10 Ghost Monks Of London And Where To Find Them

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London has an eerie monastic history with plenty of haunted churches with ghost monks. JAY HOLLIS tells us 10 places you can find these classic spectres

London has lots of ghost monks haunting its churches...
London has lots of ghost monks haunting its churches…

There are various images that question might call to mind and one of those is of a monk; a silent robed figure with its face hidden beneath a cowl appearing unexpectedly out of nowhere.

The country is full of phantom monks, all of which link back to Medieval England’s monastic past.

Thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII’s often violent takeover of all religious property in the 1530s, many stately homes were built on or converted from monasteries and can boast phantom monks among their otherworldly residents.

Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire and Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, for instance, have both been family homes ever since Henry’s reign, and both are said to be haunted by ghostly monks.

But for this article and those that will follow in this series, I will be concentrating on haunted places within the Greater London area and have picked ten places where ghostly monks have been encountered:

Ghost Monks of London

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey as we see it today was built by Henry III and consecrated in 1269, but there was a monastery here before the 11th century, so it’s hardly surprising that it should have a few ghosts.

The cloister is said to be haunted by a ghostly monk, although the one caught on television during the recent coronation of King Charles III was quickly proven to be a very much alive curate! The ghost has been named ‘Father Benedictus’, and he is usually seen around early evening.

In 1900, a group of visitors saw him disappear into a wall, and in 1932, two American ladies encountered him.

They’d gotten lost and were starting to panic as the Abbey was about to close when a kindly monk who called himself ‘Father Benedictus’ escorted them to the way out. They returned the following day to thank the monk, only to be told that nobody by that name worked there.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace was built on land once owned by the monks of Westminster Abbey less than a mile away, and that probably explains why the ghost of a monk now haunts there.

He is reportedly seen wearing chains and is thought to have been a monk who died in a punishment cell.

Tower of London

The Tower of London is one of the most haunted places in London, so of course, it has a monk, although perhaps not as impressive as some of the other ghosts there.

According to Geoffrey Abbot in Ghosts of the Tower of London (1980), the ghost of a monk wearing brown robes was seen in St Thomas’ Tower, one of the Yeoman Warders’ private residences, in the early years of the 20th century.

Another resident in 1974 reported being disturbed by the slapping sound of sandals on wooden floorboards in the same apartment despite those floorboards being covered by carpet at that time.

Tower of London
Tower of London

St Bartholomew Church in Smithfield

The Church of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield was built in 1123 and is the oldest surviving church building in London. The ghost of a monk has been seen here at the altar before fading away, and it is believed to be the shade of the church’s founder, called Rahere.

The story concerning this man is that he was a jester in the court of King Henry I and he was deeply affected by the death of the King’s wife Matilda in 1118.

Two years later, the King’s eldest son drowned at sea and, consumed by grief, Rahere felt compelled to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Whilst on that pilgrimage, he saw a vision of St Bartholomew, who told him to build a church and hospital at Smithfield just outside the city walls of London.

It’s a good story, but documents survive that confirm Rahere was a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral by 1115, so that invalidates pretty much all of the above. But whatever the circumstances around the founding of the church, we know that it was Rahere who founded it, and if any monks are going to haunt the church, why not him?

Southwark

The construction of the Jubilee Line extension disturbed a number of ancient burial sites that had been lost to history, each one becoming an archaeological goldmine of information. One such burial site was uncovered in Southwark, south of the River Thames opposite the City of London, and since then a ghostly procession of monks has been seen traversing the newly built tunnels.

St Dunstan’s Church in East Acton

Another procession of ghostly monks dressed in gold and brown habits has been reported at St Dunstan’s Church in East Acton.

The present church was built in the 19th century, but it is believed that monks of the Order of St Bartholomew occupied the site in the Middle Ages.

In 1946, several witnesses saw the procession walking along the central aisle, while others have seen them walking in the churchyard. On one occasion, the vicar was visited by the apparition of a monk wearing a violet habit who conversed with him.

Read more about spooky St Dunstan’s Church in East Acton

Marsh Lane, Stanmore

‘The Phantom Monk of Marsh Lane’ is an apparition that has been seen standing close to a gate leading into a wooded area called The Spinney in Stanmore. Witnesses describe seeing a thin, pale man cloaked in a dark robe, either black or brown.

Local legend asserts that he is connected to St Lawrence Church in Canon’s Park, a place named after the Augustinian monks of St Bartholomew that owned the land in the Middle Ages.

Enfield Golf Course

In Haunted Enfield (2013), I wrote about two boys who often liked to trespass on the Enfield Golf Course during the 1960s.

One evening, they were cutting across the course on their way home when they saw a figure moving up the hill on the opposite side of the course, heading away from an ancient moat located within the golf course.

They thought it was the greenkeeper, who they would often goad into chasing them and shouted at him to gain his attention.

