EDDIE BRAZIL goes to see some of the haunts in Peckham in South London
Think of the name Peckham and immediately a picture of a diminutive, sheep-skin coat adorned chirpy Cockney comes in to view.
Although Del Boy Trotter is fictional, one can still find a real Nags Head pub and a Winnie Mandela House. Yet long before the Trotters arrived, the Romans dwelt here.
In Doomsday book it is referred to as “Peacham”, the farmstead by the River Peck. Henry V passed through on his victorious return from Agincourt. In 1860, the railways arrived and Peckham village disappeared within the expanding London. Today, it has become one of the most densely-populated locations in Europe, but luckily for us, it still has its ghosts.
The Kings Arms
During an air raid in 1940, the Kings Arms public house on Peckham Rye suffered a direct hit. Eleven people sheltering inside the pubs cellar were killed and many more injured. The building was completely destroyed.
However, some years later a replacement pub was constructed on the site, and soon after strange incidents began to reported by the staff. One landlord and his wife were alarmed at hearing footsteps which could not have been produced by a human being. At times they were heard to walk along a deserted passage , whilst on subsequent occasions were audible from a locked and empty room.
Barmen and maids became aware of the peculiar, uncomfortable atmosphere within the pub, along with odd noises in the night, the movement of objects and the inexplicable terrified behaviour of the landlords dogs.
One former Barman claimed to have heard the sound of a piano and people singing coming from the cellar. The apparition of a young woman, who many believe was one of the unfortunate victims of the bomb blast, was also seen within the building. It would appear that the ghosts of those killed in the air raid are ultimately destined to wander the site of their untimely, tragic deaths.
Yet it is somewhat odd for the spirits of the dead to return to haunt a public house which didn’t exist when they died. The modern pub was itself demolished and today the site is occupied by flats.
The Tower Cinema
All that remains of the old Tower Cinema in Rye Lane is the shell of its once grand façade, which now serves as an entrance to a car park . It was built in 1904 and for 50 years provided the patrons of Peckham with the thrill and fantasy of the silver screen until it closed in 1956.
However, just a few years before the doors were finally locked for the last time the building was the scene of paranormal phenomena.
Between 1953-54 the ghost of a middle-aged man was seen by staff and workmen who were employed at the Tower. The figure was reported as floating some 10 feet off the ground before disappearing through a wall. There were also incidents of poltergeist activity where bags of cement were ripped open, and water dripping from the ceiling, the source of which, was never established.
It was later discovered that the cinema had been built on the site of a 19th century chapel, and it is possible that the apparitions were connected to the place of worship rather than the cinema.
However, one of the phantoms witnessed was believed to have been a former projectionist. During the demolition of the building several workmen fled the area and refused to work there after seeing the apparitions of several figures passing through the walls.
If the classic, gothic cemetery of north London is Highgate, its rival and sister necropolis south of the river has to be Nunhead . Consecrated in 1840, its first burial was of a 101 year old grocer from Ipswich; the last was that of a volunteer soldier who became a canon of Lahore Cathedral in India.
Like Highgate, it is the archetype spooky grave yard; the haunt of vampires and ghosts.
However, whereas Highgate receives some measure of care, Nunhead has been left to untamed nature and vandalism. Weeds , unkempt grass and emerging trees cloak the once proud Victorian graves and memento mori.
Its mock gothic chapel has been consumed by the arsonists match. Such forlorn and atmospheric locations naturally generate there own paranormal history. Highgate has its 7 foot King Vampire; Nunhead, a 6 foot 8 inch bank of England clerk.
In 1923, William Jenkins remains were removed from the court garden of the bank and re-interned in a catacomb at Nunhead where it rested until the 1970s when the abandoned cemetery was robbed and the coffins, including Jenkins, were stripped of the lead. It is the ghost of the Bank clerk which is said to haunt the graveyard.
