Harrow is full of creepy haunts, including ghostly monks, exploding cats and a headless horseman, to name but a few. Guest writer “Gloomy Sundae”, from the Haunted Bench Project, takes us on a ghost tour of the North West London borough to discover its supernatural side.
Perhaps it’s a simple matter of reading the wrong books, but last October it struck me how woefully under-represented is the London Borough of Harrow in the ghosts gazetteers among my small collection. Could it be that the district is singularly lacking in urban legend and alleged paranormal activity?
Not a bit of it.
St Mary’s Churchyard, Harrow-on-the-Hill
We’ll begin up on Harrow-on-the-Hill and the beautiful, impossibly eerie, St. Mary’s churchyard.
As visitors will attest, if the cemetery had lacked for a phantom nun, it was only a matter of time before someone would be kind enough to invent one.
It’s possible that, during the Great War, the verger of the day did just that, masquerading in a sheet on Halloween to scare away rowdy youths. So convincing was his performance that the police were alerted to investigate “a horrible ghost in the graveyard”.
The case of the sinister sister has been something of a personal obsession from teenage years, and the mystery remains. Did the mischievous churchman take inspiration from extant local ghost lore or fabricate a haunting from scratch?
Mike Dash’s excellent ‘Spring-Heeled Jack: To Suburban Bugaboo from Suburban Ghost’ seemingly lists every reported appearance of the flame-vomiting menace… bar one.
Apparition seen at foot of Church Hill
In 1950, Robert Burns, the then recently retired hatter to Harrow School, reported that, at the height of his infamy, the “apparition” infrequently appeared at the foot of Church Hill, “and more than once a party of men with shotguns and other appliances gathered to account for the white sheet movements that females and others had given in their frightened accounts… It was attributed, but not proved, to be a youthful escapade from a nearby house for boys.”
Another account has Jack appearing before a ‘terrified’ Harrow schoolmaster on West Street.
As befits a Grade II listed building, the Grove on Church Hill is allegedly haunted by former rector of Harrow, Richard Layton (circa 1500-44), muckraker to Henry VIII and prime mover in the dissolution of the monasteries.
Layton had a peculiar talent for unearthing crucial evidence of sodomy, nun molestation and embezzlement whenever the need arose.
The Headless Horseman of Harrow Green
Among the earliest reported near-hauntings is that of the Headless Horseman of Harrow Green, circa late 14th Century.
While returning home late at night, a terrified labourer was overtaken by a ghastly apparition he took to be that of the late Simon Sudbury, Lord of Harrow, and Chancellor of England.
In June 1381, Sudbury, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, was executed on Tower Hill by public demand for introducing a poll tax. It took eight swipes to lop off his head. To add insult to injury, the ‘ghost’ scare was short-lived. When next sighted, the ‘headless’ rider was apprehended and revealed as a very short fellow wearing a hood.
Patrick Pringle, author of ‘Stand & Deliver’ identifies Harrow Hill and Hounslow Heath as the favoured operational areas of Captain Richard Dudley, the relatively long-lived highwayman (1635-81).
Pringle suggests ‘Galloping Dick’ was a Robin Hood Mk.II, robbing only the rich, redistributed any surplus to poor. His notable scalps include Duke of Monmouth, Richardson, keeper of Newgate, and by-product of a bawdy side-venture, the Pope (!). Dick eventually swung at Tyburn, but he’d had a good run. Such a shame we can find no record of his spectre picking up where he left off. God knows, Dick Turpin’s seemingly omnipresent ghost could use the competition.
Roxeth School, a haven for boring ghosts
To modern times, and according to a former staff member at Roxeth School, a spectral ginger were-cat prowls its corridors, vanishing through a wall into the stockroom if pursued. The lady suggests it is most likely the ghost of former teacher.
Roxeth Hill is evidently a haven for boring ghosts. Neighbouring the school on Byron Hill Road is a house reputedly haunted by a kindly nurse who’d been gifted the property by a grateful patient.
Well-intentioned but dull phantoms like the above may go some way to explaining Harrow’s poor showing in those ‘Ghosts of London’ compilations mentioned at the outset.
On a happier note, as recently as October 2017, a crack We Vlog Ghosts paranormal investigation detail were persecuted by an unseen growler as they descended the path back to the station. Wonder if they realised that the Hill, in particular the former Bowden House, provides the settings for a series of gory murders in Harry Adam Knight’s nerve-shredding 1992 horror novel, ‘Bedlam‘?
