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Haunted London walks – Ghosts of the City.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Join us for a sample of our haunted London walks and experience some of the old City’s more chilling spots.

Start your London Ghost Walk on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral itself is haunted by a whistling clergyman who shuffles across the chapel to the left as you ener via the north (left hand) door.

Stand and watch through the gate. See if the air goes chilly. If it does then listen carefully, for you might hear the dull tuneless whistle that marks the beginning of Whistler’s apearance. This is the first of your Haunted spots in London.

Walk away from St Paul’s Cathedral and turn first right into Ave Maria Lane. We have been exploring this thoroughfare on our Londoon walks for nigh on 28 years, and a real surprise awaits you.

Go left at Amen Corner and pause by the gates that lead to Amen Court. Ahead of you is an area of bushes and beyond them is a very sinister looking wall. Beyond this once stood Newgate Prison, one of London’s most notorious prisons.

The wall is haunted by the  Black Dog of Newgate, a shapeless mass that slithers across the top of the walk, slides down into the courtyard and then melts away.

It is always accompanied by an obnoxious smell, and is sometimes accompanied by the sound of limping footsteps coming from the other side of the wall. So tread carefully!

Who’s for a drink? Or should I say spirits of another kind await. Backtrack and turn left along Ave Maria Lane, which soon becomes Warwick Lane.

Our City of London walks stop outside Cutlers Hall towards the top on the left, where there is a magnificent frieze above the window showing scenes of knife and fork making.

Turn left along Newgate Street go right at the traffic lights to cross to the Viaduct Tavern. This spectacular pub has a ghost known as Fred, that indulges in a great deal of prankish poltergeist activity.

Ask nicely at the bar and they’ll even take you down to their cellars where much of the ghostly activity appears to eminate from.

The pub makes for a nice location to wind down after your brief one of our Haunted London walks.

We’ll bring you another one later this week as part our commitment to sharing  more of London with you. 

We won’t just ask you to sit in a location and read about the places to be found nearby.  We’re proud of our reputation for giving you step by step directions so that you can actually see the places for yourself, not just read about them!

Jonathon Wild

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

On our London walks that take in Old Bailey we have ample reason to discuss London’s less than salubrious past.

The Central Criminal Courts (or The Old Bailey) stand on the site of Newgate Prison, which was demolished in 1902. The prison looms large in London’s Criminal History and several of our London walks, such as The Haunted City, Secret London, and Ghosts, Ghouls and Graveyards incorporate it in one way or another.

One of the character we talk about is the infamous, thief-taker and police spy, Jonathon Wild, who is said to have been responsible for the execution of one hundred and twenty malefactors. In the end he was executed himself on 24th May 1725.

Wild was one of the cleverest rogues who ever lived, and it has been said that he was a more expert thief than the criminals he arrested. He was a criminal by instinct from an early age, and had a brazen effrontery which enabled him to carry on his crooked business within the protection of the law.

With the aid of a woman of the underworld, Wild became acquainted with all the gangs of crooks in London. He ascertained their methods, knew when they were about to commit a robbery, and where they disposed of their ill-gotten gains. For a time he worked with them on a partnership basis.

When the Act of William III was passed making “receiving” a penal offence, it was Wild who devised a scheme for frustrating the law.

As soon as an important robbery was committed Wild received intelligence of it through his spies. He then went to the thieves and ascertained to whom the property belonged.

The next step was a visit by Wild or his mistress, Mrs. Milliner, to the victims announcing that they were able to recover the booty for a consideration. In nearly every case an arrangement was made. It was much safer than acting the part of a receiver of stolen goods.

In course of time Wild attained the reputation of an honest citizen. He was recognized as a friend of justice, and was actually encouraged by the forces of law and order and magistrates.

To make his position more secure Wild found it necessary occasionally to inform against some of the criminals, and, being paid for every arrest for which he was responsible, his business flourished.

It is a testimony to the vast extent of his business that he was responsible for the execution of so many criminals.

An addition to his income were the bribes he received from criminals to save them from arrest.

Sometimes owners of stolen property suspected that Wild was not such a public benefactor as he appeared.  But, whenever questions were asked as to his methods, Jonathan Wild would reply:-

Do I not do the greatest good when I persuade these wicked people who have deprived them of their properties to restore them again for a reasonable consideration ? And Are not the villains whom I have, so industriously brought to suffer that punishment which the law, for the sake of its honest subjects, thinks fit to inflict upon them in this respect, I say, does not their death show how much use I am. to the country ? Why then, should people asperse me, or endeavour to take away my bread ?

This candid admission kept Wild safe from molestation by the law for many years, and yet, practically every move he made was deserving of the gallows as the law then stood.

There were times when thieves were inclined to revolt against the regime of Jonathan Wild. In such a case he took opportunity to deliver a homily on the penalties of breaking the law. Threats of the gallows usually brought such crooks to heel.

After a time it was never necessary for victims of robberies to be visited. They came to Wild’s office to make inquiries as to the whereabouts of stolen goods.

Before Wild would agree to make any investigations he hinted that a crown would lubricate the machinery. The money was generally forthcoming, and the client went away in great hopes of receiving back his property.

Occasionally it necessitated the client calling two or three times at Wild’s office. Each time he paid money which Wild received with the utmost grace and apparent reluctance..

