A is for Arsenic

A peek into the devilishly deadly world of Victorians and arsenic

When you think of Victorians and arsenic you probably think of black widows bumping off their latest husband, embittered servants taking revenge on brutish masters and in general, murder most foul. It’s gorgeously Gothic and macabre… but sadly it’s only like 10% of the truth.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Victorians loved them some arsenic and it did tend to be the murderer about towns choice of poison BUT it wasn’t deliberate poisoning that made up the vast amount of arsenic deaths. It was accidental poisoning.

And most of these accidents were thanks to a little something called Scheele’s Green.

Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele – this guy…

In 1775 Carl Wilhelm Scheele made history, when he created a brand new shade of green. Vibrant and bold, it verged between emerald and the kind of effervescent green that you only see in the freshest flowers. Quite simply it was stunning and it soon became an international obsession.

And we know what happens when a colour suddenly pops off, its EVERYWHERE. Much like Millennial Pink in 2016, in the mid Victorian era you couldn’t move for Scheele’s Green. It was on clothing, accessories, furniture and even in sweets! But the makeup of Scheele’s Green made it very different (in an exceptionally deadly way) from your average fad colour.

Grab your goggles because here comes the sciencey bit.

You see, Scheele’s Green wasn’t made by water soluble agents like most other dyes. Instead it was a chemical compound made by combining sodium carbonate, arsenic and copper. It was this unique mix of arsenic and copper that really made Scheele’s green pop and gave it its unparalleled bright hue. However there was a downside to this formula – it made Scheele’s Green lethal.

But with little to no regulations on arsenic in products, Scheele’s Green was flying off the shelves. And it wasn’t long until the bodies started racking up.

Whipping up a batch of good old fashioned death!
Whipping up a batch of good old fashioned death!

Living with death

In 1862 children in London’s Limehouse area started to die. At first the deaths were put down to diphtheria, but pretty soon the doctors were arguing over whether this disease truly was the culprit.

You see each of the children had sore throats and breathing issues prior to their deaths, but bar that had shown none of the other major signs of the disease. There had been no thick coating of the throat, no mass swelling or ulcers, basically none of the things that normally accompany diphtheria. Not to mention that this disease was known to wipe out areas on mass for a reason and yet, after four children died there were no more fatalities.

Public health officer and chemist, Henry Letheny was bought in to play the role of Sherlock Holmes. He quickly discovered the cause – the wallpaper.

The children’s room had recently been redecorated with (you guessed it!) brand new Scheele’s Green wallpaper which after examination was shown to hold a whopping 3 grams of arsenic per square foot.

In case you’re wondering, it can take just 0.148 grams of arsenic to kill an adult. Oh but, don’t worry it gets worse…

The lethal Limehouse wallpaper actually held a relatively tiny amount of arsenic compared to others on the market. With some wallpapers later reported to have held on average 20 grams of arsenic per square foot and 70 grams in extreme cases.

And this wallpaper was everywhere. By 1858 it was estimated a million miles of deadly arsenic wallpaper had been produced and were now hanging in homes all around England.

William Morris
‘Darling this wallpaper is so stunning my heart appears to be bursting in sheer excitement!’ – example of William Morris Scheele’s Green wallpaper

It was a true epidemic, but (perhaps unsurprisingly, depending on how optimistic you are) the people churning out this death printed paper didn’t care.

The most notorious of these is perhaps celebrated designer:

William Morris.

William designed some of the most popular interiors, prints and textiles of the age. He was also a notorious socialist idealist, pushing for his industry to not only respect the environment but to ensure workers were looked after. And he did a sterling job looking after the environment, his workers and consumers by popping arsenic into his products.

Coincidentally William’s Dad owned mining company, Devon Great Consols, which was the worlds largest arsenic producer. Funny that…

In fact, it was with the money from the family arsenic mining business that William set up his design company. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that in 1885 William when asked about the (now proven) dangerous health ramifications of arsenic, he said:

‘As to the arsenic scare, a greater folly is hardly possible to imagine: the doctors were being bitten by witch fever.’

Sadly it wasn’t witch fever, but arsenic poising. The workers at Devon Great Consols frequently died from it. And yet William happily exposed his own workers to the stuff.

