Ghosts of the London Underground

by JoHarrington

Hauntings on the Tube are hardly surprising. Parts of the London Underground are the oldest in the world; and some passengers never got off.

Dig anywhere in London and you will uncover history. England's capital city dates from at least 43 CE, with scattered Celtic (and pre-Celtic) settlements there long before. A Bronze Age bridge has been found in the vicinity dating from 1500 BCE.

For centuries, people have been living, breathing and burying their dead in this place. Buildings rose, fell and were covered by the ground. Ancient walkways and rivers exist several feet beneath the surface. Plague pits, wells, sewers and dungeons lie forgotten.

So what happens when you carve right through them with tunnels to transport your high-speed trains? The ghosts of the Tube awake.

Haunted London Underground

Some of the ghostly stories from the Tube network are collected here in all of their spine-chilling detail.
Haunted London Underground

Footprints in the Ballast

How many patrolmen and women walk in the darkness between the stations at night? More than are entered on the wage ledger!

Billy McKeown is a patrolman on the London Underground.  At night, when all the trains have parked up and the stations grown silent, it is his job to walk the tracks. 

In the humid darkness, he carries a torch. His keen gaze takes in every detail of the railway lines and the tunnel around him.  Any sign of wear and tear is repaired there and then, or else reported back to headquarters for a team of engineers. 

For four or five hours each night, there is just him, his torch and the buried tunnels far below the city. 

Halfway along, he pauses, sitting down to eat his lunch and drink from his bottle of Coke. It was during one of these breaks when he witnessed and experienced something quite out of the ordinary.

Billy was patrolling the tracks of the Jubilee Line, between Baker Street and St John's Wood, at 2.30am.  In a hollow of the tunnel there was a baffle, aka 'anti-noise', which did precisely what its nickname would suggest. It also made a comfortable makeshift bench for a patrolman at lunch.

With his torch still illuminating the railway lines at his feet, he became aware that the ballast (a powdery dust in the center of the tracks) was being disturbed.  There should have been nothing present to cause that, but as he stared, Billy's confusion turned to shock. 

The shapes forming in the ballast were footprints. Something unseen was walking right in front of him. 

The air was freezing cold.  It should have been a blessed relief in the heat of the tunnel, but Billy wasn't in the frame of mind to be grateful.  He was a long walk from either of the stations before or behind him.  The ghostly footprints were moving into the direction that he had to go!

Billy kept his torchlight trained upon them, until they finally stopped some 10 meters (33ft) ahead.

He had no choice in the matter.  This was his job.  He had to go on, his own footprints mirroring those impossibly in the ballast beneath him.  He never saw what had caused them; and the temperature returned to normal, the second he was past where they stopped.

When he reached the end of his shift at Charing Cross, Billy shared his story with a senior patrolman, Mr Wilson.  His colleague didn't laugh.  He already knew stories just like this and he had the reason why they happened.

There was once another patrolman who walked those tracks. He was killed by a runaway train coming out of Finchley.  He apparently had no idea that he was dead, so continued his own shift each night.

Stephen Smith's Underground London

Billy McKeown's story was told first hand to the author of Underground London.  It was recounted there (pp 280-282) in more detail than I've told above. There are other such tales besides.

Though not nominally a ghost story book, Stephen Smith does explain why so many hauntings may have been attributed to the Tube. 

His journey was to uncover subterranean London, finding all of the rivers, foundations and crypts. Some of these have been disturbed by the railway tunnels snaking through them.

History Channel Documentary: Ghosts of the Underground

This 50 minute documentary tells many of the true life hauntings on the Tube. It includes an interview with Billy McKeown.

London Underground Ghost Stories

Each of the books here have at least one story about real ghosts on the Tube.
Ghost Chronicles 1.Three Men Seeking Monsters: Six Weeks...London Under: The Secret History Bene...

William Terriss: The Covent Garden Station Ghost

The frequent sightings of a murdered actor-manager have earned this area the reputation of being the most haunted of all the Tube's stations.

On December 16th 1897, William Terriss (pictured left) was stabbed to death outside the Adelphi Theatre in London.

