BARRY McCann takes a walk through Haunted Hampstead in North London and discovers a load of ghostly and mysterious places to visit
Located in North London, Hampstead is a village in its own right and its Heath a draw to Londoners looking to enjoy the fresh air. Not surprisingly, it has been home to notable artists and writers over the centuries, while its history ensures plenty of ghosts. Should you have a couple of hours to spare, there is a walking route that takes in both.
Start your Haunted Hampstead tour here…
Starting at Hampstead Underground Station and left along Hampstead High Street is the historic pub William IV. It was originally the house of a doctor who murdered his wife and bricked her up in the cellar. Her restless ghost has been heard rattling windows and slamming doors ever since.
Outside has been seen the ghost of a white shrouded young girl standing on the pavement and looking sadly in at the windows of the pub. She is thought to be the patient at a dental practice that once stood opposite who killed herself after a traumatic experience of treatment there. Interestingly, a small white statue of a woman stands on a building opposite, though she looks far from sad.
Right along Perrin’s Lane, and right again onto Heath Street leads to Church Row, which William Makepeace Thackeray’s daughter, Anne, described as ‘an avenue of Dutch, red-faced houses, leading demurely to the old church tower that stands, guarding its graves in the flowery churchyard’. It leads to the Parish Church of St John.
One of the houses near the church is believed to be the site of a gruesome child murder during the 19th century. A red-haired maidservant dismembered the child’s body and smuggled its remains out in a carpet bag. People taking morning walks along Church Row have reported footsteps shuffling behind them, while a red-haired woman has been sighted moving toward the church, her head looking round from side to side.
Entering through the church gates, the cemetery pathway twists and turns through a necropolis of crumbling headstones and tombs, not to mention creepy monstrous looking trees. One of these is the tomb of artist John Constable (1776–1837).
This was also the churchyard upon which Bram Stoker (1847–1912) based the vault that interned Lucy Westenra in Dracula, to which Van Helsing and Dr Seward track down the undead woman and finally dispatch from this life.
After visiting the church itself, head straight out of the side gate and cross the road into Holy Walk. Passing Blenheim Place and the Catholic Church of St Mary’s, built in 1796 by and for refugees who fled the French Revolution, take a right into Mount Vernon. At Number 7, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) lodged on several occasions.
At the end of Mount Vernon go left along the narrow twisting pathway and cross over Holly Hill into Holly Mount. There you can wet your whistle at the gas lit Holly Bush Inn. However, should you entrust a waitress in a white linen apron and a long dark skirt with a food order, you could be in for a long wait. There is no waitress service, only a phantom waitress who politely takes orders but fails to deliver them to the kitchen.
Leaving the pub, turn right onto Holly Bush Hill and keep going uphill until reaching a busy road junction around a large pond. Cross over the junction bearing left until reaching the yellow sign of Jack Straw’s castle.
Rebuilt after bomb damage in World War II, the former pub (now private residence) was a regular haunt of Charles Dickens, Jack Straw being a term referring to farm labourers. It is also the place where Van Helsing and Dr Seward dines before their midnight vigil at Lucy’s tomb.
Visit the haunted Spaniards Inn in Hampstead
Crossing the road and past the war memorial, bear left into Spaniards Road and enjoy a long stroll along the edge of Hampstead Heath, until reaching the Spaniards Inn. Dating from the 16th century, it was named after two Spanish brothers who killed each other in a duel over a woman.
Local legend also has it that Dick Turpin frequented the Inn where he stabled his mount, Black Bess. It is said her ghostly hoof beats can be heard galloping across the car park during the dead of night. Quite an achievement considering Black Bess was invented by 19th Century author Harrison Ainsworth in his novel Rookwood, along with the fabled ride to York.
At least Turpin himself was real and his cloaked figure has been seen crossing across the bar before disappearing into the wall. Meanwhile, upstairs in Turpin’s Bar, customers have experienced an unseen hand tugging at their sleeves.
Backtrack along Spaniards Lane on the left, until coming to the wide drive into the Heath. Bear left along the earth pathway and follow as it descends through scrub. Passing the communications mast, go right and follow the path as it drops steeply downhill.
Centuries before, travellers on this route fell victim to attacks, some resulting in death. It is said there is a feeling of someone watching from the dense woodland, and waiting to strike.
Sometimes a dark figure on horseback comes silently galloping from the thickets towards walkers in seeming intent of trampling them. Some have flung themselves to the ground or out the way, only to find the apparition has vanished.
Keep veering right, past Byron Villas to East Heath Road where and old man in brown Norfolk jacket sometimes follows walkers along the road before abruptly vanishing. He is described as grinning and toothless. Perhaps another patient of the dentist at the beginning of the walk?
Finally, cross East Heath Road and along Squire’s Mount to the junction with Cannon Place. There stands Cannon Hall, childhood home of Daphne du Maurier (1907–1989). Did the spectres of Hampstead help inspire the elusive red coated figure in Don’t Look Now?
And that concludes the walk. Being thirsty work, you may choose to double back across the busy junction and downhill back to the Holly Bush Inn for a well-earned pint of London Pride. And a chance to be visited by the phantom waitress.
Sadly, the only spirit I witnessed came out of a bottle.