The Hammersmith Ghost is a recurring Ghost of a 19th-century SUICIDE victim in Hammersmith, London, responsible for a murder in a case of mistaken identity.
Around 1802, a local man committed suicide and was buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard in Hammersmith. Reports of his ghost lurking in the churchyard began to circulate in October 1803. The figure, dressed in white robes, achieved quick notoriety and terrorized passersby at night. By December of that year, the ghost was said to attack a wagon and passengers and to assault people in lanes near the church. On December 31, the ghost allegedly attacked and choked a man named Thomas Groom as he approached the churchyard.
A newspaper account told of the ghost wrapping its “spectral arms” around a woman, who fainted. “Kindly neighbours led her home, whereupon she took to her bed and never again rose,” the account said. Another witness saw the ghostly figure discard a white tablecloth and run, which suggested that a live person was impersonating the ghost.
Meanwhile, a bricklayer named James Milwood had been mistaken for the ghost. Milwood wore his trade clothes—white fl annel and a white apron—in the vicinity of St. Paul’s after dark. He accidentally scared two women and a man, but assured them he was not a ghost. He threatened to punch the man in the head. Milwood was advised by friends not to wear white around the church because of the ghost reports, but he ignored the advice.
Francis Smith, a vigilante customs officer, took it upon himself to hunt down the ghost. Armed with a rifl e, Smith went drinking at the Black Lion Lane Inn pub near the church on January 3, 1804, and then went out on ghost patrol. Around 11 P.M., he spotted a figure in white. Smith challenged the figure, but it kept moving toward him. He fired his gun. The figure proved to be Milwood, who was instantly shot dead.
On January 5, an inquest was held at the Black Lion Lane Inn, and the jury found for an unlawful killing. The next day, January 6, a man named James Graham was arrested for impersonating the ghost; he was released on bail.
Smith was arrested and charged with willful murder. On January 13—justice was swift in those days—he was tried at the Old Bailey in London. Smith told the jury in his own defense, “I did kill him, but I honestly thought it was a ghost.”
The jury quickly returned a verdict of manslaughter, but the judge ordered them back to return with a verdict of murder. The jury obeyed, and Smith was sentenced to death. He received a royal pardon, and his sentence was commuted to a year of hard labor.
On January 20, 1807, Graham was in trouble with the law again. He was convicted of being drunk and disorderly. Whether or not he was the “real” Hammersmith Ghost was never proved.
The Hammersmith Ghost disappeared for nearly two decades and then suddenly reappeared in the churchyard in 1825. Somehow a legend of a periodic return took hold. The ghost was predicted to appear on August 3, 1955.
On the appointed night, a crowd of about 100 people gathered at about 9:30 P.M. in St. Paul’s churchyard in hopes of seeing the specter. More than 10 hoaxes were pulled, and police escorted three “ghosts” from the premises. By midnight, most of the crowd had gone home, disappointed at seeing nothing.
At midnight, 17 people reported seeing the ghost. A newspaper account reported that “something in white” wafted out of the northwest doors of the church, which were locked, and drifted over to a lone tomb belonging to Fenn and Colvill family members who had died between 1792 and 1848.
The ghostly figure was brilliant white and had no legs, according to witnesses. It floated over the tomb for about 20 seconds and then vanished into it. Three women said that prior to the appearance of the ghost, they heard an unusual rushing sound, like a sudden wind.
The Hammersmith Ghost was predicted to appear on August 3, 2005. Despite media publicity, only about a half dozen people gathered in the churchyard. No phenomena were experienced. Several waited until 1 A.M.
Why did the ghost fail to appear? Recurring or anniversary ghosts sometimes “die” without explanation— perhaps whatever powers their appearance loses energy over time. Change of environment also may be a factor. The churchyard itself is much the same as it was in the early 19th century, but the surrounding area has been considerably built up with roads and a highway. Construction seems to be a factor in the disruption of many hauntings.
FURTHER READING :
- Ezard, John. “Ghostly murder haunts lawyers 200 years on.” The Guardian, January 3, 2004, p. 10.
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