He was a major celebrity of his day and the murder commanded many column inches in the newspapers. They told of his plays and his greatness as a ordinary man too.

There were anecdotes about him, like the one told by his leading lady, Ellen Terry. She recalled how he arrived at the theater one day dripping wet. He suffered the jokes of his colleagues ("Is it raining out there, William?") with good humor and laughter.

It was only later on, from a witness, that they learned he had dived into the River Thames to save a drowning child.

As well as being a famous actor, William also owned the Adelphi Theatre. He had sacked a young actor named Richard Prince, who was increasingly sliding into alcoholism. Richard blamed William for his subsequent destitution, so waited for him with a knife.

Jessie Millward, William's actress girlfriend, heard the shouts outside and opened the door of the theater.  William fell against her, mortally wounded, and slumped to the floor. As she leaned over him, desperately trying to save his life, he whispered, "I will come back." And died.

At his trial, Richard was deemed insane and sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, instead of going to the gallows. William's family, friends and fans thought it a travesty of justice, but that should have been the end of the story.

It turned out to be just the beginning.

The Adelphi Theatre is full of stories about sightings of him. For example, actresses occupying Jessie Millward's old dressing room frequently hear two knocks on the door. William was in the habit of hitting it twice with his cane in life, in order to let Jessie know he had arrived. He was still trying to tell her.  Others have seen him standing in the room or else getting into its bed.

Covent Garden Station is the stop for this theater. It was built ten years after William Terriss's murder, occupying the spot of an old bakery, which he frequented. Nevertheless, he's been sighted there more than he ever was in the Adelphi.

Poster Prints of William Terriss

Buy a photograph of the most famous Victorian actor and modern-day ghost in Britain.
Photographic Print of William Terriss...1887 Photogravure Romeo Juliet Shakes...William Terriss,1847-1897,William Cha...

During Christmas week 1955, Jack Hayden was the station foreman. At half past midnight, he was filling in a log book in the staff mess room, when the door rattled.

Jack turned around to see a man with a sad expression peering through the glass at him. The gentleman was dressed in old-fashioned, but well tailored clothing dating from half a century before. Jack naturally assumed he was a passenger in fancy dress.

"I think you're lost."  Jack told him. "Go up the stairs."  But the figure didn't move.  "Ok, I'll show you the way."  Jack closed his log book and walked across to the door.  As soon as it was opened, the man disappeared into thin air right in front of Jack's eyes.

This was not an isolated incident. The very next day, a porter named Victor Locker spotted the same tall man standing behind Jack Hayden in the station's main office. It frightened Victor enough that he immediately resigned his position and never returned to Covent Garden again.

Jack was to see the ghost many more times during the next two years, before his promotion and transfer to another station. He nick-named him 'Charlie'.

They weren't the only people to see 'Charlie'. All over the station, reports were starting to reach the desk of station-master Mr A Jones. 

A foreman from Leicester Square Station, named Eric Davey, was brought in, mostly because he was also an amateur spiritualist. He, in turn, invited an artist to come and speak with eye-witnesses and to create a sketch based on their identical descriptions of the ghost.

Once this was sent to Psychic News, reporters there had a photograph to show the station staff. Mindful of the Adelphi ghost, they had recognized the man in the sketch immediately.  It was William Terriss! 

As soon as Jack Hayden and Victor Locker saw the image of the actor, they both seized upon it.  "That's him! That's him! That's the man I saw in here!" Jack exclaimed, while Victor just looked terrified. Thus the Covent Garden Station ghost was identified.

William Terriss has been seen many, many more times since.  Staff and commuters alike have spotted the tall actor, dressed in clothes which suggest he was ready to see a play.  He has appeared on CCTV cameras watching the platforms, or been passed on the spiral staircase. He has even walked into a crowded cafeteria through a locked door.

It seems that his pledge to Jessie ("I will come back.") has been well and truly kept.

Books About the Ghosts of London

Buy these books for spooky tales from all around England's capital city and its sprawling boroughs.
Walking Haunted London: 25 Original W...Haunted LondonHaunted London: English Ghosts, Legen...

The Plague Ghosts of Bank Station

A foul stench and feelings of unease, hopelessness and fear assault some staff members and commuters here.

