Beneath the overground: The Shepherd’s Bush to Willesden Junction Spectre

Recently a post did the rounds on social media. Its author declined to discuss it, but gave permission for us to reproduce it here. We do so unedited:

So a fucking weird and scary thing just happened on the overground. I’m home now, I’m fine, shaking as I type this but housemate’s making me a cup of tea so don’t panic I’m fine but just listen to this. I’m not making this up (not drunk either!!) I’d been to the cinema with a mate and we said goodnight and I got the train at Shepherds’s Bush overground station. One of the last trains on a rainy weeknight so fairly quiet but a few people on it. I get on and walk up the train looking for a nice bit of space and I can see the front carriage is completely empty. Don’t feel safe in an empty carriage at night even on those open-all-the-way-down trains so I stop in the second carriage a bit closer to other people. When the train sets off there is no-one between me and the door to the driver at the front of the train. [continues below]

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I put in my headphones and I’m looking in the rainy window opposite when the sound goes fuzzy and I see something out the corner of my eye, like the lights went on and off. I look towards the empty carriage and NOW IT ISN’T EMPTY There’s this THING in the aisle, on the same side of the train as me. I just catch it for a second. shaped sort of like a person but too big. Like a shadow but a shadow that’s THERE. Then the train goes round a corner and the front carriage swings round so the aisle where this thing is is out of view. And then the carriage swings back and IT IS MUCH CLOSER!!! It’s almost at the join between the carriages. The top of it reaches the ceiling. I leapt up and screamed I think. i’m backing away to where the other people are but now the thing is gone. [continues below]

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Other people are just staring at me, no-one does anything to help. I walk past them heart bneating and stand by a door further down the train gripping the rail. Just staring at the front craiiage. Which stays empty but I can’t get rid the image of this thing. I can’t explain it. It’s unreal. Impossibly dark and kind of like it doesn’t fit with the space it’s in, like a CGI image or something. But it was THERE. And where the face should be – that’s going to haunt me. The only way I can explain it is like a void. But thank god the carriage stays empty until the next stop when people get on. I think of getting off the train but the useless staring people around me are kind of normal and comforting in a way. Then it’s my stop and I get off and somehow manage the walk back. Fucking hell. Don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight. Scared of closing my eyes. I’m not drunk I’m not making this up. I’m fine everyone but fucking hell [ends]

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The bends on this stretch of the line (shown in orange), around where it crosses the canal, appear to correspond with the train’s movements as described in the post [image: google maps]
The post attracted a lot of discussion online, becoming known as the ‘Void Face’ post. It piqued the interest of PoL, so we thought we’d look in to it, but in truth we expected little. Phenomena such as this are often isolated events.

However, a friend of ours put us in touch with someone who has – let’s just say – some knowledge of Transport For London’s CCTV records. This source told us she ‘shouldn’t be talking’. But she hopes that her account may be seen by the above post writer, and perhaps be of comfort. We have summarised the conversation below:

“The Shepherd’s Bush to Willesden Junction spectre. Know it well. Your young traveller was lucky to see it. Not many do.

It’s not entirely accurate, the name. You don’t see it station to station, quite, just for a period along that stretch. It seems to appear roughly where the train goes under the Westway and disappears again after we cross the line out of Paddington. You’re talking around three minutes. Unless the train gets held for whatever reason. It can hang around as long as you like if the train’s on that stretch.

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There’s a strange effect on the screen when it appears – whether that’s static on the camera or the train’s lighting we haven’t figured out yet.

No way of knowing when it will show itself, or how many days and weeks will pass between a visit. But it always comes back. Always at night, usually on a quiet train. It moves about the aisle a bit, kind of flickers on and off, flits around – though it’s doing less of that, these days. Always the front carriage – we haven’t told the drivers.

The carriage doesn’t have to be empty when it comes. It hovers near members of the public sometimes, but always keeps out of the way. You never see it pass through anyone, anything like that.

People never used to notice it. We decided it was only visible on the cameras. But just recently that’s changed. Some of them do seem to, for a moment or so. Or they look confused, like they know something’s there but they’re not sure what.

