London has loads of haunted taverns to visit but these three central taverns would prove to be the best London haunted pub crawl, says RICK HALE
Growing up in a city the size of Chicago, Illinois you quickly learn that there are dozens of bars, clubs and taverns where you can go out on a Saturday night and get a drink.
Most large cities around the world have this going for them, especially a city like London, England.
But one thing that Chicago lacks and London has, a large number of pubs have their very own ghosts.
In central London, there are three drinking establishments that seem to stand out from among the rest. Pubs where the spirits of the spectral variety may just join you as you throw back a pint or two.
126 Newgate Street, London EC1A 7AA
Opened in 1869 at 126 Newgate Street, London, the Viaduct is famous for being the last of London’s great gin palaces. The Viaduct, and the area it’s located at is steeped in London’s sordid history of crime and punishment. The Viaduct is located across the street from the central criminal courts, also known as ‘The Old Bailey’ which is built over the old Newgate prison execution grounds. It’s there that many prisoners breathed their last breath before the hangman’s noose sent them off to their final reward.
Although the Viaduct itself may be well appointed and beautifully decorated, it’s what is located in the basement that seems to attract many of the tavern’s patrons. When you descend the stairs into the basement of the tavern your eyes are met by a disconcerting sight. Sitting along the back wall is what appears to be prison cells. It has been commonly believed that the basement of the tavern was once used as a debtor’s prison. However, due to the lack of grafitti on the cell walls, it’s highly unlikely prisoners were ever held there. Nevertheless, if the basement never housed prisoners, who are the restless souls said to haunt the old gin palace?
Over the years, several staff members brave enough to descend the basement stairs have gained the unwanted attention of the angry spirits that call the basement home. In the late 1990s, a manger took it upon himself to clean out and organize the basement. As he was cleaning the basement door suddenly slammed shut and the lights went out, leaving the manager in the inky darkness all alone. For several minutes he felt his way around the basement desperately searching for his way of escape. When he found the door he pulled on it and it wouldn’t budge. With absolute terror taking over, the manager pounded on the door and screamed for help. Suddenly, the door popped open and his savior, his wife was on the other side. The manager later reported that while he was trying to escape the basement, he was absolutely certain that he was not alone. He felt as if some cruel entity watched in the darkness, mocking him.
Perhaps the most dramatic encounter with spirits of the Viaduct occurred a few years following the manager’s harrowing experience. Two workmen were working on the second floor when they had a frightening experience they would soon not forget. While they were tearing up floorboards one of the workman felt a hand tap him on his shoulder. He turned around to see who it was and no one was there. When it happened a second time, the workman became frustrated and asked if his work mate was playing a prank. Before the second workman could answer, the two men watched in horror as a heavy, rolled up carpet lifted into the air and slammed down causing the room to shake. The workmen quickly left and would not return.
The Viaduct Tavern is a favorite of both locals and tourists alike. Thousands flock to the old gin palace for a drink and if you ask nicely, management may just let you wander down the stairs into the basement. I warn you, bring a flashlight. The spirits like playing games with the unwitting patron in the dark.
18 Wilton Row, Belgrave Square, London SW1X 7NR
Tucked away down a street called Wilton Row in Belgravia is the
Grenadier a public house that is considered to be one of London’s most notorious haunts. Built in 1720, the present day Grenadier was the officer’s mess hall for the 1st regiment of Foot Guards. And it’s haunted history can be traced directly to it’s military origins and a the brutal beating resulting in the death of a young officer.
According to legend, a group of senior officers invited a subaltern, junior officer, to join them for a few drinks and a card game. As the night progressed and the drinks liberally poured, the subaltern appeared to be on a lucky streak, winning several hands and taking his superiors for everything they were worth. The young officer’s luck finally ran out when it was discovered that he had been cleverly cheating the entire night. Filled with an uncontrollable rage, the senior officers subjected their subordinate and subjected him to a brutal beating.
And as a result the subaltern perished from his injuries and the senior officers never faced judgement for the cruel act they had committed. Perhaps this is why the junior officer haunts the building to this day.
In 1818, the building was decommissioned by the military and was opened to the people of London as a public house called, The Guardsman. From the very first day, both staff a patron began reporting encounters with activity that could only be be described as otherwordly. Not to mention, frightening as well.
The solemn apparition of a young man dressed in uniform has been seen in the former officer’s mess on the second floor. The lonely young specter is believed to be the subaltern who met his fate after enduring the beating that ended his life. The apparition is said to wander the room with a look of loss on his face.
The apparition of subaltern isn’t the only supernatural activity that happens in the public house. The footsteps of a person in heavy boots can be heard anxiously pacing back and forth on the second floor. A cold chill has been reported blowing through the building even on hot summer days.
And the tables have been felt violently shaking as if a strong person is shaking them. However, the most interesting encounter occurred when a superintendent from New Scotland Yard reported being burned by a phantom cigarette. The man claimed that as he was having a drink he discovered that cigarette smoke enveloped him. When he reached out to touch it, he pulled his hand back in pain claiming he was burned.
Since opening as a public house, the Grenadier has been visited by the nobility and celebrities. As for the identity of the subaltern know one really knows who he was. But, if you should ever visit, and you want to experience the paranormal activity, come in the month of September. The month the young officer was believed to have died in.
58 Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RW
Located directly across from the MI6 building, or British secret services, is our last stop on our haunted London pub crawl, the Morpeth Arms.
Prior to the More than Arms being a drinking establishment, prisoners from nearby Millibank penitentiary were held in the basement awaiting deportation to the penal colony in Australia. During that time conditions were grotesquely unsanitary and an outbreak of scurvy and cholera killed several prisoners as they languished in their subterranean cells. One would think these men who died from these virulent diseases would be the culprits behind the hauntings of this trendy London establishment. They however are not.
The two spirits believed to haunt are not victims of the squalor the inmates were forced to suffer. One spirit frequently encountered is a man who hung himself in his cell while awaiting deportation. And another man who was cut down by prison guards when he made a brazen, and failed, attempt to escape. These two angry spirits are said to stalk the tunnels underneath the Morpeth Arms and if you should wander into the basement, these two spirits make it very clear you are not welcome.
Apart from the angry spirits in the tunnels, patrons have reported having their drinks either slapped from their hands or knocked off the tables by an unseen assailant. And staff have witnessed as bottles of liquor inexplicably launched themselves from behind the bar and shattered against the wall.
Whether you’re hunting ghosts in the subterranean jail cells of the Morpeth Arms. Or your party is covertly looking through binoculars at the MI6 building in the aptly named ‘Spying Room’ a night at this London establishment will not disappoint.
Whether you’re a seasoned ghost hunter or a tourist just passing through, these three famously haunted pubs are worth the visit. So raise your glass and toast the spirits that will haunt these pubs for all time.
Discover other haunted pubs with our 30 haunted London pubs article here on Spooky Isles