My Books



THE POLTERGEIST PRINCE OF LONDON

The Remarkable True Story of the Battersea Poltergeist


(Available in paperback or for the Kindle)

Published by The History Press, 2013, 320pp, illus.

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HAUNTED LONDON

Ghosts and legends of London


(Available in paperback or for the Kindle)

Published by The History Press, 2007, 128pp, illus.

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HAUNTED WANDSWORTH

Ghosts and legends of the London Borough of Wandsworth (covers Balham, Battersea, Putney, Tooting & Wandsworth)


(Available in paperback)

Published by The History Press, 2006, 96pp, illus.

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HAUNTED LAMBETH

Ghosts and legends of the London Borough of Lambeth (covers Brixton, Clapham, North Lambeth, Norwood, Stockwell & Streatham)


(Available in paperback or for the Kindle)

Published by The History Press, 2013, 96pp, illus.

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STRANGE MITCHAM

Ghosts, legends and curiosities of Mitcham in Surrey / south London


(Paperback)



(Kindle)

Published by Shadowtime Publishing, 2nd edition 2011, illus.

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MYSTERIOUS MITCHAM

More ghosts, legends and curiosities of Mitcham in Surrey / south London


(Published online)

Mysterious Mitcham

Online sequel to 'Strange Mitcham'.

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Not tempted by anything above? Okay then, try this:


Blog: Notes from a Weird World

(June/July 2013)

'The Megaliths of Malta: Ggantija'

Ggantija

The temperature has already passed 30 degrees Celsius and now the air throbs with a Babel of languages. Two newly arrived coachloads of sunburnt tourists are following their respective guides along the wooden gangways, one group passing through each of the two entrances.

Among the stones they are urged to huddle together to listen to descriptions of what they are seeing. Some gaze around with merely polite interest. Others are clearly unimpressed, wondering why on earth their guides insisted they stop here when they could still be driving along in air-conditioned comfort. But a few are plainly enthralled, as well they should be: for anyone with a working soul this is an awe-inspiring place.

Ggantija

(Above: Entrances to South [left] and North [right] Temples.)

Malta's prehistoric 'temples' are some of the oldest stone buildings in the world. Although they have been somewhat neglected in the past they now enjoy the protection of UNESCO World Heritage status, and the remains here on the island of Gozo - a short ferry journey from the mainland, followed by a shorter drive through the barren splendour of this small island - constitute perhaps the most impressive of the temple sites.

Ggantija

The temples were built of (often huge) blocks of limestone, and some of the largest surviving megaliths - weighing over 50 tons - can be found here at Ggantija. The name is pronounced 'Jiganteeya'. It means 'gigantic' or 'of the giants', and legend says that these vast stones were placed here by a giantess. She was, so the story says, so strong that she could carry her baby in one arm and a megalith in the other, and she achieved this phenomenal strength through eating broad beans. The tale is a sort of Maltese version of Popeye and his spinach.

Nobody really knows what Malta's temples were originally used for, although there is evidence for ritual activity involving animal sacrifice, and artefacts (such as stone phalluses and statues of figures known as the 'Fat Ladies') found at sites suggest the activities of something like fertility cults. As the Mediterranean heat beats down on you, the explanatory void invites you to pour in whatever your imagination deems appropriate.

Ggantija

(Above: "Altar", South Temple. The discovery of bones suggests that animal sacrifice may have taken place here.)

What is certain is that the temples are staggeringly ancient. The Ggantija site actually consists of two structures: the older and larger South Temple was built in around 3600 BC, and the North Temple dates from around 3200 BC.

A quick mental calculation reveals that this makes some of the structures here a thousand years older than the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt!

It is hard to maintain a sense of personal significance under the weight of all those years. Perhaps it's the effects of dehydration, but if you still your mind and tune out the dwindling grumble of those reluctant, overheated sightseers as they trudge back to their coaches, you can't help a peculiar feeling creeping over you - a sense that these ancient stones, glowing gold in the fierce sunlight, are more alive than some of their visitors could ever comprehend.

