Sunday, 4 November 2018

Talks in 2019

I wanted to take a rest from talks for the remainder of the year, as I'm trying to get some writing done and thinking about republishing one or two of my earlier books in revised and updated editions next year, plus, perhaps, work by other authors (non-fiction naturally).

However, the requests for talks keep coming in, so I've arranged a few for the first part of 2019.

On Thursday 31 January there will be a FREE talk starting at 6.30pm about the Folklore of Underground London at Kensington Central Library. Booking through Eventbrite. See here.

Also at Kensington Central Library Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London on Thursday 21 February at 6.30pm. FREE booking through Eventbrite. See here.

Tuesday 9 April a talk on Folklore of Underground England at Kensington Central Library starting at 6.30pm. FREE booking through Eventbrite. See here.

As usual, copies of many of my books will be for sale at these events at reduced prices. I've acquired some of the last copies of Subterranean City, which I'll be selling at these talks until they run out.

I shall be giving a talk about Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley at Treadwells bookshop on 24 January. Details here. Treadwells have sold a large number of copies of the book and have done sterling work in promoting it.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Suffolk and Somerset Folklore

In the summer we camped in Suffolk and visited a few local places of interest. Principal destination on my (Antonine) itinerary was Woolpit, home of the famous Green Children folklore classic. The town sign features them in silhouette and there's a small local museum with information about the history of the village - I imagine most visitors are interested in the Green Children. You can buy a level-headed booklet, which gives a convincing explanation for the mysterious events. One of the leading experts on this subject is John Clark, who has written a number of scholarly articles, see here.

We also visited Woolpit church and were surprised to find an eroded figure of a wodewose in a niche on the south wall close to the altar. More information here. See also my earlier post about the Brede Ogre in East Sussex.

Yesterday returned from a weekend trip to Somerset, staying at beautiful Walnut Tree Farm near the village of Regil. Arriving late at night by  minicab from Bristol Temple Meads I was rather disconcerted to be dropped by the tableau of scarecrows above photographed in daylight the following day.  Scarecrow festivals seem to be increasing in popularity in rural England in recent years.

While staying in a shepherd's hut at the farm I was reading The Stopping Places by Damian Le Bas, a fascinating insight into gypsy life and how it has survived into the twenty-first century. Probably the best book I've read this year - I liked the way that the writing was reigned in when it threatened to get too self-consciously poetic in the way of so many travel books. See here.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Death Line

Death Line was released on Blu-ray a few weeks ago and I finally got round to watching it last night. Many years ago I watched a much-degraded video where the many underground scenes were too murky to see much of the action - that was the only version I had seen up till now.

The new disc is very clear and highlights the impressive long tracking shot where 'The Man's' lair is revealed in all its horror. Interesting to think that this film was released (1972) before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its ilk. Rather than being a monster movie the film elicits some sympathy for the deformed and cannibalistic man trapped in London's underground, mainly through the performance of Hugh Armstrong (there's an interview with him as a bonus).

As ever, I'm always interested in the locations. It soon becomes clear that the film was not made at Russell Square station, where mysterious disappearances take place, but at Aldwych - a prominent sign points to the District Line (see still above) which doesn't connect with Russell Square on the Piccadilly (this must have meant a walk to nearby Temple station).

The exterior of Russell Square was used and many of the interiors (police station, student flat) were filmed at Battersea Arts Centre (an interesting snippet of local information for someone who lived close by). The bookshop and the appealing-looking pub have not been located - the director Gary Sherman thinks that the pub was in Battersea but has since been demolished. The scene inside the pub appears improvised and I later read an interview with Donald Pleasence (who really steals the film despite a short cameo from Christopher Lee) confirming that the dialogue - including British film stalwart Norman Rossington - was totally improvised and they were actually drunk at the time.

