EDDIE BRAZIL looks into the ghosts of Camberwell in South London and finds spooks of a most tragic kind…
The Ghost Children of Surrey Canal
The Surrey Canal once snaked its way from the River Thames, through south-east London to terminate at Camberwell.
By the early 1970s, the waterside industries had departed, and the location became an exciting, yet deadly, adventure playground for the area’s youngsters.
It was here they built their pirate ships, and treasure islands. Yet it was also here that they perished – drowned in the canals murky depths.
The deaths of so many kids forced the authorities to drain the water and develop the site into a park.
Such tragedies, however, undoubtedly left a lingering resonance.
On many occasions, the noise of children playing on the site of the canal has been heard, but there are no kids visible to account for the sounds.
On some nights, the sound of splashing water and the “Thump! Thump! Thump!” of spectral children’s boots jumping from canal barge to barge have been reported.
The sounds are said to be the ghosts of kids who played a boat hopping game, but tragically fell into the water and drowned.
Now they haunt Burgess Park eternally playing their pastimes as ghosts.
St Giles Church Camberwell’s Haunted Passage
Churchyard Passage runs between Camberwell Grove and Camberwell Church Street through the graveyard of the church St Giles.
The Victorian Gothic church was constructed in 1844, and is a suitably eerie location illuminated by sparsely positioned lamps and infrequently used after dark.
During the 1930s, it was believed that the phantom of an elderly priest haunted the passage.
Thought to have been a former vicar, he would have used the route to return to the clergy house in Camberwell Grove.
After the initial sightings, there was a period of several years when reports of the apparition ceased.
However, in the winter of 1970, two people walking through the churchyard at night were shocked to encounter the apparition of the phantom vicar and even more terrified when the ghost vanished in front of their eyes.
Following the 1970s sightings, there was a lull in reports of the ghostly priest.
However, one night in July 1984, a young man returning home through the passage was a bit perturbed to find a figure in black walking some distance behind him.
Mindful of late-night street crime he increased his speed.
Yet, before he had reached the exit he heard footsteps closing from his rear.
Expecting to be mugged, he turned but was surprised to see that the passage was empty.
He later reported that there was no way that anyone making the footsteps could have got out of sight so quickly.
But who or what is the ghost?
In 1904, Rose Kelly, the daughter of an Edwardian Vicar of St Giles, decided to marry the occultist, and black magician, Aleister Crowley as a protest against her father’s chosen suitor.
Crowley, who styled himself as the Great Beast, was said to be the most wickedest man in the world.
During their five year marriage, he drove his wife to clinical insanity through a combination of drugs and sodomy and had her committed to an asylum.
She died in 1932.
Does the ghost of Reverend Kelly walk in perpetual grief for his daughter’s fate? Or could it be the tortured soul of Rose, eternally regretting her choice of husband?
Phantom Revellers of the Queen
Before it was eventually demolished in 1982, the Queen Public House could rightly claim to have been the loneliest hostelry in Camberwell.
In its heyday, it saw a regular clientele as it was surrounded by terraces of Victorian houses, and was used as a watering hole by thirsty bargemen who plied their trade on the nearby Surrey Canal.
Yet, by the early 1980s, it found itself the only building standing along the half-mile of Neate Street, and alone within the grassy emptiness of the newly laid out Burgess Park.
The first reports of strange phenomena at the pub came from an Irish couple who incredibly mistook the Queen as a fully functioning public house.
On a late-night stroll, the couple came across the hostelry and from a distance were pleasantly surprised to see it was still open.
Lights shorn from the windows and the sound of voices could be heard coming from within.
Yet, when they approached the pub and found themselves outside the front door, the building was in darkness and silent as the grave.
They peered through the grimy windows could just make out a decayed interior within the shadowy blackness.
It seemed unbelievable.
Only seconds earlier, the place appeared to buzz with life.
The couple quickly went on their way sensing things were not quite right.
Others too had the experience of hearing the Queen full of life, and not just at night.
Early one foggy morning, a man walking his dog alone near the empty building heard the sound of a piano playing.
The muffled resonance of the tinkling ivories sounded distantly through the grey murk.
But the man knew that they emanated from the direction of the Queen.
