Category Archives: United Kingdom

Ghosts by Gaslight: Haunted London Tour

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In a Halloween special, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit the haunted side of London to tell an eerie tale of ghosts, spirits and strange phenomena

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Palace executions, great fires, the plague, barroom brawls, gruesome murders, beheadings and suicides; death looms large over the grey cheerless skies of London. With cobblestones steeped in blood, ghosts walk the streets as macabre stories of serial killers like Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd reinforce London’s notoriety as the most haunted city in the world.

A good place to start is the London Dungeon. After 40 long years beneath the arches on Tooley Street, it has recently moved to South Bank between Big Ben and London Eye offering 18 new shows, 20 live actors and a 90-minute journey through a thousand years of London’s murky past – plague-ravaged houses, torture chambers, a traitor’s boat journey and a drop ride to doom.

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London Bridge, the city’s iconic monument, hides many terrible secrets as well. During Tudor times, heads of traitors, criminals and recently executed prisoners were displayed on spikes along the bridge. London Bridge Experience and London Tombs tour, voted UK’s ‘best year-round scare attraction’ for 4 years (2009-12) will scare you with its real characters, special effects and computer-generated images. The recent discovery of a Plague Pit full of skeletons has let restless spirits on the loose…

Nearby, the Tower of London, used as a royal residence, armoury, treasury, menagerie, public records office and home of the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels, was also a notorious prison between 1100 and 1952. Prisoners were brought by barge along the Thames and passed under London Bridge, lined with decapitated heads before entering the Tower by Traitors’ Gate. The ghost of Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for treason against Henry VIII, haunts the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains), where she lies buried. She has been spotted walking around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm. Besides ghosts of Henry VI, Queen Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole, Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh, other apparitions like bears, strange lights and the White Lady, have also been reported.

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Summarizing the fate of those buried in the chapel, historian Thomas Macaulay says in his 1848 History of England, “In truth there is no sadder spot on earth than that little cemetery. Death is there associated, not with genius and virtue, with public veneration and imperishable renown; but with whatever is darkest in human nature and in human destiny, with the savage triumph of implacable enemies, with the inconstancy, the ingratitude, the cowardice of friends, with all the miseries of fallen greatness and of blighted fame.”

Even the London Underground has its share of commuters from the Underworld. At Farringdon station people often hear the Screaming Spectre, the ghost of a 13-year-old trainee hat-maker murdered in 1758. At Bank, the Black Nun still looks for her banker brother executed for forgery in 1811. The ghost of actor William Terriss, who was stabbed in 1897, is often sighted at Covent Garden station.

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However, London’s biggest sensation was the unsolved murders of a dozen women between 1888 and 1891. A walking tour of Whitechapel retraces the footsteps of Jack the Ripper’s victims at locations where their mutilated bodies were found. To relive London’s horrors, take a Ghost Bus Tour or a ‘Ghosts by Gaslight’ Walk run by London Walks and Big Bus Tours.

We follow our guide Mike to Oceanic House No.1 A, headquarters of the White Star Line company. In 1912, people queued to buy tickets for the ill-fated Titanic, not knowing they were going to their deaths. Interestingly, 14 years earlier, Morgan Robertson published a book called ‘Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan’ about an unsinkable ship that sank at the same spot, on the same date, with almost the same number of casualties – 1500. What’s eerie is that like real life, in the book too, deaths were high because there weren’t enough lifeboats!

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Even Coutts, Bank of the Queen, one of the oldest in the world, was not untouched by strange occurrences. In the 1990s, bank staff complained that doors slammed of their own accord, lights randomly went on and off as a shadow was seen moving through the rooms – a man in Elizabethan clothing, but with no head! The management called in Eddie Burks, a notable spook who dealt in other worldly things. He divined that the bank was located at the site of a gruesome beheading. The spirit belonged to Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, who wanted to marry Mary Queen of Scots, thus earning the queen’s wrath. His head was chopped off in 1572 at this spot with a rusty axe, leading to a horrible death. On 15 November 1993, a church service was held to lay his soul to rest.

We move to the stage door of Adelphi Theatre, where stage actor William Terriss was murdered. The charismatic Victorian age star, famous for his play Secret Service, always helped new talent and struggling actors. One such man was Richard Prince. Being an alcoholic, Prince squandered away his chances and became highly erratic. One night, Terriss and Prince had an argument in the dressing room of the theatre and when he stepped out, the deranged Prince stabbed Terriss, who died in the arms of his fiancée Jessie Millward. His last words, made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger, were ‘I’ll be back’. And he was! Ladies in the female dressing room would often hear the trademark ‘knock knock knock’ of William Terriss on the door. His ghost was also seen at Covent Garden at the site of his favourite bakery. In 1925, an American tourist saw the ghost until it ‘burst like a bubble’.