Some very thorough location research can be found here. My suspicions that some of the underground scenes were filmed at Bishopsgate Goods Yard in Shoreditch (in recent years an interesting indoor market and now extensively redeveloped) proved well founded. This is the area that stands for Museum station in the film - cut off by a tunnel collapse in the late nineteenth century and now the lair of The Man. See the British Museum Station Spectre posts below for the film's part in subterranean London folklore.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Open House 2018 and Book Sales

A couple of pictures taken at this year's London Open House. The view from the 42nd Floor of The Leadenhall Building, designed by Richard Rogers and with a terrifying express lift ride on the outside of the building - impressive to be looking down on the 'Walkie Talkie'. Also Michael Ayrton's Minotaur (see earlier posts), now installed outside Salter's Hall, which was open (although I had visited it last year) - Clothworker's Hall was spectacular inside with beautiful tapestries old and new and some excellent examples of book bindings, which the company sponsors, see here. Also visited, but not pictured, The Layered Gallery in Percy Street, which was one of the places that makes Open House worthwhile.

The historic London Stone is about to be returned to its most recent site at 111 Cannon Street in this article. John Clark has written extensively on the history and folklore of the stone, for example here.

Also, a friend sent me a photo of a table display at Treadwells, which has been the best shop outlet for Netherwood, having sold over 40 copies so far.  Secret Tunnels has also sold very well there. Now down to under 50 copies for that book, so the price may start increasing.

All books also available on the shop on The Big Cartel here.

Hare & Hawthorn in Hastings has also been selling copies of Accumulator Press books and did very well during Jack in the Green, see here. Some extra copies have now been delivered to the shop. One Netherwood was shoplifted - appropriate perhaps.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Some Suffolk Secret Tunnels

A busy summer school holidays now having finished, I hope to write up some information about a few of the places we visited in England and Wales of relevance to this blog.

Firstly, Lavenham in Suffolk, a very pretty village with a wealth of timber-framed buildings - famous in Folk Horror circles as a location in Witchfinder General see here.

Lavenham appears in Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore and Fact and during our visit I took some photos of some of the buildings mentioned in the text:

'The beautifully preserved medieval wool town of Lavenham in Suffolk includes many half-timbered houses such as the rambling block of buildings in Water Street known as the Priory. Originally the property of the Benedictine Colne Priory at Earls Colne, Essex, the building, which began as a thirteenth-century hall house, has a blocked-up doorway in the cellar leading to a culvert, probably used for the dyeing of wool. According to a local guidebook: 'on the opposite side of this is a corresponding doorway of a subterranean passage leading towards Lady Street (there is authenticated proof of this).' The lavish brochure for the present-day 'boutique accommodation' says 'It is rumoured that there is a secret underground passageway connecting Lavenham Priory to the Swan Hotel, which was built during the Reformation.'

Facing onto Lady Street, The Grove is a timber-framed house with a Georgian front and gardens that stretch back to Barn Street. It was in the gardens that: ' a Roman bath or crypt was discovered and evidence of an underground passage leading from the splendid building on the Barn Street side of the Grove garden towards the Guildhall was also found.' The Guildhall is a sixteenth-century timber-framed building founded by the local wool guild and later used as a bridewell and workhouse; today it is a National Trust property.

On the corner of Water Street and High Street stands the Swan Hotel with the old Wool Hall now incorporated into it. In the fourteenth-century cellars there is said to be a blocked entrance to a passage that runs along under the road.'

Little Hall, Lavenham, is also worth visiting (no secret tunnel) - see here - a 14th century house with plenty of atmosphere, used as a kind of artist's hostel during the middle years of the last century by the Gayer-Anderson brothers who amassed an eclectic collection on antiques, pictures, books and Egyptian artefacts including the famous Bastet Cat Goddess, now in the British Museum.

We also visited Bury St Edmunds, home to one of the 'vanishing fiddler' tales popular in that part of the country.

