The Ghosts of Senate House is one part of a creative research project led by Sarah Sparkes. It serves as an archive for uncanny, apocryphal stories emanating from Senate House. These stories formed part of "a Magical library for the 21st Century" an archive of writings, recordings, artwork, artefacts, and other contributions, which was first shown at the University of London as part of The Bloomsbury Festival October 2011.
Saturday, 30 April 2011
A couple of minutes walk from Senate House is Arthur Tattersall House at 119 Gower Street - one of the many fine Georgian buildings on this street. It is now owned by University College London, and is used for student accomodation.
In 2004, the PARANORMAL DATABASE was contacted regarding the legend of a young girl called Emma Louise who was said to have been killed in a tunnel which is supposed to run between the more modern UCL building and the older Cruciform building. The legend was that if Emma Louise's name was repeated 3 times, she would appear. The informant, a former student resident of 119 Gower Street, stated that they and their friends had been very sceptical about this, but did performed the 'invocation' for a laugh.
Shortly after this, they claimed, they began to hear a young girl's laughter, which was repeated intermittently all night. The students searched everywhere, but could find no explanation for the sound.
Disturbed by this turn of events, they moved into a friend's room for the night, but could still hear the laughter. Eventually it stopped, but suddenly, about an hour later, they heard a bang as if someone had thrown themselves against the door - naturally, there was no-one there.
These noises were repeated on another night, with the same laughter, once again, the frightened students left the room - but when they returned, they found the door to be locked, even though they had left it open. A spare key was obtained, and there, written on the wall in large letters were the words: "HELP ME!", "DIE", written twice in two different parts of the wall. Elsewhere the word "MURDER" had been written on the wall, as was "R.I.P", besides which was a child's drawing of a person with a sad-looking face.
One of the students rubbed the word "MURDER" off the wall (it having been written in chalk or crayon). They again left the room for a brief moment, but when they returned, where "MURDER" had been written, there was a large kitchen knife balanced on the beading of the wall.
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Alarmed - since he knew there to be no-one else on the 8th floor at the time - he did not linger, but grabbed the book he had been searching for, and quickly left the room without further delay.
[NB: this is the same room where a similar event was reported... CLICK HERE ]
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
|Senate House - if you're passing by at 3am, look up to the 12th and 15th floors to see the lights come on by themselves!|
Sunday, 17 April 2011
A curious legend is associated with the immediate surroundings of Senate House - the tale of the Field of the Forty Footsteps. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the fields situated due north of Montague House (whose site is now occupied by part of the British Museum), were known as a place of ill-repute. This location - first known as the Long Fields, and latterly as Southampton Fields - was notorious as a meeting-place for duellists.
Legend has it that, at the time of the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion (1685), two brothers were besotted by the same lady, who refused to choose between the two of them. Opting to fight for her affections at the traditional duelling ground of Southampton Fields, the unfortunate pair were both mortally wounded, and died there. It was said that the exact location of their duel could still be observed many years later, since the grass would not grow on those spots where their feet had trod during their deadly contest.
