Cursed gifts and untold visions: The Headless Statues of Crystal Palace Park

There is much to be written about the drifts of psychic memory that swirl through Crystal Palace Park. The famous dinosaurs are a petrified glimpse into the knowledge and preoccupations of Victorian science. A deserted and beautiful subway lies hidden under an A road, a reminder of the long-demolished railway station it once served. And root-mangled stairways lead to shabby remnants of 20th Century concrete utopianism.

Keep wandering. The vast, splintering void of the soggily marooned concert stage beckons you to who-knows-where. The maze is said to be London’s largest; it is certainly its hardest to escape. The park’s resident crows guard crumbling Italianate terraces and peck at the charged ground of the burned-down Crystal Palace itself, which had been intended by the Victorians to be a permanent beacon of culture, sciences and the arts.

But all of that is for another time.

This post will be a short summing up of one of the more tangible (albeit only recently documented) phenomena: the apparent emergence of vision-inducing powers in a number of the park’s headless statues.

In each case, reports seemed to begin at around the turn of the millennium.

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‘Dante’

This manuscript-clutching gentleman is said to be a representation of Dante, who’s Inferno famously begins in a dark, impenetrable wood. It is unclear whether this claim predates the number of reports in which those who have come into contact with it find themselves standing in the middle of a thick, shadowy wood or forest.

For most, this vision seems to be fleeting and apparently harmless – the worst case being the commenter on an online forum who wrote that since touching the statue and experiencing the vision, a burning sensation occurs in his right hand whenever he enters a wooded area.

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The Hollow Woman

This one bites a little harder, so it is just as well she is up on a plinth, currently fenced off. In 2011, a woman grasping the statue while clambering up to get a better photo of the park and the distant North Downs, found herself suddenly and frighteningly transported to a ‘black and hellish’ dimension of unknown definition.

It took the very loud shouts of her boyfriend to pull her back from this vision and give her the will to remove her hand. Luckily, her subsequent dazed fall landed her on the three-foot-drop side of the wall, not the fifteen-foot-drop side.

Others who have placed a hand on the statue have described finding themselves horrifyingly breathless, adrift in a vast galaxy of stars.

Either way, we wouldn’t risk it.

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The Seated Woman

This one, situated at the top of the park – not far from the historical site of the Crystal Palace – is to be avoided at all costs. In 2004, a schoolboy using the statue as a goalpost rested his hand on her shoulder while defending a corner. It took the boy’s friends several minutes to prise his hand free, during which time the unfortunate victim had been locked in a ‘terrified trance’.

No-one knows what he saw, because he has been unable to communicate since, but his parents told a local reporter in 2014 that a decade on, their son’s nights were still plagued by relentless, screaming nightmares, and while awake their ‘ghostlike’ son was cursed by a chronic fear of music, poetry and prose.


  • Candidate: The Crystal Palace Headless Statues
  • Type: ‘Vision’ type gateways
  • Status: Presumed Active

Night static: The Nine Elms Entity Recordings

These are transcripts of three recordings made within the last month. They were leaked to us by someone working for a company that logs radio traffic within the security industry. The fate of the subjects (whose names have been changed) is unknown. PoL’s attempts to follow it up with the relevant bodies and corporations have met with resistance.

The events within, to our mind, constitute convincing evidence for some manner of cross-dimensional breach.

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RECORDING ONE: 7.1.18 0218 

Guard One: Found anything?

Guard Two: Give us a chance

G1: How’s it looking down there?

G2: Well creepy

G1: Diddums. I did say I’d go

G2: Next time you can

G1: Suits me…. Are these your Maltesers?

G2: Hands off. I know how many’s left. Four

G1: (munching) Two

G2: Wanker

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G1: What? You’ve got pockets, haven’t you? Anything left lying around the trailer is fair game

G2: Nob

G1: Is anything down there or what?

G2: Not much. Apart from the ingress

G1: They need to get that sorted

G2: Yep

G1: You’re not warming your soggy socks on the heater again, my nostrils can’t take it

G2: [inaudible]

G1: But is – can you hear anything?

G2: Not with you all over my frequency

G1: Oh fine, then. Tweetie bye

[30 seconds pass]

G2: There’s nothing down here

G1: You’re still alive! I’ll call off the search party

G2: Weird, though. Definitely heard something

G1: Have you been up the far end? Checked every dark inaccessible corner? You can’t just swish your torch around and call that a search, you’ve got to get down on your hands and knees and get in there

G2: Yeah, yeah. Oh!

G1: What?

G2: Nothing. Must have been a rat. Passed right by my foot

G1: Why I let you have all the fun jobs, I don’t know

G2: I’m heading back. It’s well creepy down here

G1: Wuss

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RECORDING TWO 9.1.18 0346

G2: What’s it going to be down here, anyway?

G1: Basement rooms for the service staff

G2: Spacious, at least

G1: Might look a bit different when they’ve put the dividing walls in

G2: Oh yeah. They’ll never know how creepy it was

G1: Don’t start that again. A grown man, afraid of the dark. Ever thought maybe night security isn’t the job for you?

G2: Wasn’t it meant to be your turn?