And they were far from alone. All over the country workers making arsenic laced furnishings were being exposed to highly dangerous levels of the poison. Every. Single. Day.

And then there were the poor souls whose health was being torn apart everyday all in the name of couture.

The Arsenic Waltz, Punch 1863
OK fine…maybe it;s deadly but it’s so fabulous! – The Arsenic Waltz, Punch 1863

Fashionably dead

Of course, the highly fashionable hue was all over the most fabulously dressed. At the time it was estimated that one ball gown made using Scheele’s Green would carry an estimated 900 grams of arsenic.

Naturally, those modelling a Scheele’s Green look saw some pretty horrid side effects! After a night out you might peel off your gown to find a rash or maybe an oozing sore. Not great, and yet it still wasn’t enough to make people stop buying Scheele’s Green.

You see these women had the dress lining not to mention layers of petticoats and crinolines separating their skin from the real damage arsenic can rage. So although there were physical side effects, these were very much the equivalent of a modern day bra welt or blisters from breaking in new heels – just the price of looking good, right?

But what about the women who were making these looks?

One of the things that made making Scheele’s Green clothes and accessories so dangerous was the techniques often used.

Say you were making something small, like a flower crown (yes Victorian ladies loved this look too, sorry Coachella!) then you’d literally press the pigment into the fabric. That’s a ton of arsenic getting right up into all those crevices in your hands (which you’ll then use for everything from eating, peeing and picking at your face) that’s not to mention all those arsenic particles you’re unknowingly breathing in.

Imagine churning out countless crowns just like this.

In 1861, a 19 year old flower maker called Matilda Scheurer started convulsing and vomiting green liquid. The whites of her eyes turned green and so did her fingernails. She had arsenic poisoning.

Matilda went on to die a slow and very painful death. She wasn’t the only one. French physician, Ange-Gabriel-Maxime Vernois, wrote that after visiting a fake flower factory in Paris (similar to the one Matilda worked in) that the daily contact with arsenic wrought havoc on the bodies of the workers, with the arsenic literally eating away at their flesh.

1859 examples of damage caused by green arsenic, from Wellcome Collection
I mean it’s a strong look – 1859 examples of damage caused by green arsenic, from Wellcome Collection

So with all this deadly buffoonery going on, why wasn’t arsenic just straight up outlawed?

Well there were two key  reasons:

1. Not everyone was dying – remember arsenic products were everywhere! And yet, the entire country weren’t just dropping like flies. So it was easy for those selling the arsenic laced goods to put the cases where people did die to already existing ill health.

2. The science wasn’t concrete – although it was understood how ingesting arsenic was deadly (why murderers used it!) It wasn’t crystal clear how arsenic being used in manufacturing was lethal. Yes, there were the physical symptoms exhibited by workers and extremely strong indicators of deaths caused by arsenic products, but there was no clear scientific explanation as to why! In fact it wasn’t until 1933 scientists came up with a theory for the deaths (gosio gas created by the arsenic in damp conditions) and even this theory is pretty patchy!

So In 1870 people were working to ban products they reckoned might have fatal consequences. And let’s be real, whilst these products were bringing in that sweet cash, ‘reckoning’ was pretty useless (just look at America’s vaping crisis for an example)

But there would be an end to arsenic’s hay day! Not from the government, but through the people.

With word spreading that these products were dangerous, many newspapers started taking a stand against them. Then in 1879, Queen Victoria made headlines when she stripped Buckingham Palace of arsenic products after a visiting dignitary complained of feeling sick when near them.

If it wasn’t good enough for old Vic, it wasn’t good enough for anyone!

The people had spoken with their wallets and arsenic manufacturing soon fell out of favour.

We won’t ever know the true body count caused by Scheele’s Green (though myth says Napoleon was among the number!) but it’s doubtless countless people fell victim. Either paying with their health or lives.

Remember, it’s not easy bring green. Because it will literally kill you.

The 6 best Halloween history nerd treats

‘‘Tis the season to indulge yourself in the spookiest scariest history you can get your hands on. From classic Victorian Gothic horror to those chapters from history that are just to grisly for any other time of year. And beyond books there’s no better way to truly bask in the bone chilling than with some history nerd approves goodies.

Oh and don’t worry if you’re not a Stevie Nicks inspired perma witch – I’ve lined up plenty of tricks and treats for everyone!

