Secret London is trying our hand at mythbusting, as we investigate some of London’s creepiest and craziest urban legends…
They say that the truth should never get in the way of a good story, and this is certainly the case for London’s urban legends. Some are myths that have survived for centuries, whilst others are more recent additions. Some of them may even be true… We’ve put together the top nine urban legends that are strange, spooky, and even downright loony, to see if there’s any truth to them.
1. There’s a vampire in Highgate Cemetery
Sounds so far-fetched that it must have been dreamt up by those wacky Victorians, right? Nope, this myth first appeared in 1969, and immediately caught the public attention. It all began with the sighting of a spooky grey figure, which obviously can’t have been anything other than a vampire. Locals were soon seen marching on the cemetery, some armed with crucifixes and wooden stakes, in the hope of killing it, and the furore only died down after a man was arrested for consecrating graves. Since no proof of the vampire was ever found, it could still be out there… Information is sketchy as to whether he’s the malevolent Transylvanian type, or the broody yet sparkly American kind, so you’ll have to search for yourself.
Secret London’s verdict: Definitely false. Even Stephanie Meyer doesn’t actually believe in vampires (we presume).
2. An American accidentally bought London Bridge
This is one of the most popular urban legends about London, and it simply refuses to go away. In 1968, when the old London Bridge was in danger of collapsing into the Thames, it was auctioned off to American entrepreneur Robert P McCulloch, who had it shipped across the sea and rebuilt in glamorous Lake Havasu City, Arizona. End of story, right? Well no, because the rumour went around that McCulloch actually thought he was buying Tower Bridge, and even though it has been denied by literally everyone involved in the deal, it still makes for a fun story.
Secret London’s verdict: Funny as it is to believe – Americans do have a track record of making, ahem, strange choices – this one is almost certainly false.
3. There are no roads in the City of London
It’s one of those urban legends that’s so outlandish it surely has be false. How else do the buses get around?! This one relies on a technicality, as most of the streets in the City of London were named before ‘road’ entered the English language. Consequently, it has Alleys, Streets, and Squares aplenty, but until 1994, there was not a single Road in the entirety of the Square Mile. That was the year in which boundary changes put half of Goswell Road in the City of London, although part of this road still belongs to Islington.
Secret London’s verdict: True, but only on the technicality that there are no FULL roads in the City.
4. A monstrous beast roams Hackney Marshes
Back in 1981, four kids were crossing the marshes on a cold winter’s morning, when they happened upon a “giant, great, growling, hairy thing”. This can’t be blamed on a disgruntled hipster without his morning caffeine fix, since this was long before Hackney got hipsterified. Naturally, it was assumed that this was some sort of hideous monster, and whilst it hasn’t been seen since, we’d advise keeping an eye out if you’re in the area.
Secret London’s verdict: Probably the result of too many horror films, this one is surely false.
5. Green Park has no flowers because of a cheating monarch
The Merry Monarch better known as Charles II used to pick flowers for his wife in Green Park. However, the dastardly dog also picked flowers for other women, and when his wife got wind of this, she ordered all the flowers to be removed to foil his smooth moves. This is said to be the reason why Green Park has no flowerbeds, unlike the other Royal Parks. The queen’s plot didn’t quite work out though; Charles II ended up fathering at least twelve illegitimate children. Seems the ladies liked more than just the flowers…
Secret London’s verdict: No flowerbeds, but Green Park does have wildflowers, so this isn’t entirely true.
6. Spring-Heeled Jack still torments London
He’s got long claws, he vomits fire, and he jumps higher than an Olympian. Spring-Heeled Jack was the supreme terror of Victorian London, until another Jack turned up several years later to steal the crown. In the 1830s and 40s, tales of Jack were common – attacking women, causing carriage crashes, and pretending to be a fire-breathing policeman. Mass hysteria and regular appearances in the penny dreadfuls further contributed to the legend of ol’ Jack. A man called Thomas Millbank boasted of being Jack and was subsequently tried, only escaping jail because he was unable to breathe fire on command. The most popular theory is that Jack was a wacky nobleman with money to burn on outlandish costumes, but that didn’t stop him being spotted as recently as 2012.
Secret London’s verdict: False. He’d certainly add some Victorian lunacy to present-day London, but the legend of Spring-Heeled Jack is just that.
7. London’s wild parakeets are Jimi Hendrix’s
Perhaps the most delightfully kooky story on this list concerns London’s most colourful wild birds. You’ve probably seen at least one of the 60,000 strong flock of parakeets that inhabit south-west London, and wondered where they came from. Well, Jimi Hendrix owned a flat in Mayfair in the 1960s, and was known to have a couple of rose-ringed parakeets – the very breed that now roam wild. Could the rock star have released the original breeding pair from Carnaby Street?
Secret London’s verdict: Since no-one has ever definitively proved where the birds came from, we’re choosing to believe this is true.
8. There’s a killer pool in Epping Forest
This isn’t a Secret London headline for a new lido in Epping. One of the darkest of London’s urban legends, this tale is about a pool that supposedly murders people. Many years ago in the darkness of the forest, a young couple in love were murdered beside the pond by the woman’s disapproving father, and things have gone rapidly downhill since then. The water reportedly turned inky black, the wildlife around it started to die, and then corpses starting turning up on the shore. Locals began whispering that the pool was somehow drawing people towards it and then drowning them in the murky depths. Creepily, no-one knows exactly where this pool is, and it doesn’t appear on any map – so the rules for Epping Forest are the same as they were in Jaws: don’t go into the water.
Secret London verdict: A murderous pond? Pfft, obviously false. We won’t be going looking for it though…
9. Hitler wanted to live in Balham
I mean, who doesn’t? When Hitler was brainstorming his takeover of Europe, he apparently spent time considering where his UK headquarters would be. Whilst Senate House also claims the dubious honour of being desired by the Fuhrer, Du Cane Court in Balham emerged as another leading contender. It looks like a standard apartment block now, but at the time it was considered an Art Deco masterpiece. Amongst the reasons for this rumour are the fact that it escaped the Luftwaffe’s bombs even as much of Balham got hit, as well as the fact that it looks like a swastika from above (if you really squint). Or maybe Adolf was just really into Art Deco?
Secret London’s verdict: Kind of irrelevant given how history worked out, but since we can’t ask Adolf, this could have been true.