London is full of ghosts!

Do you believe in ghosts? Senate House Library’s collections include extensive visual and textual resources pertaining to the paranormal investigations of Harry Price and the psychical research of Eric Dingwall to help you answer that question. Perhaps it is easier to believe in the ghosts of places no longer there, especially when some traces survive. In anticipation of the library’s Autumn event, Voices In The Dark, I am going to highlight just a couple of these London ghosts.

Urban spaces change quickly, building and rebuilding, in a constant process of the new replacing and erasing the old. Of these spaces, disused Tube stations spark our imaginations in particular and a quick search of one of the library’s newspaper databases demonstrates years of articles about the stations, their potential redevelopment and their fan following. Within walking distance of Senate House are two disused stations: the British Museum station and Aldwych station. There are a number of titles from the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature that will allow you to read about the London Underground and its history. (And moving away from this metaphorical use of ‘ghosts’ to the more literal one, a book in the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature discusses ghosts of the spectral type in the Underground).

The Crystal Palace after its move to Sydenham in 1854, Paul Furst, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Public Domain)

The Crystal Palace after its move to Sydenham in 1854, Paul Furst, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Public Domain)

The Crystal Palace, the iron and glass structure moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill in 1854, left several ghosts behind following its destruction by fire in 1936. The most obvious remnant is the name of the area in South London that has survived even in the absence of the Crystal Palace itself. The size and location of the structure is clear to see in Crystal Palace Park, with the parade and terraces still there. The palace itself was so hugely popular that the Crystal Palace and South London Junction railway was built in 1860 to carry visitors from Nunhead to the Crystal Palace High Level station. That line no longer exists, but a ghostly trail of it has survived in the form of Brenchley Gardens, a long, thin park that follows the railway’s track bed through parts of East Dulwich and Nunhead.

One last ghost of Crystal Palace is the Crystal Palace subway, a subway built in 1865 to connect the Crystal Palace High Level station to the Crystal Palace. In the absence of the station and the palace, the subway’s role has varied over the years and the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway are now working toward making the striking space open for more people to see.

Some London ghosts appear right before our eyes everyday. ‘Ghost signs’, the painted advertisements that name products and businesses that may no longer exist, leave interpretation and stories up to us. One such ghost sign is on the outside wall of Cleary Gardens on Huggin Hill in the City. The gardens were created on the bombsite of a twentieth-century business, but the bomb cleared away levels of London history to reveal evidence of Roman baths and medieval vintners. Fading but still visible is the sign of the twentieth-century owners, telling us they were ‘Landes Bros – (Fur & Skin Merchants) Ltd’.

Disused Tube stations, Crystal Palace and ghost signs are only a few of the many ghosts of London surviving from earlier eras, and many are harder to locate and identify. These ghosts, different from those you can find in the Harry Price Library, are more likely to be researched in the Bromhead Library in Senate House Library, which holds books on the Palace of Whitehall and the River Fleet, among other ghostly places. A brief walk in London and a browse of library collections show us that as Londoners, we must believe in ghosts because we see them every day.

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