The Isle of Dogs is surrounded by the River Thames on three sides and for generations, Islanders have developed a close link to the river and the ships that travel up and down the river. However, although the river is relatively benign, many stories have been told about mysterious and strange happenings on the river and along its banks.
Recently I came across a newspaper report from 1916 which discusses many of these old stories of crime and ghostly happenings.
Father Thames Stories of Crime and Sorrow This River Could Tell – 1916
Just as no other river has quite the same wonder as belongs to the Thames, so no other river is so wrapt in mystery,, so surrounded with stories of tragedy and crime.
Many of the old waterside houses, which rise sheer with the river, contain rooms in which the floor is built directly over the water—floors upon which one could stand in apparently perfect safety while someone in an adjacent room worked a lever which caused the floor to open and their victim to drop into the river.
A gambling club is said to have met in such a room once a year to play for tremendous stakes. The party played on, until one of their members was ruined. Then the rest of the men went away in silence, while the ruined man went down into the dark waters.
One of the old waterside houses at Wapping, too, is among the bits of the Thames with a reputation for being haunted. A flight of steps leads from the house to the river, but these steps are disused, and the door at the top of them is walled” up. Despite this, often people passing by on the river at night-time swear, to have seen two men come through the walled door and down the steps. Then, after lowering some bundle into the waters, they return to the house. The identity of the men and the contents of their handle remain among the insoluble stories of the Thames.
The Thames-Police Force, of about 300 men, is employed to guard against all sorts of additions to the mysteries of the Thames, and their task is of far greater magnitude than might be casually, imagined. Most imperative is it that each member of the force shall he an expert swimmer and understand the right methods for dealing with persons rescued from the water.
A very large number of persons are saved from intentional and accidental drowning in the river every year, an average number somewhere between seventy and a hundred. But the number of persons who are found drowned strikes are still greater averages—it is never less, and often more than a hundred in a year; besides which, it is well known that the waters of the river close above many persons of whom nothing more is ever seen or heard.
But, if stones could speak, the bridges across the Thames could tell many pitiful and grim life stories, especially Waterloo Bridge, which has such sad associations as to have gained it the sobriquet of “The Bridge of Sighs.” Incidentally, Waterloo Bridge is another part of the Thames which is said to be haunted. It is not so very long since a more than usually clear-sighted man went to the police with the information that he had seen a woman jump from the parapet of Waterloo Bridge. He had been crossing the bridge late one night, when he had noticed a woman in black walking in front of him. Suddenly he saw her make an appealing gesture, but before he could reach the woman she had disappeared.
That was all. There was no splash following her disappearance, and no result came from the search which was made. Those who were familiar with the history of the river said that: the man had seen the ghost of Waterloo Bridge—the tragic woman in black, of whom nothing is known, save, that she haunts the London “Bridge of Sighs.”
Another mysterious thing about the Thames which no amount of police supervision will destroy, is the “ghost” boats which have been and are, frequently seen in various parts of the river. It is a fact that river police patrols have actually given chase to such ghost ships, to find there is nothing substantial to be found on reaching the place where the ships had seemed to be.
One of the most curious stories of this kind is that of the mysterious boat which was seen making its way along the water towards London Bridge one day, about a quarter of a century ago. As she neared the bridge there was a tremendous explosion, a vivid burst of light, and then nothing ! Not so much as a splinter of wood remained of the boat which had been, and the story of it lingers from that day to this as one of the hundreds of tragic unknown things which form the secrets of the river mystery.
This newspaper report reminds us that in the Victorian era especially, there were great interest in the paranormal, supernatural and occult. There might be many reasons for this, one being the high mortality rates. Many Victorians admitted to having communication with ghosts and believed without question of their existence.