1. A deliciously detailed cookie cutter

cookie cutter

We’ve all been there, your making your way through a pack of chocolate chip cookies but you when your eating cookies and you can’t help but feel somethings missing. Like sure bad boys are great, but they would be SO much better if they were shaped like a Gothic writer and an anatomically correct heart.

OK maybe this is just me, but luckily the internet exists and some kind person has made an incredibly detailed cookie cutter of Edgar Allan Poe (and his tell tale heart!)

If that’s not your thing, the seller also makes a plethora of intricate historic figure cookie cutters, from Ada Lovelace to Emily Dickinson and even Nikola Tesla.

Get it here – Edgar Allan Poe cookie cutter, £9.07


2. The perfect witchy pin to show your true colours

Rampant Hag

This pin pays homage to Martha Carrier who was accused of being a witch at the 1692 Salem Witch trials. Martha was strong, brave and woman beyond her time.

At her execution one witness described her as ‘rampant hag.’

I love that this pin flips this insult into a tongue in cheek celebration for (as the maker says) ‘all women who don’t behave as expected.’

Get it here: Rampant Hag pin, £9.07

3. A truly horrifying candle

black death candle

Ok. No, I don’t know why someone made a Black Death candle, but they did. God bless Etsy.

Luckily for everyone involved, despite its name and label this candle smells A LOT better than a Black Death ridden city. Giving off a spicy autumnal scent. Because although I’m sure there is a market for Eau de rotting corpses, I’m pretty sure (or at least hope) its a niche one.

Get it here: The black death candle, £23.70

4. A bloody bath time treat

You know how I was just like ‘hahaha they made a black death candle, how brilliantly weird!’ Well Etsy went up one upped themselves…

Presenting Elizabeth Bathory bath bombs:

bathory bath bombs.jpg

That’s right, a bath bomb that turns your bath blood red in a tribute (???) to famous 17th century murderer, Elizabeth Bathory who notoriously bathed in her victims blood. Elizabeth also killed people by covering them in honey and watching them get eaten alive by insects, but I guess that’s harder to theme a bath time treat to.

Oh and if you don’t do baths, then Elizabeth Bathory shower gel also exists.

Get it here: Elizabeth Bathory Bath Bomb, £4.12

5. A craftily creepy cross stitch pattern

mary shelly

‘Beware for I am fearless and therefore powerful!’

Could you ask for a better quote to create some stunning cross stitch inspired by the one and only Mary Shelley?

I also LOVE this pattern because it’s also pretty simple, so if you’re starting cross stitch it’s a great first time out the gate pattern.

Get it here: print off PDF Mary Shelley cross stitch pattern, £9.07


Ok let’s end things on a ‘my god, the world can be the best place’ note:

6. Rosa Parks Halloween Costume 


That’s right. A historically accurate Rosa Parks at the Montgomery Bus Boycott costume for your child to wear this Halloween.


Seriously this is the best thing I have seen all week. If a child dressed up as the first lady of civil rights doesn’t deserve all the candy this Halloween, then who does?

Get it here: Rosa Parks Costume, £81.60

(The seller also makes children’s costumes for Amelia Earhart, Sojurner Truth and Alexander Hamilton, because I think they might be some kind of saint) 

Death Omens: A magical mystery tour through weird British history

Britain is a very superstitious little island. Every single country and county has different superstitious beliefs passed down from families, sometimes for generations.

My Nan would tell me that seeing a solitary magpie would mean bad luck was coming. There is even a weirdly jolly if somewhat morbid rhyme for it:

“One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold

Seven for a secret,

never to be told.”

So, if I see one lone magpie I have to follow it until I find another one, or I am convinced I’ll have bad luck (seriously, I once spent an hour hunting for a second magpie. The fear is real) In some parts of the UK, instead of following the magpie, you salute it (which tbh  feels like the laziest form of meaningless superstition).

So whats the deal with magpies? Well, the magpie has long been associated with death and bad luck in the UK as far back as the 16th century, with some version of the rhyme being almost as old.

Historically speaking, death was a much more common occurrence before the age of medicine and more understanding around the mechanics of our own biology, so people looked to nature for ways of foreshadowing coming troubles. Which gave birth to many of the superstitions we still have today.