G1: It’s you who keeps hearing things

G2: Well, there isn’t much down here

G1: You surprise me

[light static appears on Guard Two’s end]

G2: [inaudible] see it when its finished

G1: Finished? The block? They won’t finish them, mate. No-one’s buying the flats

G2: — said they’re all sold off-plan to foreign billionaires [inaudible] even built

G1: That was the first lot. The foreign billionaires have moved on now

G2: -‘ll be your Brexit

G1: Maybe. And so what?

G2: So, it’s a waste is what

G1: Well, they won’t get built, mate, cry about it all you like. Might be a few rich wankers knocking about down the road in their private gyms and floating pools, but this crop’ll stay like this for a while yet. Empty shells

[static]

G1: Of course, they’ll still want security at night, so suits me

[static]

G1: Loz?

[static]

G1: You still there, mate?

G2: -d on

G1: What?

G2: There is something

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G1: Something? What?

G2: – light [inaudible] – of hovering light

G1: A torchlight? Is someone down there?

[static]

G1: Loz? You there, mate?

G2: Not a torch. Wait, it’s gone now, behind a – no, there – HELLO?  —‘S THERE?

G1: Loz?

[static ceases]

G1: Loz? Listen, if there is someone down there then maybe you should –

G2: I don’t know

G1: What?

G2: I’m walking towards it, but – Maybe I imagined it

G1: Imagined it? Jeez. Is this a repeat of the time you thought we were under attack by terrorists and it was scrawny teenagers making a youtube video?

G2: Gagh

G1: What?

G2: Suddenly stinks down here, the water [inaudible]

G1: What?

[silence]

G1: Look, if you want to head back for a cuppa I won’t call you a wuss. You’re freaking me out, now

[static returns]

G2: – water’s moving

G1: You what?

G2: – flowing toward – ugh

G1: Now what?

G2: -ssive dead rat

G1: Seriously mate, the kettle’s boiling

[static ceases]

G1: Loz?

G2: That light up the other end, it seemed to – maybe I’ll take a look

G1: Loz, mate, leave it. You said yourself you imagined it

[silence]

G1: Loz?

G2: Yeah, OK

G1: You’re heading back in?

G2: Yes

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RECORDING THREE 12.1.18 0258

G2: There were elms, you know.

G1: You what?

G2: Elms. Elm trees. Around here, centuries ago. Nine of them, presumably

G1: Fascinating. What made you think of that?

G2: All that water I guess

G1: This ingress?

G2: See, it was all marsh round here, originally

G1: Loz. What are you gibbering on about?

G2: Maybe that’s where all the water keeps coming from

G1: From the past?

G2: From the – I don’t know, the ground water, the water table, what have you

G1: More likely to come from the sewers, given the smell

G2: Do you know there’s the timbers of a jetty up by MI6 which are six and a half thousand years old?

G1: Blimey, you’re a font of enlightenment this morning

G2: Just trying to keep you company. I know how spooky it is down there

G1: Doesn’t bother me

G2: Is the water moving?

G1: Hold on – no. Yes! It’s hard to say

[static appears on the line]

G1: woah

G2: Rat?

G1: -nake!

G2: A snake? Really? Could be an eel?

G1: -k, yeah. Maybe. [inaudible] glimpse in my torchlight

G2: Pretty weird, either way. How did that get in?

[static]

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G2: You seen enough yet?

G1: – check up the far end, I guess

G2: You did hear it too, this time?

G1:  -ot sure now. There was –teen floors of plastic wra-[inaudible] a gale above our head-

[static increases]

G1: -ait!

G2: What is it?

G1: [inaudible] hovering light

G2: What? The light? Is it – what is it doing?

G1: Hovering. Jee- [inaudible] the fuck is it?

G2: I don’t know what it is. I hoped I imagined it. Maybe get out now, Col

G1: – there but not there –

G2: I know. Get out now, Col

G1: [inaudible]

G2: What?

G1: – moving. It’s moving. It – [inaudible]

G2: Get out, Col!

[From here heavy static covers Guard One’s end of the line, his words hard to discern]

G1: [inaudible] – kiz —

G2: Col?

G1: – close [inaudible] me!

G2:  Col? What’s happening?

G1: [inaudible] yer [inaudible] ack! – agh!nah–

[end of audio]


  • Candidate: The Nine Elms Entity Breach
  • Type: Unknown
  • Status: Unknown

Hidden worlds: The Stoke Newington Nursery Vanishing

Halfway along Stoke Newington Church Street is a rift. A lost world of leaf, iron and stone; a crouching, brooding interruption in the row of high-end bakeries, fashionable cafes and designer home-ware shops:

Abney Park Cemetery.

One of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ garden cemeteries built when Victorian London was too full of the dead, Abney Park’s garden element has, over the years, assumed feral dominion over the dwindling numbers of burials. And the graveyard’s dark, knotted pathways and strange, ivy-ridden desire lines have come to acquire a reputation for danger.

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Recent council ‘clean-up’ operations have tried to address this. But, when it comes to the advanced woodland ecology, at least, the authorities are fighting a losing battle.

