How can I resist the opportunity to look at a couple of London’s ghostly streets on Halloween?
Let’s start with Cock Lane, which probably takes its name from having been a breeding ground for cocks – cock fighting having been a highly popular sport in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The lane was the scene, in 1762, of one of the great faked supernatural manifestations, now known as the Cock Lane ghost and used generically for ghost stories with no basis in fact.
A man called Parsons owned a house in Cock Lane and took in lodgers; among these lodgers was a couple, William Kent and his sister-in-law Fanny, whose sister Elizabeth had died in childbirth. Fanny had moved in with Kent to look after the child (who also died soon after), and the two began a relationship. Fanny became pregnant and later died, apparently of smallpox.
Parsons’ 11-year-old daughter began to talk of knocking and scratching noises and visitations from a beautiful lady who spoke to her of having been murdered. Various learned men of the day, including Dr Johnson, visited the Parsons household to investigate the phenomenon of ‘Scratching Fanny’ – so named because of the noises that the ghost supposedly made.
Eventually someone discovered that the noises were made by the Parsons girl who had a board hidden under her bed. Parsons was accused of putting her up to the trickery, in the hopes of blackmailing Kent, and was pilloried.
In addition to the ghost, another of the lane’s claims to fame was that the Great Fire of London finally halted at the intersection of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street.
Garlick Hill, which was named for the hythe, or wharf, where shipments of garlic were landed on the Thames, also had a ghost. The parish church of St James Garlickhythe was built in 1326, later destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt by Wren. In 1839, when workmen were closing up the old vaults, a perfectly mummified corpse was discovered, and was given the name of Jimmy Garlick.
Jimmy was somewhat unceremoniously relegated to a small closet until his coffin was jolted by a bomb during the Second World War and he was put on display in a glass-fronted coffin. During this time his spirit wandered the church, frightening locals and tourists alike.
Eventually Jimmy’s body was shown the respect it deserved; he was rehoused to a non-viewable coffin away from the public gaze and he ceased his practice of appearing to unwary visitors.