Event review: Good ghost hunting – the Wandle Ghost Walk, Saturday 21st March

By - Tuesday 24th March, 2015

There’s something strange in the neighbourhood. Liz Sheppard-Jones investigates

Photo by Croydon Council, used with permission.

At nightfall on Saturday 21st March, my boyfriend and I made our way to Wandle Park tramstop, starting point for the Wandle Ghost Walk. I’ll admit I’d done a bit of persuading, mentioning the pub afterwards and ‘an hour or so’ when actually I knew the walk would take longer, so I was seriously hoping it was going to deliver.

Fifteen of us and one dog eventually assembled on the platform, to be greeted by our guide and gifted ghost-muster, Tom Smith. (By daylight he’s Wandle Park Volunteering and Learning Officer in the council’s environment department). As we introduced ourselves, it emerged that amongst our number were several who take their ectoplasm pretty seriously and must have been excited when Tom explained there was a chance of hobnobbing with spectral Tudor royalty. So off we went along the tramside path and through South Quarter to the Wandle trail in Mill Lane.

The Wandle spooks are an eclectic bunch

Tom knows his local – and national – history well and used the early part of the walk to brief us engagingly on the Tudors and their connections to Croydon and its surrounds. Not all of these were known to me: I’m well up on Henry VIII and Old Palace (nowadays a school) but hadn’t known that Walter Raleigh married Bess Throckmorton, to the grave and jealous displeasure of Elizabeth I, at Carew Manor in Beddington Park or that following his execution, his widow arranged for his severed head to be buried in the graveyard of St Mary the Virgin next door.

The Wandle spooks turned out to be an eclectic bunch. Tom related a number of hauntings and the stories behind them and I’ll never find that stretch of Purley Way by Waddon Marsh tramstop and Sainsbury’s featureless again (I will be looking out for the phantom motorcyclist). I was also struck by sightings of a pilot around Croydon airport; allegedly this is the ghost of a man killed in 1936 when his plane went down in heavy fog. His apparition is said to issue bad weather warnings to others nowadays – a genuinely chilling story.

Croydon’s ancient roots never fail to cast a spell on me

Since I hugely enjoyed the walk and recommend it to others, I’m reluctant to do spoilers. But another dramatic stretch came around Carew Manor, once a girls’ orphanage, where we learned that following an outbreak of plague, some of the children were put into a mass grave. Its exact location is now lost. These are horrible events and Tom was enthusiastic about frightening us, getting all torches turned off for atmospheric stretches. I found myself quite irritated by the bright and effective lighting in the park which while obviously making it safer, also made it harder to get ourselves truly creeped out.

Photo by Croydon Council, used with permission.

Beddington Park is also apparently haunted by a ‘ganesh’, or devilish black dog, legendary portent of death for anyone who looks into its eyes – and Croydon’s fascinating history and ancient roots certainly never fail to cast a spell on me. I had fun too: my advice is wrap up warm, wear practical shoes, take a torch, and get into the spirit of the thing. Just one point: the walk was a fair old way and by the time you’ve trekked back at the end it’s two hours on your feet. Happily my boyfriend had been entertained throughout and there were no grumbles, but it’s important to note distance and duration if you’re elderly or thinking of bringing children.

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts

The most interesting comment of the evening came when Tom observed that the area has witnessed a great deal of emotional upheaval and that this might be connected to the strange experiences people have reported down the years: mysterious chills, a sense of unease, glimpses of things that can’t quite be explained. One woman apparently moved away after believing she had seen one of three nuns who were killed when the plane went down in fog. I couldn’t help but notice how many of the recorded sightings follow consumption of alcohol, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but I’m not scornful: the powerful presence of the recently dead is something I’ve experienced and I suspect many others have too. We use so little of our brains’ capacities and even as a super-rationalist, the idea of some kind of imprinting after a traumatic death makes sense to me.

As the (tragically) late Terry Pratchett remarked: “You’re not dead until the ripples you created in the world have died away”. Some people’s ripples are bigger than others. Croydon was and and is a place of passion and the ripples run on.

For more information about the council’s Walk Croydon programme, click here.

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Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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