Faraway islands (part 1): The Stockwell Bus Garage Manifestation

In a shady corner pub along the South Lambeth Road, large open windows bring a warm, welcome breeze. Jason Allen, who has just cycled from the Brixton primary school he works in, smiles as he’s handed a cold glass of beer. We talk about the hot weather we’re currently hiding from. Its slow, entropic quality has stirred in Jason thoughts of an even hotter fortnight – the record-breaking heatwave of June/July 1976 – and the strange other world he associates it with.

Jason was the schoolboy son of a bus driving father and waitressing mother when – as tarmac melted and water supplies ran low – he and a friend explored the hidden corners of the vast Stockwell Bus Garage, and discovered an escape from the sun-scorched city: a shimmering, shifting gateway to a faraway island.

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Jason’s parents didn’t want him wandering the heat-weary streets, ‘getting into trouble’. Outside of school hours, if he wasn’t at the small cafe where his Mum worked, he was at his father’s workplace. Of course, Jason’s father, Michael, was only at the Garage between shifts. He’d play cards with his colleagues, joke with them and his son, and make an act of being annoyed when it was time to get back on his route.

“But Dad loved it”, says Jason. “Don’t ask me how he stayed so cheerful. He just loved being out and about on the London streets”. Even that summer, with its smoking, broken-down buses and cross, sweaty passengers.

Elements of the job weren’t easy. Michael was black, a Jamaican who had come to Britain at the tail-end of the Windrush migration. His public role put him on the frontline of the racism that faced his generation when they got here. He had had to fight for basic rights such as union representation.

Jason (who is mixed race – his mother Stephanie is white) would have his own battles to fight as adolescence turned to young adulthood.

But he remembers 1976 as a time out of time.

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Eleanor’s father also worked the bus routes out of Stockwell Garage. When the two children were sure that the bus drivers and Garage engineers had stopped noticing them, they would sneak off through the workshops at the back of the garage to some half-forgotten storerooms.

“At the time it was like a game, like Treasure Island or something. Like we had somehow imagined this place into existence, the two of us together”.

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But recently, the island has once more become vivid – become real – in Jason’s mind. You can see it in his eyes as he describes it.

“A dusty recess behind shelves stacked with junk. Then the walls start to shimmer, sort of melt away. Then this amazing sound of birdsong. And shapes, the flapping of wings above us. Suddenly there’s leaves and branches everywhere”. And in every direction, beyond the trees, the sea.

It was, says Jason, a place to play, make dens, launch little skirmishes on one another. “Eleanor was the tough one. In those days we’d call her a tomboy. I was pretty quiet, really. Following her lead”

But one day – suddenly – Eleanor didn’t come to the garage. And neither did her dad. Jason’s father told him they had gone to live with family in Ireland, and that was that. Jason never saw her – or the island – again.

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source | licence

He grew up, found his place in the community. In the rare case he did think of the island it was, “a childhood memory – an imaginary place”.

Then, two years ago, a major life event occurred: Jason’s father, Michael, became seriously ill. The last months of his life were spent in hospital. And one afternoon, out of nowhere, on one of Jason’s visits, his father started talking about islands.

Jason says he couldn’t recount it all, now. Michael spoke of a place near Stockwell that was called Island Green, where the lost river Effra and its tributaries swirled around patches of land. He talked about the Effra flowing right beneath Stockwell Bus Garage, before winding through the once-green fields of Lambeth to where it joins the river at Vauxhall. Said that in ancient times there had been an island in the Thames there. Prehistoric people had built a bridge to reach it.

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John Rocque

Michael spoke of the little islands in the Thames out west, around Richmond and Barnes and Kew – “where Mum used to take him for walks along the river when he first took ill…

“And the whole time he was looking at me. And without him having to say anything, I thought: I know why you’re telling me this”.

Jason had never spoken to his father of the island. But in that moment Jason knew that it had been real.

He says this hit him hard.

“Because if the island was real, then losing it was, too. And if it was real, then everything about it was real”. This, says Jason, means not just giant flowers and vibrant plants, dappled glades and sandy bays – but other parts of the island, too. The ‘sadness’ in its middle, where gnarled vines grew around dismal ditches clouded with tadpoles and nameless creatures. And worse, the shadows in the trees – the dark figures he had tried hard to not notice – silently watching, waiting.

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That day on the ward, Michael went on. He reminisced about the island country he’d come from. Reminded Jason that he, too, was born on an island.

“And then he really stopped my heart quick” says Jason. “Old rascal. He was having a last laugh. Enjoying giving me the creeps”.

That girl, said Michael. She was from an island, too. What was her name?

Eleanor.

Then the smile left Michael’s lips. And he told his son the long withheld truth. Eleanor hadn’t moved back to Ireland, she had disappeared. Her Dad had been declared unfit to work. Something about a fragile mind, a strange fixation on something his daughter had said the morning before she vanished.

Jason watches a bus pull up at the lights outside the pub. “I don’t blame my Dad for not telling me before. I saw the fear in his eyes. Maybe he figured it was safe to tell me, now so much time had passed”

But the strangest thing , says Jason, was a feeling that he’d always known it. Stood there by the hospital bed, suppressed memories bubbled to the surface – things half-understood at the time. A plain-clothes policewoman questioning him gently. Knowing comments from older kids at school. And Eleanor, with matter-of-fact cruelty, the last time she had spoken to him:

“Don’t come to the island today. I don’t need you to play with me no more”.