Beneath the wild-turned trees that spread in every direction from the ruined chapel at the cemetery’s heart, worried by creepers, slowly crushed by roots, lie forgotten numbers of graves.

One of them, maybe, belongs to one Alice Mayhew. If so – and if you could find the 19th Century headstone – it would tell you that Alice was 6 years old when she died.

It would be half right.

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Alice’s father, William Mayhew, was a prominent local Methodist and businessman. When he announced, in October 1882, that his daughter had died, and that she had been quietly buried in a secret location, his status may have accounted for how little further investigation took place. But it also meant that the people of Stoke Newington were quick to fill the gaps with rumours.

That the child had been buried in Abney Park was just one. Some said she had never left the large, sprawling house. She was still there somewhere – dead or alive, depending on the teller.

Another, persistent rumour, that seemed to have the weight of having originated with the house-staff, was that Alice hadn’t died at all, but disappeared – unaccountably – from under the family’s nose.

But the story which took hold among the community was that what had killed Alice was arsenic in the nursery wallpaper.

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The use of arsenic to fix colouring in wallpaper dates to the 18th Century. Most manufacturers had ceased the practice by the 1880s. But the dangers had been known – and arsenic-free wallpaper been marketed – for decades before that.

From birth, Alice was a sickly child. While there were days spent wandering through nearby Clissold Park, she spent much of her short life in the nursery and bedroom – both, it was said, plastered with bright, colourful, poisonous wallpaper.

Arsenic’s ability to attack respiratory functions proved too much for the already weak child. The father – so goes the tale – ashamed to have aided his daughter’s death in such a preventable manner, had quickly buried the body.

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Now, diaries have come to light which cast a different light on these rumours, and suggest a related, but less straightforward answer to the mystery.

The diaries, long thought lost, belonged to Alice’s mother, Elizabeth Mayhew.

Alice’s walks, her diet, her degrees of illness are all recorded in meticulous detail, in a loving mother’s hand. But where the diaries become relevant to PoL’s field of interest is in their accounts of Elizabeth’s conversations with her daughter, and especially those involving the girl’s vivid imagination.

“She delighted me with her talk of the birds again. Such an imaginative little soul. It is the wallpaper, you see. With its darling design of birds in a tree, of late it has quite enchanted Alice”.

Alice speaks more and more of ‘playing’ with the birds depicted on her nursery wall, telling her mother how they fly into the nursery and perch on the furniture when Alice is alone.

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A ‘darling design of birds in a tree’ is the only description we get of the wallpaper, except for a reference to William having proudly chosen the “gaily coloured” paper when Alice was still a baby.

The birds take an increasing hold on the six year old. Alice dreams about the birds, chatters away to them when she thinks nobody can hear, talks to her mother of nothing else and begins to complain of her once-cherished walks outside, pining for the nursery as soon as she leaves the house.

Elizabeth writes:

“This business of the ‘birds in the wall’ has become an unhealthy obsession. In truth, it is quite distressing. Not only does Alice talk to the birds, she tells me, with great sincerity, that they talk back. ‘Not with our words, Mama. But they talk to me'”

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At the same time, Elizabeth recounts a decline in Alice’s health.

“William thinks me most childish but I am sure the thing to make Alice well again is to paste over those god-forsaken birds. It’s hard for a mother to say, but, she frightens me. My daughter frightens me. She is now in constant, whispering communion with the creatures, and becomes secretive and irritable if I dare to ask what they speak of. And she has turned on me. ‘I don’t like it here’, she says. ‘I don’t like you. I want to play with the birds in the wall'”.

Eventually, however, Elizabeth got her way in having the walls repapered, and Alice’s health did improve. For Elizabeth, it marked an upturn in the family’s fortunes: “My happy, interested little girl has returned”.

But we know that’s not the end of the story.

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The Mayhew house is no longer there. Like much of the area’s grand and outdated Victorian housing stock, it was swept away in the post-war rush to provide social housing.

So we return to Abney Park Cemetery.

A little hut by the main entrance houses the Trust volunteers. The stories accumulated in the Park’s 180-year history need tellers. But the Trust also maintains the Park. Lately, their council-aided efforts have made a visible difference. The new, sparklier Abney Park is good news for many, bad news perhaps for cruisers, the jobless homeless, and others for whom the park offered a rare secluded space.

But Abney Park can still keep a secret.

Deep into the graveyard, at the turning of a path which seems to tunnel further than we feel the edge of the Park should be, two parakeets swoop overhead: a squawking apparition of green that cuts the grey January afternoon.

Birdlife thrives here.

The final diary entry of Elizabeth Mayhew recounts in cold, dead prose how, shortly before dawn, she had been awoken by a strange nightmare, a flutter of wings. She runs down the corridor to her daughter’s room. The bed is empty, so she runs to the nursery.

The nursery is empty, too, dead still in the gathering light. Down the middle of the new, striped-blue nursery wall is a large tear, frayed at the edges as if claws have made it. Beyond is a world of leafy, bird-less trees.