But nothing like what you’re describing.

Anyway it seems harmless enough. A couple of us keep an unofficial diary, but I’m about the only one still interested, to be honest. It’s become another part of the job.

But then I think about it and think, it is a bit creepy. I mean, what is it? What does it want?”

Our source has checked the CCTV for the time that would correspond with the sighting as described in the ‘Void Face’ post. She said the passenger’s reaction was as written, and clear to see. The ‘spectre’, however, was not present on the video.


  • Candidate: The Shepherd’s Bush to Willesden Junction Spectral Breach
  • Type: Unconfirmed
  • Status: Active

Starry mills of Satan: The Waterloo Arches Rift

“The starry mills of Satan are built beneath the earth and waters of the mundane shell”.

Matthew Lindon eyes me over his omelette and chips.

“That was another one of Stewart’s things, the poetry. He’d launch into it on tea breaks. All sorts, but William Blake, mainly. Dark Satanic Mills and all that. He was proud of Blake’s connection to Lambeth”

Matthew speaks often of Stewart, chief mechanic – and, the way Matthew tells it, guardian spirit – at the small metal-pressing workshop under the arches of Waterloo station, where Matthew worked as a young man.

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As well as poetry, Matthew says, Stewart was full of stories. “Some true, some bollocks, some somewhere in between”.

One was that their archway was once a store for London’s dead – a waiting room for bodies destined for the corpse trains of the Necropolis Railway. Another told of a hermit who kept a cave-like home somewhere in the labyrinth of tunnels, left alone by railway staff.

But there was another, still stranger story.

Stewart would lean in close and tell Matthew of how, many years ago, he had glimpsed – somewhere beneath a grate, or beyond a crumbling wall, or within some dark recess – an opening to a strange, hell-like dimension, an industrial otherworld of endless, grinding machinery.

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We are just behind the station, in the last greasy spoon left standing among the fusion street-food outlets and craft coffee places along the old market street known as Lower Marsh. “Waterloo was nothing but marshes in Blake’s day, as Stewart would tell you. If the station wasn’t raised on arches, the whole thing would sink into the mire”.

Matthew is supposed to be walking me around the undercrofts and hidden tunnels. But he seems to be putting this off, wringing every last minute out of our late breakfast, and every last memory from his time at the ‘miraculous little workshop’ he once worked at.

“How the gaffer kept things going I don’t know. He was mates with the railway guys, I think. Didn’t seem to pay any rent. I don’t think many people knew we were there. Despite the noise”.

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The ‘noise’ came from three pedal-operated electric-hydraulic presses, shaping metal near continuously for 8 hours a day. “There was a nice kind of equilibrium, for a while. Gaff in his booth with his paperwork. Me and couple of others working the machines, ear defenders on”.

And Stewart, eyes sparkling, overalls slick with grease, flitting from machine to machine, with a wrench in one hand and oil can in the other.

“That’s what made me grow apart from Stewart. Him and those machines. I’d catch him whispering to them sometimes. Freaked me out after a while”.

But in the evening, in the quiet of the shop, as the things stood there – huge and looming in the twilight – Matthew admits there was something about them. A presence.

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Matthew started leaving early, avoiding being left with Stewart and the machines. Avoiding the subject he knew Stewart would raise. “He got more and more obsessed with this place he’d seen. Haunted, I’d say. Said he still searched for the – the rift he called it”.

But Stewart had never found it again. And he began to get the idea that he was too old, somehow. That because Matthew was young as Stewart had been, perhaps he could help find it. “From the way he described it, God knows why he wanted to”.

Matthew avoided Stewart, and things carried on for a while.

Then the accidents began.

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A series of failings in the presses’ safety mechanisms. A few near misses: bad cuts from flying metal that should have been stopped by the steel guard. And then worse. A man’s hand got in where it shouldn’t. “Crushed all four of fingers. Funny way to request early retirement, as someone put it. And after that – “.

But Matthew trails off. I sense there’a part of the story he isn’t yet ready to tell. He drains his tea and we finally make it out into the streets.

