it’s possible they’re down there too – I’m sure someone here can tell me if they’re still there.

I also don’t know how much the crypt was damaged in the war – it’s not specifically mentioned in the austerity pamphlet I have that was printed just after the war, which talks about the destruction.

I’ve just realised I don’t know much about this at all. Sorry, folks – but it does leave it all wide open for you lot to enlighten me. And if anyone has any nice pics of the entrance to the vaults…

Michael Faraday’s Shed

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Well – not actually his real shed – but a teeny-tiny installation/museum that’s been set up inside the old shipyard’s clerk’s ‘office’ (looks exactly like a bog-standard B&Q garden shed to me) at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Being such an artistic crew, the guys at TBW couldn’t just leave a boring old shed on the site, so Ana Ospina has decorated it, using antiques, found objects and things ‘of the sea’ such as fishing nets and those lovely glass weights that I only seem to see decorating the homes of friends who live by the sea, rather than actually at the seaside itself, to create some sort of imaginary ‘study’ for Victorian science-hero Michael Faraday.

If that sounds a bit random, there is a reason for putting it there – Faraday worked out of Trinity Buoy Wharf for some years, helping to develop lighthouses, in between inventing the Faraday Cage – a structure based on Benjamin Franklin’s somewhat risky studies in storm-management (using kites) ensuring that lightning or other electromagnetic charges strike round something rather than through it, and discovering the Faraday Effect, which is something to do with the polarisation of light in relation to magnetic fields, the details of which, frankly, evade me.
Faraday’s work on the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouses (my favourite mental image is definitely of how they were tested – some poor sod used to be sent up to Shooters Hill of dark winter’s night to see if they could spot it…) is being celebrated in this minute work of art – with the usual sound effects, words, images and atmosphere – and it’s really rather fun. The artist has a beautiful (but tricky to navigate) website here


When I first saw The Faraday Effect (the shed is named after the phenomenon I don’t understand above), it was tucked round the back, next to Fat Boy’s Diner, but I went back the other day and noticed it was gone.

Slightly worried, I had a poke around and realised it’s been moved to the wharf-front, much closer to the lighthouse itself, not far from the entrance to Jem Finer’s Longplayer, which I’ll get onto another day. It’s open every weekend (as is Longplayer) between 11am and 5pm

Bye Bye Jack-Up, Hello Jack-Up

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

So – it came, it saw, it fiddled about a bit under the water. The Jack-up barge has just barged past Kathy’s Wood Wharf window, and has now docked just off Greenwich Reach:

Here’s a view of the construction site – concrete walls were poured yesterday – and soon we’ll be losing Kathy’s view upriver…

BTW – for those of you who have been asking, December is the new opening date for Wood Wharf Bar and Grill – but, as Kathy says, don’t hold your breath…

Post Now For Christmas

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

So – Royal Mail are on strike as from today. I confess I’m a bit surprised – my mail’s been all over the place for the last couple of weeks, I thought they were already striking. But the union are warning that we should be posting now for Christmas if we actually want any cards to arrive.

Of course – it’s just propaganda – but a good excuse for me to talk about these fabbo Christmas cards Katie’s just told me about. I know – this should really be in the Parish News section (check out the lovely exhibition coming up at Bearspace there, BTW) but I love ‘em and it’s my blog so there.

There are six versions – designed by FT cartoonist Banx – all based on local landmarks and produced by local printers. He’s designed them for the Meridian Primary School (he’s got two daughters there) – and all proceeds go to the school.

I’ve got a feeling that these are going to become collector’s items (a bit like the utterly fabulous cards issued by the 1970s Greenwich District Hospital (friends?) that feature an artist’s impression of the ‘iconic’ building in full, living Grey – if you are the proud possessor of one you’ll know what I mean…)

So – how do you get hold of these Banx cards? Well, there’s the rub. There’s a website where you can buy all six for £3 via Paypal, or you could contact Katie herself – but then of course you will have to wait for them to arrive – by post. Still – we have a couple of months – they might just make it…

Actually, I just noticed that if you’re in the SE10 area, they’ll deliver ‘em by hand – for free…

Rigged Out

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Idris asks:

“Any idea what this is? It is in the river near the Cutty Sark (pub). Not sure how long it’s been there, not more than a couple of weeks I think, or I would have noticed it.”

The Phantom has absolutely no idea.

I agree it can’t have been there long – I only went past a few days ago – though of course the Thames Path (still) gets cut up at that point while the Lovells Wharf development goes on (and on.)

I wonder if it’s monitoring pollution or something, to do with the demolition of the Syrol plant a few metres downriver?

Any ideas, folks?