Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Ghost Trains and Ghouls: London's Haunted Underground.

Kevin Hackert, CC BY-NC 2.0
Recently, one of my best friends moved to London and, while I haven't been able to visit and much as I'd like, this means taking the train. I'm one of those people who quite enjoy a nice train ride. Once I've got my ticket, large coffee, and headphones on, with music or a podcast playing, I'm all set. Nothing left to do but watch the world speed past the window and make sure I don't get so distracted that I miss my stop. I find taking the London Underground at night is an interesting experience. When it's busy, it's okay. The need to catch your train, or get to your destination, distracts from your surroundings. But when quiet, the stations and tunnels take on an eerie quality. As you may have guessed, this fascinates me due to my love of all things spooky. Because London has a rich paranormal history, and its public transport isn't excluded from these hauntings. Let me introduce you to five of my favourite haunted Tube stations.

Bank Station
For some, the feeling of dread and sadness they feel at Bank Station is linked to them having to go back to the office after a weekend of rest and relaxation, but for some this might be a sign that they've encountered Sarah Whitehead. In the early 1800s, she lived in London with her brother Philip, who worked as a bank clerk for the Bank of England. Unbeknownst to his sister, Philip had gotten himself into debt through a series of financial misadventures and, desperate to get himself out of trouble, had resorted to forging cheques to bring in some extra cash. These days, if caught, you'd lose your job and spend some time in jail. But it was the 1800's when sentences for even the smallest of crimes was harsh, so when Philip was caught, he was sentenced to death by hanging. Horrifically, nobody told Sarah and, when she discovered the truth, she was driven mad by grief and came to believe that her brother was still alive. Still working at the bank. As a result she would go there daily, asking after him and loitering around outside until the bankers would take pity on her, giving her some money to get her to leave. This went on for decades, and Sarah's delusions and grief only got worse with age. Her demands to see her brother got more aggressive, and because she was used to the bankers giving her money, she now expected it. Death hasn't stopped Sarah from searching for her beloved brother. Dressed in her black dress and mourning veil, she has become the ghostly figure known as the Black Nun and has been seen in and around Bank Station and around the Bank of England. Interestingly, some sightings have also included direct interactions; Sarah has been known to wander up to unsuspecting commuters. She will often ask if they've seen her brother, though she will also ask for money.
Something else that can be experienced in the station is a ghastly smell, like rotting flesh. Allegedly a plague pit was disturbed while building the station. Many believe the unpleasant odour to be a ghostly manifestation of this. As well as the smell, commuters sometimes hear unseen people crying out in fear and pain. This could be linked to a tragedy that took place in WWII. During the Blitz, people would use the stations as makeshift bomb shelters. In January 1941, a German bomb hit the station and exploded. Around 50 people were killed, while many others were injured and trapped in the rubble. The sounds of distress and the terrible smell are possibly remnants of these events, snippets of history replaying themselves.

Holborn Station
A tube station haunted by the ghost of an Egyptian Priestess? Sounds like either a bad horror movie or another Mummy sequel, but the truth is stranger than fiction. This spirit initially haunted the now-closed British Museum Station, which shut in the 1930s. Clearly displeased about being on display in the British Museum and determined to voice their opinion about it, the ghost promptly moved to Holborn Station, where there have been many sightings of this mummified spirit as it stalks the station, moaning and shrieking. It's believed They are the spirit of a Priestess, dedicated to the God Amen-Ra. They've been linked to an artefact on display in the British Museum. This is a beautifully detailed sarcophagus lid of an un-named woman from 950-900 BC. Its original location, the body it contained, and what happened to the rest of the coffin remains unknown; it was donated to the museum from a private collection, and very little information was provided. Thanks to superstition, it has been nicknamed the Unlucky Mummy. It's been blamed for the death of a journalist investigating its history (1907) and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. An urban legend tells us about a secret tunnel leading to the British Museum from somewhere in the station, allowing the ghost to travel between the two. There's no truth to these claims, but they add an exciting element to this ghost story.

