|Start: Turnham Green Underground Station.||Duration: 2.5 Hours|
|Best of Times: Daytime.||Worst of Times: Evenings.|
This walk goes through two distinctive and delightful parts of London, featuring an array of hauntings that includes a mad cook, two of Oliver Cromwell's daughters and a disturbing bout of 20th-century poltergeist activity.
The walk begins in England's first garden suburb, Bedford Park.There follows an uneventful mid-section along Chiswick High Road and across the busy A4 before you arrive amid the tranquil, wooded grounds of the beautiful Chiswick House.
The last section of the walk is almost rural in its setting: you amble gently along a picturesque reach of the Thames, lined with grand 17th-and 18th-century houses, to finish at a wonderfully evocative old pub, which has a salutary tale of a haunting that led to tragedy.
Turn right out of the Underground station, go past the line of shops, and walk a little further along to the:-
Tabard Inn was built in 1880 and designed by the architect Norman Shaw (1831–1912). It became the archetypal English pub, and its style was much imitated by pub builders over the next fifty years. The Tabard is haunted by the shade of an old lady, dressed all in black, who sits at tables saying nothing but apparently whistling to herself, although no sound is ever heard.
Go left out of the pub, cross Bath Road at the crossing, keep straight on into The Avenue and take the first left into Bedford Road.
You are now walking through the streets of London’s first garden suburb. Bedford Park was created as a middle-class commuting village in the 1880s and soon became a community of writers, artists and other Bohemians. The peaceful streets through which you now stroll are lined with pretty and spacious houses.
Upon arrival at a Victorian pillar box, go left into Esmond Road. A little way along on the right, a line of post-war council houses seem strangely at odds with their larger Victorian neighbours.
In July 1956 the inhabitants of one of these houses became the targets of a poltergeist, who would throw pennies at them. The coins appeared from nowhere and struck several members of the household. Their thirteen-year-old son, David, was struck in the face.†When razor blades began to drift around the house and a spanner thrown by an unseen hand smashed a window pane, the family called the police. The two constables sent to investigate were, at first, suspicious of the claims. But, when one of them went to search the garden and was also struck by a flying penny, they became as mystified as the family. Finally, it was decided that whatever was responsible for the phenomenon was focusing on young David and it was decided to send him to stay with relatives for a time. No sooner had he left than the activity ceased and, fortunately, it did not resume upon his return.
Continue along Esmond Road, turn right onto South Parade and, at the mini-roundabout, go left to pass under the two railway bridges into Fisher’s Lane.
Turn left onto Chiswick High Road, go over the pedestrian crossing and turn left over Linden Gardens to arrive at the police station.
This squat modern building stands on the site of Linden House, an 18th-century manor where, in 1792, a Mrs Abercrombie was hacked to death by her son-in-law, Thomas Wainwright. In the 1950s Chiswick Fire Station occupied the site, and firemen would frequently hear the sounds of a woman’s footsteps walking briskly around the basement during the early hours of the morning. The noises would always stop the moment anyone opened the basement door and switched on the lights. Since the building became Chiswick Police Station the basement has been devoid of ghostly activity, although a spectral lady has been known to put in ghostly appearances on the third floor of the new building.
Backtrack over Linden Gardens to walk along narrow Linden Passage, opposite. This later changes to Bourne Passage and, having crossed Duke’s Avenue, becomes Barley Mow Passage. Go through the latter and keep ahead onto Heathfield Terrace.
Just past the post office, on your left, a dominating building with round roof windows towers above you.
Built in the 1870s on the site of a former barracks, this imposing construction, the Chiswick Warehouse, has been a West London landmark ever since. Today it offers comfortable and spacious luxury apartments. Twenty years ago it was a storage warehouse, with a second floor that workers were reluctant to visit alone. They whispered of an intense feeling of icy coldness that would suddenly grip those who ventured there. There was talk of a mysterious, sinister-looking man seen lurking in the shadows and of strange shapes that twisted and writhed across the ceilings. One porter was astonished when a little old man appeared from nowhere, walked briskly past him, and disappeared through a solid locked door, while others complained of invisible fingers that poked them hard in the back as they carried out their duties. The building’s conversion to luxury flats has apparently stilled whatever restless spirits lurked on the second floor, for none of the residents have complained of anything untoward occurring…yet!