'In Bury St Edmunds, a number of buildings have been incorporated over the years into the ruins of the great Benedictine abbey, once among the richest in Europe. On Angel Hill, the Angel Inn, now the Angel Hotel - built in 1779 on the site of three adjoining inns, The Angel (build in 1452), The Castle and The White Bear - sits on arched vaults that date back to the thirteenth century.  Tunnels are said to honeycomb Angel Hill and local legend connects them with Maud Carew, a nun alleged to have poisoned Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447), who was arrested on his arrival in Bury St Edmunds on 18 February 1447 and died on 25th of that month. Her ghost, seen as a 'Grey Lady', 'still patrols the buildings, passing in and out of the walls with celebrated abandon.' The legendary tunnels are very likely remnants of the abbey's drainage system. Once more we hear of a bold fiddler being  the only person willing to enter the tunnel under the Angel, being followed on his subterranean journey by a crowd listening to the slowly fading music that suddenly ceases, with no subsequent sign of the fiddler - 'probably he was instantly suffocated by some unwholesome vapours that he there met with.'

Photos above of Lavenham Priory, The Grove and The Guildhall in Lavenham taken by me, Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds (not by me).

Sunday, 5 August 2018

British Museum Station Spectre? Part 3

One morning last week I spent a couple of hours at the Camden Local Studies & Archives Centre looking through the Holborn & City Guardian newspaper for 1933 and 1935. Fortunately, the newspaper came in bound volumes, rather than on microfilm, so it was easier to scan whole pages quite quickly. I was looking for any mention of British Museum station and, in particular, any references to ghost stories - later accounts say that 'shortly' before it closed there were rumours of its being haunted by the ghost of an ancient Egyptian (see posts below). The newspaper included weekly columns devoted to 'unusual' stories and local oddities, but I found only a couple of surprisingly brief pieces that mentioned the station and both were to do with its closure when the expanded Holborn station reopened in September 1933.

I also checked from July, the month in which the film Bulldog Jack was released, up to the end of October 1935 to see if there were any news stories about mysterious disappearances of women in the borough, especially at Holborn station. I found nothing. As noted in the previous post I had already checked digital files of major newspapers and the British Library online newspaper archive, to no avail. One source claims that a newspaper had offered a reward to anyone who would spend the night in the closed station - although it is highly unlikely that the London Passenger Transport Board would have agreed to this arrangement.

However, in my searches I did find a few interesting snippets gleaned from the British Library's online newspaper archive. There were two incidents of suicide at British Museum station, in February 1930 and May 1933 (curiously, not mentioned in the Holborn & City Guardian), both males, a traditional explanation for some hauntings, but not in this instance. After the closure of the station, a young traveller had a disconcerting experience, as reported in the Lancashire Evening Post 22 Sept 1934 p.4:

'Marooned Underground in London: Burnley Student's Ordeal' by 'North Westerner'

'A Burnley young man, while a student in London, had a quite remarkable experience recently through being marooned in a disused station on the underground railway.

The incident occurred soon after the closing of the British Museum station, whereby by some mischance a tube train stopped and swing-gates at the carriage entrance opened. At that moment the Burnley student who had been ready to alight at the next stopping place stepped from the train onto a station pitched almost in inky darkness. Then he had the more horrifying feeling when he heard the gates of the carriage close and the tube train restart. By the light of matches he felt his way towards the station exit to find that it was boarded up.

Minutes that seemed hours passed and the traveller marooned in the tube had, so he said later on, the sickly feeling creeping over him when first one and then other trains swept along. Ultimately, a train stopped and the guard, having received a message about the stranded passenger, alighted to hail the young man and take him aboard.'

In what seems to have been some pre-publicity for Bulldog Jack, a number of newspapers carried reports of the filming at Gaumont-British Lime Grove Studios in Shepherds Bush. According to the Birmingham Daily Gazette 19 Dec 1934: 'They have had to construct in the Gaumont-British studio a replica of a tube station, a tube tunnel, and a tube train. And the station which has been made is one that is no longer in existence. It is the British Museum station, which has been merged with Holborn. The Hastings & St Leonards Observer 29 December 1934 also noted 'The Gaumont-British studio at Shepherd's Bush now has its own 'tube' station - dubbed 'Gaumont Station' another set represents the British Museum', while the Daily Herald 21 December 1934 added 'Shepherd's Bush studio replica of the former British Museum station has been built together with live rail and train', which must have been rather hazardous.

