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After rubbing shoulders with dead celebrities on our London Cemetery jaunt, Looking for Ghosts realised that if there is one thing we love more than ghosts, it is ghosts of famous people. And we have a certified A-lister for you here, folks!

Whilst William Terriss isn’t exactly a household name now, back in the 19th Century he was one of the UK’s most celebrated actors. Sort of like a Victorian Jude Law with the possible distinction that Terriss was, presumably, a good actor.

William Terriss, taken from Heat Magazine 1896

A regular at London’s Adelphi, Lyceum and Prince of Wales theatres, Terriss achieved fame after his energetic performance in Robin Hood, as well Othello and Romeo and Juliet, earned him rave reviews. He became the darling of Theatreland and when he married fellow actress Jessie Millward, his female lead in The Harbour Lights, they became a popular power couple. They toured Britain and America extensively, increasing their international appeal. Sort of like a Victorian Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with the possible distinction that Terriss and Millward were, presumably, fairly interesting people.

However, it seemed not everyone was so smitten with this acting colossus. On 16th December 1897 Terriss was murdered by hapless, struggling actor Richard Archer Prince. Sort of like a Victorian Ralf Little, with the possible distinction that…actually, no; that’s pretty much accurate.

As Terriss was entering the Adelphi for the evening performance of Secret Service, fomer Terriss protégé Prince lay in wait and stabbed his old friend in a bitter act of jealousy and resentment.

As a result, the ghost of Terriss is often seen in Covent Garden, particularly in and around his favoured Adelphi Theatre and, strangely, the tube station. Many witnesses claim to have seen a gentleman dressed in old fashioned clothes who disappears before their eyes, later identifying Terriss as the man they had seen when shown a photograph. This could possibly be because all Victorian gentlemen look exactly the same or perhaps, more likely, many of these witnesses were simply mental.

The plaque outside the Adelphi

After spending an afternoon elbowing tourists out of the way in Covent Garden, Looking For Ghosts are disappointed to report that we didn’t even catch a glimpse of this spectral thespian who, we suspect, is currently treading the boards of the great theatre in the sky. Possibly in Mamma Mia.

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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.

Looking For Ghosts

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