Matthew says he can’t remember exactly which set of arches the press shop was under. There are half-forgotten railway storerooms behind peeling-paint doors, passageways you’d need a torch and a hardhat for, arches bricked up entirely. And then there are bars, performance spaces, theatre companies.

As we walk, Matthew brightens, and a free-flow of associations fills the air between us: pints bought with pence, a 7-inch of Waterloo Sunset, a girl he used to meet for sandwiches by the river.

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Then we stop. We’re in a tunnel filled with a wash of sound made from hip-hop from speakers in the ‘legal-graffiti’ arches of Leake Street, and the drills of construction workers turning nearby arches into new restaurants and event spaces. This isn’t the Waterloo Matthew remembers. But he seems to approve of the noise.

And it’s here that it finally spills out.

“This lad started, a school leaver, few years younger than me. Stewart takes him under his wing, of course. Whispering in his ear the way he used to with me. One day the lad didn’t turn up for work. His Mum worried sick – he hadn’t turned up at home either. They found him a few weeks later – found his body, anyway.

“In a locked store, I think it was. Nobody could explain how he had got there – and nobody could explain the state his body was in. His poor Mum had to identify what was left of it”.

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What Stewart knew of it Matthew never found out. The mechanic never returned to the workshop.

“Gaff saw him once, I think. A shell of a man, is all he would say. None of us suspected him or that. We’d all been questioned. Like I say, they couldn’t explain how a person could even do that, let alone prove that anyone had”.

The business didn’t last much longer. Matthew learned the Knowledge, and spent a career “praying the fare doesn’t want Waterloo”.

We walk out from under the arches, past the construction workers, past Upper Marsh. And then back under, to where we part company beside a series of mosaics depicting Blake’s paintings and poetry – Dark Satanic Mills and all that.

“When the factories came it must have seemed like they would be here forever”, says Matthew.

“But it’ll all be marsh again some day”


  • Candidate: The Waterloo Arches Rift
  • Type: Interdimensional breach
  • Status: Irratic

Walthamstow’s Unquiet Village: Elswick-on-the-Marsh

A footballer, arriving early to Hackney Marsh one autumn Sunday League morning, sees strange lights flicker in the mist.

A conservationist, picking through trees at the edge of Walthamstow Marshes on a quiet afternoon, hears shouting and laughter from the adjacent field. When he emerges from the overgrowth, he finds the field is empty.

A commuter, on a train crossing the marshes one dark winter evening, thinks she sees a ramshackle settlement of odd-looking houses where she knows only scrubland should be. She puts a hand to the glass to block the reflection from the carriage lights, but the train moves on, and the vision fades into the night.

Most people would soon forget such moments – once an eerie, out of place feeling had passed. But for some residents of the streets surrounding North East London’s Lea River Marshes, the feeling might linger. It might nag at them, in the days and nights to follow, until finally an old tale from their school days surfaced in their memory. Then, they may wonder if they have played a small part in the strange, restless life of a most unusual portal: a temporally and geographically untethered market town named Elswick-on-the-Marsh.

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Even for the tiny number of locals who remember it, Elswick (pronounced Ezzik or Elzik, depending on who you’re speaking to) is notoriously elusive. Glimmers, glimpses in the half-light, unexplained voices, distant shadows: these are the ways in which Elswick manifests.

Unless you are one of the privileged few.

We learned about Elswick from Jessica, a teenager from Leyton. She, in her turn, had learned about the village from her Great Aunt (whom Jessica calls ‘Nan’).

“I don’t remember a time when those stories weren’t in my head”, Jessica told us. “Of people who had found Elswick and never returned. When Nan told them to me, her eyes would get this look. The way she used to talk about it, I never knew whether it was a good or a bad place. All I knew was that she was obsessed”.

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Jessica says she carries in her memory a small book’s worth of Nan’s sayings about Elswick. “She’d repeat them like prayers… ‘Elswick is a doorway’ … ‘Elswick ever moves’ … ‘Elswick shows itself for a reason'”.