  • Candidate: The Stoke Newington Nursery Vanishing
  • Type: Picto-door
  • Status: Historic

Intersecting parallels: The Greenwich Meridian Glitch

Each night, a bright green beam cuts through the sky above Greenwich: a laser, marking the path of the Prime Meridian (the imaginary line – from the north pole to the south pole – from which all other lines of longitude are measured).

It is emitted from the Royal Observatory, high on the hill at Greenwich Park. Another (carved and gilded) representation of the line crosses the building’s forecourt. Many tourists stand here to take the same photo: one foot either side of the meridian, their body half in the western hemisphere, half in the eastern.

There’s only one problem. This zero degrees longitude, accepted in the 19th Century as the global standard for navigation and time-keeping, is the old prime meridian. The new one – invisible, locatable only via GPS – is some 100 metres to the east. The traditional method of calculating longitude was supplanted, and the new meridian adopted, in the 1980s.

Which is interesting, because it was around this time that strange occurrences began to be reported in Greenwich Park.

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A 19th Century marine chronometer for determining longitude at sea source | public domain

The first recorded instance of a temporal or spatial discrepancy within the region of the prime meridian(s) occurred one autumn morning in 1987. A park keeper told of how, while he was out sweeping leaves at dawn, he suddenly ‘jumped’ from one side of the hill to the other. The man refused to cross that patch of ground again, and was re-employed by the council in a different park soon after.

Since then, reports have been sporadic and varied. The precise nature of the Meridian Glitch, as some call it, is unknown – its behaviours unpredictable. But, looked at chronologically, one begins to see a kind of haphazard – and possibly worrying – evolution in the stories:

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The bandstand at Greenwich Park source | licence

Bonfire night, 1994: a small group of Londoners, conducting an unofficial fireworks display halfway up the hill, note a bizarre, two minute delay between the launch of rockets and their explosion in the Greenwich sky.

Summer, 1999: three German teenagers are parted from their school group. They turn up less than an hour later, their teachers having recently sounded the alarm. The students are tired and shaken, and speak of being lost in an empty, dusk-lit park for ‘days’.

Winter, 2002: the owner of a house in the Vanburgh Park Road area, on the eastern edge of Greenwich Park, has a cat who likes to go on extended wanderings in the park. One day, an eerily similar feline walks through the cat-flap: another black-and-white, identical mannerisms, identical appearance – except for a nick in its left ear. After a week of strange co-existence in the house, the owner witnesses the two cats fighting. The original sustains a vicious swipe to the left side of its head, and scampers in the direction of the park. It is never seen again.

Spring, 2006: a Canadian couple stumble from the crowded path that winds up the hill below the Royal Observatory into a silent world of dark, dense woodland. They emerge hours later and lodge a series of complaints with confused Observatory staff.

2013, Twitter:  ‘Got a bit freaked out in greenwich park today. Were they filming some kind of period horror film? #morningjog’

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Looking roughly South-East, up the hill towards the Observatory source | licence

Tim Merriman is an interesting character. A former estate agent, he holds a history of science degree and describes himself as a ‘freelance portologist’. His research into the Meridian Glitch – which he began after hearing the cat story –  has garnered a lot of attention in portal-watching circles. He is a proponent of the theory that the positioning of the prime meridians is key.

Tim sent us an email with some thoughts:

“What is interesting is that the choosing of a ‘prime’ meridian is entirely arbitrary; a construct. Not a lot more than 19th Century maritime power dynamics determined that zero degrees should pass through Greenwich. But arbitrary decisions can have tangible effects! Time and even space are shown increasingly to be functions of human perception. And perception is powerful stuff. A kind of creation. You see, we might think of ourselves as observers, but in observing we perceive and in perceiving we create in surprising ways. In London, where the dimensional structure is already extremely fragile, ideas such as the Greenwich Prime Meridian – tied up, as it is, with big concepts like Time, Empire and Global Uniformity – can have unintended real-world consequences”.

We think we get it.

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source | licence

But any possible reasons behind the dimensional disturbance are perhaps less important than its future manifestations. Are we witnessing the development of something more dangerous, more malevolent, than the simple ‘wormhole’ type doorway that the park keeper experienced 30 years ago?

There is one piece of evidence Tim is keen to track down: the rumoured ‘last selfie’ image. On a busy day in summer, 2014, a phone still attached to a selfie stick was found abandoned in the park and handed in to museum staff. By the time Tim got word that staff members had seen something ‘unexplainable’ – and extremely disturbing – in the background of the mystery tourist’s most recent photo, the phone itself had disappeared once more, and those involved were unwilling to discuss it.

We monitor the situation with interest.


  • Candidate: The Meridian Glitch
  • Type: [Unstable]
  • Status: Active

Featured image: Randi Hausken |licence

Thames Mud, Long Memory: The Bellarmine Jug

The original mudlarks were children who scoured the Thames slime for coal, copper or other items that had fallen from commercial ships: a symbol of inequality in 19th Century London. Poverty remains in the capital, of course – often in sight of the luxury developments that now line the river – but the working docks and their ecosystem are gone. Today’s mudlarks are hobbyists, artists or historians, recalling a piece of London’s long story with every upturned Roman coin or wartime bullet casing.