Addendum 07/08/18 Today my nine-year-old son showed me his copy of Horrible Histories: Loathsome London (Scholastic Children's Books, 2005) p.121 which has a cartoon of a terrified man fleeing a male in ancient Egyptian garb who says 'I haunted the British Museum station. Because your trains disturb my mummy. I'm a pharaoh way from home.'

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

British Museum Station Spectre? Part 2

Hopefully, it can now be (at least partially) understood why this widely disseminated and much-elaborated narrative about a reputedly malevolent object displayed in a world-famous museum, has mutated into a ghost story attached to the nearby abandoned underground station. However, while the majority of accounts agree that the ghost is that of an ancient Egyptian, on studying published and online accounts it becomes difficult to determine the exact identity, or gender, of this spirit. The variety of candidates I have discovered so far are listed below, as they have been described:
  • an ancient Egyptian in 'traditional' headdress and loincloth
  • the Egyptian god Amun/Amen-Ra
  • the mummy of Amun/Amen-Ra (presuming a god can be mummified?)
  • the priestess of the cult of Amun/Amen-Ra said to be depicted on the mummy-board in the British Museum
  • the mummy of the priestess of the cult of Amun/Amen-Ra at the BM
  • the priestess Amen-Ra
  • the Princess of Amen-Ra, the Princess Amen-Ra (from the same page of a book on ghosts on the underground)
  • an Egyptian looking for a mummy
A further facet of the underground ghost story is the secret tunnel that supposedly connects the British Museum with the abandoned station of the same name and is traversed by the ghost. The most likely source for this added element is a British film released in 1935 (two years after the station closed) called Bulldog Jack (Dir. Walter Forde, released as Alias Bulldog Drummond in the USA). Older readers will probably remember Captain Hugh "Bulldog' Drummond, often described as a 'gentleman adventurer' perpetually getting into scrapes with foreign spies and damsels in distress, whose roots lay in such popular fictional figures as Sexton Blake and Richard Hannay. In this film Drummond is injured in a sabotaged car and has to be impersonated by the hapless Jack Pennington (Jack Hulbert), who becomes involved in a plot to replace a valuable necklace in the British Museum with a forgery.

A gang led by a villain called Morelle (Ralph Richardson) kidnap the jeweller grandfather of Ann Manders (Fay Wray), who they need to manufacture the worthless copy. Significantly the thieves' hideout is an abandoned underground station named 'Bloomsbury', obviously based on British Museum. To get into the museum at night they make use of a secret tunnel from the station, emerging through a tomb-chest, the lid of which rises up on jacks. This film is mentioned in some of the literature on abandoned stations, but one book mistakenly states that the museum entrance to the tunnel in the film is through the lid of an Egyptian sarcophagus, which swings open, thus evoking once more the Egyptian mummy theme.

To add to the mysterious underground shenanigans, online sources now note: 'It is often said that on the night that this movie opened, two women went missing from Holborn station and never-described marks [?] were found in the British Museum station during the investigation.' I have so far been unable to find any national newspaper article from the mid-1930s referring to 'missing' women at Holborn station or, it has to be added, any mention from the early 1930s papers of the ghost of an 'ancient Egyptian' at British Museum station. There were, however, a number of articles in the national press about the 'Unlucky Mummy' in the museum. I have yet to go through the local newspapers for Camden and Holborn, (which have not been digitised) for this period and these may yield more information.

Another film should also be mentioned with reference to this piece of folklore: Death Line (dir. Gary Sherman, premiered in London in December 1972 -later released in the USA in October 1973 as Raw Meat - to be issued on Blu-ray in August this year) concerned the grisly antics of a cannibal living in abandoned tube tunnels, the last descendent of a group of Victorian railway workers who survived a cave-in when they were tunnelling the tube. He subsists by snatching passengers and railway workers late at night, taking them back to his subterranean lair and devouring them. The only words he can utter are 'Mind the doors'. Much of the underground action takes place in Russell Square and Holborn stations. The plot has possibly influenced an urban legend, reported in Issue 105 of Fortean Times (December 1997) of a race of subterraneans living on a diet of discarded takeaways and careless vagrants.

