The last time I promised a week of Greenwich ghosts, back in October, I went down with some terrible affliction, so I’m promising no such thing this time. But even more traditionally than Halloween, Christmas is the time for ghost stories so I am risking further curses and tentatively continuing with the series I’ve been doing with local illustrator Aliyahgator.
I’m now going to disappoint Dennis and tell him that unless I get inspired in the next 48 hours there’s not going to be a new ghost story from me this year (soz – I fully intended to, then forgot…) If you want a modern Greenwich horror story there’s one about a goddess and a deer in Greenwich Park in one of the One Eye Grey publications – I’m sure Chris Roberts (no – not that one…) will enlighten us as to which one; I don’t seem to be able to find my collection.
No – today we have a rarity – a ghost with a name, seen on an actual date – 8th September, 1866, though he only manifested the once. Even more, I may have even found him. Then again, I might not…
The story is centred around St Mary’s Lodge in Crooms Hill. Now unless there’s another St Mary’s Lodge in Crooms Hill, the only one I know of is the sweet little Nash building that currently houses the Cow and Coffee Bean Cafe at the St Mary’s entrance to the park (named, in case you’re wondering, for the long-gone St Mary’s Church, which stood pretty much where King Billy flourishes his scroll these days (Ooh-er, Missus.)
According to legend a young sailor, Tom Potter, arrived on the doorstep of the lodge asking to see his mother who used to work as a maid but who was no longer there. The new housemaid sent him away, but the mistress of the house was curious. On looking into the story, she discovered Tom had died in Jamaica two days before he’d knocked on the door. Ooooooh, Shiver…
Thing is, to me this story feels a bit odd. Hasn’t anyone looked at the size of the lodge? It’s teeny. There might just about be enough room for the ‘mistress of the house’ – but why would anyone who could afford servants live in a place the size of a large garden shed?
I guess it could just be the one servant and ‘the mistress of the house’ a single old woman. So okay, we’ll leave that for the moment.
I made a cursory check of the 1861 census, five years earlier (sorry, the very unfriendly rules and regs of the horrible-and-expensive-to-use Family History website who I will not name as they don’t deserve the publicity, don’t let me reproduce it) and actually found a Thomas Potter, who at the time was 11 and lived in Crooms Hill. Brilliant bit of research, TGP! Yeah! That would have made him 16 when he died – a good age for a Victorian sailor boy. Fantastic! You got it!
But hang on. There’s also an George Potter, also aged 7 and a Wilson Potter, aged 5, both, like Tom,born in Middlesex.
They are listed with 24 other kids in what is clearly an orphanage in Crooms Hill. The horrid family history website I used didn’t let me look at the pages either side (even though I’d paid, gnassh, gnassh - bah…) so I couldn’t see the Crooms Hill entry in its entirety. Perhaps some nice person can tell me where the Crooms Hill Orphanage was. ‘Cause there is no bloomin’ way you’d fit 25 children and their ‘carers’ in St Mary’s Lodge. And hang on – aren’t ‘orphans’, by default, um, motherless?
So even if Tom’s mother had died a year before they ended up in Oliver Twist-ville, he’d have known all about it before he went to sea, so why would he knock on the door of St Mary’s Lodge in 1866 looking for her?
I guess he had been dead two days. None of us are at our best at that time in our lives…
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