This continued to be backed up through the centuries, particularly when we hit the Victorian era, thanks to the their obsession with the occult. In fact almost everywhere you go in the UK, you’ll find a new or slightly different centuries old death superstition.

So lets embark together on a magical mystery tour of Britain’s fascination (and fear) of death and the symbols that may just herald its arrival…. starting with: 

1. Birds

There’s so many ways death can announce itself but none more so than birds!

the birds gif.gif

Once more, the good old magpie crops up here, with the belief that if a magpie taps on your window that’s a sure sign death is on the way. The bird is trying to warn you.

And much like my Nan, the Victorians were particularly superstitious about magpies, with the belief that seeing one solitary magpie is a very bad omen, gaining a lot of traction in this era.

There’s also the belief that hearing an owl screech three times or landing on your bedpost meant death was going to pay a visit.

And of course, crows have long been known as a deathly omen, linked to witchcraft and satanism since the Medieval age.

In fact both owls and crows are closely associated with death in Celtic folklore often being ambassadors for the gods of death and the underworld.

owl and crow
So if you see this….RUN

And it’s not just live birds that will get you. One old wives tales, which came about during the 16th century’s outbreak of witch trials, warned that if a bird happens to fly into your window/wall and die, then thats a very good indication that you can expect a  fatality within the week.

2. Animals

Ah, man’s best friend. Because of dogs supposedly close connection to humans, it was thought that they could sense trouble coming for their owners. With one belief citing that if a dog continued to howl by your bedroom window at night you could expect to die pretty immanently.

But not all dogs are friendly in folklore though (well, if you count friendly as predicting your death…)

In Wales there’s the legend that if you see Cwn Annwn, a white dog with glowing red eyes the size of a calf, then you’re predicted to die within a matter of days. These dogs are said to belong to Gwyn ap Nud, Lord of the Underworld. You can hear their bark before you see them, and terrifyingly they get quieter the closer they get to you.

Meanwhile, over in Scotland, they aren’t fond of black sheep or any kind of black animal. The colour black has been associated with Satan by them since the 15th century. The birth of a black lamb would foretell misfortune and bereavements, and if two lambs with black faces were born then you’d be said to lose your flock by the end of lambing season.

Black cats are good or bad luck depending on which part of the UK you’re in. Obviously, Scotland believed a black cat crossing your path was a sure sign death was coming to someone in your family. And, black cats were associated with witchcraft, so were seen as a very bad omen.

This kind of superstition is sadly still prevalent today, with black cats actually being the least likely to be adopted from rescue shelters.

salem gif.gif
Which makes no sense, because Salem taught us that black cats are the best

3. Household Items

During the medieval era, it was a tradition that brooms shouldn’t be used during the month of May. Because if you did use a broom, then you were inviting death into your home. Similarly, if your broom fell over of its own accord, then that meant death announced itself to your household. So basically don’t clean.

Umbrellas were also frowned upon. With the Victorians believing that umbrellas being opened inside the house meant a member of the culprit’s family would be murdered! This is an interesting one in that it spread across the western world and to this day, its commonly seen as a sign of bad luck to open a brolly indoors (even if most people don’t know why/how its bad luck)

And if you thought that you could escape death omens when sleeping..think again.

freddy gif.gif
To be fair, sleep hasn’t been safe for a while

4.Dreams and Doubles

Dreams were seen as a precursor and warning of impending bad luck or a bereavement. If, in your dream you saw your doppelgänger, the devil or a solitary crow this meant death was coming for you. They made it personal.

The double as a death omen has been around for hundreds of years. Queen Elizabeth I was rumoured to have seen her doppelgänger reclining in her bed looking pale and lifeless a few days before her own passing!

In Celtic folklore there’s a legend of a fairy creature known as a ‘Changeling’ who should steal children and replaced them with doubles who became sickly and died within days. This explanation meant parents could hold on to the belief their children were alive with the fairies somewhere.

Dante Rossetti, How They Met Themselves, 1864
Dante Rosetti’s doppelganger masterpiece, How They Met Themselves, 1864

5. Funeral Processions

As you’ve probably noticed, the Victorians feature heavily in the world of folklore and death omens. They had a curiosity around death and the supernatural. With one popular and very much believed death omen was around funeral processions.