Plots involving monsters or mutants living in the London underground and preying on commuters also feature in a number of films, including An American Werewolf in London (dir. John Landis, 1981) and Creep (dir.Christopher Smith, 2005). From their spaceship, unearthed during a tube extension at Hobb's Lane underground station, Martians although long dead, are still capable of wreaking havoc in Quatermass and the Pit (dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1967) and in the Patrick Troughton-era Doctor Who episodes The Web of Fear (thought lost, but now mostly recovered and issued on dvd) robot yeti stalk the tube tunnels of central London.

In recent years attention has focussed on Holborn station, presumably as very few people have heard of the abandoned and inaccessible stop nearby. To quote the Daily Mail online once more: 'It has long been rumoured that there is a secret tunnel stretching from Holborn station to the British Museum's famous 'Egyptian Room' - perhaps Amun-Ra has been letting himself loose on the Underground during the small hours.'

Holborn is one of the busiest stations on the tube network, with 63 million passengers using it every year. According to Transport for London: 'The station is too small for current demand, creating crowding and queuing.' Plans are currently underway to substantially increase capacity at Holborn (including a second entrance, eight new escalators and an additional 700 metres of tunnel). Work is intended to begin in 2021, if permission is granted, and also, one imagines if the peripatetic spirit of Amun-Ra will allow it to proceed.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

British Museum Station Spectre? Part 1

I'm aware that I haven't been posting very much recently. I've been kept busy trying to be a publisher having to sell books rather than write them. However, I offer here a much-expanded version of part of the talk I gave at the recent Haunted City conference on one of London's stranger pieces of ghost lore.

The numerous abandoned and disused stations on the London underground network are often known as 'ghost stations' and it is hardly surprising to learn that some of the them are claimed to be haunted, as is also the case with many of the stations still functioning. Perhaps the most well-known of the latter is Covent Garden (on the Piccadilly line), where a number of witnesses have testified to seeing, in various parts of he station, the ghost of the popular actor William Terriss, murdered by a jealous fellow thespian at the stage door of the nearby Adelphi Theatre. The last recorded sighting appears to have been in 1972.

One of the most famous 'ghost stations' was named British Museum, with an entrance building at No.133 High Holborn. It opened on 30 July 1900 on the Central London Railway (today's Central line). In 1907 a new station opened nearby, at the junction of High Holborn and Kingsway, on the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (today's Piccadilly line) called Holborn. As the two stations were so closely situated it was proposed to tunnel a subway between them to facilitate an easy underground interchange, but this was rejected, leaving passengers to walk a couple of hundred yards through the busy streets to change lines. Finally, in 1930 work began on enlarging Holborn to create a combined Central and Piccadilly line station, which opened on 25 September 1933.

Now deemed superfluous, British Musem station closed the same day. The platforms were later dismantled, and the station was abandoned, until finding use as one of the many tube air-raid shelters during the Second World War. By 1989, the street-level former entrance building had been replaced with a post-modern block and the lit and staircase shaft filled with concrete; the only access to the station is now along the tube tunnels. See here.

Of what interest is this to folklorists? Before closure in 1933 there were said to be reports that the station was haunted - these reports have persisted - internet sites claim that it is still haunted - but by what?

According to an article from The Daily Mail online from Halloween 2015: 'Legend has it that the disused station is haunted by the ghost of Amun-ra, an Ancient Egyptian God, dressed in traditional Egyptian loincloth and headdress - and a couple of years after the station's closure, two women vanished from nearby Holborn station, with witnesses claiming they heard ghostly moaning around the time of their disappearance.'

When attempting to unravel this mystery it becomes clear very quickly that the 'haunting' rumour attached to the abandoned station has become inextricably entangled with the more widely disseminated story of the so-called 'Unlucky Mummy' in the collections of the British Museum.

