|Start: St James's Park Underground Station.||Duration: 2 Hours|
|Best of Times: Evenings.||Worst of Times: None.|
This walk goes through an area with a decidedly royal feel.
It includes a refreshing stroll through the delightful St James's Park, where you can admire the abundant and varied species of waterfowl, descendants of those introduced by Charles II.
You may also encounter the headless woman who has been known to disturb the peaceful tranquillity of the park from time to time.
Then, after passing two Royal Palaces (both haunted), you enter the timeless village of St James’s, where several old houses are still visited by residents who have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.
The walk ends in the elegant streets of Mayfair.
Here is the most haunted house in London, where you might just glimpse the thing that has caused several people to throw themselves to painful deaths from upper windows.
The last section, although lacking in ghosts, takes you into the narrow alleyways and courtyards of Shepherd's Market, where you should explore the old-fashioned labyrinth of streets.
Leave St James’s Park Underground Station from the Petty France exit and go over the pedestrian crossing into Queen Anne’s Gate. Follow it as it turns right and, halfway along, pause by the statue of Queen Anne (1665–1714).
There is a local tradition that, at the stroke of midnight on 1 August (the anniversary of the Queen’s death), the statue climbs down from the pedestal and walks up and down the street three times.
No doubt, as the Queen keeps her annual vigil, she pauses to admire what is architecturally one of the finest streets in London.
At the end of Queen Anne’s Gate go left into Dartmouth Street and then straight ahead to the clearly visible Cockpit Steps.
From the bottom of the steps a headless lady is often seen moving across the pavement and drifting over the road in the direction of St James’s Park, opposite.
The Times, told in January 1804, of two Coldstream Guards who were so frightened by her that they were confined to hospital, where they remained seriously ill for some considerable time.
In 1972, a motorist driving along here late at night collided with a lamppost when he swerved to avoid a woman in a red dress who suddenly appeared before him.
Amazingly, the history of the mysterious haunting was brought up at the subsequent court case and the motorist was acquitted of dangerous driving!
Turn left off the steps and cross the pedestrian crossing into St James’s Park
The park was originally laid out for James I in 1603 and re-landscaped for Charles II in 1660. In 1667 he introduced exotic birds to the park.
Go along the path through the beautiful and picturesque park and pause on the bridge. This crosses the delightful lake, which dates from 1827, when John Nash re-landscaped the entire park.
A headless woman is sometimes seen in this vicinity. She rises slowly from the dark rippling waters and drifts slowly across the surface of the lake.
Reaching dry land, she breaks into a frenzied run, her arms flailing wildly about her. Petrified onlookers stand rooted to the spot as the headless figure rushes towards the bushes and vanishes.
In life, she is thought to have been the wife of a sergeant in the guard who murdered her in the 1780s. Having hacked off her head, he buried it in a secret location before flinging her body into the lake, which was then little more than an expanse of marshy ground.
Since that fateful day her headless spectre searches in vain for its missing head.
Cross the bridge, where you have a superb view of Buckingham Palace on the left. Walk ahead along the path that leads to the Mall and go over the pedestrian crossing, then turn left along the Mall and turn first right into Stable Yard Road.
Look through the gates at the house. Built in 1825 for the Duke of Clarence, who was later to become King William IV, Clarence House today is the London home of Prince Charles.
During World War II, the building housed the offices of the Foreign Relations Department of the British Red Cross Society.
In her book Haunted Royal Homes Joan Forman tells of a clerk, Sonia Marsh, who was working alone in the vast building one Saturday afternoon when she got the uneasy feeling that something was watching her.
Looking into the darkness, she saw a greyish, smoky, triangular mass coming towards her in a bobbing motion.†Petrified, she leapt to her feet, grabbed her coat and raced from the building into the chill of a gloomy October afternoon.
†When on Monday morning she told a colleague of her experience, the woman commented, ‘It was probably the Old Duke of Connaught.’†Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria, lived at Clarence House from 1900 until his death in 1942.
†It would appear, however, that his ghost was roaming the corridors and rooms of his London home for several years afterwards.
Return to the Mall and pause by the next right turning. You can either cross over or remain here and look at Buckingham Palace.
This, the Queen’s London residence, was built in 1703 for John Sheffield, the first Duke of Buckingham. George III was the first monarch to own it, beginning a restoration that would continue through the reigns of George IV and William IV before the young Queen Victoria moved into the building in 1837.
