The following is a guest post.
In honour of Halloween, here’s my British-themed version of trick-or-treating. I boldly ventured around London to visit a quintet of some of the creepiest places I could find, and am pairing them with a range of my favourite British sweets (aka candy, although I’m cheating a bit by including biscuits as well!).
Finding lesser-known places wasn’t exactly easy, particularly as some of the buildings reputed to be the most haunted in Britain are historic homes and palaces that look far too picturesque by day to present a convincing case.
In an effort to accommodate those of you who don’t live in the UK, instead of museums, I’m primarily including destinations that can be appreciated through the “magic” of photography. Therefore, some of the places on this list don’t necessarily make for the best outings, but I hope they might give you a bit of a shiver, or, in the case of the sweets, tempt your taste buds!
Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove, Southwark:
Admittedly, I still haven’t been to all of the “Magnificent Seven”(the famous Victorian cemeteries that ring London), though I’ve been doing my best to work my way through them, but it’s hard for me to imagine they get much creepier than Nunhead.
It is, I will be the first to admit, a TOTAL pain to get to from anywhere other than SE London, as the station only has trains running through about once every half an hour, but upon reaching it, you’ll be rewarded for your heroic efforts with a cemetery in the most splendid state of benign neglect, with nearly deserted footpaths leading through an overgrown forest full of half-hidden graves, and strange rustling noises coming from the surrounding shrubberies. I even stumbled upon a semi-uncovered grave…zombies?!
Suggested sweet: Fox’s Golden Crunch Creams. Not only will the crunch of the biscuit mirror the noise of your feet tramping through the fallen leaves, but the delicious creamy filling encased within will help you contemplate the mortality of your own squidgy interior.
St. Olave’s Church, Hart Street, City of London:
I was originally inspired to check out this church because Samuel Pepys (Restoration-era diarist extraordinaire) is buried here (and I adore Pepys, philandering and all). However, the gate over the entrance to the small churchyard is excellently creepy in itself. Charles Dickens famously referred to it as the “churchyard of St. Ghastly Grim,” and the skulls on the arch do a marvellous job of guarding the bones of those within (which include those of “Mother Goose.” Really!).
Other highlights include the Pepys related memorials inside the church, and the old entrance to his pew, from which he could gaze on the memorial to his late wife…perhaps in the evening you can catch his ghost gliding down the street from the former Navy offices on Seething Lane, which were destroyed in a fire – by all accounts, spectral Pepys is actually quite jolly!
Suggested Sweet: Fortnum’s Biscuits. In honour of the yearly banquet Pepys held to commemorate surviving the operation of “cutting for the stone,” you should treat yourself to the finest, which in the world of biscuits (and lemon curd!) means Fortnum and Mason.
Fortnum’s chocolate digestives are certainly amongst the most expensive you’ll find, but all that clotted cream and butter makes for an enticingly rich and crumbly biscuit, perfect for raising in a toast to the literary skills of Pepys and Dickens, and indeed, Mother Goose!
Cornhill Devils, St Peter’s Church, 54-55 Cornhill, City of London:
In my personal opinion, this is the scariest site on this list, even though it’s difficult to fully appreciate grotesqueness of the devils from the ground. These are within easy walking distance of St, Olave’s, and are another example of the glorious weirdness you’ll find in the City – bland skyscrapers and office buildings standing side-by-side with former execution sites, and random bits of historic eeriness.
As the story goes, the devils were built by an architect eager to get revenge with St. Peter’s for taking over some space he had intended to use for another building (the tale is a little convoluted), and whatever the case may be, it’s frankly terrifying to hurry down the dark labyrinthine City streets, deserted by night, and find oneself face to face with a menacing daemon.
Suggested Sweet: Phizzy Pig Tails. In spite of the irritating spelling, these are my favourite of the vast Percy Pig gummies empire, and I’m pretty sure devils have been known to feast on pig flesh. If you catch one of them about to pounce, Percy Pigs probably contain enough pig gelatine to pacify them long enough to make good your escape, if you hurry!
St. Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road:
St. Pancras Old Church is aptly named, for it has a venerable history which includes serving as a meeting place for the young lovers Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein), and housing the tomb of Sir John Soane (whose house you may recall from my last post).
The most famous thing here is undoubtedly the Hardy tree, named for Thomas Hardy (yet another author, what a literary post this is turning out to be!), who was a surveyor at the time, and directed that the tombstones in the graveyard should be placed around this tree to make room for a new railway. They have been arranged with a close-packed Victorian flair, and the mound around this knobbly old tree is indeed quite spooky.
Suggested Sweet: Jaffa Cakes. The connection between any of these famous figures and oranges is tenuous at best, but Jaffa Cakes are an extremely moreish snack that come stacked together with their rounded tops bearing some resemblance to the tombstones pressed around the Hardy Tree.
OK, really I just adore Jaffa Cakes; they’re orange jelly + delicious soft cake dipped in chocolate; I don’t think I need to present a historic reason to convince you to try them (and this is coming from someone who’s not terribly keen on orange and chocolate together).
Brompton Cemetery, Old Brompton Road:
In terms of sheer derelict creepiness, Brompton Cemetery’s got nothing on Nunhead, but it does have other redeeming charms. Where Nunhead cemetery is buried in the woods, Brompton feels almost too spare and open (meaning there’s nowhere to hide!), which allows you to stroll the Neoclassical buildings that ring it, their vacant hallways ringing out with your timidly echoing steps.
It also gives you the chance to study the tombstones in greater detail, so that you can spot interesting ones like that of Reginald Warneford, who, if his headstone is to be believed, was a WWI zeppelin-destroying ace! I’m also told that Brompton Cemetery was used in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film, but as Benedict Cumberbatch is the only acceptable Sherlock as far as I’m concerned, I can’t provide more detail on that.
Suggested Sweet: Minstrels. These are the British sweet I love best of all, and I’ve eaten far too many bags to count. This larger, significantly more scrumptious cousin to the M&M only comes in one colour: brown, which perfectly complements the sombre atmosphere of Brompton Cemetery.
If you’re looking for additional Halloween-appropriate destinations (and perhaps ones that are slightly more practical/centrally located to visit), you won’t go amiss with Highgate Cemetery, or any of the other Magnificent Seven. I’d also suggest some of the medical museums around London, particularly the Old Operating Theatre by London Bridge, or the Royal London Hospital Museum, the latter of which is home to Joseph Merrick’s skeleton, and some material on Jack the Ripper, as it is located in Whitechapel.
Jeremy Bentham’s preserved corpse can be found inside UCL, calmly surveying the activity around him. As far as historic buildings go, after the Tower, Hampton Court is reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in England, and is away from the bustle of the city in lovely Surrey.
If you’re in need of a drink after all this, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street is a rather good Sammy Smith’s pub, with a warren of low-ceilinged rooms to explore (and is quite near the reputed spot of Sweeney Todd’s barber shop).
There’s also plenty of themed walks and other events around Halloween to take advantage of; for something unusual, I’d recommend the lectures at St. Bart’s Pathology Museum, which will also give you the chance to poke around this little-known medical museum crammed with oddities.
I hope you may have discovered some new spooky spots, and if nothing else, that you’ll be inspired to try a new British sweet (though if you’re in America, you might have to get them through the internet or import shops! Sorry about that)! Happy Halloween!
Jessica is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but has spent the past five years living in London with her British boyfriend. She says hi to the statue of Samuel Johnson every time she’s on Fleet Street, and sometimes feels like she knows the Georgians better than her actual contemporaries. She loves history, ice cream, and travelling, so when she’s not busy reading or baking, she’s out visiting museums and blogging about them over at www.divertingjourneys.wordpress.com.