Heritage: Ghostly goings-on in Newham
PUBLISHED: 13:00 28 October 2017
One way of discovering local history – and what I promised readers I’d bring in my ‘Looking back…’ series – is interviewing an expert, a researcher, a resident, a witness. That normally requires for both the interviewer and the interviewee to be alive.
But sometimes it is the spirits of those who died before our times who come back as a way of making us look back and remember their stories.
Their tales of love and loss, sometimes related to famous historical events and sites, are also part of our local heritage. Here are some.
City of London Cemetery, Manor Park
Established in 1856, this Grade I listed site is the largest municipal cemetery and crematory in the UK.
Some of the souls buried here are connected to famous east London murder mysteries: Catherine Eddowes and Mary Ann Nichols, victims of Jack the Ripper, and Percy Thompson, murdered by his wife Edith and her lover Freddy Bywaters in a case which shocked the country in the early 1920s.
Claude Duval, a 17th century French-born highwayman is believed to have been reinterred here too. As he currently ‘visits’ the Holt Hotel in Oxfordshire, which he used to frequent when alive, this ghost is a London resident commuting to Oxford for his haunting jobs.
Since the mid-1970s, locals have complained about a brilliant orange light emanating from one of the tombstones in the western section of the cemetery, but investigators have found no source of any light that could explain the phenomena.
West Ham Fire Brigade station, Stratford
As reported by witnesses and his relatives, to old letters to the Recorder, the ghost of an old fireman called Godfrey was supposed to haunt the old fire station in Stratford Broadway next door to West Ham Town Hall.
The main offices of West Ham Fire Brigade were located directly about the fireman’s dormitory and were locked at the end of each day, but even so it was often claimed that footsteps could be heard during the night walking around the offices.
When the fire station building became the educational offices for the London borough of Newham, it is said that Godfrey continued to ‘entertain’ and scare the office staff.
West Ham Technical Institute, Stratford
The first stone of this modern Renaissance style, Grade II listed building, now part of the University of East London, was laid in 1898.
Reports from the 1970s talked of sounds of someone choking to death coming from the science laboratories, followed by a woman’s scream.
Theatre Royal, Stratford
This venue is haunted by Freddie Frederyck, an actor whose family ran the theatre. According to reports he walks around at midnight, a small man dressed in brown, radiating friendliness, protecting his special place.
Connaught Tavern, Custom House
This dockside tavern dates back to 1881 and is also a Grade II listed building. Although the ghost has not been seen for years, legend says the tavern was haunted by the aunt of a former landlord, who committed suicide in the late 19th century in a bedroom on the second floor.
The South Hallsville School, Canning Town
During the Blitz, local residents were advised to take shelter in the South Hallsville School basement.
The building was being used as an evacuation point and residents waited inside for the buses to transport them to safety.
There was, however, a mix-up and the buses went to Camden Town instead of Canning Town. On September 10, 1940 the school took a direct hit and crumbled down. 77 bodies were recovered and that was the official number of casualties released by the government.
However it was later revealed that around 600 people were in the basement and died, buried under the ruins of the school.
For decades, the site was thought to be haunted. Ghosts or not, it is indeed a horrifying story and one that needs to be told and not forgotten as a tribute to those innocent lives lost in this wartime tragedy.