Long before, a priory stood on the site on what was then an inhospitable site surrounded by marshland. Some say that it is the ghost of a monk who died in the monastery’s punishment cell that haunts Buckingham Palace.
He always appears on Christmas Day, on the terrace overlooking the gardens to the rear of the building. Bound in heavy chains and dressed in brown, he clanks and moans his way backwards and forwards for a few minutes before fading into nothingness, not to be seen again until the next Christmas.
The palace has a second and more contemporary ghost, dating from the reign of Edward VII. Major John Gwynne, the King’s private secretary, was involved in a scandalous divorce that meant he was shunned by polite society. In shame, he retired one night to his first-floor office with a revolver and blew out his brains. Since that day, staff working in the vicinity have occasionally heard a gun firing in the room where the suicide occurred.
Turn right along the pathway that goes alongside Green Park.
The park is reputed to have been the burial ground for the nearby leper’s hospital of St James’s. This is said to be the reason for its lack of flowers. Park-keepers whisper in hushed tones about a particular tree which they have dubbed, poetically the ‘Tree of Death’. They give it a wide berth when working in the park, no birds sing from its branches, and dogs avoid it. A general feeling of melancholy is said to emanate from it, which may account for the high number of suicides that have been found hanging from its branches. A few witnesses have been scared witless by a throaty, gurgling chuckle that suddenly sounds from inside the tree. Others have caught glimpses of a tall, shadowy figure that stands beside the tree, pointing at them, but which vanishes the moment any brave or curious person moves towards it.
Some way up on the right, go through the gates that lead into the narrow Milkmaid’s Passage, named for the days when this was a rural area and maids would come along carrying fresh milk to the dairy of nearby St James’s Palace.
Leave the passage and turn onto Cleveland Row. Keep straight ahead to St James’s Street, passing St James's Palace on your right.
Built by Henry V111, St James’s Palace remained one of the principle residences of the Kings and Queens of England for more than three hundred years. Its most famous haunting, however, dates from the first half of the 19th century.
In the early hours of May 31st 1810, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and brother to George 1V and William 1V, was awoken from a deep sleep at around 2.30am, by what he at first though was a bat fluttering around his chamber.
The next thing he knew, he was subjected to a ferocious attack, as a sharp bladed weapon began slashing at his padded nightcap and gown. As he attempted to deflect the blows, his hands and wrists were cut, and in desperation he screamed for help.
A valet by the name of Cornelius Neale rushed to assist, and found the Duke’s regimental sabre, covered in blood, lying on the floor by the door.
A doctor was summoned, and as his wounds were being treated, Cumberland asked for his other valet, Joseph Sellis to be sent for. Two servants went to rouse him, but as they approached his room, they were startled by a strange gurgling sound from within.
Opening the door, they found Sellis lying dead on his bed. His throat had been cut back to the spine and his head almost severed from his body. A hastily convened inquest concluded that the dead valet had, for reasons unknown, attempted to murder his master, and in remorse had returned to his room to committ suicide.
Court gossip, however, had a different take on the matter, and talk of a cover up was rife. Some said that Cumberland had, infact, murdered Sellis and pointed out that Sellis’s hands were found to be clean and that there was bloodstained water in his wash - basin.
Would the valet, the doubters wondered, have had the time or the inclination to wash his hands, having, apparently, almost cut his head off? Several alternative scenarios were soon circulating as to what had really happened.
One version maintained that Sellis had found the Duke in bed with his wife and, in an ensuing struggle, had been killed to stop him exposing Cumberland’s adultery; another held that Cumberland had seduced Sellis’s daughter who, finding herself with child, had committed suicide.
When Sellis confronted his employer, the Duke had silenced him forever to avert a scandal. In the mid 19th century, an even wilder theory had it that the Duke and his other valet, Neale, were involved in ‘the grossest and most unnatural immorality,’ and that Sellis, having caught them in the act, was murdered on the Duke’s orders.
Whatever the truth, there are occasions when the old palace has settled at night when the ghost of Sellis has been seen walking the corridors, a gaping wound across his throat, the sickly sweet smell of fresh blood trailing in his spectral wake.
Cross over the two pedestrian crossings opposite the main gate of the palace and walk along Pall Mall to turn left into the second alleyway, which is Angel Court.