Though Wild’s activities were often exposed by criminals in the court, his effrontery carried him through. In January, 1723, when he was betrayed by three unfortunate wretches he had apprehended, he-made the following statement

When someone came tip me about the robbery, I made it my business to search after the prisoners, for I had heard that they used to rob about Hampstead. I went about the more willingly because they had threatened to shoot me through the head. I offered £10 a head for any person who would discover them ; upon which a woman came and told me that the prisoners had been with her husband, to entice him to turn out with them, and if I would promise he should come and go safely he would give me some intelligence.

I gave her my promise, and her husband came and told me that Levee and Blake, two of the party, were at that time cleaning their pistols in Fetter Lane. I went thither and seized them both.

At last Wild committed a crime which the authorities could not gloss over. He was arrested on a charge of assisting a prisoner to escape from prison.

An additional charge on the warrant read :

For many years past he has been a confederate with great numbers of highwaymen, pickpockets, housebreakers, shoplifters and other thieves. He has often sold human blood by procuring false evidence to swear persons into facts of which they were not guilty.

He was brought t0 trial on May 15th 1725, was found guilty and executed at Tyburn on the 24th May.

On our Legal London walks, and Walk in Medical London we cover the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Here in their Museum you can actually see the skeleton of Jonathon Wild because who was dissected after his execution.

London walks – A Strange Case

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

As we wend our way around the streets of Smithfield on our Secret London and Hidden London walks, we pass by the Central Criminal Court, or as the building is better known, The Old Bailey.

It stands on the site of Newgate Prison which was demolished in 1902, albeit there was a courthouse next to the prison which was also known as The Old Bailey.

In the course of our Famous Trials of London walk, we tell of a curious case that was heard at the Old Bailey in November1769, when the author Joseph Baretti, an Italian by birth, was indicted for the wilful murder of a man named Evan Morgan.

ConsiderableGiuseppe Baretti interest was created in this affair by reason of the fact that among the witnesses for the defence were such famous London luminaries as Oliver Goldsmith, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, plus several other well-known men.

Baretti, who was born in Turin in 1716, was the son of an architect. He was left a small fortune on the death of his father, which he gambled away at faro. Thus he was reduced to living by his wits.

In 1750 he came to England, and soon learned the language, attaining a fluency which would have enabled him to pass for an Englishman.He earned a subsistence by teaching Italian, and in 1753 he published a book defending the poetry of his native country, in reply to the criticisms of Voltaire. About the same.time he became acquainted with Dr Johnson, with whom he was friendly for the rest of his  life.

Johnson introduced him to many famous families, and he was often the Doctor’s companion on his London walks and rounds of friends.

In his early days in London the Italian was often short of money, but he refused to accept charity. In the end he attained a reputation for his writings and was able to keep himself by his pen and with his teaching.

He decided to return to Italy and settle down. But, after five years, he found himself the object of so much jealousy and so many vicious attacks that he came back to England.

He renewed his friendship with Johnson, and accompanied the Doctor and the Thrale family to France in 1769.

It was soon after this that the “murder” occurred which brought him before the Old Bailey justices.

The following story of what occurred is taken from Baretti’s evidence in defence.

On Friday, October 6th, he spent the day revising his “English and Italian Dictionary.” In the evening he went to the Royal Academicians’ Club in Soho, but finding no one there, he went to the Orange coffee-house, where he had his letters addressed.

Leaving the coffee-house, he began to walk up the Haymarket. As he was about to pass a doorway near the corner of Panton Street (which we cover on our west end London walks) a woman struck him, inflicting “great pain.”

He retaliated by giving her a blow on the hand, at the same time using some angry words in Italian. The woman promptly flew into a fury, called him a “damned Frenchman,” and raised the neighbourhood with her cries.

Baretti had almost turned the corner when a man came up, gave him a blow with his fist, and demanded why he had struck the woman. Other men appeared and Baretti was subjected to a vicious assault.

He was surrounded by a crowd and severely pummelled for being a “Frenchman.”
At the corner of Panton Street there was a large puddle of water to which his assailants attemptedt to drag him. Whereupon Baretti shrieked “Murder !” at the top of his voice.

He tried to break through the crowd, but was flung from one side of the circle to the other.
At last he saw an opening, and dashed through. “I could not run so fast as my pursuers, so that they were upon me, continually beating and pushing me, some of them attempting to catch me by the ahir-tail,” continued Baretti in his statement.

“If this had happened I had been certainly a lost man. I cannot, absolutely fix the time and place where I first struck. I remember, somewhere in Panton Street, I gave-a quick blow to one who beat off my hat With his fist.”

The blow referred to wag-done” with a knife.

The,crowd pursued Baretti into Oxenden Street, and there he stopped and turned on his assailants. Then, seeing a shop open, he dashed in.

Three men followed him, and one of then him to surrender. This man was a constable who,at Baretti’s request, took him to the magistrate, Sir John Fielding.

The injured man, Evan Morgan, was taken to Middlesex Hospital, whence a messenger was dispatched to ascertain his condition. On the evidence of a surgeon that the “man’s
life was in danger, Baretti was committed to Tothill Fields Prison.

He was finally acquitted, but his ordeal hastened his death, which occurred on May 5th, 1789. So died the man who once famously quipped:-

I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.