On the steps of St. Paul's with Michelle Harrison
A few weeks ago I was invited by Simon & Schuster to go on a ghost walk with Michelle Harrison to celebrate the publication of her debut YA novel Unrest. Unrest is a fabulous creepy ghost story so although it isn't set in London this was a perfect way to celebrate and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it might have given Michelle some ideas for writing a sequel! If you haven't read Unrest yet it's a book I'd highly recommend, you can read my review here or read an extract of the first chapter here.
St. Paul's Cathedral
Sammee, Carly and I met up early before the ghost walk and spent the afternoon together chatting & eating cake. I think we'd got a little bit high on caffeine by the time we left to meet everyone at St. Paul's Cathedral as you can probably tell by the pictures!
We met up with everyone on the steps of St. Paul's and it was lovely to have a chance to catch up with Liz, Kat & Catherine. I had met Michelle Harrison before but it was a long time ago so it was great to talk to her about Unrest and what she has planned for the future. Of course typically for the British weather as soon as we met up for the walk the wind picked up and the rain started but thankfully it wasn't too heavy! We were introduced to our tour guide Adrian and it was time to get started. I took a lot of notes while we were walking around but any errors in the following are all mine!
Our first stop was Christ Church Greyfriars which was originally built in 1225, rebuilt in the 1300's and for a third time after being destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Only the tower survived the Blitz in WWII and remains today. A well connected monastery in it's early years several queens were said to have been buried there including Queen Isabella (also known as the She-wolf of France). Queen Isabella's ghost was said to haunt the site along with the ghost of Lady Agnes, both ghosts were regularly spotted by people until one night when a night guard said he saw them both together for the first time. Apparently the two ghosts got into quite a fight and neither of them have been seen since (we laughed a lot thinking of the ghosts having a bitch fight - can't you just picture them pulling each others hair and scratching at each other?).
Next we made our way to Amen Court where you can see the last remaining part of Newgate Prison (that is the wall that you can see in the background if you look through the archway in the pics of the above slide show). The prison was built in the 12th century and although it was rebuilt several times it was in use until it was finally demolished in 1902. Privately run the prison was well known for it's poor living conditions and for not providing proper food for the inmates. Although family usually brought food for the inmates during the Great Famine in the 1300's a lot of the prisoners starved to death. In desperation the prisoners killed a wealthy, overweight scholar who had been jailed with them and proceeded to cook and eat him! After his death a ferocious black dog appeared and savaged all of the cannibal prisoners. Some of them died of fright, others caused a riot and prison breakouts but the dog tracked them all down even after they had escaped and killed them. The dog continued to appear inside the prison the night before anyone in Newgate died and became known as a harbinger of death.
One of the famous prisoners executed at Newgate Prison was Amelia Dyer (the baby killer of Reading) who pleaded guilty to the murder of one baby but was suspected of killing anywhere between two and four hundred! She is still thought to be the most prolific murderers ever and if you look into her crimes it'll send a shiver down your spine. I recognised her name because Mary Hooper had mentioned her as the inspiration for the baby farms she touches on in her book Fallen Grace (a fantastic book that you need to pick up if you haven't already got it - you can read my review here).
The Old Bailey
Next was a quick stop at the Old Bailey which was built on part of the site that used to be Newgate Prison. Can you believe that the last trial for witchcraft in England was in 1944? Apparently Winston Churchill actually wrote a letter of complaint about the fact they were trying her under a law created in 1735 but the woman was still convicted and ended up spending 9 months in jail (better than being burnt at the stake I guess but still crazy to think that was less than 70 years ago!).The reason she was put on trial in the first place was because she could talk to ghosts - they were worried that the spirits would be able to tell her war secrets and she could be a secret spy for the enemy. Even funnier was the fact that her defence wanted to hold a seance so that the ghosts she talked to could testify on her behalf! The jury wouldn't allow it though. The picture below is a statue of the Lady Justice that is found on top of the Old Bailey. She holds the scales of truth and fairness in one hand and the double edged sword of reason and justice in the other.