This dark, forbidding passageway, probably named after an ancient inn that once stood here, rises gradually upward to bring you to the Golden Lion, a palatial pub where a ghost of unknown gender is regularly glimpsed in the upstairs bar.
Staff clearing up here at night cross to the stairs when, from the corner of their eyes, they glimpse someone at the table to the right of the window. When they turn and look there is nobody there.
Customers, too, have seen the ghost from the corner of their eyes, never clearly, and when they look directly at the table it is empty.
Leave the pub and go left along King Street (keeping to the right pavement), cross St James’s St by the pedestrian crossing and go straight ahead into St James’s Place.
A plaque on the wall of number 28 commemorates the statesman William Huskisson (1770–1830), the first person to be run over by a steam train.
The large, stately building next door is Spencer House, former ancestral home of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Follow the road as it bends and, at the very top, go into the almost concealed courtyard on the right.
The dilapidated, yellow building you are standing outside was, for many years of the last century, the home of two spinster sisters, Ann and Harriet Pearson, who were deeply devoted to each other.
After Ann died, in 1858, Harriet lived in the house alone. But in November 1864, while on a visit to Brighton, she fell seriously ill.
She was brought back to her London home and nursed by her two nieces, Mrs Coppinger and Miss Emma Pearson, and her nephew’s wife, Mrs John Pearson.
On 23 December heavy snow began to fall in the street outside, and a thick mist swirled around the windows of the house. Mrs Coppinger and Miss Pearson retired to bed, leaving Mrs Pearson to look after their ailing aunt.
They left their door open and the landing gaslight burning. At about one in the morning both jerked awake and saw their dead Aunt Ann go past their open door and into the sick room.
Mrs Pearson then rushed into their room in a state of great agitation, having also seen and recognised the dead woman. All three returned to their aunt’s bedside, where she told them that she had just seen her sister and knew Ann had come to call her away.
Shortly afterwards, Aunt Harriet slipped into a coma, dying peacefully at 6 o’clock that evening.
Leave the alleyway and take the passageway, to the left of Castlemaine House, that leads back onto Queen’s Walk. Turn right, walk to the gates and go right along Piccadilly.
Cross over at the traffic lights outside the Ritz Hotel and walk ahead into Berkeley Street. Follow its entire length, then go left and walk clockwise around Berkeley Square.
Having passed over the two crossings, you arrive on the left at Maggs Bros situated at number 50.
The plain Georgian exterior of 50 Berkeley Square belies an interior that still retains much of its 18th century grandeur. Sweeping stairs, high plaster ceilings, over-mantle mirrors, and marble floors and fireplaces, lend the building a decidedly Dickensian air.
For over fifty years it has been the premises of Maggs Bros, Antiquarian Booksellers, and the ceiling high rows of heavy mahogany bookcases that line the walls are stacked with shelf after shelf of leather bound tomes by long dead men of letters - some famous, many forgotten.
Yet there is nothing in the yellowed pages of the thousands of books on display that comes close to matching the sinister happenings that were once an everyday occurrence within these walls.
Happenings so terrifying that, for much of the 19th century, 50 Berkeley Square was known simply as “the most haunted house in London.”
Charles Harper in Haunted Houses, published in 1907 stated that “… It seems that a Something or Other, very terrible indeed, haunts or did haunt a particular room. This unnamed Raw Head and Bloody Bones, or whatever it is, has been sufficiently awful to have caused the death, in convulsions, of at least two foolhardy persons who have dared to sleep in that chamber…”
One of them was a nobleman, who scoffing at tales that a hideous entity was residing within the haunted room, vowed to spend the night there. It was agreed, however, that should he require assistance he would ring the servants’ bell to summon his friends.
So saying, he retired for the night. A little after midnight there was a faint ring, which was followed by a ferocious peeling of the bell. Rushing upstairs, the friends threw open the door, and found their companion, rigid with terror, his eyes bulging from their sockets.
He was unable to tell them what he had seen, and such was the shock to his system, that he died shortly afterwards.
As a result of its dreadful reputation, no tenant could be found who was willing to take on the lease of “the house” in Berkeley Square, and for many years it remained empty.
But its otherworldly inhabitants continued to be active. Strange lights that flashed in the windows would startle passers-by; disembodied screams were heard echoing from the depths of the building; and spookier still, the sound of a heavy body was heard being dragged down the staircase.
