Category Archives: London Characters

The Ghosts Of London

I first started walking London in the very early 1970s when as children we had family walks exploring the city. We were too young to appreciate exploring a London that would soon be changing so dramatically, so probably to try and keep our interest my father would tell stories of some of the myths and legends of where we walked, including tales of the ghosts of London that haunted many of the locations we passed.

Many of the locations that would be expected to have ghost stories associated with their history do not disappoint. The Tower of London has several reported apparitions. Lady Jane Grey seems to be the most frequent having been seen in the Bloody Tower as a long-haired woman dressed in a long black velvet dress with white cap and in the Salt Tower where she was seen as a white shapeless form. Anne Boleyn has been allegedly seen in the White Tower and on Tower Green. A bear has also been seen by some of the military inhabitants of the Tower, perhaps a survivor of the time when the Tower was used as a menagerie. Sir Walter Raleigh’s ghost has also been reported near the Bloody Tower.

Westminster Abbey has the ghost of a monk gliding some distance above the floor, presumably due to changes in floor level due to alterations to the Abbey over the centuries. In the Deanery the ghost of John Bradshaw, president of the court which condemned Charles the 1st has been seen.

There are also many stories of ghosts in the more unexpected locations.

So, as we reach the shortest days of the year, when the long cold nights open the imagination to the more mythical aspects of London, join me on a walk across the city to hunt down some of the ghosts of London. Characters that do not make much of an appearance now with the bright lights, noise and pace of the city crowding out the more fleeting visions of past lives.

Belgravia is our first stop. Find Wilton Row, just off Wilton Crescent and almost at the end of this hidden street is the Grenadier.

Grenadiar 1

The Grenadier has been a pub since 1818 but was originally the Officers Mess of the First Royal Regiment of Foot Guards and was built-in 1720.

The pub is proud of its supernatural heritage, allegedly being haunted by the ghost of Cedric, a young Grenadier who was apparently beaten to death by his comrades after being found cheating at cards. Apparitions, footsteps, noises and an icy chill have all been reported by both landlords and visitors to the pub over the years.

Well worth a visit, even if you are not lucky enough to witness one of Cedric’s manifestations.

Now take the short walk up to Hyde Park Corner Underground Station and take the Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden Underground Station where as you queue for the lifts, or regret the decision to take the stairs, you may meet the ghost of the actor William Terriss who was murdered outside the Adelphi Theatre in 1897, but for some unknown reason started haunting the underground station in 1955.

covent garden 1

In November 1955 the foreman ticket-collector was in the staff room of the station. He recalls that:

“the door was open and in the other section of the room there appeared the figure of a tall man, grey of face and wearing white gloves”

He assumed it was a passenger and asking if he could help, the figure silently turned and disappeared behind a partition. A week later, another station employee was found shaking with fear announcing that he had seen a ghost, claiming ” he stood in front of me and put his hands on my head”

A séance was later held at the station and the ghost claimed to be the Victorian actor William Terriss. He was seen many times later on the platforms, passageways and emergency stairs of the station, along with station workers hearing phantom footsteps and feeling an icy chill.

covent garden 2

William Terriss was stabbed by a fellow actor as he entered the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre. The murderer, Richard Prince was jealous of the popularity of Terriss. Whilst he was found guilty, he was also diagnosed as insane and died in Broadmoor.

There is a plaque to William Terriss at the rear of the Adelphi in Maiden Lane.

adelphi 1
The rear of the Adelphi, it was here that William Terriss was murdered. He is also said to haunt the theatre, but why he should be haunting the Covent Garden Underground Station rather than just the scene of his murder remains a mystery.

adelphi 2

The next stop is the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, (which although includes the name Drury lane, the main frontage is actually on Catherine Street) which has no less than three possible ghostly inhabitants. The first, and perhaps best authenticated is a “man in grey” who appears between the hours of 9am and 6pm, not the typical hours for a ghostly appearance. The ghost has been seen many times over the years by actors working at the theatre including Harry Secombe who was appearing in The Four Musketeers in the early 1960s. He said “the whole ruddy cast saw him once. He always made his appearance before 6pm and then popped off again. Haunting to rule, I suppose.”

The identity of the man in grey is a bit of a mystery. Possibly that of the actor Arnold Woodruffe who was killed by Charles Macklin some 200 years ago in a burst of anger. When the theatre was rebuilt around the 1850s a small room was found which contained the skeleton of a man with a dagger in his ribs. His identity was never found, and he is also one of the possible candidates for the man in grey.