If you saw a real life funeral procession going on you should not cross paths in front of it or you risked inviting death into your family.

There was also the belief that if you saw a ghostly funeral procession this foreshadowed the end of your life. So, to keep yourself safe you had to turn and walk away from the procession, disrespect be damned!

There was also the legend of Corpse Candles, flickering lights that seemed to hover. These were seen by folks from their window or out walking. They were said to lead the souls of the dead to their resting place. With corpse candles, heralding an oncoming bereavement. And if you were very unlucky, the corpse candles would come towards your house, foreshadowing a death in the household.

An example of the Corpse Candle.

It’s funny to think of how we dismiss these old omens nowadays. This has come with more of an understanding of how our bodies work and fighting back against many diseases that today we don’t even register but used to kill in great numbers.

There’s still a few that are held onto which have been passed down in families, inexplicably followed almost automatically. We don’t want to give up on these small beliefs and our desire to understand the unknown… and why should we?

This was interesting, where can I find out more? I thoroughly recommend the book A Treasury of British Folklore by Dee Dee Chainey, there’s a chapter around folklore in Death & Burial, but the entire thing is a fascinating read.

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The 4 Forgotten Women who Built Horror

For a genre that loves nothing more than a final girl trope, horror always seems to be incredibly saturated by men. Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Stephen King and John Carpenter, but horror was built by both men and women.

So this Halloween let’s put some time aside to celebrate 4 female forgotten horror heroes, without whom the genre would be nothing but a lone bucket of out of date fake blood.

1. The Writer: Daphne du Maurier

When you think of horror writers, you might not immediately look to Daphne du Maurier; the author of books and short novels including, Rebecca, The Birds, My Cousin Rachel and Don’t Look Now, is often categorised as a romantic author.

Personally I think this a hangover from when Daphne published her work (starting in the 1930s) because if you read her work, 9 times out of 10 it sure as f ain’t romantic!

Hers is a prose that hints to a quiet slowly unravelling menacing dread, it’s gripping and ever turning.

Daphne Du Marier
Daphne du Maurier

You may also have noticed that all of Daphnes work listed earlier went on to become classic horror films.

This isn’t coincidence! Daphnes work lends itself to timeliness horror; its undercurrent of dread and fear making her stories work for audiences across the generations.

From the gripping thriller, Don’t Look Now (which includes Donald Sutherland rocking some amazing facial hair), modern horror, My Cousin Rachel and of course Hitchcock’s seminal classics, Rebecca and The Birds (AKA why I’m scared of flocks of pigeons)

the birds gif.gif
Seriously though…..fuck birds

The thing that makes Daphnes stories stay with you is the unique brand of evil they contain.

You won’t encounter a mask clad chainsaw wielding maniac here; hers are the monsters that tread in the daylight, the ones who might just step off the page and into your every day…

Rebecca gif
Mrs Danvers ofically worse than Michael Myers

2. The director: Ida Lupino

Though she started her Hollywood career as an actress (she described herself as a ‘poor mans Bette Davis’) Ida made her mark behind the camera; becoming know as the Queen of the B’s (as in B movies…not a swarm of overly coifed Hollywood bees)

Ida Lupino
Ida Lupino

In 1953s taut noir/psychological horror, The Hitchhiker (which btw was the first noir by a US female director) Ida shows that when in the right hands, psychology and emotion can be just as powerful as a jump scare.

The claustrophobic film revolves around two guys off on a fishing trip; on the drive up they pick up a hitchhiker…who sadly turns out to be a serial killer (life lesson: hitchhikers are not your friend)

True to form, their new murder-ey pal then happily points out that he’ll kill the men as soon as they’re no longer useful; as he psychologically breaks the men, the film explores what happens when masculinity and fear are trapped together.

The HItchhiker, 1953
So a super happy fun time car ride

You can still see the lasting impact The Hitchhiker had on psychological horror (seriously elements of it are all over!)

But for me, Ida’s biggest legacy is the sheer amount of doors she opened for other female filmmakers.

As well as being the first US woman to direct a noir, she was also the first woman to direct an episode of iconic horror series, The Twilight Zone

twilight zone, The masks, directed by Ida Lupino .gif
Ida’s episode, The Masks….in no way nightmarish

Through Ida’s use of emotions she succeeded where many male directors had failed; using the human psyche to delve into our deepest desires and show us our darkest fears.