One night, two sailors on shore leave in London, were seeking a place to stay, and chanced upon the obviously empty house. Breaking in they made their way upstairs, and inadvertently settled down to spend the night in the haunted room.
They were woken by the sound of heavy, determined footsteps coming up the stairs. Suddenly the door banged open and a hideous, shapeless, oozing mass began to fill the room. One sailor managed to get past it and escape.
Returning to the house with a policeman, he found his friend’s corpse, impaled on the railings outside, the twisted face and bulging eyes, grim testimony to the terror that had caused him to jump to his death, rather than confront the evil in the room above.
Many theories have been put forward to account for the haunting of 50 Berkeley Square. Charles Harper reported that the house had once belonged to a Mr Du Pre of Wilton Park who locked his lunatic brother in one of the attics.
The captive was so violent that he could only be fed through a hole, and his groans and cries could be heard in the neighbouring houses. When the brother died, his spectre remained behind to chill the blood and turn the mind of anyone unfortunate enough to encounter it.
Another hypothesis holds that a Mr Myers, who was engaged to a society beauty, once owned the house. He had set about furnishing the building in preparation for their new life together when, on the day of the wedding, his fiancé jilted him.
The disappointment undermined his reason, turning him into a bitter recluse. He locked himself away in the upstairs room and only came out at night to wander the house by flickering candlelight.
It was these nocturnal ramblings that, so the theory goes, gave the house its haunted reputation.
Whatever the events, tragic or otherwise, that lie behind the haunting of 50 Berkeley Square, there is no doubt that the building has a definite atmosphere about it.
Indeed, it is said that the fabric is so charged with psychic energy that merely touching the external brickwork can give a mild shock to the psychically inclined.
Nor are the ghosts, as is often claimed, consigned to the buildings past. Julian Wilson, a bookseller with Maggs Brothers, was working alone in the accounts department, which now occupies the haunted room, one Saturday morning in 2001, when a column of brown mist, moved quickly across the room and vanished.
That same year a cleaner preparing the house for a party, felt the overwhelming sensation that someone, or something, was standing behind her. Turning round she found that that the room was empty.
A man walking up the stairs was shocked when his glasses were snatched from his hand and flung to the ground. In October 2001 I was asked to appear in a BBC documentary on Haunted London, and we were fortunate enough to film inside 50 Berkeley Square.
Part of the programme entailed the soundman and myself having to stand in the dark in the haunted room for about five minutes, waiting for the signal to switch the lights on and off. Although nothing actually happened, I can honestly say that I found it a truly frightening experience, and we were both glad to be able to rejoin the rest of the crew in the street outside.
Continue along the roadway until, a few doors along you arrive at number 44 Berkeley Square
Nikolaus Pevsner described 44 Berkeley Square as "the finest terrace house of London," whilst Horace Walpole, who was a frequent visitor, applauded the building’s staircase as being "…as beautiful a piece of scenery and, considering the space, of art as can be imagined…"
It was designed in 1742 by William Kent for Lady Isabella Finch, a Maid of Honour to George 11’s sister, Princess Amelia.
Behind its elegant Palladian façade, which belies an interior of breathtaking, splendour, she entertained many of luminaries of her age, the proceedings and servants being watched over by her devoted major-domo, who cut a dashing figure in his green livery and powdered wig.
Later, the house was purchased by Lord Clermont, who frequently entertained the Prince Regent, the future George 1V, here, and having passed through a succession of owners, in 1959, the Clermont Club took over occupancy.
But Lady Finch’s major-domo has chosen to linger on in spirit form, and over the last two hundred years, his ghost, resplendent in smart green uniform and handsome perewig, has often been seen flitting up and down the grand staircase, keeping a watchful eye on the playing of roulette and backgammon that now goes on in the grand salon.
He is said to walk with a slight limp, and his appearances are brief, for having satisfied himself that all is well, he melts through one of the staircase doors and ascends the narrow, spiral staircase to his bedroom at the top of the house.
Go back to the crossing and turn right into Charles Street, turning first left into Queen Street, Mayfair.
Go over the two crossings, turn left into Curzon Street and then right through the covered passage into Shepherd’s Market.
This charming network of narrow streets and alleys was laid out in 1735 on the site of the May Fair that gave the area its name.
Pass the Grapes pub and continue ahead into Whitehorse Street, a gloomy thoroughfare that leads to Piccadilly
Now turn left and keep going until you reach Green Park Underground Station where the walk ends.