In 1889, Ms Warwick Hunt, on behalf of her brother Arthur F Wheeler, gave the museum a mummy- board, a wooden cover placed over the mummified body, carved and painted to represent the deceased as if they were still alive. Classified as exhibit No.22542 it was believed to date from the 21st dynasty (c.950) and was probably from Thebes. The female depicted on the mummy-board was identified, by Keeper of the Egyptian Rooms Ernest Wallis Budge, as priestess of the cult of Amen-Ra or Amun-Ra, a patron deity of Thebes, fused with the sun god Ra; with Osiris, he is the most widely recorded of the Egyptian gods.

In addition to the standard catalogue information about it on the museum's website, the entry for exhibit 22542 also includes the following:

This object perhaps best known for the strange folkloric history attached to it ... has acquired the popular nickname of the 'Unlucky Mummy', with a reputation for bringing misfortune. None of these stories has any basis in fact, but from time to time the strength of the rumours has led to a flood of enquiries.

The mummy-board is said to have been bought by one of four young English travellers in Egypt during the 1860s or 1870s. Two died or were seriously injured in shooting incidents, and the other two died in poverty within a short time. The mummy-board was passed to the sister of one of the travellers, but as soon as it had entered her house the occupants suffered a series of misfortunes. The celebrated clairvoyant Madame Helena Blavatsky is alleged to have detected an evil influence, ultimately traced to the mummy-board. She urged the owner to dispose of it and in consequence it was presented to the British Museum. The most remarkable story is that the mummy-board was on board the SS Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912, and that its presence caused the ship to collide with an iceberg and sink!'

The Titanic-related element of the story derives from the fact that the campaigning investigative journalist W T Stead was onboard and did not survive the disaster: he had earlier written about the 'Unlucky Mummy' and often mentioned it at dinner engagements. This loose connection somehow led to the belief that the mummy-board itself was being carried on the fateful vessel - the British Museum, in a bid to rid itself of the curse, had decided to sell it to a museum or wealthy collector in the USA. In fact the exhibit only left the museum for the first time to be shown abroad in 1990, and can still be seen in London.

Roger Luckhurst's scholarly investigation The Mummy's Curse: the True History of a Dark Fantasy reveals that the British Museum's 'Unlucky Mummy', which caused death and misfortune to those who came into contact with it, predated the much-publicised curse of King Tutankhamun, said to have been unleashed on the opening of the chamber by Howard Carter in 1922 (although no curse was found inscribed in the tomb). The tales attached to the 'Unlucky Mummy' were first publicised in the summer of 1904 via an article in the Daily Express by a rising young reporter Bertrand Fletcher Robinson - the fact that he died of enteric fever three years later at the age of 37 was said to be attributable to the malign influence of exhibit 22542. Luckhurst offers a detailed history of the mummy's alleged owners and the wide variety of personal disasters that befell them, as well as demonstrating the way in which the tale subsequently grew in the telling and retelling. Books on London ghosts always include a few pages on this chilling story.

Event after the mummy-board entered the collections of the British Museum, tragedy was said to have followed in its wake and the 'curse' also seems to have applied to anyone who photographed or sketched the object. A photographer contracted from the firm of Mansell to photograph the mummy-board met with misfortune that same day. According to Peter Underwood in Haunted London: 'Upon the way home in the train he injured by some unaccountable accident his thumb, and hurt it so badly that he was unable to use the right hand for a long time. When he reached home he found that one of his children had fallen through a glass frame and was suffering from severe shock.' It was claimed (and later refuted by the Museum authorities) that employees who moved or handled the object suffered accidents or died unexpectedly.

Part 2 to follow shortly.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Next Events

The Haunted City conference at Conway Hall on Saturday was extremely successful and I was fortunate to sell a lot of books. Thanks to those who organised it and to all those who came along on a very sunny day.

Also on the way:

24 July Decadent London talk at Kensington Central Library see here.

7 September Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London see here.

There's a fascinating conference organised by the splendidly named Decadence Research Unit on Decadence, Magic(k) and the Occult on 19 and 20 July see here. I'm hoping to attend for at least one of the days.