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Visiting London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries was supposed to a haunting experience for Looking For Ghosts. Many tales of ghouls and spirits have surfaced from old burial grounds and we were anticipating myriad spook sightings.

In fact, we had quite the opposite experience. If anything, these wondrous spectacles of monuments and mausoleums serve as a reminder that, arguably, the only life after death is experienced in the messages on the weather-beaten gravestones that have survived for numerous years. Seeing rows upon rows of graves was a stark reminder of how ludicrous the concept of ghosts really does seem.

Brompton Cemetery

In Highgate Cemetery, we vaguely searched for the Highgate Vampire but, as it dawned on us that the story was so stupefyingly idiotic, we immediately halted and absorbed Highgate’s fantastic gothic architecture.

For those of you not familiar with Highgate’s most famous nocturnal character, we’ll explain what happened. Someone saw a goth visiting his granny’s grave. Case closed.

Similarly, Nunhead Cemetery features in the spooky tale of a “tall dark stranger”.

The peaceful surroundings and impressive architecture at the cemeteries in Highgate, Brompton and Kensal Green left a particular impression on us. Especially the detail and importance that the Victorian era placed on preserving the memory of the buried and entombed.

However, despite our belief in ghosts diminishing, we still scoured the cemeteries in search of nefarious spirits.

Kensal Green Cemetery

But there seems to be a lack of ghouls living in London’s cemeteries, even those we expected to be overwhelmed by spirits. The most interesting aspect of visiting the cemeteries was discovering who was buried where.

Abney Park: Salvation Army founder William Booth, the daughter of African slavery emancipator Olaudah Equiano, Joanna Vassa.

Brompton: founder of the V&A, the Royal Albert Hall, the 1851 Great Exhibition and inventor of the Crimbo card, Henry Cole, actor Brian Glover, leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and anaesthetist John Snow.

Highgate: sci-fi author Douglas Adams, novelist Beryl Bainbridge, dog fan Charles Cruft, George Eliot, Michael Faraday, Alexander Litvinenko, Karl Marx, original punk Malcolm McLaren, comedian Max Wall and artist Felix Topolski.

Kensal Green: original computer nerd Charles Babbage, tightrope expert Charles Blondin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father Marc Isambard Brunel, author Wilkie Collins, playwright Harold Pinter and novelist Anthony Trollope.

Nunhead: Um…

Tower Hamlets: Ahh…

West Norwood: Sir Henry Tate of gallery fame, CW Alcock, founder of test cricket and the FA cup.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Nevertheless, while visiting and researching these seven cemeteries and London’s other countless used and dis-used burial grounds, we began to understand that the city truly is necropolis – a home for the dead. The architecture and lay-out of London succumbs to the needs of the dead.

And, while searching Brompton Cemetery, we found a group of graves that were too worn to read. Among these half-submerged memorial lay the resting place of William Charles James Lewin, a murdered actor better known as William Terriss. It is the ghostly stories that suggest that Terriss does not, in fact, rest here but wanders the streets of London, that sent Looking For Ghosts to London’s theatreland in search of a glimpse of his ghoul.

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As a result of the heat wave currently engulfing most of the UK, Looking For Ghosts felt an almost unnatural urge to get outside and get some sun on our faces. With our sallow complexions currently resembling custard as the closest colour match, it’s about bloody time.

So we headed for Highgate, a leafy, affluent North London suburb and, somewhat fortuitously, a haven for ghostly activity. How much fear we’d experience on a sunny Saturday lunchtime was unclear, but we figured it would be somewhere between “very little fear” and “no fear whatsoever”.

We noticed our first point of interest minutes after leaving the station. Ascending a steep pathway, stopping halfway up to peer through the foliage, we observed an abandoned train station in the mid-distance. This was originally built as part of London Underground’s Northern Heights project, but development was cancelled during the Second World War. Now the station stands empty, barely visible amidst mounds of twisting bracken, but there are several reports of a “ghost train” steaming along the tracks after dark. However, considering that no actual trains ever used this line makes this story about as credible as a Jeffrey Archer testimony.

"The Ghost Train is experiencing severe delays, please use the replacement bus service..."

Moving on we found ourselves in The Flask, another of London’s haunted pubs. Only slightly concerned that it was still technically morning, we sat down to ponder the pub’s history over a pint of something intoxicating and delicious. It is claimed a maidservant, who took her own life when an illicit romance turned sour, still frequents the pub and announces her presence with a sudden drop in temperature before going berserk with the lights and moving glasses along the bar. Yawn. Why can’t ghosts ever do anything more interesting than that? Flip the odd table over, maybe. Or put the Beastie Boys on the jukebox for four hours.

However, the Flask is an endearing pub with excellent food and even comes complete with a local lunatic who insisted on talking to us, for what seemed like an eternity, about soup. Perhaps he was a ghost? Frankly, we were too bored to check.

Leaving the pub we passed Pond Square, known in paranormal circles for being the site of a rather unusual haunting; the ghost of a chicken. No, we are not making this up. According to Walking Haunted London: In 1943, one Terence Long was crossing Pond Square late at night when he heard the sound of horses hooves accompanied by the low rumble of carriage wheels. Suddenly, a loud raucous shriek, split the silence, and the ghostly chicken appeared before him and proceeded to race frantically around, before vanishing into thin air.” Alarmingly, this spectre has been seen several times since. Give us strength.

Chicken Payback

As laughable as the ghost chicken story undoubtedly is, at least it’s original. After all, if you’re going to make something up, make it interesting and faintly ridiculous rather than some vague and generic account of a jilted lover who slams doors and sometimes makes the air a bit chilly. Come on; get creative with your lies!

Slightly underwhelmed with Highgate’s supernatural offerings so far, we concluded our soirée by visiting somewhere ghouls were bound to be in abundance; Highgate Cemetery. Home to such luminaries as Karl Marx, George Eliot and, erm, Jeremy Beadle, surely this place would be alive (pardon the expression) with famous ghosts, swirling around the place with unbridled glee? Yes?

Well, what do you reckon? You’ll have to wait until our next post to find out…

Looking For Ghosts

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