Halloween and London’s spooky streets

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.

 

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Garlic, a ghost, and leathersellers

Garlick Hill cropContinuing on our virtual Moonwalk route, from Poultry it is a short hop to another culinary street or, rather, hill. Garlick Hill, to be precise and yes, indeed, garlic features here – the hill was named for the hythe, or wharf, where shipments of garlic were landed on the Thames.

Or, if you prefer, from the hythe, or hill, at the foot of which garlic was sold in vast quantities. It is not unlikely that enough garlic would have been sold in medieval times to warrant an entire parish being called Garlickhythe.

Seasoning was important both for the rich, who ate lavishly of beef and venison, and for the poor, who had a rather less interesting diet in need of spicing up. Strong spices also played their part on the frequent occasions when meat had begun to spoil before it reached the consumer, a fact that had to be heavily disguised.

Jimmy Garlick Church
The church of St James Garlickhythe

The parish church of St James Garlickhythe had a somewhat chequered career. It was built in 1326, later destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt by Wren. After suffering some damage during the blitz of World War II, it was again restored. In 1984 remains of a 1st-century timber building were discovered near the church.

Through all this, one of the church’s occupants remained virtually unscathed – an unidentified person known as Jimmy Garlick. Jimmy is an almost perfectly mummified corpse, discovered in 1839 when workmen were closing up the old vaults. It is possible that he is (or, rather, was) either Richard Rothing, who built the original church, or one of the six early Lord Mayors of London who were buried there.

In any case, Jimmy Garlick was somewhat unceremoniously relegated to a small closet until his coffin was jolted by a bomb and his spirit began to roam around, frightening the tourists. He was, for a time, rehoused in a glass-fronted coffin in the vestibule of the church and he then ceased his practice of appearing to unwary visitors.

In 2004, Jimmy Garlick featured in a television documentary series that used modern analytical techniques including carbon dating and x-ray analysis. This established that he had died between 1641 and 1801 and that he suffered from osteo-arthritis.

Leathersellers' Hall
An 18th-century engraving of Leathersellers’ Hall

Physical examination by the Discovery team indicated that he appeared to be balding and suffered tooth decay at the time of death, both consistent with an older person. He has now been removed from the public gaze and sits in the church’s tower in a specially made case.

Garlick Hill is also the home of the Leathersellers Company, one of the ancient Livery Companies of the City of London, and ranked fifteenth in the order of precedence. It was founded by royal charter in 1444 with authority to control the sale of leather within the City.