Curiously his dog also seemed to detect the spooky piano playing, for the collie stopped her sniffing and looked in the direction of the pub.
The sounds ceased abruptly as the man and his dog stopped outside the bar.
The two walked on puzzled and turned only once more to see the pub recede back into the fog.
Soon after, the pub was raised to the ground, and those phantoms which had preferred to party on well after their mortal demise were swept away by crushing bulldozers.
The Old House on Camberwell Green
In the early part of the 17th century a stately, grand house stood on the south side of Camberwell Green, approximately where Wren Road runs today.
About the year 1600, the house was occupied by a wealthy merchant and his beautiful wife.
Yet the marriage was soured by the husband’s vicious jealousy.
His charming wife was the centre of many admiring husbands and unfounded accusations of infidelity drove the poor innocent woman to despair.
One winter’s evening, a coach was seen to draw up outside the house in to which a lady entered instructing the driver to make all haste south to the coast.
The coach moved off at speed, and it, and its female passenger were never to be seen again.
The husband was inconsolable by the loss of his wife.
He had accused her too many times and she had had enough.
He made every effort to locate his wife and plead his undying love for her, but to no avail.
The man went into uncontrollable grief and the house became unloved.
The rooms left to dust and cobwebs, cold and empty with just the memories of the departed woman.
In time, the husband was persuaded by friends to leave the house and try to dispel his grief by travel to sunnier climbs.
The years of travel seemed to work for the man returned to the house on Camberwell Green.
This time not overwhelmed by grief and loss, but as a lover.
The marriage was a success, and the man’s friends gathered around him with warm congratulations on his return and his happy future.
One night, a magnificent banquet was prepared to celebrate the newlyweds.
As the guests toasted the husband’s newfound happiness, they were puzzled and saddened to observe that the man seemed agitated and depressed.
He barked incoherent orders to his staff, and displayed an expression of deep worry.
Without warning the man left the room and disappeared upstairs.
The guests looked at each other in bewilderment.
Soon after, the sound of a pistol shot rang out through the house and all ran to see what had happened.
In a top floor bedroom, they discovered the blood-stained body of the husband.
He had taken his life with a shot to the head.
On a table was found a written confession.
The husband had murdered his wife in a fit of jealous rage and buried her in the basement.
The lady who was seen to enter the coach on that winter’s night was, in fact, his butler disguised in female attire.
There was an addendum to the confession note – after leaving his guests the husband entered the room and said he was confronted by the ghost of his late wife.
It filled him with such dread and horror that, in a fit of guilt, he committed suicide.
Fox on the Hill Pub in Denmark Hill’s Grinning Man
The Fox on the Hill Pub on Denmark Hill, just south of Camberwell Green stands, so local tradition says, on the site of a plague pit.
One might think that a burial ground for victims of the Black Death, which had ravaged England from the 14th to the 18th centuries, would be a place for ancient ghosts.
Yet the spectre who haunts the pub would appear to be a more modern ghost.
In 1976, a young barmaid who was living at the pub had become somewhat nervous by the footsteps she regularly heard on the stairs and landing outside her room.
On investigation, there was no one to account for them.
One hot, summer’s night she was awoken by the sound of rustling in the room.
Looking over to the door of a wardrobe she saw the polythene covering of a recently dry cleaned coat rippling as if a breeze was playing against it.
She watched for some seconds until the rustling stopped.
Laying back down to sleep she turned and was shocked to see the shape of a person standing next to the bed.
It bent over the terrified woman and thrust its grinning face into her own.
She leapt screaming from the bed and fled the room.
Other staff rushed to her aid and managed to calm her.
“There is a man in my room!” she shouted.
Yet upon investigation, the bedroom was found to be empty.
The barmaid’s strange encounter began to filter down to the pub’s customers.
One quiet afternoon, an old veteran of the pub engaged her in conversation.
Was she aware of the Chinese man who once lived in her room?
No, was her reply.
He was a terrible gambler, so said the veteran.
Much to the despair of his wife, he stayed out all night losing his money.
One day she upped sticks and left him.
He was in an agony of depression.
One hot summer’s night he took a tie and hung himself from a wardrobe in the room.