Nicola Kirk: Author and Collector of Paranormal Stories and Other Strange Encounters

Posts tagged ‘London’

Clowning Around – Ghoulishly Good Fun

Coulrophobia is the irrational fear of clowns (and yes, I realise the above picture is not going to do people who are terrified of Mr Chuckles the Clown any favours whatsoever but… I’m a bit evil like that).  It’s quite a common phobia it would seem; so common, in fact, that in July 2006 at a three day music festival held at Robin Hill, Isle of Wight, organisers were forced to withdraw a request for festival goers to attend dressed as clowns because many of the revellers were terrified of them.  It’s a strange phobia to suffer from, especially when you consider the innocent origins of clowning around.

Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) is considered to be the original clown (so all you people out there frightened of a bit of greasepaint and hideous fuzzy wigs, Joseph is the man to blame).  Grimaldi enjoyed an exciting career in theatre and could often be seen bounding around the stage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, throwing himself about like a rag doll to the audience’s delight whilst wearing gaudy outfits and with his face painted white.

Before:  Mr Grimaldi practises the art of being serious.

After: Oh, and it’s all gone horribly wrong…

Unfortunately, Grimaldi’s punishing theatrical routines crippled him and he was forced to prematurely retire from the job he loved.  By 1818 he was penniless and in his final speech at a benefit performance (in which he was forced to perform seated because of his poor health), he told his audience:

“Like vaulting ambition, I have overleaped myself and pay the penalty in advanced old age. It is four years since I jumped my last jump, filched my last oyster, boiled my last sausage and set in for retirement.”

Grimaldi died in 1837 at 33 Southampton Street (now called Calshot Street), Clerkenwell at the age of 58.  There is an interesting story that Grimaldi asked for his head to be removed before being buried at what is now called Grimaldi Park, Pentonville Road.  No one is entirely sure why Grimaldi asked for this to be done, but seeing as his father was so terrified of being buried alive that he asked for his head to be sawn off before being buried, perhaps some of that terror rubbed off on his son and beheading before interment appeared to be the sensible thing to do…

Joseph Grimaldi’s Grave,
Grimaldi Park, Pentonville Road

For most people, death is pretty much the final curtain, but Joseph Grimaldi doesn’t quite see it that way and has refused to remain quiet in his grave.  At the Theatre Royal people have frequently reported receiving a phantom kick up the backside when Grimaldi wants to get their attention.  From actors on stage to usherettes, it would seem that no one is safe.  Also, we mustn’t forget the strange, pasty white disembodied face that has also been reported hovering around the theatre.  As I have no idea where Grimaldi’s head ended up, I wonder if maybe a sympathetic friend arranged for his head to be secreted somewhere in the theatre he loved so much, hence its strange spectral appearences.  Who knows?

Below is a short video of ghost hunter, Chris Halton, attempting to get Joseph Grimaldi into a chatty mood:


©Nicola Kirk and 2010


Wikipedia – Coulrophobia

Haunted London

Wikipedia – Joseph Grimaldi

The Guardian

Bring Out Your Dead – Plague Pits And Nasty Discoveries

We all love a bit of morbidity, don’t we?  Well, I’m pretty sure it’s not just me anyway.  A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Edinburgh.  Just off the Royal Mile there is a well known street that goes by the name of Mary King’s Close.  Everyone who’s remotely interested in ghosts has usually heard of this mysterious Close due to the myth that in 1645 the tenants became infected by the plague and were bricked up inside and left to die.  Their terrible plague ridden ghosts are said to haunt the close with great abandon… In reality it would seem that this horrific event didn’t actually happen, but paranormal tours don’t try too hard to enlighten their customers.  Well, where’s the fun in that?  Anyway, it got me thinking – what happened to all the plague victims in London?

According to Daniel Defoe’s, A Journal of the Plague Year:

”Tis certain they died by heaps and were buried by heaps; that is to say, without account.’

The Bills of Mortality list 68,576 plague victims in the capital but it would appear that the true figure is probably nearer 100,000.  That’s an awful lot of people.  So where did these poor souls end up?  There certainly aren’t enough individual graves littered around to account for them.

Well, the answer is that most of them were unceremoniously dumped into huge plague pits sprinkled in and around London.  One of the earliest plague pits was dug in 1348 at Charterhouse Square for victims of the Black Death.  The Black Death gained its nickname because the skin of victims turned black. Lovely.  Tens of thousands of bodies were buried at Charterhouse Square.  There was another great pit at Aldgate and also one at Finsbury Fields.

Whilst listing these pits of despair, we mustn’t forget the plague pit from the 17th century at Green Park which proved quite troublesome when the Underground network was being constructed in 1960 and construction workers managed to bore straight through the middle of it.  What a shock that must have been.  Another plague pit received unwanted attention when it was discovered in the London Depot on the Bakerloo Line.  Although no paranormal activity as such has been reported, few staff are willing to go down to the tunnels, especially at night.  Some people have no sense of adventure.

If you happen to be loitering around Bishopsgate during your lunch hour, you may notice that some office blocks do not occupy the full building plots, leaving some small areas empty.  This is because these innocent little parcels of land are plague pit sites.  Still hungry?

Recently, under the Surrey side of London Bridge, workers were horrified to discover the 17th century remains of suspected plague victims – although some skulls were found to have rather suspicious holes in them leading some to believe that their owners’ endings may have been rather more questionable.    Builders working in the vaults aren’t best pleased about working there anymore because of the unexplained noises they hear and the mysterious figures glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.

Of course, there will always be someone who actively seeks out encounters with the plague ridden dead.  And no, it’s not always me.  Here we see a group of people called the Londonists doing what they do best – creeping around in the plague pit found under London Bridge:

Some people have all the fun.


©Nicola Kirk and 2010

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