It's Halloween, and we're going on an H&F ghost tour! Sara Luehmann, working with H&F’s communications team during October as part of an EU exchange programme, went in search of spooks in the borough...
First stop: Black Lion Lane and Black Lion pub
This was the setting for H&F’s best-known ghost story that led to an accidental murder and a very complicated court case not fully resolved until 180 years later. The Hammersmith ghost, dressed in white, was reportedly roaming the neighbourhood surrounding St Peter’s church in the early 1800s. It was believed to be the spirit of a local man who had committed suicide and was buried in the churchyard. Several residents had claimed to have been scared or even attacked by this ghost.
As fear spread among locals, a group of young men started patrolling the area. On the evening of 3 January 1804, armed Francis Smith saw a white figure in Black Lion Lane approaching him and shot it. As it turned out, he had not shot a ghost, but local bricklayer Thomas Millwood, who had been wearing traditional white working clothes common for his trade at that time.
Smith was found guilty of murdering an innocent man and sentenced to death. This verdict was revoked later and the sentence commuted to one year of hard labour. The question of whether it could be murder under these special circumstances has fascinated legal practitioners since.
The huge upheaval following Thomas Millwood’s death led to the revelation of the 'real' ghost. In proper Scooby-Doo fashion, local shoemaker Graham confessed that it had been him dressing up as a ghost the whole time! He had wanted to scare those who told ghost stories to little children.
The story of the Hammersmith ghost is commemorated by a sign on the wall at the Black Lion Pub. Thomas Millwood’s body was brought to the pub after he was shot. His ghost is now reportedly haunting the pub.
A former chef working and living in the building claimed he had encountered the ghost several times.
Jolanta Mroczek is the Black Lion’s current general manager’s wife. She and her husband have lived on the premises of the pub for a year, and Jolanta has not spotted Thomas Millwood’s ghost yet. Nor has their dog Bernie, a Lhasa Apso.
“He is a very sensitive dog and would definitely notice paranormal activity in the building and react with barking,” she said. “But he usually just sleeps all day.”
However, one of Jolanta’s friends allegedly once experienced the ghost’s presence on the building’s first floor: “She was standing on the hall and saw someone run past her but there was no one there.”
The potential ghost is an attraction for many pub guests. “We often have people coming in because of the ghost, even international tourists. Once, there was a group of Polish women visiting because they had a book on ghosts in London that featured the Hammersmith ghost,” says Jolanta.
Ghoulish Fulham Palace
So, the Black Lion ghost is yet to be spotted by the pub’s current residents and their dog. But what about the other haunted houses and premises in H&F? Where have ghosts been sighted?
Apparently, one of our top tourist attractions in the borough is haunted as well. Basically, every castle and palace in the country should have a ghost – and Fulham Palace doesn't disappoint. The historic home of the Bishops of London served as a country retreat for the bishops and their families before becoming the bishop’s permanent residence in the 20th century.
Rumours and reports of ghosts in the building date back as far as the 1780s. Seemingly unexplainable sights, sounds and smells throughout the palace continue to be reported to this day.
The ghost of former Bishop Bonner is said to walk around in the palace. Edmund Bonner is also known as Bloody Bonner for his role in the persecution of Protestants during the reign of Queen Mary I.
The devout Catholic Bonner kept Protestant prisoners in the palace’s cellar. Some of these prisoners were tortured in the Tudor Great Hall. When Queen Elizabeth I came to power, Bonner was incarcerated and died in prison.
One of the cats living on the premises in the 1990s was always following staff around the palace’s corridors but appeared to be scared of going upstairs with them, always choosing to wait at the foot of the stairs for their return.
A few years ago, a ghost club investigated the paranormal activities in the palace, with six investigators staying there overnight for some in-depth research. They encountered someone in the Great Hall, heard singing and whistling in the chapel and sensed manic presences in the Drawing Room café.
Palace guests ask about the ghost all the time and the ghost stories and sightings are often included in the stories.
“Over the years, many staff members have come across unusual activity in the palace,” explains museum curator, Miranda Poliakoff who has worked in the palace for 29 years.
“One of my favorite stories is the one of a man in Tudor era clothes who was seen walking through the Great Hall and then disappearing through a wall. It turned out that there used to be a door where the Bishop had walked through the wall.”
Although Miranda has never made acquaintance with the ghost herself, she knows the feeling that she and many other people experienced when working late nights on their own in the palace: “For some inexplicable reason, you suddenly feel that you have to leave the building immediately.”
The latest ghost sighting happened only a few weeks ago. Senior site manager Steve Bevan, who is overlooking the palace renovation, was the first one on the site one early Saturday morning: “The rooms were still dark but there was a light glowy thing coming towards me. I wanted to turn on the lights to see what it was but as soon as I switched it on, it disappeared, going through me. I could feel a cold wind. It was really strange. I was shivering after this incident – and I am not easily scared.”
Another thing that Steve and his colleagues have noticed is a fishy smell in the same room in which Steve met the ghost. It comes up every now and then even though no one in the palace is eating or cooking fish. But the room used to be a kitchen centuries ago.
If you are keen on meeting the palace’s ghost or just want to explore Fulham Palace’s history any further, join one of their frequent historical tours.
Want to read more news stories like this? Subscribe to our weekly e-news bulletin.
By sending us a comment, you are agreeing to our publishing policy.