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Welcome! Pick a tour or browse our articles & galleries!
Okay, first admission: I’m not really talking about Morris Dancing.
No. Our problem is much bigger than that. What I’m talking about is a sinister, macabre figure who penetrates through a significant chunk of European folklore and folk festivals: the Hobby Horse.
The Hobby Horse is a figure that appears in Mummer’s Plays and Morris Dancing right from their inception in the 14th to 15th Centuries: the simplest is a horse’s head on a stick, the ‘tourney horse’ is less threatening still, being a hoop around the dancer’s waist held on with shoulder straps and puppetted around as if it was a an unruly capricious animal for fun and jolly japes.
Not all Hobby Horses are interested in jolly japes. Click here for the full article!
John Stow, the protestant historian who would later write his incredibly important Survey of London in 1603, wrote about the incident in his additions to Holinshead’s Chronicles:
“On Sundaie the fourth of August, Tempest in Suffolke between the houres of nine and ten of the clocke in the forenone, whilest the minister was reading the second lesson in the parish church of Bliborough, a towne in Suffolke, a strange and terrible tempest of lightening and thunder strake through the wall of the sale church into the ground almost a yard deepe, draue downe all the people on that side aoue twentie persons, then rernting the wall up to the vesutre, cleft the doore, and returning to the steeple, rent the timer, brake the chimes, and fled towards Bongie, a towne six miles off. The People that were stricken downe were found groueling more than halfe an houre after, whereof one man more than fortie yeares and a boie of fifteen yeares old were found starke dead: the others were scorched. The same or the like flash of lightening and cracks of thunder rent the parish church of Bongie, nine miles from Norwich, wroong in sunder the wiers and wheels of the clocks, slue two men which sat in the belfreie, when the other were at the procession or suffrages, and scorched an other which hardlie escaped.”
However, the local Rector, Abraham Fleming, had a darker tale to tell. Fleming was a schoolmaster and a scholar, in addition to being the Rector of the parish church of St. Pancras Bungay, wrote a tale of warning about man’s debauchery, atheism and fornication. In a pamphlet called A Strange and Terrible Wunder, published in 1577, he said the events of August 4th were… Click here for the full article!
Prophesy has always been a big deal here in Britain. In the run up to the Great Fire of London (and, of course, afterwards) the world was full of portents: In August 1666 the Spanish Ambassador claimed that a ‘deformed monster’ had been born in London. “[It was] horrible in shape and colour. Part of him was fiery red and part of in yellow, on his chest was a human face. He had the legs of a bull, the feet of a man, the tail of a wolf, the breasts of a goat, the shoulders of camel, a long body, and in place of a head a kind of tumour with the ears of a horse.”
This wasn’t the only horrendous thing born of woman in troubled times: Meaux Abbey in Yorkshire said that a ‘human monster’ was born in Kingston-Upon-Thames, divided from the waist up with one half the upper body of a man and the other half the upper body of a woman (although this does sound rather more like a simple case of conjoined twins than anything in any way supernatural, especially since they became an accepted part of the community and lived until they were eighteen.) This unfortunate but mundane genetic abnormality/Satanic Hellbeast (probably the former) was seen as a portent of the Black Death.
An English poem form the time shows us the mood of the time:
“The rysing of the comuynes in Londe,
The pestilens and the eorthequake,
Teose threo things, I understand, betokenes the grete vengance and wrake,
That shulde falle for synnes sake,
As this clarkes canne de-clare,
Nou may we chese to leave or take,
For warnynge have we to ben ware.”
– A Warning to Beware, Anonymous, 1380.
Thomas Wimbledon preached at St. Paul’s Cross in 1388, saying that Armageddon would come in 1400, continuing a tradition stretching back to the earliest foundations of Christianity that the world was going to end really soon, and Christians would get the best end of it.
However, one of Britain’s most distinctive mythological figures was also a highly exported (Christianised) prophet of doom: Merlin Ambrosius. Click here for the full article!
Guest blogger David Saunderson, editor of The Spooky Isles, picks his top five spooky spots to visit in London
I’ve been living in London now for over two years and during that time I’ve visited many of its amazing haunted and strange places thanks to Boo Tours. Here are some of my favourites:
Charterhouse Square, EC1
This unassuming square in Smithfield seems pleasant enough but it was the centre of some of London’s most distressing and dark history.
The Charterhouse itself was a 14th century monastery that was dissolved by Henry VIII and was the site of a bloody siege when the Carthusian monks refused to bow to will of the king.
The square itself, which is now a lovely green garden, is a plague pit and is the final resting place of thousands -tens of thousand apparently!
There’s more death and destruction in the small area around Charterhouse Square than probably the rest of London put together.
Clearly with such pain and suffering, there are a lot of ghosts associated with Charterhouse, but the most famous is Thomas Howard, the fourth Duke of Norfolk. Howard was executed in 1572 for conspiring to marry Mary Queen of Scots.
His headless ghost has apparently been seen wondering the house with his noggin tucked under his arm.