Of the various associations that exist to promote and regulate this endeavour, PoL is – inevitably – drawn to one of the more esoteric.

The Redriff Society prefer to be known as ‘sifters’. To walk the Thames shoreline, they say, is to beat the bounds of London’s parallel, interspatial parishes.

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Maeve Atkins is their bookkeeper and defacto leader. We find her on a wintery Sunday in December, holed up in her tiny studio in the rafters of the old granary at Rotherhithe. Steam from a kettle curls around shelves of Thames finds and stacks of Maeve’s whirling river-world paintings. On the small table between us is a photograph. It shows the same small table, in the same studio, one year ago.

On the table in the photo is a Bellarmine jug.

These stoneware vessels, named for the bearded cardinal Robert Bellarmine, were also known as Bartmann jugs. German manufacturers produced them in their thousands between the 16th and  18th centuries. Beloved of sailors, they travelled the world as vessels for drink or other small items. Fragments turn up in the mud frequently, but the tidal river is a far from gentle guardian: intact specimens are rare.

But not unheard of, if the photo is anything to go by. This one is caked in river mud, but the greyish-brown glaze, cartouche on a round body, and scratched bearded face on its neck are all there. A typical Bellarmine jug.

Or not.

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source | public domain

That it was unbroken was unusual. But from the moment she saw it, Maeve knew that this specimen held deeper secrets. It was found last December by David Thorpe, a Redriff Society member. The night before he brought it to her studio, the Society had their Christmas party. She had seen him arrive at the pub’s upstairs rooms, looking “very out of sorts”, and leaving shortly after.

David had always been an uncomfortable fit in the Society. “Some of us see the foreshore as more than a threshold between water and land”, says Maeve. “David wasn’t exactly singing from that hymn sheet, shall we say”. She sometimes thought the only reason he didn’t join a more “conventional” mudlarking group was that their monthly meet-up was just down the alley from his flat. That and they laid on free food.

“Some of the City professionals who live round here, they stay in their little boxes. They shop elsewhere, pretend the council estates aren’t here and wherever it is they socialise is always a cab ride away. But not David. I could tell he was looking to be part of something”.

Sat amongst the clutter that afternoon a year ago, speaking as if recounting a dream, he told Maeve exactly what he’d found.

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The Bellarmine Jug

Alone on the foreshore, dusk descending fast, David had decided to call it a day when he spotted it – a bearded face in the mud, grimacing through the half-light. He had found fragments before; a deep thrill grew as he scraped away the sand and mud to reveal the bottle.

He felt its pigs-bladder shape in his hands, and took some rags from his bag to wrap it. As he did so he noticed something else. The bottle was sealed. He knew he should wait to get it inside, in the light, but curiosity got the better of him. With his penknife he scraped a waxy substance from the neck of the bottle. A dusty knot of something, held together by string or hair, rolled out on to his hand. Recoiling from the feel of it, he dropped it to the darkening shore.

As he crouched, searching for the object with the cold LED of his torch, he sensed a movement over his shoulder. Thinking someone was approaching, he turned to look, only to find he was still alone.

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The tide was coming in fast. Soon it would cut off his route to the steps. He gave up on the lost item, cursing his hastiness, and trudged back upstream, the Bellarmine safely wrapped in his bag.

At the top of the steps, closing the gate, he glanced back along the beach, and froze. The foreshore had been empty moments before. Now, about 25 yards downstream, close to where he had found the jug, someone stood at the water’s edge.

A man, tall, stocky, silhouetted against the river’s dancing, reflected lights. His body was turned towards David, the face in shadow – except for something metallic, catching the light where the mouth would be, like a knife clenched between teeth.

In the stranger’s hand, hanging at his side, was a spade. If it hadn’t been for this, David might have left the man to it. But Society membership comes with responsibilities. It had taken him six months just to get his trowel license. He called out, but the man didn’t move.

A boat passed, its wake breaking loudly against a nearby section of river wall. David sighed. He was in little mood for a confrontation. Watching his feet on the black, slimy steps, he descended to the narrowing beach. He looked again along the river’s edge. Where the man had stood there was only the dark, indeterminable shore.

An unpleasant feeling took hold of him. He was certain the stranger was still there, choosing to remain hidden – in the shadows under the utility company’s jetty, or close to the wall behind the house boat. Enough. He turned, climbed the steps and crossed the river path.

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From then, the night came in a daze of increasing darkness. Footsteps echoing off river-fronting warehouses; the friendly white walls of the pub; tinsel draped on maritime oil paintings; 2000 Miles; lost in oak-lined corridors; the sound of the river booming against the pub’s outer walls; a mirror in the little room reserved for Society podcasts; a shadow, just behind his reflection, that moves a split-second after he does;

he can no longer sort dreams from waking;

feet running, slipping on cobbles; the whispering of uprooted gravestones in the churchyard of St Mary’s; a shadow crosses a patch of light in the Rotherhithe alley; fists hammer against gated entrances; his solid front door; the sheets tight around his ankles, a weight there; silt, mud, marshy waters; roots furl around his limbs; in the grey depths cormorants streak past like eels; he wants to shout but his mouth is clamped shut; blood at the back of the nose; a train in a tunnel under the river, water rising up the windows.