When it comes to London history, the Anglican Church of St Mary of Woolnoth is like a time capsule all of its own.

The present building was constructed in 1711.  It replaced another, which had been patched up by Sir Christopher Wren, after it was almost completely destroyed in the great fire of London. That church in its time had replaced an earlier Norman church.

Archaeological records show that even before those three brick churches, there had been a wooden Saxon one.  It had been built on the site of a Roman temple.  Celtic Pagan artifacts have also been found here.

This all suggests that, as a place of religious worship, this spot has been active for over 2000 years.  Each of its six incarnations has seen the dead buried or cremated within its precincts.

In 1665, when the Black Death killed Londoners by the tens of thousands, it became impossible to inter them fast enough. Plague pits were dug on consecrated ground. They facilitated mass burials, then were shoveled over and forgotten.

Until, of course, construction began on the London Underground. Workers encountered one such pit, as they sought to remove the bodies from the crypt under St Mary of Woolnoth.

The church had been destined to be leveled, in order to build Bank Station. Planning permission had been sought and awarded to do just that.  But public outcry stopped them in their tracks.

A compromise was sought. The church would remain, but the station would burrow beneath it. It would slice through those Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Norman foundations; and the bodies would have to go.

Once they uncovered the plague pit, the whole endeavor should have been cancelled. That's what had happened up Muswell Hill. Such graves were too dangerous to be disturbed. It could release the Black Death on Victorian London with catastrophic results. 

But this was Bank Station, so-named because it served the Bank of England. City boys were used to getting their own way and the corporations wanted the convenience of this station. The dead were relocated to a cemetery in Ilford and construction went ahead. It seemed that disaster had been averted.

They hadn't accounted for the spirits of the deceased themselves. From its earliest days, Bank Station has attracted an infrequent smell. No-one can locate the source and it is not always there. It has the stench of putrification.

In addition, there is the clairsentience of the place. Many a psychic has refused to venture down there. Many an ordinary Underground worker or Tube passenger has suddenly been overcome by feelings of utter grief and despair.

No-one has actually ever seen the plague victims, but there is a tacit understanding that they are haunting the platforms. 

They aren't alone. 

Clearly seen by many witnesses is the ghost of Sarah Whitehead there. Dressed in mourning clothes dating from 1811, she wanders through the corridors of Bank Station sobbing for her executed brother.  Philip Whitehead was hanged for forgery; a crime committed while working as a clerk for the Bank of England.

Books About the London Underground

Learn more about the Tube and its stations by delving into one of these books.
Why Do Shepherds Need a Bush?: London...London Underground: Architecture, Des...London's Underground (11th edition)

Hauntings on the Tube

There are so many stories and legends connected with London's underground railway system that it would be impossible to chronicle them all here.

I hope that you've enjoyed the tales that I did recount.  If you have one of your own, then I would love to hear all about it in the comments.

Haunted London on eBay

More Spooky Tales on Wizzley

Are there Hungry Fields in Ireland waiting to trap unwary walkers? And if so, what ghosts lurk within? True Irish hauntings as recounted to me.
An aggressive ghost attacked a family and visitors to a home in Atchinson, Kansas. No-one can live there now.
Haunted Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, England, was the seat of the Vernon Family. Are some of them trapped there still?
For nearly 1000 years people have lived in the Tower of London. Many were tortured and killed there. Things like that leave their mark.
Updated: 10/11/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 04/02/2013

That's funny! Kathleen Duffy and I were saying yesterday that the footsteps one was the most creepy. I think it's because your imagination has to fit so much of the pieces together, plus he was in no position to run away.

Jenny on 04/02/2013

Scary! The footprints one is going to give me nightmares!

JoHarrington on 07/12/2012

Nor me either! That one had me with the hairs up all over my arms!

Ragtimelil on 07/12/2012

Yep. That did it for me. Remind me never to take that job!

JoHarrington on 07/06/2012

Thank you very much, Jasmine! Was it the footprints one that raised the goosebumps on your arms? It certainly made me stare long and hard into space.

Jasmine on 07/06/2012

Awesome wizz! I love reading about haunted places :) You certainly have a way of writing to get people interested in reading more. Well done!

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