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There are many haunted hotels in London, but none as enigmatic as The Savoy. Started in 1889, there’s a sinister story behind its feline mascot and cat-shaped topiaries. Just 9 years after it opened, John Wolfe a South African diamond merchant in London on business was having dinner with twelve people at the restaurant. When he got up, people tried to stop him, as it was ill omen to be the first to leave a group of thirteen, lest some misfortune befall him. Wolfe scoffed at the silly superstition and walked off.

Two weeks later, he was found dead in Johannesburg with a bullet wound to the head. The management of Savoy Hotel was so disturbed by the event that whenever a group of thirteen came to dine at the hotel, they put a fourteenth chair. A 3 ft wooden cat called Kaspar (Casper) would be brought out and served a bowl of milk. Casper has since become a Savoy legend. Winston Churchill was such a big fan, that he always went with an entourage of 12 people, so that Casper would be brought out every time.

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Ye Olde Cock Tavern is peculiar on many counts. Started in 1549, it has the narrowest frontage of any pub in London. It was a watering hole for eminent writers such as Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, Dr Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and Lord Alfred Tennyson. And, it has a literary ghost!

Once, a girl who worked in the pub opened the back door and screamed when she saw a grinning, disembodied head floating in mid air. As she was taken inside and revived with smelling salts, her eyes fell on a portrait and she screamed again. It was writer Oliver Goldsmith, buried outside the pub in Temple Church, exactly below where she encountered the apparition.

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The Knights Templar built Temple Church between Fleet Street and the River Thames as their English headquarters in late-12th-century. Discipline was harsh in the old days with disobedient knights whipped publicly, made to fast and scourged by the officiating priest. A small set of stairs led to a prison cell for solitary confinement. The penitentiary was only 4½ feet long and 2½ feet wide, so cramped that it was impossible for an adult to lie down. Brother Walter le Bacheler, Knight and Grand Preceptor of Ireland, was starved to death here for disobeying the Master of the Temple. The unique round church with effigies of knights and medieval gargoyles features in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

We stumble out and walk towards Hen & Chicken Court, a narrow alleyway at the corner of Fetter Lane. It was here at 186 Fleet Street, next door to St Dunstan’s Church that Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street, ran his dreaded barbershop. Using a trapdoor, he deposited his clients in an underground chamber, where he slit their throats and robbed their valuables while his accomplice Margery Lovett used their meat for her infamous pies! Sweeney murdered over 150 customers, making him the number one serial killer in British history. Nearby, the Royal Courts of Justice, where one can watch a trial when the court is in session, is lit up in a ghostly pallor. The night is dark and full of terrors…

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FACT FILE
Getting there: London’s Heathrow airport is about a 12 hr hopping flight from India via Doha, Kuwait or Bahrain. The Tower Bridge and London Dungeon are popular all year round but have special attractions during Halloween.
Ghost Walks: Usually held after sundown, the walks last 2 hrs and cost around £7-10 per person. Ghost book author Richard Jones is an authority on London’s haunted sites and conducts walks with inimitable storytelling style. London Walks offer Ghost Walks and a Jack the Ripper tour. www.walks.com. London Ghost Bus Tour does a theatrical sightseeing tour of haunted London with comedy horror theatre aboard a classic 1960s Routemaster bus (£21). www.theghostbustours.com. The price of a Big Bus Tour ticket includes one local walk.
For more info, www.visitbritain.com
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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as a Halloween special on 2 November 2014 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald.
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Mind the Map: Art of the London Underground

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As the London Underground celebrates 150 years in January 2013, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY ride the Tube to showcase the art and design behind its stations

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The London Underground carries 4 million passengers every day across its 12 odd lines. But like the Mumbai local, few have the time to pause and think about the city’s legendary carrier. Smart-dressed teens glued to their smartphones, women with bursting shopping bags from Primark, sombre office-goers in grey business suits engrossed in the Evening Standard, pickled men returning home late, nervous tourists poring over a map of the Tube or buskers in tunnels looking for a penny, the story of London’s Underground is somewhat lost in the babble of Dutch, French, German, Russian, Italian, Egyptian, Cantonese, Arabic, Irish and a myriad tongues that constitute London’s terra lingua.

It’s only when you slow down a bit, that you notice the nuances of the London Underground and just how seriously it takes itself. At Baker’s Street station, the tiles bear the familiar deerstalker cap and pipe outline of the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. Etched on the platform walls are black and white illustrations of some of his famous cases – The Lion’s Mane, The Red Headed League, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Solitary Cyclist.

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At South Kensington station on the Picadilly Line, the designs are based on the architectural detail of Natural History Museum nearby. Tottenham Court Road has funky digital mosaic tile-art by Italian artist E Paolozzi, done in 1984. Gloucester Road on the District Line has colourful graphics of the famous Big Ben dial by artist Sarah Morris.