Finally, thankfully, a morning sky through open curtains. Then, exhausted, he slept.

And now, here he was.

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Maeve had soothed her guest with practicalities. A find such as this would have to go to the Museum. She would happily pass it on for him, take it off his hands. At this, he visibly brightened.

The afternoon had turned to evening, so Maeve turned another lamp on.

David’s eyes lighted on one of her shelves, and he got up to take a closer look. Amongst a collection of clay pipes and river-glass was an old docker’s hook. A tool for hoisting cargo. It was a plain hook – a short wooden handle attached to a long, question mark of steel, the rusted point still sharp. While David turned it slowly in his hands, Maeve retrieved a book she thought might be relevant from the small room at the back of her studio. When she returned, David was gone. So were the Bellarmine jug and the docker’s hook.

It was the last time Maeve saw him.

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source | licence

The studio, and our tea, is getting cold. Through a tiny window, a twilight sky is visible. Maeve suggests a walk.

As we follow the Thames Path downstream, its alleys and switchbacks pulling us between the restless, lapping river and the still, oddly quiet roads and bridges, Maeve recalls the book she had been intending to show to David. It concerned the use of Bellarmine jugs as ‘witch bottles’, a practice that continued well into the 19th Century. Personal items such as hair would be sealed within and the bottle buried in a significant place – to bind agreements, or direct curses, or otherwise exert power over friend or foe.

At the old tidal gauge, we turn to head back on the inland path. Passing quays of posh yachts, ad hoc nature reserves and the long walkways of canal-shaped housing estates, you feel the docks are still here, close to the surface, being felt by this peninsula-like community.

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The people of the docks worked hard, Maeve tells me. She speaks of backs broken, ships built and launched, sailors who travelled the world and returned. Strong bonds, obscure customs. Fiercely guarded secrets and promises that must be fulfilled. And later, lifted from the mud close to where the remnants of an ancient forest are suspended in the clay, a skull with a docker’s hook lodged through its jaw.

Maeve had gone looking for David that evening. Along the wall, down on the foreshore. But the foreshore is long. He had never mentioned where exactly he found the witch bottle.

We are back on the cobbled street outside Maeve’s studio. As we part, she fixes me with a look – of sadness? Resignation?

“You never know what the river will bring on the next tide” she says. “Nor do you know what secrets it holds, never to be revealed again.”


  • Candidate: The Bellarmine Jug, Rotherhithe
  • Type: Unclassified [Object of Interest]
  • Status: Unknown

Document of Interest: The Kilburn Hoardings Transcript

The following is a transcript of a cassette recording sent to us anonymously. There were a few brief notes attached. The audio consists of a call to a late night show on a popular London radio station.  The radio station concerned has pulled the audio from their archive and asked PoL not to mention them by name. In the interest of protecting the caller’s identity, we present a transcript in place of the audio. Names have been changed.

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Host: We have a Rachel from Kilburn on the line. What’s keeping you awake, Rachel?

Caller: So, this is gonna sound kind of weird.

H: Go on.

C: My housemate is scarily obsessed with a billboard.

H: Okay.

C: [laughs] Yeah.

H: Your housemate –

C: I told you it was weird. Like, not a billboard exactly, but those – those boards outside building sites.

H: Hoardings.

C: Yeah, hoardings. She’s obsessed with a picture on one near our flat.

H: And this is – [laughs] right, okay, we’ll come to your flatmate in a moment. Uh, let’s start with this picture, tell us about that.

C: Yeah. So, we live in Kilburn and between our flat and the tube station they’re building some big new development. Luxury flats, you know?

H: Oh, let me see. Sandy coloured brickwork? Patches of colour that wouldn’t look out of place in a playground? They’re popping up all over like something from the Twilight Zone. Don’t get me started, Rachel. Do go on.

C: Right, so…

H: The picture.

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C: Yes. Well, you must have seen them, too. Those CGI images of what the grounds of the building are going to look like on an average morning or something. Except there’s like too many people and they all look kind of weird.

H: Always doing the nice things in life aren’t they, those CGI people? Chatting, having a picnic. You don’t see anyone arguing or picking up their dog’s number twos do you?

C: [laughs]

H: And it’s always sunny. None of the rain and toxic air particles we all know and love.

C: So, this is the thing. It started with her just finding them funny. I mean she always used to find those pictures funny, but this one, it really –

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H: You’re going to have to tell us what it looks like, eventually, Rachel.

C: [laughs]. Right, sorry. So, there’s this curvy path next to a grassy mound and half way down there’s this – couple. This man and woman. They’re walking past a tree, towards the new building, you just see their backs. The guy’s on the left, wearing a dark suit, salt-and-pepper hair, turning his head to the woman. He’s holding his hand out in a ‘dispensing witty pearls of wisdom’ kind of a way.

H: I can picture him now.