Other ghostly appearances at the Theatre Royal have been a man with a long white-painted face who was occasionally seen sitting behind people in the boxes. He was thought to be the famous clown Joe Grimaldi.

The comedian Dan Leno was also allegedly seen at times, but was one of the more infrequent ghostly visitors to the Theatre Royal.

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, frontage on Catherine Street:

drury lane 1

A theatre has been on the site of the Theatre Royal since 1663. The theatre went through several phases of demolition and rebuilding until the present theatre which was built-in 1812.

The colonnade walk alongside the Theatre Royal:
drury lane 2
Now we head into the City of London. Walk up Ludgate Hill and just before reaching St. Paul’s turn left into Ave Maria Lane. A short distance along, on the left is Amen Corner and Amen Court. At the far end, through the gateway in the following photo can be seen a wall, the old city wall built on Roman foundations.

amen court 1

This wall separates Amen Court from Dead Mans Walk where those hanged at Newgate Prison were buried in quick lime. This is a possible explanation for a “Thing” that has been seen at night creeping along the top of the wall. No one has been able to see this vision close enough to identify what it may be.

So when out in London during the dark nights of winter, keep an eye out for the ghosts of London, shadows from London’s past who may still retain a fleeting presence in today’s city.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • Memories from walking London with my father in the early 1970s along with 60 years of notes he kept in the book Unbidden Guests – A Book of Real Ghosts by William Oliver Stephens published in 1949. He kept notes on London covering subjects such as architectural, historical as well as ghost stories in a wide range of books about London. One of the many reasons I much prefer books to eReaders.
  • Our Haunted Kingdom my Andrew Green published 1973


Londoners – 1953

One of the great pleasures of scanning old negatives is that you never really know what the photograph will be until it appears on the computer screen. You can get a glimpse by holding the negative up to a light, but it only gives an outline of the photograph.

I recently scanned a series of my father’s negatives covering photos taken in 1953 at the time of the Coronation. It was interesting that there were no photos of the main participants of the Coronation, the photos instead being of the people waiting to watch along with other photos of Londoners at around the same time.

Coronation day was Tuesday 2nd June 1953, so these are photos taken around 61 years ago tomorrow (this post was published on Sunday June 1st 2014)

So for this week’s post, I present a series of photos showing Londoners from 1953.



I have no idea where in London this photo was taken, but I suspect an opportunistic photo given the two very well dressed gentlemen and the sign. They are obviously waiting for someone or something, perhaps a taxi?

It demonstrates the benefits of always having a camera to hand when walking London, something I always try to do.

It is easy to take this type of photo with current camera equipment, even a mobile phone, but the above photo was taken on a camera that had manual focussing, speed and aperture adjustment, and a standard lens so it was not taken at a distance.

Coronation Crowds in the Mall

coronation crowd 1

The photo above and the one below are from a series of photos taken of the crowds after, and waiting for the Coronation. My father did not taken any of the Coronation procession, he was much more interested in the people waiting along the route.

The photo above shows a very busy Mall between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace.

Waiting for the Coronation

coronation crowd 2

The above photo was taken in Trafalgar Square at the base of Nelsons Column looking towards the National Portrait Gallery.

The weather on Coronation Day was not good. Dull skies, a cold wind and occasional outbreaks of rain as highlighted in the above photo. This was the 2nd June 1953, typical British June weather !

The construction on the left of the photo is probably a BBC commentary / camera position. The two men at the top left have headphones on. This was the first time such an occasion had been televised.

Childrens Entertainment

children watching

I do not know where or when this photo was taken, but it was on the same strip of negatives as the Coronation photos. It may show children’s entertainment set-up as part of the Coronation activities.

All these children must now be in their mid to late 60s. It would be wonderful to put names to them.

When scanning this photo and a couple more of the same scene, I was hoping that my father took a photo of whatever it was that they were watching. It would be great to see what was causing such reactions, but no, only a few photos of the children. This has informed my own photography. Whilst a specific subject may attract your attention when taking a photo, those viewing many decades later will want to know more, not just about the subject, but also about the surroundings, what else was happening at the time etc. This is obviously much easier now with digital photography where the cost of photos is almost negligible, but when these were originally taken film was expensive and my father did all his own developing which was time consuming and costly. I can understand why he only took a few of a specific subject, but many times when I have been scanning I was wishing he would have turned slightly and taken another photo.

