Haunted Great Portland Street and Theatreland
Last Christmas I bought my wife the Richard Jones book "Walking Haunted London". It is a great excuse to wander around bits of London that we wouldn't otherwise visIt on foot - and luckily for me, many of the haunted locations in this city are pubs. Last weekend we did the walk called 'Great Portland Street to Theatreland'.
Our trip started with an exciting bit of transport drama. We got to the platform at Blackhorse Road to hear a tannoy announcement "Would the lady who just bought a monthly oystercard please return to the ticket office". I've never been in that situation before where someone I'm with is being summoned by loudspeaker. Sure enough the wife had managed to crash the Blackhorse Road ticket issuing system. She had to hang around for awhile whilst there were phone calls to technical support and everything. I took advantage of the situation to take some photographs of the station.
Travel trauma over, the first stop for the tour was Portland Place. Here apart from the hauntings you get to see the protest outside the Chinese Embassy against the supression of Falun Gong/Falun Dafa. The first haunted location is the Langham Hotel - where BBC staff staying there overnight had terrible experiences. It made me laugh, with all the redundancies and cost-cutting going on at the moment, that the BBC used to keep on rooms in the Langham for staff to stay overnight.
The next stop on the tour was the BBC's Broadcasting House. Here the fourth floor is haunted by a man with a twirling moustache, and staff have witnessed a musician, forever lost, wandering the building. We had one bonus that most people who take this walk don't have - I had bought my pass with me, so the wife and I wandered the deserted fourth floor to take in the atmosphere. At one point in the empty building we heard dismbodied vocies from up ahead...and then I remembered that there is a demonstration DAB radio set up outside the lifts tuned to Radio 3!
The first of two pubs on the route was "The Cock Tavern" on Great Portland Street, haunted by an unseen presence in the cellar that stops the landlord's dog venturing near. I didn't visit the downstairs, but my wife did, and experienced an over-powering smell of cigar smoke whilst she was down there. The pub itself is part of the Sam Smith's group, so early on a Sunday morning I opted for an orange juice rather than the strong Ayingerbrau lager they sell.
The walk then led us through Carnaby Street and Soho. Our next pub was The John Snow. It is named after the man who worked out that a cholera epidemic in Soho could be traced to one water pump. This is commemorated on Broadwick Street by a replica of the pump - funnily enough, in all the time I worked at Reckless just around the corner I had never noticed this piece of historical street furniture. The pub itself has a ghost, who apparently sits in a gloomy corner and glowers at punters. It had literally just opened when we got there, so for a while we were the only customers.
Our next location involved crossing Regent Street, via the small haunted alleyway of Kingly Court, to find Vine Street. Vine Street is the home of a building that has been used on two different occasions as a police station, and is apparently haunted by the ghost of a policeman who hanged himself in one of the cells. Sadly for us, the building is now swathed in scaffolding and plastic sheeting.
We then headed to the Burlington Arcade, the scene of reported poltergeist activity during the 1970s. On Sundays it is gated off, so although I could take a photograph through the railings, we were not able to enter to experience the ambience, or guess which shop had witnessed the mysterious activity.
We then wandered passed Fortnum and Mason, where a ghost has been seen leaving a taxi, and headed towards the Haymarket Theatre. On the way we passed Floris, a perfumiers that has been in business since 1810, Christopher Wren's St James's Church, and the statue of William III in St. James's Square. Like much of the walk, the location wasn't haunted, but had a good story. The statue depicts the fall that killed William III, even down to the detail of the molehill that tripped up 'Sorrell' who then threw the King to his death.
The final location was the Haymarket Theatre itself, supposedly haunted by a proprietor from the late 1800's, and so we stopped for a final drink at the Captain's Cabin - an airhanger of a pub tucked behind Piccadilly Circus.