Home » Cultural Life » The Laughing Ghost of Limehouse and other Local Ghost Stories

The Laughing Ghost of Limehouse and other Local Ghost Stories

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Limehouse – St Anne’s Church

As a treat for Halloween I have trawled the local history files for tales of the unexpected, Firstly we have a report from a local newspaper of 1827, where a couple in Limehouse are being visited by a ghost with a unusual  sense of humour.

The neighbourhood of Limehouse, like the Highlands, in the good old days of the bogles, has, it seems, been haunted for, some months back, by a most refractory and incorrigible phantom. The facts of this afflicting visitation are simply these:—A Mr. and Mrs. Dickenson took a small house, in October last, at the upper end of Church-street ; but scarcely had they passed the first half of the first night in it, when a sort of a loud chuckling laugh (the very sound which,if you could fancy a grasshopper intoxicated, he would no doubt make,) was heard, proceeding as it seemed from the bedroom  closet. Now, it so happened, that the bedroom of this worthy couple had no closet, whereupon being puzzled to account for the phenomenon they very naturally explored the whole house from top to bottom. Still no explanation was afforded.

The next night, at the same hour, the same fat chuckling laugh was heard, and as it appeared close to Mr.Dickenson’s ear, that much injured individual jumped up, and throwing his inexpressibles indignantly, but with a due regard to decorum, around him, he rushed again into the adjoining, room, where, however, nothing was found that could at all throw light upon the mystery. Meantime, the confounded cachinnations continued, first threeshort, broken winded laughs, then a halt, then a long asthmatic ululation, the whole wound up by a solemn midnight stillness.

The affair now became truly distressing. To think that an attached couple, when absorbed in those chaste connubial endearments on which all married folks set so high a value— to think, we repeat, that an amiable pair thus engaged should be interrupted by the villainous laughter of a ghost; ‘the   bare idea is revolting, and fully justified Mr. Dickenson- in his application to the parochial authorities. ‘This he did ‘on the third night, but alas! what can a beadle, or even a parish clerk avail against the evil one? Every night, albeit a brace of undaunted constables kept watch in Mr. Dickenson ‘s   apartment, the cacophonious interruption continued till the whole set were fairly laughed to scorn. This was some weeks back, but the noises, we should observe, are heard up to the present time, though, as they have appeared more asthmatic of late, it is to be hoped that their fiendship owner may one night break his wind and die. Meanwhile, the house, like Ossian’s dwelling of Moina (only infinitely more touching), is desolate, for Mr: and Mrs. Dickenson have evaporated, and no one has since, been, found at all desirous of being laughed into fits every night, by an ungentlemanly  good-for-nothing goblin. Here the affair rests at present.

Not sure I know what they mean by  “throwing his inexpressibles indignantly,” and “absorbed in those chaste connubial endearments” but altogether a sad sorry tale of  ghostly manic laughing.

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Blackwall Tunnel Entrance

If you thought that such events were a thing of the past, let us move forward in time some 150 years for our next story,  The Case of the  Blackwall Tunnel Ghost

A recent popular story in many Haunted London books and magazines is the story of the Blackwall Tunnel Ghost. The incident is supposed to have happened in 1972 when a motorcyclist picked up a hitchhiker on the Northern Approach to the tunnel at Greenwich. When the motorcyclist picks up the hitchhiker they have a friendly conversation about where the hitchhiker lives. The motorcyclist and his passenger climb aboard the motorcycle which then enters into the tunnel. However when the motorcycle  comes out of the tunnel in Blackwall, the motorcyclist finds that his passenger has disappeared. Fearing that his passenger had fallen off in the tunnel, the motorcyclist returns through the tunnel but can find any trace of the mystery hitchhiker.

The following day the motorcyclist decides to visit the address given to him by the mystery hitchhiker, when he arrives and talks to a woman who lives in the house, he is shocked to find out that the young man had died in a motorcycle accident near the tunnel many years before.

This story has been told so many times in its different versions that it deserves to acknowledged as an Urban Legend. Which is more than can be said for our next story “The Phantom Vicar of Ratcliffe Wharf”.

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Wapping Old Stairs

Once again in the 1970s, a magazine printed the story of a famous ghost that haunted the Wapping and Limehouse riverfront known as the Phantom Vicar of Radcliffe Wharf. He was supposed to have run a seaman’s mission in the 1770s, although respected by the local community for his good deeds , he did however have a nasty sideline of killing his guests for their money and throwing their bodies into the water.

In the 1970 article written by a Frank Smyth for the  Man, Myth and  Magic  magazine, there were quotes from people who claimed to have seen the ghost of the evil cleric along the desolate riverfront. According to Smyth, local people who worked on the river never went down to the wharf after it got dark.

After the article, other magazines and books often made reference to Phantom Vicar who haunted the riverfront, It was even featured in a TV special.

However in 1975, Frank Smyth who was a staff writer on the magazine  in an interview with Sunday Times confessed that he had invented the story. His motive was that he was so fed up with stories about modern ghosts that he decided to invent a good old-fashioned ghost and the derelict wharves seemed a perfect location for the mythical old vicar.

The reaction to the original story was such, that it soon become accepted that there was a Phantom Vicar and even when Smyth tried to convince some old river workers that it was fantasy, they replied they had heard the story from their Grandfathers when they were boys.

Which perhaps proves that many of us enjoy  a good scary story even if we know it’s not true.

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