The figure turned towards them, and they realised it wasn’t the greenkeeper but the misty form of what looked like a monk.

One of the boys turned and ran away, but the other stood his ground long enough to see that the face beneath the monk’s cowl was ‘a mass of pulverised flesh being eaten by maggots’.

Hendon

There have been a number of reported sightings of monks (or perhaps it’s the same one) in Hendon, North West London.

Claims of one appearing at St Mary’s church have been rejected by Barnet’s local history officer as nothing more than misinformation reported a long time ago by the local press and repeated periodically ever since.

But there are other sightings in the area that may be more reliable.

In 1934, The Hendon & Finchley Times received a letter from a correspondent in response to an article about Tenterden Hall, a large mansion that was at that time in use as a public school.

The correspondent stated that he was acquainted with a woman who had told him that she had often seen ‘a black figure’ descending the staircase at the Hall.

She was apparently unable to tell whether the ghost was that of a man or a woman, but the correspondent supposed that it might be a monk.

St Mary's Church in Hendon
St Mary’s Church in Hendon

Tenterden Hall School was demolished in 1936 and the area where it had stood is now a residential suburban sprawl.

Interestingly, a person who lived in one of the houses built after Tenterden Hall’s demolition wrote to the curator of the Paranormal Database website in 2004 to say that their family had experienced all sorts of paranormal activity in their family home for around forty years.

They’d gotten used to the various strange occurrences, but what tended to actually frighten them was the apparition of a monk that would sometimes appear in their garden. Much of the area was owned by Westminster Abbey throughout the medieval period, so maybe it’s not quite so surprising that a monk should be seen here.

My second book concerning ghosts and haunted places within the London Borough of Barnet is nearly finished and one chapter will look at Hendon, its phantom monks, and headless ladies (Yes, you read that correctly!). Another chapter will look at one of the most startling apparitions of a ghostly monk that I know of.

New Southgate

One of my first jobs after leaving school was in the mail room of a large factory complex in New Southgate, and I was told that a tall phantom monk had been seen prowling the corridors of one of the buildings there.

Some years earlier, a security guard had been on a late night patrol in that particular building when he saw the ghostly figure walking silently along the corridor towards him.

He was so scared by the encounter that he refused to do any more night patrols in that building. I was told this story a number of times and tended to take it with a pinch of salt until one of the cleaners with whom I was acquainted saw the ghost for himself.

John (not his real name) worked each evening beginning at five-thirty when everyone else’s shifts ended.

One of his main jobs was to clean the computer room. This contained a central bank of large floor-standing computers to which all the office visual display units throughout the site were connected (this was in the days before desk-top computers in offices were commonplace).

The computer room had large plate glass windows that looked out onto the adjacent corridor, which ran along the side of the building with windows opposite that looked out over the rest of the factory complex.

This meant that the outside was visible from within the computer room – an important detail for what follows.

It was a summer evening, but the sky was dark as night due to a violent thunderstorm passing overhead.

At around six o’clock, John was working in the computer room when a particularly violent series of lightning flashes followed almost immediately by a deafening clap of thunder startled him and made him look up towards the windows.

In that instant, he watched in horror as a tall figure in a long brown cloak glided silently along the corridor past the room he was working in. Terrified, John immediately collected his things and hurried out of the building.

Had someone been playing a trick on him? The corridor ran almost the entire length of the building, at least 100m (the building itself being 134m long), and a quick glance along the corridor revealed to John that it was empty with no exit points close enough for anyone to have left the corridor in the short time between him seeing the figure and leaving the room.

John was a very plain spoken down-to-earth man who didn’t suffer fools gladly – and he absolutely did not believe in ghosts! When I spoke to him the following day, he was still visibly shaken, and he told me “I’ve never believed in ghosts. I still don’t and anyone that does must be soft in the head (I kept quiet!)… But I can’t explain what I saw last night.”

Why should the ghost of a monk be seen in a factory office block? There had been a 19th century mortuary chapel on the site prior to the office block being built in the 1930. But if the apparition is that of a monk, it may be more likely to date back to an earlier time when the land was owned by the Abbots of St. Albans.

However, with no evidence of any monastic buildings having been discovered at the location, the reason for this monk’s occasional appearances must remain a perplexing mystery.

Have you seen any ghost monks in London? Tell us in the comments section below!

1 COMMENT

  1. Me, me brother and a friend went on a very late night ghosthunt at nearby Lesness Abbey in Abbey Wood SE London in about 1981. After about 4 hours of nothing I suggested one more smoke then walk home. No sooner we lit up we were suddenly surrounded by monastic singing. The sound seemed to come in waves like a badly tuned radio. The singing got louder until it seemed to be very close to us. It lasted about a minute then gradually faded away the way it came.
    We had heard the Abbey ruins, the nearby main road and the woods were haunted by a monk but never heard of this singing before.

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