When I used to live in Chicago, I often took the subway either to school or to work. Working late some nights, I was sometimes the only person standing on the empty platform waiting for the next train. And, I’ve got to say, it was really creepy. But I’m happy to say that it was not as creepy as the stories from the London Underground.
It could be that the LU is scarier because the London Underground is much older than the Chicago subway system. The Underground was built during the Victorian era and ended up being a shelter during World War II. Now, the Underground has 77 former stations in London that are no longer in use – great places for ghosts to hang out.
So, let’s take a ride and meet some of the “residents.”
The website, Encoretickets.co.uk has assembled a selection of stories about the Underground, depending on the train stop. The first one we’ll explore is from The Bank.
“A few supernatural stories are said to originate from the murky depths of Bank station.
The “Black Nun” haunts the station’s tunnels as she moans and wails when trains pass by her. The spirit is said to be Sarah Whitehead, a lady whose brother was sentenced to death by hanging after committing forgery at the Bank of England. She mourned her brother’s loss by wearing a long black dress and veil and waited for him outside the bank every evening in the hope that he would appear. Staying in the area until she died, her soul is said to loiter around the station forever as a result.
During World War Two, a bomb fell into Bank station, killing 50 people. Their cries have been believed to be heard at the station by passengers. Bank Station was also built on the burial place of a plague pit, where thousands of dead bodies were thrown during the Black Death. Could they be crying out to people traveling through the London Underground at Bank station today?”
The website London Walks gives us a little more information about Sarah: “In ancient times, the City of London had 109 churches, each with its own burial ground where victims of gruesome diseases like the Black Death were laid to rest. Bank Station, in the heart of London’s financial district, was built right in the middle of the graves of two such churches. The nearby Bank of England was built on the site of St Christopher-le-Stocks Church, with the graveyard of the church becoming the Bank’s Garden court. Of all the lost souls that prowl Bank though, it is the ghost of Sarah Whitehead, or The Black Nun, that is best known. Sarah’s brother, a clerk at the Bank of England, was hung for embezzling money. Yet, even after his death, Sarah would return to the bank, searching for her brother.”
The website Spookyisles.com adds a more contemporary experience, “Commuters have often spoken of an overwhelming sense of despondency and apprehension in the dim walkways and tunnels, with witnesses hearing wailing and moaning echoing along the platforms.
One worker claims to have chased a woman matching Sarah’s description through the locked station, only for her to have vanished into thin air. Perhaps the tortured souls that remain within Bank Station are kindred spirits for Sarah Whitehead and she feels at home with their eternal angst.
So as you walk the historical locations of Bank Station and Threadneedle Street, keep watch for the Black Nun and if you listen closely you may hear her desperately cry: “Have you seen my brother?””
Let’s take the train a little further down the track to Bethnal Green. According to Encore Tickets, “During World War Two, the deep tunnels at Bethnal Green station were used as an air-raid shelter for those living in the East End of London. However, 173 people died at the station on 3rd March 1943, as there was a stampede of people underground due to sounds of an aircraft firing rockets. Not only was this event the deadliest civilian incident in Britain during the war but spooky remnants of this day also stay at the station. Staff at the station have heard unidentifiable female screams, as well as children sobbing when working at night. Could this be the cries of those who died over 75 years ago?”
London Walks adds to the story, “It was into the depths of the Underground that Londoners sought refuge during World War 2. Bethnal Green on the Central Line is one of the deepest of the tube stations, and it was here that people flocked when they heard the roars of the sirens in 1943, accompanied by gunfire. In the panic to reach the safety of the air-raid shelter, and as more people poured onto the narrow stairs, those at the bottom of the stairs were crushed and suffocated, including many women and children. Devastatingly, the sirens were part of a practice raid, not a real raid, so this disaster could have been avoided and 173 lives saved. Some say the wails of the victims can still be heard today.”
The website Haunted Palace Blog adds even more scary information. “At Bethnal Green Tube Station at night tube workers and users have claimed they have heard the screams and cries of terrified souls in fear and anguish. A famous story recounts how a man working late at the station had just watched the last tube leave, turned off the station lights, and headed back to his office to finish off his reports when he heard the sounds of children sobbing. The sobbing grew louder and louder and was joined by women’s voices screaming in panic and other noises which he could not identify. The whole episode lasted between ten to fifteen minutes. Terrified he ran out of his office and headed for the exit. It is believed that he had heard the ghostly replay of the last few minutes of life of over a hundred people who suffocated to death at the station on the 3 March 1943.”