On the Northern Line platforms of Charing Cross are evocative 350 ft long black and white murals showing medieval workers building the original Charing Cross erected by King Edward I when his wife Queen Eleanor of Castile died in 1290. Twelve Eleanor Crosses were erected at places where her body rested between Lincoln and Westminster Abbey. The name Charing is perhaps a corruption of Chere reine or ‘Dear Queen’ in French. All the 12 original crosses were demolished but just outside the station stands a replica created by Barry and Earp with 8 standing, crowned statues of Eleanor marking the slender, delicately carved monument.

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David Gentleman, famous for designing British postage stamps, carried out extensive research into 13th century engraving techniques, before designing 50 separate wooden blocks for Charing Cross station. Each block measured just 4 inches and was enlarged into 6 feet high prints impregnated on panels in such a way that the visual story was broken by the gaps for entrance and exit passageways. Such fascination with the Underground and meticulous approach is not new.   

Though the St Pancras station was designed like a 13th-century cloth hall in Ypres and the Liverpool Street station resembled the floor plan of a Gothic cathedral (in place of the altar was the canteen!), the Tube’s designs were quite modern with a timeless appeal.

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When the first Underground link, the Metropolitan Line from Paddington to Farringdon opened on 9 January 1863, nearly 40,000 people used it on the first day. The white glazed tiles used in the early Tube stations had a dual benefit – they increased illumination and were quite easy to clean in the sooty smog of Victorian London. The idea of using coloured tiles was filched from the New York subway and not surprisingly the person behind it was a Yankee crook!

After being chased out of Chicago for corruption, Charles Yerkes raised money through American syndicates to finance the expansion of the Tube. Not only did he electrify and beautify it, he introduced sliding doors and hanging straps. Yerkes also commissioned local companies to make the famous 9 by 3 inch coloured tiles in green and cream. The Underground also toyed with other hues – Caledonian Road station had tiles in three shades of plum; Hyde Park Corner was brown with pale yellow details while Kensington Road had gold and dark blue.

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In the Edwardian era, 40 new stations were built in 1906-07 as per a standard design, with ox-blood, glazed-brick exteriors on steel frames. But it was a few administrative geniuses, free-spirited architects and designers who made the Underground truly iconic. In 1912, a commercial manager named Frank Pick encouraged artists and printers to give an Art and Craft look to modern technology, termed ‘medieval modernism’, which gave birth to the distinctive Tube posters.

A year later, Pick commissioned expert calligrapher Edward Johnston to design the Tube font, now known as Underground Sans. Johnston copyrighted his font for the exclusive use of the Underground Group and also designed the now famous Underground bullseye or roundel sign in 1925. Befittingly, Britain’s first Manhattan style skyscraper was the Underground headquarters over St James’s Park station, based on designs by Charles Holden in 1926, who also conceived the modernist stations on the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s. But the best was yet to come…

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In 1931 Harry Beck in his spare time scribbled a rail grid that was geographically not to scale but really simplified and aesthetic. When he offered his version of the Tube map to the Underground’s publicity department, the management paid him just 10 guineas, sat on it for two years, and finally released it, to popular acclaim!

The Pocket Tube map is updated and reprinted twice a year so a new cover is required each time. As part of Art on the Underground, 15 contemporary artists were commissioned to present their own interpretation and perspective of the world famous map. Jeremy Deller and Paul Ryan featured a portrait of John Hough, the longest serving member of staff with 45 years of service. Dryden Goodwin did 60 portraits of the Jubilee Line staff. Liam Gillick used colorful text to mark the last day that London existed without the Tube network in 1863. Cornelia Parker, Yinka Shonibare, David Shrigley, Emma Kay and most other artists made interesting use of the main colours used to represent the different lines in the Underground.

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Even India left a mark. Gond artist Bhajju Shyam’s painting The King of the Underworld, part of his series called The London Jungle, depicts the Underground as a giant earthworm. Bhajju explains “As per Gond belief, there is another world below this one, which is ruled by the earthworm. I discovered there is such a world in London as well. Although different from the Gond one, in London’s world below the earth, the tube as the earthworm rules it!” Interviews with artists and the meaning behind their artwork are being featured in London Transport Museum’s exhibition ‘Mind the Map: Inspiring Art Design and Cartography.’

The Underground inspires not just artists, but poets too. Sample the poem Swallows by Owen Sheers, part of Poems on the Underground – The Natural World. “The swallows are italic again, cutting their sky-jive, between the telephone wires, flying in crossed lines. Their annual regeneration, so flawless to human eyes, that there is no seam, between parent and child. Just always the swallows, and their script of descenders, dipping their ink to sign their signatures, across the page of the sky.”

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Today, the Tube mania has gone overground with Mind the Gap fridge magnets, London Underground t-shirts, art prints and other souvenirs. Even the Google Doodle celebrated 150 years with the search engine’s name spelt out like different coloured lines on a map of the Tube. So the next time you pore over an Underground map or get on the Tube, remember it’s more than an art movement, it’s art in movement.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 27 Jan 2013 in the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.