C: Right. And the woman, she’s turning to him and laughing, you can see a little of the side of her face – you can’t see his face at all. She’s wearing like, tapered trousers, a pale shirt. Kitten heels it looks like, blonde hair. Carrying something like a cross between a clutch and a file folder. And, I mean, these people are CGI and kind of blurry but you get the feeling she’s a bit younger than him.

H: Okay.

C: That’s what it was all about for Emma at first.

H: Emma’s your housemate?

C: Yeah. She was like, are they colleagues? A couple? Is he her dad? It was the dynamics of it – and, like, who was being sold what, here? I think it annoyed her, you know? And when things annoy Emma, she turns them into a joke. That’s Emma. She invented all these scenarios for them. It was just fun, a joke. At first.

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H: And now?

C: Now she’s just – like I said, she’s obsessed. She doesn’t talk about anything else. It’s like this woman is her best friend. She talks about the guy, too. But this imaginary woman is like Emma’s best friend in the whole world, right now.

H: Do I detect a hint of jealousy here, Rachel?

C: [laughs] Well, yeah! That’s it. That’s why I phoned in. I’m jealous of a CGI woman. Thing is she kind of looks like Emma, similar hair and – But no, I’ve been laughing about it, but – it’s getting – she’s started having these dreams now –

H: Hold that thought! Rachel, this is – intriguing – we’ll be right back with you. You’re listening to [redacted]

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According to the notes, the conversation resumed roughly 45 minutes later.

Host: You went awol for a while there, Rachel! Glad to have you back. And it turns out your flatmate has been having one of the dreams you started to tell us about?

Caller: Yes, I – I’ve just come from her room. I got her back to sleep in the end. I – I don’t know if that was the right thing to do.

Host: Ok. Look, you sound – if you’d rather talk to our producer off-air –

C: No, no. I’m sorry, I tried to – it – it isn’t funny any more. She was always such a happy – I…

H: Take your time.

C: [takes a breath] So, the noises started right after we stopped talking. I knew she was having the dream. Where she says she walks with them at night. The couple. And, ok, to me, from my room, it sounds like she’s having a nightmare – all this screaming and groaning. But when I wake her and try to comfort her – she’s just angry with me. Furious at me for waking her up. She – she says she’s happy there. “At peace”. Says all this mad stuff. “The trees are like music”. “It’s the only good place” and – she say’s this a lot –   “She’s not laughing. You thought she was laughing, but she’s not.” And – god – the worst is – like, I really hate it when she says this –  she says she wants to know what her eyes are like. The woman’s. The CGI woman’s eyes. Tonight she was just furious at me because I stopped her from seeing what this fucking woman’s eyes are like. And – oh, shit –

H: Rachel?

[Silence]

H: Rachel? She’s – can you hear her again?

C: Yes. Fuck, why did I let her go to sleep again? You really can’t hear that?

H: I mean – Look, Rachel –

C: Ok, I’m walking to outside her door. You need to hear this shit.

[Wailing sounds become audible]

H: Oh, so now we can hear that. Ok. Wow.

C: Yep. London, Emma. Emma, London… Jesus it’s worse than ever.

H: Look, this is – that really doesn’t sound right – if you need to go to her –

[A pause. Wailing still audible, it increases in intensity as the conversation continues]

C: I don’t know what to do. When I wake her, god, the hatred in her eyes. They’re like, black with hatred. You’ve never seen anything like it.

H: If that’s a nightmare then – I don’t know, I’m not an expert but, you need to wake her, Rachel. Look, does anyone else live with you?

C: We’ve got one other housemate but he’s never in.

H: Is there anyone else you can call, anyone in the neighbourhood, because –

C: I don’t see what anyone else could do.

H: I mean, just so you’re not – right, Rachel, what I’m going to do, I’m going to hand you back to our produ –

[Wailing sound ceases suddenly]

C: Wait.

H: She’s gone quiet. Is – is that good?

C: I don’t know… I’m opening the door.

H: Rachel –

[Sound of door opening. Static appears on the line]

C: Emma?…Jesus.

[static increases]

H: Rachel? Is everything ok?

C: She’s not – Emma? Is that you? Where are you?

H: Rachel?

C: [static dominant, voice distant] Emma? Is it you? Emma?

[only static audible]

[caller’s line goes dead]

The recording ends there. We have decided to flag this as a possible picto-door – with the huge caveat that the source is ambiguous at best. Very little is known about these breach phenonema, which seem to exploit the fragile borders between perceptions of an image and its viewer’s reality.

We include similar images for illustration only: in so doing we in no way suggest that these examples are of relevance to PoL’s field of interest.


  • Candidate: The Kilburn Hoardings Transcript
  • Type: Picto-Door
  • Status: Unconfirmed

 

A Cycle Courier’s Guide to Folding London: The Twitchells (Part Two)

We continue our retelling of an interview with H, who works as a cycle courier for a company that collects business visas in passports. As much as possible, it is presented in her voice. In part one, H described discovering the Twitchells, the hidden network of wormhole-like portals which connect London’s streets.

Like I said, no-one’s going to tell you how to find them. I can drop some hints, mention a few street names, but I’m not going to break it down for you. No grid references or google pins. I know how that seems, it used to piss me off too. But I understand the secrecy now. We’re not jealously guarding some cool little club. It’s just that you have to own it. If you ride the twitchells, it’s got to be on your own terms. Because it isn’t a game.