Headstone Manor House
Coming down from the Hill and cutting across town, we should first make mention of perhaps the most spectacularly haunted property in the entire borough, tha appropriately named Headstone Manor House, home to the Harrow Museum … and, allegedly, so much more!
Following an overnight vigil in June 2008, members of The London Paranormal Society reported all manner of phenomena including poltergeist activity, eerie cries from the old nursery, a staircase wanderer, the mandatory spectral monks, and the ghost of a sack-cloth wearing man.
Deathly pale face ghost descends staircase at Wealdstone
The strangest of Wealdstone’s few (?) ghosts is that of a man with the most extraordinarily long, deathly pale face, and wearing what appears to be a shapeless gown, seen descending the staircase from the Bridge into Herga Road, circa 1975.
The sighting was witnessed by two young football fans and a gentleman of pensionable age who commented “I have never seen such a tormented expression.”
Miser’s ghost seen on Uxbridge Road
Among Harrow Weald’s more infamous former residents, Daniel Dancer, an 18th Century miser who reputedly hid his gold in a dung heap and once ate a rotting sheep as a free meal.
Author Rowland Grey claimed to have seen his ghost, dressed in straw clothing and leaking blood from a head wound, in an avenue of trees on what is now Uxbridge Road, though lack of further sightings suggests the phantom tight wad has since found peace.
On the subject of local celebrities, in 1584, “Joan Barringer of Harroweelde, co. Middx, practised the detestable art of witchcraft on and against Rose Edlyn, daughter of Richard Edlyn of Parke Gate, Hatch Ende in the same parish, with the intention of murdering the same Rose, who languished from the effects of the said diabolical practices till she died thereof”.
Haunted bench on Weald Lane
A ghost of more recent vintage reputedly haunts the public bench on Weald Lane. Sighted early evenings during late autumn through winter, what appears to be the outline of a young man with stringy hair in cream-coloured trench coat, staring ahead as though awaiting someone he knows will never arrive.
An eyewitness explains. “This one time I watched him from across the road on the High Street. What struck me was how eerily still he was, then one blink and he was gone. There’s no way he could have got to his feet and moved out of eye-shot that fast.” Same phantom has also been sighted seemingly “looking for something” on the ground by the entrance to the underpass on Courtenay Gardens.
One source for the haunted bench story was a regular at ‘The Red Lion’ pub (as it then was), a former makeshift mortuary. A second “supernatural” episode involving the same bench concerns an apparition of a living person.
Stanmore’s phantom pianist
Stanmore could once boast a phantom pianist of Buckingham Cottage, a distinctive, ivy clad building demolished in 1961.
It was formerly the hunting lodge of the Duke of Chandos, patron of Handel, a regular visitor to the premises, which may explain much. Mrs. Margaret Hughes, who lived there from 1940-57, said; “The cottage was definitely haunted for we have heard a piano playing awfully loudly in the middle of the night. Our neighbours did not have one – neither did we.”
Mrs. Hughes also muttered darkly of phantom footsteps, ghostly raised voices and “a man with long hair”.
Ghostly parson at Old Church Farm rectory
Another local haunting is that of the former Rectory at Old Church Farm where the ghost of a parson is said to rise from a grave opposite the farm, visit his old home, and return whence he came. Family illness excites him.
Exploding cat at Anmer Lodge
If your taste is for the twisted and macabre, in January 1987 at the Anmer Lodge nursing home, Peppi the cat inexplicably burst into flame and exploded before horrified residents. The authorities, evidently fearing an imminent mass outbreak of spontaneous feline and human combustion, promptly shut the place down and sold the site to developers. It’s now an M&S.
Ghostly robed figure at Canons Park
Moving toward Canons Park, a cowled, black (or, possibly, brown) robed figure might be glimpsed passing through the Spinney gate on Marsh Lane. A dog walker interviewed also claims to have seen him standing in the shadow of a tree, “wringing his bony white hands for all he was worth” before “fading to nothing.” It’s most probably the same ghost that has been seen on Du Cros Drive, although to my limited knowledge reported sightings have diminished since the turn of the century.
All this without getting around to the the phantom Roman Legion on Honeypot Lane, the Grim’s Dyke Ghoul, the ghostly funeral procession through Byron Park Cemetery, or the shrouded watcher in the trees on Bentley Priory? Maybe some other time.