JAMES CLARK, the author of Haunted Lambeth, takes a look at three ghostly tales from the London Borough
Bloody Hands at The Old Vic, Lambeth
Some ghosts would be particularly unsettling to encounter, and this is one of them.
The Old Vic theatre (a short walk from London’s Waterloo station) opened in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre. It was renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre in 1833 in honour of Princess (later Queen) Victoria. After some fluctuating fortunes and a change of management in 1912, what had by then become known simply as “The Old Vic” started to garner praise for its Shakespearean productions – and it is with Shakespeare’s supposedly cursed “Scottish play” that The Old Vic’s best-known ghost is associated.
This disquieting apparition – which manifests as a distressed woman, wringing her blood-stained hands – is traditionally said to be the restless spirit of an actress compelled for some reason to replay over and over again her role as Lady Macbeth. If this is indeed the case then some comfort could perhaps be derived from the likelihood that the red stuff coating her hands is merely stage blood, rather than anything more sinister.
The Phantom Hansom of Clapham Common
In around 1900 a cyclist was almost run off the road by a hansom cab rushing in eerie silence along Clapham Common South Side. The cyclist looked up to remonstrate with the driver – and was shocked to see that the driver’s seat was empty. He was even more shocked soon afterwards when he learned that nobody else had seen the cab that nearly hit him, and that similar experiences had apparently been reported here before.
Decades later, the same man encountered the driverless cab for a second time, this time shortly after midnight while driving his family home by car. Determined to discover what was going on, he accelerated after the apparition.
Just before they reached Clapham South Underground station, however, the cab “seemed to swing to the left – and was gone.” One moment it was dead ahead, in full view of the car’s occupants, the next, the road was once again empty. All that remained was a mystery.
The Footsteps of Tulse Hill station
Porter Bill Caulfield was on night duty at Tulse Hill station one night, dozing in the warmth of a staff room on Number One platform. The last train had long since deposited its passengers and pulled away into the darkness, when his rest was disturbed by the sound of heavy boots crunching on stone.
Presuming that a maintenance man was arriving to carry out some work on the track, Caulfield waited for his visitor to call for him to open the securely locked gate to the platform – but no call came. Yet the footsteps continued to approach steadily, closer and closer, until the sound changed. Now the boots were treading on the wooden boards of the platform, the visitor having apparently passed through the locked gate without breaking step.
Puzzled, Caulfield took his lamp and headed outside, where he found the platform deserted. A search of every room confirmed that he was utterly alone.
By the time his turn at night duty came around again, he had almost forgotten about the incident. However, as he once more rested half-awake in the porters’ room after locking up the station, the footsteps returned.They approached just as before, but this time when they reached the spot just outside thedoor to the porters’ room they stopped.
Inside, Caulfield listened in terror, waiting, wondering what was about to happen. There was only silence outside. At long last, the footsteps resumed their steady tread, thudding away across the platform and on down the ramp at the platform end before crunching onto the track.
Caulfield seized his lantern and dashed outside but as before a thorough search revealed no sign of any living soul.He later learned that other station staff had heard the footsteps too, and that the ghostly sounds were said to be those of a platelayer who had been killed on the tracks here many years before.
JAMES CLARK’S latest collection of south London ghost stories – “Haunted Lambeth” – has just been published by The History Press. The book looks at strange tales from all across the London Borough of Lambeth, taking in Brixton, Clapham, North Lambeth, Norwood, Stockwell, and Streatham. For more details check out his website here.