Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Myth of the Hammersmith Ghost

Ghost myths are characterized by the fact that they can have elements of truth but these stories become so exaggerated that they fall into the category of folklore. 

In 1803, a ghost that became known as the ‘Hammersmith Ghost’ terrorized the residents of Hammersmith located on the north bank of the River Thames in west London. This tale is a classic example of a ghost myth. But in this instance this mythical ghost tragically resulted in a real haunting.

The Hammersmith Ghost was said to be the spirit of a local man who had committed suicide by cutting his own throat. There were reports that his spirit had been seen in the vicinity of the local cemetery. 

The residents of the area became even more fearful, as one young ladies tale of her encounter with this ghost became known. Walking home from work late one night she dared to take a short cut and pass near the church graveyard where the activity had been reported:

“One poor woman in particular, when crossing near the churchyard about ten o'clock at night, beheld something, as she described, rise from the tombstones. The figure was very tall and very white. She attempted to run; but the ghost soon overtook her, and pressed her in his arms, when she fainted; in which situation she remained some hours, till discovered by some neighbours, who kindly led her home, when she took to her bed, from which, alas, she never rose.” *

The fact that she died from the shock of this encounter is a good example of how this story takes on mythical proportions. But regardless this report alarmed the locals to an even further extent. It is said that many of them camped out in the area at night in an effort to capture this ghost—but there were too many paths leading to and from the graveyard for them to discover the ghost.

Wanting to calm the rising hysteria a local excise officer, Francis Smith, decided to investigate this alleged ghost. Not believing in the supernatural he headed to the location armed with his blunderbuss. When the ghost appeared it startled Smith and he fired. His aim was true and the ghostly figure fell to the ground. 

Unfortunately, when Smith approached the figure he was horrified to find that he had shot and killed an innocent “dust covered bricklayer” by the name of Thomas Milward. It was Milward’s misfortune that he had chosen that night to take a short cut through the cemetery on his way home.

Milward’s body was removed to a nearby pub called the Black Lion. ** Francis Smith was tried for the murder of Thomas Milward and was sentenced to death. But shortly after this decision, taking into consideration the unusual circumstances, the court commuted his sentence to one year’s hard labor. Here is a link to one interesting account of this trail.

But this is not the end of this unusual story for after this trail the real identity of the Hammersmith Ghost was discovered. It was a local man who was dressing up to frighten another local man. Ironically he was trying to take revenge on this man by scaring him because he had scared his children by telling them ghost stories. But again this story does not end here for the innocent man who Smith killed, Thomas Milward, haunts the Black Lion pub where his body was placed after he was killed.

Several ghosts haunt this pub but a lot of the activity seen and heard is attributed to Thomas Milward. Witnesses to this activity state lights and computers turning on and off with no apparent reason. Others who have eaten dinner in the pub area have reported hearing someone whisper their names only to turn around and find no one there. Yet other patrons have been scared when an unseen entity has tapped them on the shoulder.

The room above the pub over the years has been reported as having a variety of activity. Footsteps and banging have been heard overhead. A former owner of the pub reported that he felt a cold breeze whisk through him while he stood at the door to this room. He stated that he felt it was the entity walking right through him. One of the more recent investigations that was done at the pub caught objects moving.***

*  This is taken from an account written about a trail that resulted from this false haunting.

**  The Black Lion became an inn in 1778, originally it was a coaching inn and provided stables for its visitor’s horses.

***  The Black Lion pub experienced a bad fire in January of 2009, since it has been refurbished and reopened.

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