“The footsteps were in the middle of the field, and forty in number, and...were each imprinted by the approach and struggle of two combatants, who had fought, and perished there, in the dead lock of mutual hatred.” [Coming Out; and The Field of the Forty Footsteps (in 3 volumes), Jane and Anna Maria Porter, London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Browne & Green, 1828 (vol.3, p.5)]
A letter addressed to the poet Robert Southey (1774-1843), from his friend John Walsh, encouraged Southey to visit the Fields:
“I think it would be worth your while to take a view of those wonderful marks of the Lord’s hatred to duelling called ‘The Brothers’ Steps.’ They are in a field about a third of a mile northward from Montague house...The prints of their feet are about the depth of three inches, and nothing will vegetate them so much as to disfigure them...Mr George Hall, who was the Librarian of Lincoln’s Inn, first showed me these steps twenty-eight years ago...he remembered them about thirty years, and the man who first showed them to him about thirty more, which goes back to the year 1692...My mother well remembered their being ploughed up and corn sown to displace them, about fifty years ago, but all was labour in vain, for the prints returned in a while to their pristine form...” [Southey's Common-place book, Second series, Special Collections, Robert Southey (edited by John Wood Warter), London: Longman, Browne, Green & Longmans, 1850 (‘Curse of Duelling’, pp.20-21)]
Southey went in search of the footsteps and found them:
“about three-quarters of a mile of [sic] Montagu House, and about five hundred yards east of Tottenham Court Road. The steps answered Mr Walsh’s description. They are of the size of a large human foot, about three inches deep, and lie nearly from north-east to south-west...the place where one or both of the brothers are supposed to have fallen is still bare of grass. [We also saw] the bank where (the tradition is) the wretched woman sat to see the combat.” [Ibid, (p.21)]
In the early twentieth century, the writer and Spiritualist Jessie Adelaide Middleton investigated the legend, and believed that she had established the precise location of the mysterious footsteps. In her collection ‘Another Grey Ghost Book’ she wrote:
“I often wonder if those who sleep calmly and peacefully in the quiet lodging-houses of Torrington Square ever guess that the ground over which they are sleeping was once the scene of a desperate tragedy...As regards the exact locality, I have taken great pains to confirm it, and from various sources have ascertained that no doubt it covered what is now Torrington Square...” [Another Grey Ghost Book, Jessie Adelaide Middleton, London: E. Nash, 1914, (pp.49-60)]
The footprints may still be observed by the curious (and imaginative) visitor. Just north of Senate House and in front of Birkbeck College, is a recently re-designed ‘piazza’, still bearing its original name of Torrington Square. Is it mere co-incidence that the four grassed areas, newly planted, already have distinct bare patches the size of footsteps?
Thursday, 14 April 2011
"The details are lost to the mists of time since this happened more than a year ago, but one day I was up in the Stack looking for a book. It was light outside and temperate inside, ideal (i.e. reassuring) conditions for being in the usually creepy Stack. As I was crouching for the book, it suddenly became cold, but there was no draft – just a drop in temperature. I also remember the silence started to roar in my ears in a rather eerie and persistent fashion. These two occurrences served to discompose me utterly and instil in me an urgent need to skedaddle out of there as soon as possible. I am happy to report however that the ‘presence’ in question (if it wasn’t just my nerves) took pity on me and did not make an appearance – for surely if it had, there would soon thereafter have been a death (from fright) in Senate House and perhaps another ghost to add to the collection."
Tuesday, 12 April 2011
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
|John Stone and Alan Train take me to 'the central stores'|
After thoroughly disorientating me by leading me along many corridors, through locked doors and up and down endless staircases, I was finally brought to the entrance of the dimly lit store rooms. These rooms are used to house old furnishings and other material from the buildings past. The main part of the store rooms are reached via a staircase cased in scaffolding, lined with shelves of fading, silver plated dinner ware. This staircase, and its mirror image on the far side of central stores, were designed to lead up to a viewing gallery overlooking 'The Grand Hall'. 'The Grand Hall' was part of the original more extensive plan for Senate House which was never completed. The site of the proposed 'Grand Hall' is now occupied by the post-modern Stewart House.
|the stores - once used as a rifle range|
|treasures from the stores- maintenance minutes books form the 1930s - 1950s|
"Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun".from John Betjeman's - A Subaltern's Love Song. John Betjeman worked for the Minsitry of information at Senate House and so did the subject of one of his poems
Oddly, at the time of writing (April 2011), room 62 of the British Museum displays this information board (left)...
...whilst the 'Unlucky' mummy-board itself (below right) is, unaccountably, missing.