Nan walked the marshes almost daily, often taking Jessica with her.

“Look for a path, Nan said. An old paved road you haven’t seen before. And – how did she used to put it? – ‘Don’t take the path unless you’ve got something to trade'”.

Now, Jessica searches for Elswick alone. Nan went missing five years ago, when Jessica was not long into secondary school.

Jessica is pretty certain she knows where her aunt went.

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Much has been written about the marshes surrounding the River Lea, a tributary to the Thames. They have been drained since Medieval times and up until the 19th century were mainly lammas (common agricultural) land, used by commoners for grazing cattle and growing wheat.

The extent of the marshes, while still impressively large and wild-seeming for an area so close to London’s centre, has diminished significantly since the industrial revolution. Railways, housing, industry, waterworks, international sporting events – the enemies of the open marshland are many, and the struggle to protect what remains is ongoing.

When it comes to Elswick, the written records are much more sketchy. In fact, we found only one concrete mention, albeit from a major source. The Domesday book records the small settlement of Elleswych, in the Hundred of Beconsfield, Essex, under Lord Peter of Velognes.

We knew it was a long shot, but with the written records less than helpful, we decided we had to visit the Marshes for ourselves. We went close to dusk, knowing that most sightings occur in the still-time between night and day.

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The path that Jessica mentioned was our starting point. We can presume that when the Domesday survey was made, Elleswych enjoyed a relative degree of stability within space and time. So on which road did it lie in the 11th Century?

There are references to a paved Roman road that crossed the marshes near Leyton, but its location, if it exists at all, is disputed. There is of course the old road which crosses the River Lea at Stratford, but there is little remaining of the marshes there. We weren’t sure where to look next.

Then we read about the Black Path.

The Black Path was a porter’s way, leading from the fields to the great market of London (Lundenburh, as it was in the late Anglo-Saxon period). It was also a route of pilgrimage. Both uses seemed to chime with what we knew about Elswick.

You can follow the Black Path’s line on modern maps – look for a straight diagonal through London Fields up to Hackney City Hall which becomes, a few lost turnings later, Porchester Road in Clapton. After the marshes you can pick it up again in Walthamstow, near St James’ Park. But the path’s way across Leyton Marsh has been lost. Some open space remains here, however, so that is where we headed.

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Could Elswick have once dwelled in the lost marshes south east of Hackney?

From here we explored east and north, along the line of the Lea and inland, into Walthamstow Marshes. As twilight deepened and shadows rose from the brambles and bullrush, from the grassland and scrub, certain lights became apparent at the marsh’s edge. Half-hidden industrial buildings, streetlamps, the headlights of a distant train. Glimpsed in the gloaming, you can see how they could be mistaken for the lost village.

Sounds, too, drift across the marshes. Unexplained noises weave with crow-caws and the rattle of the passing trains. A pylon buzzes overhead, briefly harmonising with the airborne, ever-present roar of the city.

Are the stories just phantoms? Is Elswick an unreachable will-o-the-wisp?

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On Leyton Marsh we found a transient village of hawkers and traders – just not the one we were looking for

But we remember Jessica’s fervent words.

“It’s out there somewhere, the old trading post. Nan certainly had a lot to trade. So much to give… She once said Elswick only revealed itself to those in need of it. Or those whom it needed”.

Did Nan need it?

“I don’t know. It was around the time of the Olympics that Nan disappeared. She took a lot of that whole thing badly. The loss of great chunks of the marshes. She knew friends that relied on a lot of the community stuff that was lost, the allotments and all that. But – I was only a child. I can’t believe that Nan would have left me by choice”.

We feel bad for Jessica and her unanswered questions, tied up as they are with this fickle, endlessly flittering gateway – and with the uncertain future of a unique and magical part of London.


  • Candidate: Elswick-on-the-Marsh
  • Type: Temporal Untethering
  • Status: Active [monitored]

Exit strategy for a restless dead: The Hell Tree of St Pancras

There are a host of possible reasons for an unquiet grave. Ghosts themselves rarely articulate them in detail. However forceful they may be when it comes to communicating general anguish, getting to the nub of what troubles the dead can, for the living, involve little more than guesswork.