Covent Garden
Walking around Covent Garden tube station at night, you might be lucky enough to spot a handsome, well-dressed gentleman in Victorian-era clothing; a grey suit, cane and tophat. You might mistake him for a stray cosplayer if there's a convention on in London or just someone on their way to a fancy dress party, but this is actually the spirit of William Terriss. This actor was famous for the heroic roles he played on the stage but met his tragic end outside of the nearby Adelphi Theater in 1897. He was stabbed to death by out of work actor, and friend, Richard Archer Prince. You'd think he'd haunt the area where he died, and it's said that he does haunt the theatre, but it seems Willam also chose to go back to another place that had happy memories for him. Legend has it that he was very fond of a bakery that used to stand on the site where the station was built. Now, unable to pick up a pack of doughnuts and a coffee on his way home from work, he has taken to haunting the station instead. How do we know it's him? Photographs of him still exist, enabling witnesses to identify him. The last reported sighting of him was in 1972, but I've no doubt there have been some unreported sightings since then by people that never even realised that they were looking at a spirit.
For the morbidly curious among you, Terriss was buried in Brompton Cemetery, and a memorial plaque can be found for him outside of the stage door at the Adelphi Theater.

Liverpool Street
A hub for many of those leaving and arriving in London, Liverpool Street is one of the city's busiest stations. It's also built on the old Bedlam Burial Ground, a mass burial site estimated to have been used from 1569 to around 1738. The site was the resting place of thousands and included a 17th-century plague pit, most of which Archaeologists have excavated.
An unidentified man in white or light grey overalls walks the station. He's been spotted by many witnesses, sometimes in person but occasionally on CCTV. One such sighting was investigated by staff. A Line Controller, who was watching the security cameras, spotted the man wandering around the platform early one morning, at about 2:00am. This was a problem because the station was closed at the time, and the mystery man didn't appear to be a staff member. Concerned that they might have an intruder, the Line Controller quickly told the Station Supervisor, who decided that he would take a look for himself. He arrived at the platform to find it quite empty. The man in white had just vanished.
This has happened many times since, much to the annoyance of the station workers. But whoever this ghost is, he seems harmless enough. It's even possible that he might be waiting for a train, as he only seems to appear on the platform for the central line. Sadly, for the curious among you, you're unlikely to run into this spirit since he only appears when the station is closed. Personally, I'm curious about his identity. Who could he possibly be, and what happened to cause him to haunt the station? Could he have been one of the workers who helped build the place or its tunnels? Maybe one day we'll know for sure.

South Kensington
South Kensington Station doesn't just have a ghost, it has a ghost train. Like something from a gothic horror novel, it chugs slowly into the station as if it intends to stop and pick up passengers. An unknown figure in a peaked cap and coat can be seen clinging to the side of the engine for dear life, as if eager to get off. He doesn't get the chance though, as the train is off again with a shrill whistle, disappearing into the dark tunnel, vanishing without a trace.
This phantom locomotive was first spotted in the 1920s by a commuter waiting for the last train. To them, it wouldn't have seemed all that odd at first. It would have just looked like a typical steam train until it vanished into thin air. To add to the mystery, the train itself doesn't exist; there was no record of its name/serial number. And, even if there had been, it shouldn't have been there at that time. Whatever is going on here, it's not a regular occurrence, though there is an unsubstantiated report of another sighting in 2013. 

Photo by Joshua Brown, CC BY-SA 2.0

Disappointingly, I've never experienced anything paranormal on the London Underground. I'd love to though. These are just five of the ghosts that haunt the tubes, there are so many more, some more frightening than others. Who knows, maybe one day I'll witness something and, when I do, you'll be the first people to know about it. Have any of you guys seen anything paranormal at one of London's train stations? If you feel like sharing the story, please do! You can share your story in the comments box below or tag me in a Tweet on Twitter.


  1. I love this! I lived in London for many years (my family are from there) and often thought about the spooky tales on the tube as I went to work, etc. I kind of miss being there -- thanks for sharing these!

  2. Okay! I have got to check these places out!