© Trustees of the British Museum
It was claimed that when a photographer was commissioned to take pictures of the mummy-board, the plates, when developed, showed not the calm face as depicted on the board, but instead, “the face of a living Egyptian woman whose eyes stared furiously with an expression of singular malevolence.” It was further claimed that “In the course of a few weeks the photographer died suddenly and in mysterious circumstances.” [Witchcraft and black magic, Montague Summers, Senate, 1995 (p.109)] Elsewhere, the photographic plates are said to have revealed “the contorted face of a woman in torment with a look of terror in her eyes” and that strange noises were sometimes heard coming from the exhibit, such as the weeping of a woman. [Chambers’ Guide to London : the Secret City, Michael Chambers, Millington Books (an imprint of Davison Publishing), 1979 (p.62)]
Writer and journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson investigated the artefact’s history, and became convinced that it possessed sinister and malevolent qualities. Supposedly, Robinson’s research had uncovered a trail of misfortune, accident and death associated with those who came into contact with the object, ever since its discovery in the 1860s.
It was further claimed (admittedly, without any basis in fact) that the Museum, wishing to dispose of this troublesome exhibit, sold it to an American buyer, to whom it was shipped on board the Titanic, resulting in the ship’s disastrous maiden voyage! (it is not explained how the mummy-board managed to make its way back to London).
Sunday, 3 April 2011
One one occasion a few years ago, a former Library staff member returned from the tower bookstacks saying he had just seen the figure of a man dressed in a 1930s style: blazer, slicked-back hair, Oxford bags. The figure had seemingly been in the process of reaching up to take a book from a shelf, but was apparently motionless.
"But I do remember, back in the days when we used to escort readers up into the Harry Price Collection sometimes, when Mr Wesencraft (Harry Price Librarian) worked up there, over hearing a conversation about the Tower Lift. A visitor, as they left the Library was saying something along the lines that they had “felt” nothing when they were in the Harry Price Library although with the subject of that collection, and the age of some of the material there, they had expected to.
However they did not like being in the Tower Lift and always felt “cold” when in that area. Another member of staff agreed they felt this too, and commented that this did not surprise them since it was the lift shaft in which the Principal (Sir Edwin Deller) had been killed during the building of Senate House.
Another commented that it was also the lift shaft which had had the fire in it, thankfully no one was killed by that! The smoke did make an awful mess of the stacks though."
Several people have also remarked upon the cold temperature in the former Harry Price room (the current writer can also confirm this to be the case). Whether this is a result of its being situated on an outer wall, or because of some other, more eldritch cause, remains to be determined...
What does not seem to be disputed is the identity of the putative ghost - that of Sir Edwin Deller, Principal of the University of London. Elected to this position in July 1929, Deller was originally "...a member of the administrative staff, who had left school at 14 and worked as a clerk in various offices, taking his degrees in law as an evening student. He was, in fact, a born admin-istrator as well as a man of great wisdom and savoir-faire." [(p.218, The University of London 1836-1986: an illustrated history by Negley Harte, Athlone Press, 1986]
On 27th November 1936, Sir Edwin was showing some visitors around the half-finished building, still being constructed. A contemporary newspaper article explains what happpened next:
"They were standing in a temporary lift used to reach the tower of the buildings. The lift had gone up to the first floor, about 30ft, with a skip containing concrete, and this had been run along steel rails on the first floor and emptied. John Lapper, a workman employed by Holland, Hannan and Cubitt, Ltd, who was handling the skip, did not know that the lift had gone down again for Sir Edwin, who was going to view the new works. The skip, weighing about 5 cwts, was pushed along the rails to return to the lift. It fell down the shaft with Lapper on top of it, and struck Sir Edwin and those with him."
Three days later, Sir Edwin died. His memorial service was held the following month at the Temple Church. The inquest arrived at a verdict of accidental death, additionally stating that the tragedy had been the result of "negligence by employees."
Newspaper obituaries did not fail to point out the irony of his death having been a direct result of the new University building project, a project to which Deller had dedicated so much time, energy and enthusiasm.
A death notice published in The Times (30th November 1940) contained the following elegy:
I find him in the wonder of his Tower,
That monstrous, beautiful and bloody Tower,
His wordless monument, which seems to say,
"For this he worked and planned and gave his life,
Then took his wages - Death - and went his way"