“…successive landlords have told me that an ‘atmosphere’ builds up over the year…”
Detail from back cover of original hardback edition of Haunted London (1973).
“…and reaches its climax during September…”
The Grenadier, Wilton Row
Underwood outside The Grenadier in Belgravia, London. Originally built in 1720 for senior officers of the British army, it is said to be haunted by the ghost of a soldier who was beaton to death for cheating at cards.
After the book is published however, an ‘unfortunate incident’ occurs concerning “the unscrupulous Frank Smyth…”
“Smyth presented a ghost story in Man, Myth and Magic magazine, part 105; as written it gave every impression of having happened…”
It became part of the “story of the wharfs of the Isle of Dogs” in the East End of London, “with its long history of violence and sudden death.”
“Running east from Ratcliff Wharf is Ratcliff Highway… where prostitutes sold themselves for the price of a drink and murder was commonplace…”
“Mark Kitchener, a young lighterman from Islington, recalls his grandfather talking to him about a former Vicar of Ratcliff Cross who was said to run a lodging house for seamen two hundred years ago…”
A lighterman is a worker who operates a lighter, a type of flat-bottomed barge, which may be powered or unpowered.
“The house run by the Vicar of Ratcliff became known as a place to be avoided, even by the toughest men…”
“…for there were stories of men being murdered for their money, and anyone that made trouble was never to be seen again…”
“John Denning, one Sunday morning in July 1971, was busy mixing cement on the empty quay and looking forward to a break for a mug of tea.”
“He remembered hearing a clock chime and checking his watch and…”
“…as he bent down to continue his work, he became aware of an elderly man, dressed in black and leaning on a cane, standing about twenty yards away, looking at him.”
“Denning called out to the stranger, but he received no reply. The old man just stood there, his long white hair moving slightly in the breeze. Then Denning realized that he was not looking at him, but at something behind him…”
“Denning turned round to see, but when he turned back there was no sign of the old man!”
“There was simply nowhere that the old man could have hidden in a few seconds…”
Further sightings were reported by three fellow workmen: an old man with “a high and close-fitting neckband; his clothes were black and sombre…”
Was it the ghost of the evil Vicar of Ratcliffe?
St Anne’s Church in Limehouse, where the ‘Vicar of Ratcliff' once presided.
“When I came to write Haunted London I contacted Frank Smyth,
who assured me the story was true…”
“…and I therefore included it briefly…
‘If we accept the evidence of the four men the appearance of the Vicar of Ratcliff is convincing and puzzling…’”
“In due course Frank Smyth admitted that the story was entirely fraudulent;
he had made up the whole thing…”
“…the John Denning of the story was in fact John Philby, the son of the famous double-agent, who conspired with Smyth to invent the whole story, naming alleged witnesses.”