In 1975, a workman saw a “tall dark stranger” dressed totally in black emerge from one of the crumbling catacombs and disappear into the surrounding undergrowth.
The phantom of William Jenkins is not the only apparition to have been witnessed at Nunhead.
Again in the 1970s a group of people walking their dogs through the cemetery saw the figure of a woman in Victorian dress holding a lantern glide along a path.
As the group approached the lady vanished. Spectral children have also been see at the cemetery. One night a man walking by the entrance to the graveyard saw, and heard a group of youngsters playing and laughing amongst the graves. As he looked through the bars of the gates he says their presence and sound gradually faded in to the darkness.
Who could be the ghostly children?
In 1912, nine sea scouts were laid to rest at Nunhead after drowning in a boating accident off the Isle of Sheppey.
The Fire Ghost
The idea that ghosts can harm us, and do so at will is viewed by many sceptics and parapsychologists as nonsense.
Yet, to the Stringer family of Trafalgar Avenue in Peckham, the notion is far from baloney. For four years between 1958 and 1962, the family of four were subjected to the terrifying ordeal of a series of unexplained fires which seemed intentional and with the express purpose of destroying the house and harming Mr and Mrs Stringer and their two children.
One night a few weeks before Easter, 1958, the couple went to bed. Before going to sleep Mr Stringer had to go downstairs to fetch something. He immediately called to his wife to help him; the living room was on fire. The flames were quickly extinguished , but there was no explanation as why it had ignited.
Bizarrely no further fires or strange incidents occurred for a year. Yet on Good Friday 1959, a fire once again broke out within the living room. Fortunately it was put out before it could cause serious damage. The Springer’s were again mystified at how the blaze could have ignited.
A year passed without incident, but on Easter Monday, 1960 Mrs Springer smelt burning and rushed in to her bedroom to find that a pair of trousers had inexplicably burst in to flames.
Luckily they were doused before they could cause any real damage.
By now the family had began to realise that the consecutive Easter dates of the mysterious fires were no coincidence, and that what ever was causing the outbreaks was in some way paranormal.
It seemed that a poltergeist had invaded the house as one of their nastier tricks is to cause spontaneous outbreaks of fire.
This was brought home to the Springer’s on the following Easter of 1961. No fires were experienced but Mr Springer, on two occasions witnessed the apparition of a glowing, grey figure as it floated across a room and disappear through a wall.
The sound of disembodied footsteps were heard around the house and doors were seen to open and close on their own.
Once more, after the Easter break peace and calm returned to the home. However the following Year at Easter the fires returned.
This time, Mrs Stringer found two of the rooms alight. There was smoke on the stairs, and as she rushed in to the living room three foot flames greeted her. It was all to much, and the fire brigade was summoned.
The blaze was confined and extinguished and, miraculously the house was saved. Once again there was no explanation as to why the fires had started.
For the family it was becoming to much, and they were prepared to leave and find an alternative home. But there was no need.
After 1962 the poltergeist ceased its terrifying fire raising and presumably moved on.
The Old Nuns Head
A tavern has stood on the site of the present day Nuns Head since 1690.
Tradition says that the pub, and indeed the area in which it is located, was so named after the beheading a of mother superior of a nunnery, which once stood on the site of the hostelry. She was executed in 1534 by Henry VIII for refusing his order of expulsion from the church.
After her execution, her head was placed on a pike staff and displayed in the grounds of the nunnery.
It is, of course a perfectly romantic tale fashioned to give substance to the execution.
Alas, there is no evidence of a nunnery ever existing in Peckham or indeed any proof of the sister of mercy’s grisly demise.
Nonetheless the ghost of a nun like figure has been sighted many times around the pub supposedly lamenting the loss of her head.
Curiously many of the sightings of the phantom lady have been in the gentleman’s lavatory.
Many of the patrons using the urinals are said to be more concerned not with those standing next to them, but rather if the beheaded Mother superior is keeping an eye on them from behind.