Whilst we’re on the subject of groundbreaking lady directors…may I introduce you to:

3. The pioneer: Alice Guy Blanche

Alice was arguably the first female director in history. Directing 1896s, La Fée aux Choux when she was just 23.

Alice Guy Blanche
Alice Guy Blanche, nailing her early twenties

A secretary for Leon Garment -one of the worlds first film entrepreneurs- Alice created a script for a fictional film (then unheard of!) and demanded Gaument let her use one of his cameras to shoot it.

This film was La Fée aux Choux, which depicts a fairy who skitters about pulling babies from cabbages (because…reasons) though shot as a slice of fantasy fiction, the film is now sometimes referred to by modern audiences as a horror film.

I reckon that might have something to do with the whole nightmare fuel situation of a women yanking squirming newborns from vegetables and then dumping them on the floor to twirl around them – who knows.

The cabbage fairy
how many nightmare babies can you spot?

Over her career, Alice made around 1000 films. I’ll repeat that

1000 films

These films included the rather fantastically (and now bleakly) named, In The Year 2000, When Women Are in Charge.

She was also the first female director to tackle the horror film, making film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Pit and The Pendulam, as wells as films The Monster and The Girl and The Vampire.

These films contained groundbreaking techniques that now appear in horror flicks across the globe; including double exposure (for all you film nerds out there!)

And, ass kicking pioneer that she was, Alice’s work in the horror genre didn’t stop with her!

Two of her mentees Louis Feuillade and Lois Webber, went on to help forge early horror film making and Alfred Hitchcock cited Alice’s work as vital inspiration.

The Pit and The Pendulum .jpg
Promo still from 1913 horror The Pit and The Pendulum, which Alice produced and directed

Yet Despite all her pioneering work, Alice was largely written out of history. When her old boss, Leon Gaument, published the history of his film company, Alice was nowhere to be seen (despite her essential body of work and role as Head of Production!)

Subsequent books around this period also largely overlooked Alice’s contributions and it’s only recently that we’re starting to rediscover this titan of early filmmaking.

alice guy blanche, being a total boss
Just casually operating a camera, whilst amending a script in a wedding dress…. remind me again why history forgot this woman!?!

So far we’ve been pretty heavy on pyscholigcal horror and I know what your thinking:


Well I’ve got you covered with our final forgotten horror hero:

4. The scream queen: Paula Maxa

Paula (real name Marie) was the original scream queen. In fact, as well as being the first in the genre, I’d argue that Paula was the hardest working scream queen in history; having died over 10,000 times.

Paula Maxa
Paula Maxa presents: head shot goals

Paula was one of the most famous actors at Paris Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. The theatre specialised in gory horror and from 1917 to the 1930s, Paula was killed so many times on stage that she became known as the worlds most assassinated woman!

Here are just some of Paulas on stage deaths:

– Steamrollered
– Eaten alive by a Puma
– Chopped into 90 pieces
– Disembowelled (with her intestines then stolen)
– Murdered by an invisible knife

She once even ‘decomposed’ on stage, a feat of stunt work and special effects she managed for 200 performances

Paula Maxa on stage.jpg
Just another day at the office (also loving the flip flops, comfort first!)

Paula loved her work; she’d had a morbid fascination with death and horror from childhood and her work allowed her to fully immerse herself into this world.

And she really threw herself into the blood and gore! Plays at the Grand-Guignol were so horrifying that a doctor was on hand for each performance to tend to passed out patrons.

The Grand Guignol posters.jpg
A fun night out for all the family!

Fresh blood was mixed up for every performance to ensure it looking fresh just like the real deal.

And if a performance finished without walk outs, fainting spells and maybe the odd bit of sick…then it was considered a failure.

Sounds like my kind of theatre

This was interesting where can I find out more? There’s a book all about the weird world of The Grand Guignol (Grand Guignol, French Theatre of Horror, 2015) which covers Paula’s life and career (thats otherwise weirdly tough to read up on!)