Speakers Corner

speakers corner

Preaching the Gospel at Speakers Corner. Bible in hand and very intense. This is one of these photos where I wish my father has turned to the left and taken some photos of the crowd. It would be good to see their reaction.

Watching on a Motorbike

man and womman on bike

This couple have come up to London and found a position to watch a procession from their motorbike. I suspect they have come from outside central London as the woman is holding an ABC map of London.

Not the headgear that you could legally get away with these days. Not exactly suitable shoes for a motorbike, however I wonder if they had come up to London to visit a cinema, see a show or go to a restaurant.

I hope you enjoyed this series of photos of Londoners (and probably visitors to London) from 61 years ago.  Snapshots in the lives of people and of this wonderful city of London.

An AESD March and a St. Pancras Draughtsman

The title of my post this week is “An AESD March and a St. Pancras Draughtsman”. The AESD was the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsman, the trades union established in 1912 to represent Draughtsman working in these industries.

After National Service, my father worked as a Draughtsman for the St. Pancras Borough Council Electricity and Public Lighting Department.

The job of the Draughtsman is one of those long replaced by computer based applications. It was the role of the Draughtsman to draw up plans, whether these be the design of a ship, train or plane, along with all the components that make up these complex systems along with drawing up street plans, building construction plans etc. It was a key role that enabled the installation or manufacturer of almost everything in an industrial society.

Within the photo collection, there are photos of a march by the AESD. I have no idea of whether he was a member of the AESD, was participating in the march or just there to take photographs.

The following photo shows the AESD march about to reach Oxford Circus (I have included the rest of the photos of this march at the end of the post).

AESD March 2

I suspect this photo may have been taken in 1953. From what I have been able to find out, the AESD did not take much action, however there was an AESD strike at the Middlesex
Tool & Gauge Company in 1953. This lasted for five weeks from late August 1953 and did get national support, so this march may have been in support of this action. The dates fit well with other photos on the same set of negatives.

Like many small Associations and Unions representing specialised groups of workers, the AESD had to evolve and merge as the working landscape changed.

The AESD changed into the Draughtsman and Allied Technicians Union (DATA) to broaden the scope of membership. DATA then grew into the TASS (Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Staffs) which then became the MSF (Manufacturing, Science and Finance) following merger with the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, which then merged with the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union to form Amicus which then merged in 2007 with the Transport and General Workers Union to form Unite (I did not think it would be that complicated when I started checking !).

The benefit of working for the St. Pancras Borough Council Electricity and Public Lighting Department is that this work took him across much of London, drawing street plans and where electrical installation work was required. A perfect job for someone who loved walking London.

Plans were recorded onsite in a sketch book, then taken back to the office to be converted into large scale plans ready for work to be carried out.

The following is a sample page from one of my father’s sketch books:


The left page covers Belgrave Square whilst the right shows the area around Grosvenor Gardens with Victoria Street, Buckingham Palace (B.P.) Road and Ebury Street. The markings are for the position of electric street lamps. The red line across the plan indicates that the transfer to a working plan had been completed.

Street surveying and documenting was all done manually. This is before the days of GPS, theodolites with integrated electronic distance measuring etc.

Within my father’s photo collection there are some photos he took of the St. Pancras Draughtsman’s office in which he worked. These show a very different working environment to that you would find today where this type of work is carried out on a computer with large screens showing the plans being developed.

Drawing up plans:

draughtsman 4

Tea break:

draughtsman 1This type of work was very tiring as it required concentration, drawing to an accurate scale, very neat and standardised lettering, good eyesight and attention to detail.

Note in the following photo the drawing tables placed against the windows. Natural light was still the best form of lighting in which to work. Also the magnifying glass for detailed work.

Taking a quick sleep at lunch break:

draughtsman 2All calculations were performed manually and a good knowledge of maths was required. Complex calculations were performed using aids such as Logarithm tables and slide rules:

draughtsman 3

The tools of the trade. Some of my father’s old drawing instruments:

Draughtsmans tools

The instrument hanging on the wall in the following photo is a draughtsman T-Square. The shorter length was placed up against the side of the drawing table and the long edge ran across the table. This was then used as a guide for drawing horizontal lines and as a rest whilst general drawing.


The face of experience:


Other photos of the march:

AESD March 4

The solitary police escort:

AESD Marcg 3

AESD March 5


The Chair Repairer Found !