Continue along Heathfield Terrace and, after the Town Hall, go left into Sutton Court Road. A long uneventful walk now takes you over the very busy Ellesmere Road (via the pedestrian crossing).
Continue along Sutton Court Road and take the second left into Staveley Road and then the third left into Burlington Lane. A little way along, pass through the white gate to enter the grounds of Chiswick House.
Immediately the mood changes. The uneventful housing that has been your escort for the last ten or so minutes gives way to peaceful, dense woodland. Dark paths wind their way through thick shrubbery and tall majestic trees tower over you. Continue past the obelisk and head toward the white domed building that is visible in the distance. Be warned, for this path, surrounded by skeletal trees and fringed with thick vegetation, can be an unnerving place to wander, even on the brightest of days. Some say that they catch glimpses of a dark, shadowy figure that moves through the undergrowth, keeping pace with them every step of the way.
Go left off the path, skirt the lake, turn right over the bridge and make your way to the house.
It was inspired by the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio’s Villa Capra (or Villa Rotonda) in Vicenza, Italy, and designed by the Earl of Burlington in 1725. Chiswick House was a monument to the earl’s appreciation of art, and was used as a meeting place for artists, sculptors and influential politicians before becoming a home and an entertainment venue for various dukes of Devonshire. Two Prime Ministers have died here, Charles James Fox in 1806 and George Canning in 1827. Later in the 19th century it became a lunatic asylum before being abandoned and left to fall into disrepair. It was bought by Middlesex County Council and transferred to the ownership of the Ministry of Works in 1958.
The new occupants set about an extensive restoration project designed to return the building to its original splendour. It was during this refurbishment that the inexplicable smell of bacon and eggs would waft around the building. The workmen laughed it off as the ghost of ‘one of the mad cooks’. Ever since, though, staff and visitors have constantly been mystified by the distinctive smell of fried bacon that permeates the back gallery and can hang in the air for up to three months, then not be noticed for a few years. Some visitors claim to sense a female presence in the bedchamber and one lady looking in the mirror there – the only original mirror in the house – was dumbfounded to see the distinctive form of Lady Burlington reflected behind her, but on turning, she found the room empty.
Leave Chiswick House by the main entrance, and go left along Burlington Lane. Cross at the pedestrian crossing, continue left, then turn right into Powell’s Walk.
As you pass along this narrow pathway, high brick walls rise up on either side. Gradually the noise of the traffic becomes a distant murmur, while the glass and steel that for a moment threatened to engulf you in a tide of urban development give way to a picturesque, almost rural setting.
On arrival at the robust green iron gates of a burial ground, follow the path left and make your way to a strikingly handsome stone parish church.
Founded in the 15th century, this was dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and fishermen, when Chiswick was a fishing village. Although the church was rebuilt in 1882, the tower is original and dates from 1446.
Barbara Villiers, whom we shall encounter again at Walpole House, is buried here in an unmarked grave, and the churchyard contains a fine memorial to the engraver William Hogarth. The churchyard is haunted by the white-clad figures of Mary Fauconburg and Frances Rich, daughters of Oliver Cromwell. After their father’s death, they lived to a glorious and ripe old age. Rumours have long circulated that, following her father’s posthumous beheading. Mary bribed a guard to allow her to smuggle her father’s headless corpse away from Tyburn, and that she subsequently had it re-interred in the same vault here at St Nicholas’s Church where she and her sister would eventually rest.
When the church was rebuilt in 1882 the vicar decided to investigate the rumour and he opened the vault. He found the coffins of the two sisters but also spied a third coffin, which showed signs of rough usage, pushed hard against the wall on the far side of the vault. Fearing the arrival of groups of sightseers to moralise over Cromwell, he had the vault bricked up and left it unmarked. Perhaps the fact that their resting place was desecrated by a vicar who, by his own admission, disliked everything their father stood for is why the two spirits return to wander amongst the graves. They drift through the early morning mists until the first rays of daylight are heralded by the dawn chorus, then melt into the wall of the church and return to their unmarked grave.