After the Old Bailey we walked across the road to the Church of St. Sepulchre-without-NewgateHospitaller. It is also the burial place for Captain John Smith, the founder of Virginia who was an associate of Pocahontas. It is probably most well known for being the home of the Execution Bell though. The bell was donated to the church by Robert Dowe along with a large sum of money back in 1605. In order to keep the money the vicar was asked to ring the Execution Bell outside Newgate Prison the night before any of the prisoners were executed. The bell was to be rung 12 times as the following poem was read out:
All you that in the condemned hole do lie
Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die
Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear
Examine well yourselves, in time repent
That you may not to eternal flames be sent
And when St. Sepulchre's bell tomorrow tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your souls
Past twelve o'clock!
What a nice and cheery poem for the criminals waiting to die! If any of you have read Andrew Hammond's debut novel The Gallows Curse (the first book in his C.R.Y.P.T series) you'll recognise that the Execution Bell, Newgate Prison and the gallows there all have a quite major role in the story. If you haven't read it yet then it's a book I'd definitely recommend if you're looking for a super scary and gruesome read (you can read my review here).
Our next stop was Pye Corner and Cock Lane which was the last place that the Great Fire of London reached. The guide told us a story of how a family from Cock Lane made up a ghost story and accused a neighbour of murdering his wife. The story was picked up by national newspapers and hundreds of people visited the area and even paid to go into their house to investigate the ghost. Eventually it was proved that the young daughter was faking the noises that were supposed to be made by the ghost but she had been put up to it by her father. The father was found guilty and put in the stocks but instead of having things thrown at him by the locals they actually protected him because they'd earned so much money from the visitors the events had brought to the area!
We walked around the edge of St Bartholomew's Hospital, it is the oldest hospital in London and has London's only remaining statue of Henry VIII over the archway entrance. You can also see the shrapnel damage to the walls from WWII. St Bart's is supposed to have two ghosts haunting it. The first is a haunted elevator that staff call the coffin lift. It was built in the middle of an existing staircase in the 1920's and used to take bodies down to the hospital mortuary. Now at night the lift will only stop at the basement and when it arrives there the lights will go out and the door won't open. After a few minutes the lift will open but people will rarely get back in it to return to the upper floors. Apparently as you walk up the stairs the lift is supposed to follow you! I don't like lifts at the best of times so the idea of getting into that one freaks me out completely!! Rumour has it that a nurse was killed in the lift by a patient. The second ghost is a nurse who accidentally gave one of her patients an overdose and felt so guilty that she killed herself. She now haunts the ward that she used to work on watching over the doctors and nurses to make sure they don't do the same thing. She is also said to bring dying patients cups of tea and comforting them.
Just in front of the Hospital is the site where West Smithfield Market used to be held. This is also the site where William Wallace was executed (he was hung, drawn and quartered!). They held jousting and archery competitions there along with markets and fairs to celebrate St Bart's day for hundreds of years. The fair started as a 3 day event but ended up lasting for 2 weeks and was a celebration that people travelled from all over Europe to attend. Although the fair had been held for over 650 years it was closed down by the Victorians because they felt it got too rowdy.
Entrance to the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great
We also visited the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great but I have to admit that by that point the rain had started to get the better of me and I stopped taking notes so I can't tell you much about it.
The Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great
We had a really great evening and I found it really interesting hearing more about people and places I've come across before thanks to the books I've read! It was lovely to chat to Michelle Harrison and she very kindly signed our books for us in a nearby pub before it was time for us to make our way home.
I'd like to say a massive thank you to Simon & Schuster for organising the event and inviting me to it. I really enjoyed myself and would definitely recommend doing a ghost walk next time you're in London!
Who was there:
Kat & Catherine - Simon & Schuster
Michelle Harrison - Website
Carly - Writing from the Tub
Liz - My Favourite Books
Sammee - I Want To Read That