The streets of Whitechapel, E1
The streets of Whitechapel are famous the world over for being the site of the infamous Jack the Ripper killings.
During the autumn of 1888 – 125 years ago this year – Whitechapel was terrorised by the murders of five prostitutes who were ripped to shreds by the knife of an unknown slayer.
To this day, people still argue and debate the identity of the world’s first serial killer. While the buildings and lane ways have changed, there is still much to see – including some of the pubs frequented by suspects and victims at the time.
All of these pubs have their ghostly tales – but The Ten Bells in Commercial Street is a nice one to visit – it’s very small and gets crowded but apparently it has the ghost of Annie Chapman, the second of the canonical five Jack the Ripper victims. Staff have reported poltergeist activity and unexplained gusts of wind.
The Tower of London, EC3
The Tower of London, on the north bank of the Thames, also has a dark and bloody past (there’s seems to be a connection here, doesn’t it?) and loads of ghosts!
The impressive complex was founded around the time of the Norman Conquest and has played a key role in English history ever since. It has been the prison of the highest nobility and the lowest of criminals. It’s now known as The Bloody Tower for the cruel and gruesome torture, executions and murders that took place between its walls – including the assumed killings of “The Two Princes” in the late 15th Century.
Other royals such as Henry IV, Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Margaret Pole (Countess of Salisbury) are said to haunt the Tower of London to this day.
All the spookiness aside, The Tower of London is an unforgettable place to visit if only for its beautiful architecture, extensive displays of weapons and armoury and to lay your eyes on the stunning Crown Jewels!
The Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, EC2
In the early 1800s, a fellow named Philip Whitehead, who worked at the cashier’s office of the Bank of England, was found guilty of forgery and subsequently hanged for his crimes. Whitehead’s sister Sarah had not been told about her brother’s crime and execution, so when she turned up one day to the bank to see where her brother was, the shock of the news instantly drove her insane.
Sarah would continue to visit the bank every day asking for her brother and she became a common fixture in Threadneedle Street.
Staff and merchants were generally kind to “The Black Nun” as she would become known for her dark clothing and took pity on her. But about 1818, the Governors of the Bank paid Sarah to stay away – which she did = in her living years, that is.
To this day, reports of this woman in black have been reported late at night on Threadneedle Street asking passersby if they have seen her brother. A sad and very creepy tale indeed.
The Grenadier Pub, SW1
The Grenadier Pub is one of the few places that I have been spooked in. Haunted pubs are generally great to visit because of their hair-raising tales and historic architecture and decor. But The Grenadier seems to have that added extra.
The pub is tucked away in a tiny, dimly-lit backstreet of Belgravia. It started its time as an officer’s mess for the nearby Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards and today it is still decorated in military memorabilia.
The most interesting mementos is the cash from across the world decorating the ceiling. The money is a reminder of a horrific murder that happened in the 19th century.
A young soldier was found cheating at a game of cards and thrown down the stairs – he died and his ghost has haunted the pub ever since. Visitors to the pub now donate money to be pinned on the ceiling to help pay the dead soldier’s gambling debts.
The current owner has told me ghostly goings on at the pub and for anyone interested in real life haunting, The Grenadier is should be definitely on their list.
For more ghostly tales, check out The Spooky Isles (www.spookyisles.com) with its huge archive of articles about British and Irish ghosts, horror and dark history.
Strange noises, Strange Lights, The Undead AND The Devil
So, you’ve got to go out. Maybe you’re a doctor, or you have an important delivery to make. You stay away from crossroads, and places with names like ‘The Devil’s Bum–Rape Shed.’ You stay away from backroads, and forests, and there’s no marsh. You ignore the strange lights and there’s a nice, bright moon. You choose a nice, bright moon cutting through the fields…
Too bad those are the perfect conditions to see Helequin’s Hunt. Click here for the full article!
And if the devil wearing your dead loved one’s skin wasn’t bad enough, what about actually meeting him out there in the night?
The devil was a major figure in Medieval and Early Modern life. He was around everywhere, recruiting witches, possessing corpses and hanging out on lonely roads at night. London witch Elizabeth Sawyer told the story of how she met the devil in the form of a man named Tom who appeared when she was using blasphemous language. Folklore is full of clever old ladies who get the devil to build bridges, gorges and roads for them, outwitting Old Nick by sending a pig, dog or chicken across in her place.
Not only that, but evidence of the the devil’s nighttime activity have been marked on the landscape in the most shocking way: as late as 1855 the people of South Devon woke up to find a series of cloven hoofprints travelling unstoppably for just under a hundred miles (the prints formed an almost unbroken line, travelling straight through haystacks, over walls and even continuing on the roofs of buildings that lay in their path.) Click here for the full article!
So, okay, you don’t care about strange sounds, or the weird lights trying to lure you to your doom (did we mention that the people of Prague once saw and entire legion of ghostly figures rise out of the earth and get sucked up into a glowing, bloody cloud? They did. )
You don’t care about any of that.
Cool. We’ll just release the zombies… Click here for the full article!