With your back to the church go a little way along Church Street where, on the right with a large lamp outside, is:-
Old Burlington. The timbered walls of this quaint old house once echoed to the chatter of the tap room and the clink of beer tankards, but the building has long since been converted to a pleasant private house. It is haunted by a good-humoured, harmless old ghost, who sports a wide-brimmed black hat and a billowing cloak. Since he is content just to stare out from the upper windows and cause no inconvenience, he is left to his own devices by residents, who have christened him ‘Percy’.
Go back towards the church, keeping to the left pavement. Go down the hill and bear left onto Chiswick Mall. To your right is one of the prettiest and most picturesque urban reaches of the Thames.
The Mall is a place to absorb the peaceful ambience of the riverside location as you stroll at a leisurely pace, admiring the splendid houses, which date from between the 17th and 20th centuries.
Keep ahead until, some distance along on the left, you arrive at:-
Walpole House. For the last two years of her life, a famed royal concubine ebbed out her days in this peaceful, modest house overlooking the Thames. The diarist Samuel Pepys called her ‘the curse of the nation’ yet, when he dreamt of holding her in his arms, he commented that, if death meant slipping into such a dreamlike existence, it wouldn’t be too bad! Her name was Barbara Villiers (1640–1709), Duchess of Cleveland; she was mistress of King Charles II and arguably the greatest beauty of 17th-century society. By the time she came to live here, her royal lover had been dead some twenty years and, worse still, her appearance had begun to change alarmingly. She had swelled ‘gradually to a monstrous bulk’, which her physicians diagnosed as due to dropsy, and her time here proved one of the most miserable periods of her illustrious life. Local residents would whisper of seeing her, bathed in moonlight, standing at the windows, her hands clasped to her breast, imploring her maker to restore her beauty. But her pleas went unanswered, the dropsy proved incurable, and, on Sunday 9 October, 1709, at the age of 67, she breathed her last tortured breath.
But Barbara did not go gently. Although beauty might only be skin deep, for her the lament of its loss was eternal. When the full moon casts its eerie hue upon the Mall, its shimmering light illuminating the windows of her old house, Barbara’s puffy, bloated face can still sometimes be seen, pressed against the glass, her dark eyes rolling in despair as she implores and begs for the restoration of her lost looks. Others have heard the distinctive tap of her high heels moving backwards and forwards across the upper floor as her restless spirit relives time and time again the agonies of those final years at Walpole House.
Continue along Chiswick Mall, then turn left into Eyot Gardens and first right into Mulberry Place.
Follow the right bend to turn left along Hammersmith Terrace, at the end of which is the:-
Black Lion. Two hundred years ago, a piggery stood on the site now occupied by this delightful old pub. The pig farmer began to brew beer for himself and his friends, and this proved so popular that it soon overtook his farming interests and the Black Lion was born.
Black Lion Lane, on which the pub stands, was much troubled from 1804 onwards by the Hammersmith Ghost. This white, shrouded, spectral form would wail, moan and writhe its way around the vicinity causing much terror to local residents. The haunting reached a tragic climax when an excise officer, Francis Smith, ‘filled his blunderbuss with shot, and himself with ale’ and went out to lay the ghost. Unfortunately he mistakenly shot dead a white-clothed plasterer, Thomas Millwood, who was on his way home from work. The subsequent inquest was held at the pub and full details of that fateful night can be read in a newspaper cutting now displayed inside. The bar staff, working alone in the early morning, have often heard strange, anxious footsteps pacing back and forth across the upper floor. The pub has known other uncanny doings. Towards the rear is the Long Room, an eerie place at the busiest of times. A barmaid happened to glance into it one morning and noticed a pretty little girl, wearing an Alice in Wonderland-style dress, skipping along the centre aisle. Wondering who the child was, she went to investigate and found the room completely empty.
And so the walk draws to its cosy finale.
The nearest underground station is Stamford Brook. Reach it by walking along Black Lion Lane, go under the pedestrian subway, continue left at the church and walk to King Street. Turn left and then right at the traffic lights into Goldhawk Road. A little way along on the left is Stamford Brook Underground Station, where the walk ends.