For John Tweed, the newly installed vicar at St Pancras Old Church when it suffered what appears to have been a mass supernatural manifestation in 1859, the initial cause of the phenomenon was clear: London’s over-stocked graveyards were being carved up to make way for the railway age.

The coming of the steam train uprooted corpses and headstones across London. St Pancras was bang in the middle of the new route north. But this alone shouldn’t account for the number of apparitions that haunted Tweed’s church and its grounds. Most souls rest easy, regardless. The vicar’s diaries, and the letters he wrote to his wife, Charlotte (who was to remain at their marital home in Buckinghamshire until things were ‘settled’), show he had further ideas as to what was animating the restless spirits he shared his workplace with.

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Between robbers, railways and rushed night-time burials, graves were restless places in Victorian London

In August, 1901, he wrote to Charlotte:

“Every thief, vagabond and ne’er-do-well in London seems to have wound up buried at St P. Which would be all well and good, except that the digging up of late seems to have unearthed more than just bones.  Judging by the number of lost souls drifting about the place in one spirit form or another, I would offer that many of my guests are far from welcome in Heaven.  I can only assume that having been buried in consecrated ground further precludes them from the other place, which leaves them, it is my horror to say, stuck in the churchyard with me”.

Tweed was not entirely without sympathy for his ghostly companions, going on to tell his wife that they were:

“Sad seeming things. I feel quite sorry for them. I don’t suppose I should mind at all if only they kept their mournful meanderings to the night-time hours.  Last Sunday I was midway through service when a wraith came down the aisle – an infernal thing, it stalked among the shadows between the shafts of morning light, wailing and moaning like a baleful cat. There were already murmurings amongst the parishioners about the foul stench from the digging up. Dearest Charlotte, I am not sure how much longer I can pacify them.”

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Thousands of graves were removed to make way for the line north out of London

Any hope Tweed might have had of placating his flock, or coming to terms with his supernatural neighbours, faded as the events of 1859 developed.

In October of that year, Tweed sent a letter to his wife which appeared to mark a decline in his temperament. It wasn’t just that the apparitions were taking their toll. The vicar alludes to something new, something “strange and troubling”, happening in the graveyard. The letter is uncharacteristically vague, but much of it is fixated with the health of a young ash tree in the grounds of the church.

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St Pancras, martyred by the Romans for his faith (source)

Whether Tweed was intentionally hiding the details from his wife is hard to say. Luckily for us, his diary entries pick up the story.

This is an entry from December, 1859:

‘Most unpleasant occurrences in the graveyard.  Several headstones removed in the night, earth strewn about in a most unusual fashion. Not the railway workers, as it’s a Sunday. So who?’

And a few days later:

‘More missing headstones. Increasingly certain of connection with my guests. Today I traced strange lines of disturbed earth across the graveyard. Each lead to the ash tree. Are they being dragged there? And then where? The ash tree itself is looking increasingly unhealthy, possibly diseased. I don’t like to get too close to it.’

And then:

‘If I hadn’t seen such as I have seen these past months I may not have trusted my eyes, but trust them I must. I shall record it in as plain a manner as I know how: By the light of the moon last night I saw a gravestone, moving with some speed, and quite of its own accord, across the graveyard. It hurtled towards the ash tree, at the base of which it disappeared, as if plunging in to the very bowels of the tree.’

Finally:

‘Good God. Hundreds of them, of all shapes, just pouring into the tree.’

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The ash tree, gravestones seemingly halted in their tracks (source)

So what was happening here?

“A Category 2 hellgate”, says Susan Macks, Professor of Gateways and the Multiverse at the University of Connecticut.  A good friend to PoL, Susan’s work has inevitably drawn her to London and what she terms its “filo-thin dimensional membrane”. When we meet over flat whites and sandwiches in her favourite Bloomsbury cafe, she is excited.