Links:

  • See more photos at Flickr


  • Find further information about Ggantija at the excellent Heritage Malta website


  • How to visit details at the Visit Malta website


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    'On the Trail of the Stockwell Ghost' Part 1

    I chanced upon it in March 2009. In the local history section of Lambeth Council's website, towards the bottom of what was described as 'an extract from an article written long ago (source and date unknown) and found on the Vauxhall Society website', I spotted the phrase: '... and this was the place famed for the Stockwell Ghost.'

    (C) Anthony Wallis: www.ant-wallis-illustration.blogspot.co.uk.

    Image copyright: Anthony Wallis

    As far as I'd been aware, nobody knew anymore exactly whereabouts in Stockwell (in south London) the Stockwell Ghost affair had occurred. And even if they did I didn't. Intrigued, I made my way to the Vauxhall Society website [1], where I found the reproduced text of an article 'taken from a newspaper cutting, source and date unknown'. That society had in turn found the article on the London Ancestor website [2], and there the find was described as a '(N)ewspaper cutting, source unknown, 19th - early 20th C.'

    Written by someone styling himself or herself 'Old Mortality', the article in question was titled 'Kennington and Stockwell in the 18th Century'. In it, the anonymous author explained that (s)he was sending to the unknown publication a copy of a mid-18th-century John Rocque map of the area, promising: 'I will endeavour to recall the houses and their inhabitants that I remember during my ambulations of over forty years,' before going on to do just that. It was towards the end of Old Mortality's recollections that I rediscovered that enticing phrase: '... and this was the place famed for the Stockwell Ghost.'

    The Stockwell Ghost affair began on the morning of Monday 6 January 1772. A detailed written account of the happenings (today we would think of them as poltergeist-like phenomena) was made very soon afterwards and signed by the principal witnesses just a few days later, on 11 January. [3]

    In its time, the Stockwell Ghost was almost as celebrated a haunting as the now better-remembered Cock Lane Ghost of 10 years earlier. The Stockwell Ghost affair was usefully summarised a few decades after it happened by the Rev. Daniel Lysons, who recorded:

    The hamlet of Stockwell contains about 100 houses, exclusively of those about Brixton-Causeway, which are not considered a part of it.

    In the year 1772 a singular imposition was practised at the house of a Mrs. Golding at this place, which was reported to be haunted. Great numbers of people of all ranks went to see the feats of this imaginary ghost, who caused the furniture to dance about the rooms in a very surprising manner. A pamphlet was published on the subject, called 'The Stockwell Ghost;' but the imposture was never completely detected: there were various conjectures respecting the author, some suspecting Mrs. Golding's daughter, others a maid-servant. Mrs Golding and her daughter being both dead, there was an auction at the house about the year 1790, when the dancing furniture sold at very extravagant prices. [4]

    It seems that those who suspected Mrs. Golding's maid-servant were correct. The devious young woman's name was Ann Robinson, she was around 20 years old, and she had been living with Mrs Golding for just one week and three days when plates in the back kitchen supposedly began to fall from the shelf. They smashed on the floor, becoming the first of many objects to be broken during that and the following day.

    Charles Mackay, in his marvellous Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, writes that a 'long time afterwards', Ann Robinson 'confessed the whole matter to the Reverend Mr. Brayfield. ... (She), it appears, was anxious to have a clear house, to carry on an intrigue with her lover, and resorted to this trick to effect her purpose. She placed the china on the shelves in such a manner that it fell on the slightest motion, and attached horse-hairs to other articles, so that she could jerk them down from an adjoining room without being perceived by any one. She was exceedingly dexterous at this sort of work, and would have proved a formidable rival to many a juggler by profession.' [5]

    (Sometimes, the paranormal explanation is almost easier to believe than the alternative!)

    By the beginning of 2012, I was pretty well-acquainted with the story of the Stockwell Ghost because I had just included a summary of these events in a book I was writing about ghost stories and legends of the London Borough of Lambeth (Haunted Lambeth, The History Press, 2013).