Miss Jessel from The Haunted Palace adds a personal touch to the story. “For me, the Bethnal Green Tube disaster has a more personal connection. My mother’s family came from the East End and my grandmother, and her two sisters remembered growing up and living in the area with deep affection. Living close to Bethnal Green Tube Station, they often used it as a place of safety during the worst of the bombing. Night after night during the Blitz my family would make their way to a shelter to wait for the all-clear signal. One day when the expected warning siren went off, my grandmother along with her sisters and mother started to make their way to the shelter only to have one of my great aunts change her mind and refuse to leave. Tired of spending her nights in the unpleasant conditions of the shelter she decided to take her chance and remain above ground. My great-grandmother frightened for her daughter’s safety sent my grandmother up to their bedroom to reason with her. Eventually, after a lot of arguing my great aunt was finally persuaded to leave, and relieved, they all made their way to the shelter. When they returned the next day their house was gone.
The bomb had gone straight through the center of my great aunt’s bedroom, the room that she had been stubbornly sitting in only a few hours ago. My family lost most of their possessions including all our photographs but at least they were all alive, it could have been so much worse. Bombed out, they were relocated to Epping which at the time was just a tiny rural village with very few amenities. Nowadays people would think it quaint and charming, but for my family born in the vibrant, busy, and crowded East End it was like being exiled to the wilderness of outer Mongolia. For them, as for countless others, Bethnal Green Station was a lifesaver but on one terrible occasion it became a death trap!”
Our final stop on this journey (at least for this week) is Farringdon. Encore Tickets shares this “Just one stop down from Kings Cross is Farringdon, home to the ghost of Anne Naylor. In 1758, Anne was a 13-year-old trainee hat maker. Her boss murdered her at work as new buildings were being constructed, later becoming Farringdon station. Her decomposing body was taken to an open sewer in Chick Lane, near Farringdon. When traveling through the station, people claim to hear her cries on the platform as the last train of the evening leaves.”
The website Seeks Ghosts goes into much more detail about Anne’s life. “Anne Naylor and her younger sister were given into the care of a local woman who ran a millinery shop. A Mrs. Sarah Metyard and her daughter Sarah “Sally” Metyard ran this establishment. These two women had five young girls apprenticed to them, but what they provided would not be characterized as “care.”
The girls under the Metyard’s care were often beaten and starved. Both women had hot tempers and enjoyed inflicting pain. Anne unfortunately, was often their primary target for she was sickly and could not keep up with her assigned work.
At one point Anne managed to escape the Metyard’s house, but they sent a boy, who found her and forcefully returned her to their shop. As punishment Sally beat Anne and then locked her in the attic where she was given only bread and water.
Anne now desperate once more escaped the Metyard’s home. This time Sally brought her back. She viciously beat Anne with a broomstick, and then Mrs. Metyard tied Anne to the Attic door where she was forced to stand for hours during the day.
She was tied to this door for three days without food or water. Mrs. Metyard pointed her out to the other apprentices warning them that this would happen to them if they ever tried to escape, or disobey her.
On the fourth day, the other apprentices noticed Anne was not moving. They called for Sally. She beat Anne about the head with a shoe, but when she didn’t respond, she called for her mother. Mrs. Metyard tried to revive Anne with smelling salts, but when this didn’t work, the two women realized Anne was dead.
They locked her body in a trunk in the attic. They made a show of taking food to her for days so the other apprentices would not suspect anything was amiss. They even left the attic door open and the shop door ajar, claiming Anne had run away yet again.
However, Anne’s sister did not believe them. She managed to tell a lodger in the house that she suspected Anne was dead. Furious, the Metyards murdered her as well.
After two months had passed, the two women started to worry the neighbors would wonder about the smell for Anne’s body was still in the trunk in the attic.
On Christmas day they dismembered the body and wrapped each piece in cloth. At first, they tried to burn these pieces in their fireplace but realizing this caused an odor—they instead took the fragments to Chick Lane and dumped them in a mud puddle near a sewer.
When these human remains were found, it was assumed that it was a body that had been snatched and then dissected by medical students.
Soon after, witnesses started to see the ghost of a young girl dressed in white in the area where the body had been dumped.
Other witnesses heard a young girl’s scream. So many people saw and have listened to this apparition that eventually most of this London parish felt Chick Lane was haunted.
The Metyards might have gotten away with this murder if it had not been for Sally confessing. Four years after they disposed of Anne’s body, the two women had a big fight, which prompted Sally to move out and live with a man who was her lover.
When he mentioned the ghost of Chick Lane, Sally told him what she and her mother had done. Naively, he informed the authorities—downplaying Sally’s role in the belief she would not be accused.
But both the Metyard women were arrested, tried, and found guilty. The judge, when sentencing both women to hang, announced that justice would not be complete unless both their bodies were dissected after death.
When Mrs. Metyard was walked to the scaffold, she collapsed. Her jailers were not able to revive her, so she was hanged while still unconscious. Sally cried as she took this final walk. Both bodies were put on public display after they were hanged, at Tyburn on July 19, 1768. Their bodies were then dissected at “Surgeon’s Hall.””
Gruesome, yet somehow satisfying, right?!?!?
Tune in next week and we’ll visit some more stations on the London Underground.