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A medieval vision of a hell mouth (source)

“I’m not talking your full scale hell mouth – not a main entrance. But yeah. Look, like the vicar says, these spirits are stuck. Too bad for heaven, but too buried in holy ground. And then their bones get all dug up. Would you be happy? They mope about the graveyard, desperate to change their situation. Then they find the tree. Except to them it’s not a tree. It’s a wrinkle, a snag, like that one corner of sticky tape that your fingernail finds on the roll. Now, for whatever reason – maybe the tree’s roots aren’t sanctified, or maybe some godless killing took place beneath its boughs at some point – anyway, one of these ghouls manages to get a toe through the gap between church world and the underworld and pow. That’s it. You don’t have to ask these lost souls twice. Eternal damnation is a relief for these guys.”

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St Pancras Old Church today (source)

John Tweed seems to have been thinking along the same lines. On the 30th January, 1860, he wrote to his wife for what appears to be the last time. The letter is rambling, desperate and disturbing. It bares quoting at length.

“Dearest Charlotte,  I do so love hearing your news from the vale, it pains me to have to recount the horrors of my life here… When you open a window to let out smoke does it not allow cold air in also?  When you open your heart to the voice of a lover, does not some precious part of your soul seep into their heart also? Oh dearest love, there is a deep sense of foreboding about the place… My flock has flown, but I am far from alone… At night I am plagued by nightmares so vivid and dreadful that I am afraid to sleep at all. I have been nailed to the cursed iron frontage of a flame-licked and hell-bound locomotive. I have walked through the dark miasma and fetid slime of a London choked by death. I have seen the flagstones of the church floor thrust violently upwards by a sudden eruption of uncertain origin. And these are only the visions I have the constitution to retell… I begin to suspect that it is not just the lost ones that are being dragged down to that place. For how to account for the sheer number I watch descend every night? Where will it end? Must every dead soul in the parish, every dead soul in London be reclaimed for damnation?! No Charlotte, I shall not see it happen.”

So exactly how and when did this hellgate close? Frustratingly, John Tweed’s diary entries come to an end around this time, too. However, Macks thinks there may be a simple reason for this: John Tweed lost the ability to write. That is, he lost the use of his hand. Church records back this up, but they aren’t the only source of Macks’ theory. She says that scans have shown that buried within the roots of the ash tree is a large book. She has failed to be granted a dig, but that hasn’t put her off theorising.

“You want my 99.999% certain guess as to what book that is down there?”, she emails.  “It’s the bible. Only way I know of to close a Cat 2 hellgate is if a holy person rams a holy book into its mouth. You gotta say the right words of course, and according to who you ask you may or may not have to dance a jig and wrap three strands of hair around the thing beforehand. Either way, I reckon Tweed figured this out and put a stop to the whole darn thing. That’s why there’s no talk of any disturbances after early 1860, and why John stops writing his diary then, too. We know from John the gate nearly killed that tree. Imagine what it might do to any part of a man’s body he cared to stick in there”.

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The Hell Tree, with the still active railway north behind it (source)

What’s certain is that the hellgate seems to have been closed between early 1860 and 1863, when John Tweed ceased to be vicar at St Pancras. There are no records of any disturbances from his time onwards. After that John and Charlotte’s trail goes cold. The one clue we have as to their wellbeing (other than the fact that three and a half years is exceedingly short tenure for a vicar) comes from Charlotte. One letter, dated March 1863, is present within her husband’s papers – its presence there suggesting it was never sent. It is addressed to Charlotte’s mother and speaks of a tentative hope for the future: “although, I am perhaps not as hopeful as John that the darkness within him will be left behind when we go”.

Anyone can read the papers of John Tweed. Despite the account they give of the origins of a notable local sight, the true history of the Hell Tree is in danger of being lost to posterity. A rival mythology has arisen around the tree, perhaps reflecting Londoners’ willingness to ignore, or forget altogether, their city’s predisposition to portals of all kinds. For whatever reason, there is little celebration today of the story the tree tells: that of the quiet sacrifice of a loyal and committed member of the clergy.


  • Candidate: The Hell Tree, St Pancras.
  • Type:  Hell Gate (Secondary)
  • Status: Historic