  • Candidate: The Stockwell Bus Garage Manifestation
  • Type: Gateway / Otherworld Manifestation
  • Status: Historic

 

 

 

Shadows and clocks: Temporal Disturbances at Hornsey Town Hall

Hornsey Town Hall is suspended in time, caught between a vanished past and an uncertain future.

Recently, we walked through the revolving doors of this crumbling Crouch End landmark, right into one of the last guided tours before the building closes for redevelopment.

We tagged along. The guide was passionate, informative and – unsurprisingly – mentioned nothing of the rumours of temporal disturbances which had brought PoL there in the first place.

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What we got was a concise history of the art deco modernist building and its large assembly hall: From a 1930s heyday as the centre for local government in the leafy, Middlesex Borough of Hornsey; through its sudden redundancy in 1965, when Hornsey became part of the Greater London Borough of Haringey; to the limbo years, in which architectural neglect has contrasted community-led reuse of the space as a venue for roller-discos and art shows.

But after the tour, in the square out front, we found a quiet moment with the guide. What could they tell us about the Town Hall as a place where the borders between worlds are especially porous?

20180325_135015.jpgThe look we received would be familiar to anyone who has confronted the public amnesia that clouds the history of London’s fractious dimensional state. But as we turned to leave, the guide called us back. There was, as it happens, someone we could talk to – if we were interested in that sort of thing.

A week later, we are back in Crouch End – sat in a teashop with Janet Hispall: local resident, born-and-raised. Janet has recently retired from a career in museums, but back in the mid-60s, her first job was in the Town Hall, as a clerk to the Mayor’s office.

She says she heard the stories from day one.

Unexplained shadows in glass panes. Noises behind the oak paneling. The strange properties of the spiralling back stairs. Janet recalls hearing from one of the cleaning staff that on the upper floors, late in the evening, when the building was mostly empty, the woman would often see a grey deer passing through the twilit corridors.

“I thought they were all bonkers”, says Janet.

But then the time discrepancies began.

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It was quite an inconvenience, says Janet. You’d pop down the corridor to pick up a friend at lunchtime, only to discover you’d arrived midway through the afternoon. You’d lose an hour just going up the stairs. Scheduling meetings in the council chamber became a nightmare.

“The worst I had it was with the Day of the Double Documents” says Janet, with a knowing hamminess.

On the day in question, Janet had taken some documents to the Mayor’s office for signing, only to discover that ‘Janet’ had also done this half an hour earlier. She held the unsigned documents in one hand, while the Mayor placed the signed documents in the other.

Back at her desk – and back at the ‘timezone’ she had started in – she binned the unsigned documents and carried on with her day.

“You just got used to it”, she says.

Besides, the council workers had an ally. The Day of the Double Documents, says Janet, might not have happened if she hadn’t forgotten the golden rule:

Check the clocks.

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The Hornsey Town Hall clocks are an art deco feature still admired today. In the 1930s, they had an unusual technological element: they were synchronised, linked to a central timepiece in the basement. Long since defunct, the mechanism was still operating in Janet’s time.

“We learned to live by those clocks”.

Employees, explains Janet, viewed the time discrepancies in terms of separate rooms and corridors becoming temporally mis-matched – as if doorways were acting as the boundaries between the differing timezones.

Every room or corridor had a clock. By checking the clock before leaving one room, and checking the next one you saw, you knew instantly whether a time jump had occurred. It was found that if you retraced your steps – returned to the previous room – the time discrepancy, more often than not, would resolve itself.

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“It all seemed to come out in the wash”, says Janet. “You’d walk out at the end of the day just the same, into the safe old Crouch End streets. Didn’t bother me much. Until someone raised the question of the ‘other us’s'”

The ‘other us’s’ was one name for them. Others called them the ‘lost doppelgangers’.

“That’s where it gets creepy”, admits Janet.

Let’s take the Day of the Double Documents. Janet’s experience of that day was linear – albeit along a line that jumped back-and-forth through time. She only took the documents to the Mayor’s office once. But from the point of view of the Mayor, ‘Janet’ brought them twice.

No doppelganger left the building at the end of the day. So what about the linear experience of this ‘other’ Janet?

Were thresholds within the building acting not just as the boundaries of different timezones, but as forks in alternative realities? In this scenario, ‘other Janet’ splits from Janet the moment she leaves her office with the papers. ‘Other Janet’ then jumps to earlier in the day, delivers the documents, leaves the Mayor’s office and returns to… where?

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Janet doesn’t have the answers. But she hasn’t stopped searching. She is still well known within the Town Hall community.

“I’m tolerated”, she says with a smile. “They think I’m rather dotty, to be honest with you.”

She is nervous of how the forthcoming redevelopment will effect her ability to ‘investigate’.

“I’m not sure it’s all over”, she says, draining the last dregs from the teapot. “I mean, I suppose the time jumps are. But I always saw them as symptoms of an underlying malady”.

So Janet now accepts the old stories about the place?

She nods. “If you visited that place, as I have, in the dead of night. Stood in the pitch black in the centre of the great, sinking assembly hall, listened to the murmurs from deep within the lake it’s built on. If you’d seen the strange lights in the windows of the abandoned box office, you’d believe the old stories too.”


  • Candidate: The Hornsey Town Hall Temporal Disturbances
  • Type: Time discrepancy
  • Status: Historic

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 again with her talk of the birds. Such an imaginative little soul. It is the wallpaper, you see. With its darling design of birds in a tree, it has of late 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:

Bandstand_in_Greenwich_Park_-_geograph.org.uk_-_632842
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’

Greenwich_Park_and_Flamsteed_House_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1069623
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.

Greenwich_London
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.

Bellarmine_jug00
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.

Stauer-haken_hg
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