But I sound like an old-timer, one of the doomsayers. OK – riding the twitchells is fun. Those first few weeks were a rush. Through the office doors in the morning and I couldn’t pack my workload into my bag quick enough. No matter that it’s 90 minutes until my first embassy opens. Never mind the murmurs coming from the courier’s desk as I head for the door – the seen-it-all-befores sipping tea with their feet up, smirking and shaking their head. Forget them. I’ve got a new toy and it isn’t anywhere near being boring.

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The twitchells were everything I already loved about my job, times a thousand. Connecting the city, piecing disparate parts into a whole. Stealing time between drops to visit somewhere new. Chancing on the hidden places, the frozen-in-time places, tiny islands suspended in the eddies of everyday London.

Suddenly, the city became a village. Need that mid-morning espresso? Time is short and you’re across town from your favourite coffee shop, but you know a twitchell on the next road that will bring you out in spitting distance.

I could be in Fitzrovia, 20 minutes to go until a Liverpool Street pickup, and find time between for a quiet five minutes on the banks of the Long Water.

Of course, there was a flipside. Once the coordinator knows you’re plugged into the network, no drop or pickup is too outlandish. Can I get an oil worker’s passport back from Angola in Marylebone and swing by the office in Victoria to pick up a package to drop in Canada Square with a banker who’s flying from City airport 45 mins from now? Well, yes, I suppose I can.

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But even the extra work couldn’t dampen the thrill of discovery. Once I could prove inside knowledge, other couriers opened up about the twitchells. For me, finding one usually involves a change in the air, an unexpected sound or smell. Others speak of a ‘feeling’ which tells them they are close. Some more seasoned riders say that they now simply ‘see’ them, as clearly as any side road.

Experiences of riding them vary, too. Some describe being squeezed through a narrow space. Others, being flung forwards as if from a catapult. One guy told me it was how he imagined swapping places with himself in a mirror. And for me? You know those little kids toys, brightly coloured rubber poppers, you turn them inside out and wait until they flip?

That.

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I heard the inevitable macho stories. Twitchells in Blackwall tunnel. Twitchells on the Westway. Ones along the towpath that if you time it wrong you end up in the canal. The two guys who claim to have ridden hundreds on a tandem. The twitchell that still exists where an office block now covers an old road in the City – you have to ride full pelt through the foyer to hook it.

Some say that if you get up enough speed and fling yourself off the east side of London Bridge, you can hook a twitchell left hanging in the air from the bridge’s previous incarnation, but I don’t know anyone stupid enough to have tried.

There were questions I had to find the answer to myself (how to not vomit every time), and some no couriers could answer (how long have they been there? How do they manage to always drop you just behind the passing traffic?). People say the fact you can only access them on a bike is a mystery, but to me it makes sense. Something about the way you inhabit space when you ride, the counterintuitive becoming intuitive, like how you turn into a fall to right yourself.

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And then there’s the big question: what are they? Are they simply hidden alleyways? Permanent features of the city? But then, what city feature is permanent? Do twitchells remain when the visible geography of the city changes around them? Entire roads are disappearing, new ones being created. Look at Battersea, King’s Cross, Elephant and Castle. Are twitchells displaced by these developments, as people are?

Some of those courier’s tales suggest that they are not, but you hear other stories: someone taking a nasty fall onto a pavement because the twitchell they’ve come to rely on is no longer there. And then there are the new twitchells – though it’s hard to prove they weren’t there all along.

All of this is fuel for the doomsayers. They say it is a mistake to picture the twitchells as ‘wormholes’ or hidden tunnels. For them, the twitchells are the tangible manifestations of something else, a larger entity beneath London’s surface. They grow and recede, these courier’s say, like the sporocarps of a fungus. It’s just that they do so very slowly.

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A lot of the old-timers won’t use them. We’ve all had the lectures. They talk a lot about the disappearances. And yes, the disappearances are terrible. There are no white bicycles for those who never re-emerged from a twitchell. But cyclists get killed on the streets too. That doesn’t stop us, does it?

I’ll admit some of what they say stays with me. “Fine, you’re young, I can’t change your mind any more than if I tried to get you to quit drinking”, one old-timer told me. “But promise me this: When you start to sense the belly of the twitchells, the inside, when there’s a second or two of darkness where there used to be nothing, and you start to see things out of the corner of your eye – figures, shadows beside you in the darkness – don’t wait for them to get closer. As soon as you start to see them – stop”.

And the other old-timers, the ones who never stopped riding the twitchells, they do look pretty bad, kind of weary, ghostlike. But that could just as easily be the years of coffee and car fumes, or too many hard winters.

I’m not stupid, I know this isn’t forever. I’ll quit one day. But I’m still having the time of my life.

And I haven’t seen any shadows in the darkness yet.

 

THIS BLOG IS NOT A USER’S GUIDE


  • Candidate: The Twitchells
  • Type: Unconfirmed
  • Status: Active

 


The sources for all images on this post can be found here