    Other than the article by Old Mortality, however, I had come across no clue as to whereabouts in Stockwell the events had taken place. My best guess was that Mrs Golding's house had probably stood somewhere around Stockwell Green, simply because this had been the nucleus of the settlement around which the village had grown, but now the anonymous, undated article offered the chance of pinpointing the location.

    So in January 2012 I armed myself with several maps, a printout of OM's article, and some notes I'd made after doing a spot of background research. Wrapping up well against the icy wind, I ventured forth into the hidden depths of south London.

    [Read Part 2]

    References:

    [1] Kennington and Stockwell in the 18th Century on the Vauxhall Society website: accessed 30 January 2012 but no longer current
    [2] Kennington and Stockwell in the 18th Century on the London Ancestor website: accessed 30 January 2012
    [3] Golding, Mary; Pain, John; Pain, Mary; Fowler, Richard; Fowler, Sarah and Martin, Mary: An authentic, candid, and circumstantial narrative of the astonishing transactions at Stockwell, in the county of Surrey, on Monday and Tuesday, the 6th and 7th days of January, 1772, containing a series of the most surprising and unaccountable events that ever happened; which continued from first to last upwards of twenty hours, and at different places, London, 1772
    [4] Lysons, Rev. Daniel: The Environs of London: Being an Historical Account of the Towns, Villages, and Hamlets, Within Twelve Miles of that Capital, Vol. 1 2nd edition, 1811 (1st edition 1791), p.237
    [5] Mackay, Charles: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1980 edn, Three Rivers Press, New York, pp.635-6 (originally published in 1841 as Memoirs of extraordinary popular delusions)

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    'On the Trail of the Stockwell Ghost' Part 2

    (Click here to read Part 1)

    It was quickly apparent that I was not the first to reach this part of the world.

    Climbing down the steps at Brixton train station, I found the area around Electric Avenue pulsing with music, the air warmly vibrant with the aromas of coffee and food. But I was on a quest so, turning my collar up against the chill and pulling my hat down more firmly over my ears, I struck out north towards the junction of Brixton Road and Stockwell Road.

    'Entering Stockwell-road from the Brixton-road,' had written 'Old Mortality' (henceforth OM), 'on the left were two large mansions standing in their own grounds'. One of these had apparently been occupied by a Mr Silva in 1869 (the most recent date given in the article). Today, there were shops and - to my right as I walked along Stockwell Road - the famous Brixton Academy, but no sign of any mansions.

    Nevertheless, I felt I was on the right track and so I continued, heading north-west as I followed Stockwell Road.

    133 Stockwell RoadReferring back to OM's article, the author was now recalling the 'house and grounds of the eccentric John Angel'. This had apparently been demolished some years before OM had put pen to paper and so the mention would be of little help in itself. However, according to OM the 'next house of note upon the right was the "Old Queen's Head", long since rebuilt, but in my remembrance a comfortable old hostelry'.

    This was useful. The background research I had carried out had revealed that a pub called The Old Queen's Head had until recently stood at No. 133 Stockwell Road. It had been built in the mid-19th century, and although the pub itself was now deceased I quickly saw that the building remained. It matched an old photograph I had seen of The Old Queen's Head [1], although a new restaurant/night club - La Barca now occupied what had once been the bar. (See photograph above.)

    Continuing to recollect his or her way north along Stockwell Road, OM referred to 'Bryan Barrett's house, which ... had in 1861 long disappeared; the old house, Ducarel mentions, having had a moat some thirty or forty feet wide round it; the name is still preserved as Moat-place.' Yes, there it was, just up ahead, an unassuming little road named Moat Place. I was definitely closing in.

    Moat Place

    (Above: The moat that once surrounded Bryan Barrett's house is remembered in this street name.)