A few weeks ago I published a short post with two of my father’s photos of a man repairing a chair in the street. I have always been fascinated by these as the concentration and craftsmanship was clearly visible in the work being performed.

The Gentle Author included my blog on his Saturday posting at and the extra viewers and distribution across Twitter reached a wider readership than normal, and to my surprise I received an e-mail from Rachel South identifying the Chair Repairer as her grandfather, Michael George South of Ladbroke Grove.

What makes the story even better is that Rachel is the third generation in the upholstery business and chair caning, so there is a continuous line from Michael in my father’s photo to the present day.

See Rachel’s web site at: The photo of the Chair Cave on Facebook is incredible.

Rachel provided the following information about her grandfather:

Michael South was born around 1903. He was from an Irish travelling background and had grown up in west London with his father and a number of half brothers and sisters. He died in 1964 from a brain haemorrhage which it was assumed was due to his other career as a bare knuckle boxer! My mother recalls two of his half brothers one called Danny who only had one ear and another who rode a motorbike on the wheel of death. So a lively background to say the least. 

Michael usually sat in Kensington or Knightsbridge to work.

So now, after more than 60 years since my father took these photos, it gives me great pleasure to introduce again, Michael South, chair caning craftsman of Ladbroke Grove:




The Tower Hill Escapologist

These photographs were taken on Tower Hill in the early 1950s, no later than 1953 and show Johnny Eagle, the Tower Hill Escapologist and Strong Man who performed on Tower Hill for many years.

The Tower Hill Escapologist

The following photograph is taken from almost the same viewpoint. The new Visitor Centre, built in 2004 covers the area where my father took the original photo so I could not get exactly the same perspective.

Note how the level of the roadway and pavement up against the wall has been raised considerably. The building behind the KFC and Costa advertising is the original building from my father’s photo (this advertising is indicative of one of the big differences between the streets of London in the late 1940s and early 1950s and today, the amount of street clutter we now have, whether advertising, traffic signs, CCTV cameras etc.)

From The Same Viewpoint, 60 Years Later

Johnny Eagle, the Tower Hill Escapologist, performed at Tower Hill for almost 20 years and was also to be found at other city locations across the country, such as the Birmingham Bull Ring.

There is a British Pathe News film clip of a Buskers Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 which includes Johnny Eagle performing. It gives you an idea of what his performance on Tower Hill would have been like. Find it here:

He was born circa 1916 and died in 2001 and was buried in Witton Cemetery near Birmingham.

The white post at bottom right on the 2014 photo is a Tower of London Liberty Boundary Marker. As a royal palace and garrison, the Tower had a special administrative status for taxation and law enforcement from the middle ages to the late 19th Century. The markers ensured it was clear where the boundary between the authority of the City and the Tower was to be found.

This photo is looking back towards the Tower.Escapologist-2

The Paynes Tea van is from George Payne & Co, a Tea Merchant based near Tower Bridge. The Company was involved with the development of tea brands for Sainsbury’s, which included the Red, Blue and Green labels that were launched at the opening of the Ealing branch of Sainsbury’s in 1903. George Payne & Co evolved into Finlays who still produce Sainsbury’s Red Label tea, although now from near Doncaster rather than central London.

The following is looking back up Tower Hill towards the offices of the General Steam Navigation Company (GSN). The Company was founded in 1824 and ran steam ship services around the UK, near-Continental and to the Mediterranean. GSN ran the very popular London to Margate passenger service and for several years the annual number of passengers carried exceeded a million. Londoners escaping the city for the seaside! GSN continued through the 19th and 20th centuries running passenger and cargo services, but in 1971 the General Steam Navigation Company was fully purchased by P&O.


The Chair Repair

Within my father’s photo collection, there are many photos of people across London. Whether as part of an overall location, or frequently the focal point of the photo.

This week’s post is from the later category. I have no idea where this was taken or who he is. Checking the photos on the negative strip either side of these photos it is safe to assume they were taken in central London, however I can find no clues within the photos as to a possible location.


I am impressed by the good condition of his well polished shoes.

The close up nature of the photo shows that he did not have a problem with my father taking his photograph. These are not photos taken from a distance. He carries on with his work with an obvious high degree of concentration, and I am sure, pride in his work.


This type of scene would once have been very common on the streets of London, but was soon to be replaced by a throwaway consumer culture where everyday objects are cheaper to replace than to repair.

It would though, be good to know if that chair is still in use, somewhere in London.