    OM's next reference was to 'Fern Lodge, the residence in 1862 of Carl Haig, the celebrated artist'. There, OM had 'often waited on a hot summer afternoon in one of the rooms which was panelled and hung with cartoons, the furniture in oak being carved, the floor heavily carpeted, and while waiting and hearing the sheep bleating upon the green (which was at that time open ground), and almost dozing in one of the artist's comfortable old-fashioned arm-chairs, have fancied I was in one of the old German houses that one frequently meets in the German cities'. It sounded lovely, but I could find no sign of Carl Haig's old residence nor hear any sheep bleating in present-day Stockwell. This was a shame because according to OM: 'Next to his house lived a Mr. Cross, and this was the place famed for the Stockwell Ghost.'

    It was somewhere around here, then, but where? Frustratingly, that brief mention was all OM had to say about the Stockwell Ghost before going on to talk about another location: 'Opposite Love-lane stood another old mansion, where at the sale of building materials some years since I noticed a curious marble closet.'

    A marble closet held little interest for me I wanted to find 'Love-lane'. It didn't appear in my London street atlas and it was notably absent from any road signs here. Had the trail gone cold?

    Wait. A 1917 map from Bartholomew's Handy Reference Atlas of London did show a Love Lane, and as I compared this with my modern street atlas I realised that Love Lane had at some point changed its name. The short, narrow (and to be honest less than appealing) road still existed but was now called Stockwell Lane (below).

    Stockwell Lane

    (Above: Stockwell Lane's old name Love-lane had suggested a slightly more attractive location.)

    OM's article was nearly at an end but it had two further clues to offer. The first was a reference to a previously private road that, OM wrote, had become 'Lander-road' and the second was the article's closing entry: 'The "Swan" at Stockwell, rebuilt over forty years ago, and about that time famed for its select whist parties, will conclude my ramble.' Lander-road was presumably related to the nearby road now known as Landor Road, while the Swan was obviously the Swan pub and nightclub standing across from Stockwell underground station at the opposite end of Stockwell Road to where I had started.

    Piecing everything together, I now had a pretty good sense of where the Stockwell Ghost affair had taken place. Mrs Golding's actual house had long gone, of course, but given the clear northward progression of OM's recollections as (s)he proceeded along Stockwell Road, 'the place famed for the Stockwell Ghost' seems to have stood a short distance north of Moat Place and a short distance south of the modern-day Stockwell Lane, probably on the eastern side of Stockwell Road. If so then it would have stood opposite or nearly opposite Stockwell Green.

    Map - location of the Stockwell Ghost

    (Above: Tracking down the Stockwell Ghost (contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2012).)

    Looking north along Stockwell Road

    (Above: Looking north along Stockwell Road from opposite Moat Place. Mrs Golding's house probably stood somewhere ahead and on the right of this picture.)

    Looking south along Stockwell Road

    (Above: Looking south along Stockwell Road from opposite Stockwell Lane (was Love-lane). The house was probably somewhere ahead and on the left of this picture.)

    That placed it pretty much where I'd imagined it to have been in the first place! Still, there's a world of difference between making an educated guess and finding information that supports that guess, so as I look back on my adventure I feel I do know more than I did before I set out.

    One thought still nags at me though. My conclusions are based on details written by an unknown author in an unknown source at an unknown time, and that isn't very comfortable. It would be good to know when and where Old Mortality's article was originally published and if any reader can shed further light on this I would be most interested to hear from you.

    Reference:

    [1] Photograph of The Old Queen's Head pub at the Urban 75 website - accessed 30 January 2012

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    Read more about The Stockwell Ghost in Haunted Lambeth (The History Press, 2013):

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    NOTE: Material above is © James Clark. All rights reserved. Should you wish to refer to material presented here you are most welcome to quote a short excerpt (of no more than one or two paragraphs) provided you give full attribution and supply a link back to this website. Use of longer excerpts will require the author's prior written permission - by all means feel free to ask! But please DO NOT steal my work by copying great chunks and posting them in their entirety without permission. Thank you.