Britain’s 5 Most Horrifyingly Haunted Places

Talking about haunted places in Britain is a doddle… it’d probably be easier to tell you places that aren’t haunted or have some kind of horrific supernatural story behind it. We’re tripping over ghosts and castles everywhere!

But these 5…. these 5 places are so horrifically haunted that they deserve a special place in the heart of every Halloween loving goth kid.

So. Many. Fucking. Ghosts. Via Giphy

Hampton Court Palace

This place has hella ghosts. Like so many that we could probably do a post just on Hampton Court… but we have a word count to keep to (and other haunted spots to visit) so we’ll touch base with just some of their more famous spooks.

The ghosts of Catherine Howard AND Jane Seymour (wives of historical gobshite King Henry VIII) are supposedly busy getting their spook on here.

It is said that Catherine haunts the (rather aptly named) haunted gallery. Catherine supposedly ran down the gallery to beg Henry for mercy; her attempt failed and Henry had her head cut off in 1541. Now Catherine is stuck in some kind of horrifying historic limbo, forever trapped wailing in that corridor.

Yeeeeeah…Henry was a dick! Via Giphy

Henry’s 3rd wive, Jane, also supposedly haunts Hampton Court and can be seen walking through the palace courtyards carrying a lantern. She died at the palace in 1537 giving birth to King Henry VIII’s only male heir, Edward. TBH considering what a shit nozzle Henry was, she got off lightly.

Hampton Court’s most famous ghost though is SKELETOR (not the He Man baddie sadly).

CCTV caught this spook in 2003 after security staff noticed the fire doors near the Clock Court kept being violently flung open and closed again.


Skeletor! Via Giphy

One half of F Yeah History even had her own ghostly encounter whilst working there. Whilst in one of the shops, Greensleeves started playing on the shops iPod speaker system (nightmarish enough) but the song wouldn’t stop playing, looping itself on an endless repeat.

Our brave lass unplugged the iPod AND IT STILL KEPT PLAYING GREENSLEEVES! 

Note: The other half of F Yeah History is a ghost non-believer and would like to point out that she reckons the speakers were just broken…but screw that we’re going with GHOSTS 


Glasgow Necropolis

Now this super ancient graveyard has the literal name ‘city of the dead’ opened in 1833. The place is seriously crowded, housing over 50,000 souls; so you’re bound to see some weird shit happen round there.

Sightings of ghosts have been spotted since its conception, and locals advise that if you’re going there alone at night you should be respectful and polite, unless you want a ghost boot up the arse.

The John Henry Alexander Monument at Glasgow Necropolis. Via Wikipedia

One of the stranger rumours was that a vampire lurked round this graveyard back in the 1950’s, there were several sightings of a tall sinister looking man in a huge cape who disappeared into thin air if confronted and the vampire was blamed for the disappearance of two local children.

Local kids armed themselves with knives and homemade stakes and patrolled for two nights back in September of 1954.

Local PC Alex Deeprose was called down to make the kiddies dispurse, he was shocked at the sheer number of them and it took weeks for the patrols to stop!

Sadly a bit before her time… via Giphy

Bolsover Castle

One of our faves, Bolsover is chock full of supernatural shenanigans. This site has had reports of spooky sightings, people being pushed about by unseen forces and objects moving around between locked doors!

Haunted AF Bolsover Castle. Via Wikipedia

Bolsover was built on an ancient burial ground (recipe for supernatural disaster) and has been around since the 11th Century, so there’s a bum load of history there and room for plenty of ghosts.

One of the more well-known ghosts is that of a little boy who holds the hand of female visitors when they explore the garden.

They’ve had staff check out after experiencing spooks first hand. Night shift security guards have handed in their notice after seeing lights and hearing voices when checking the site on their own.

Once during some routine maintenance work 4 builders watched a period clad lady walk through a wall near where they were working. Two of them decided ‘fuck this!’ and didn’t come back.

What he said… via Giphy

Note: The other half of F Yeah History would like to note that Bolsover is so supposedly haunted, that its staff have had to start a ghost sightings books, just to keep up with all the creepy shenanigans (apparently, despite not believing in ghosts, the other half of F Yeah History is a know it all…)

Woodchester Mansion

Woodchester Mansion is just a shell of what would have been an impressive gothic mansion, it’s a strange story because the build was suddenly abandoned in the 1870s and no one ever finished off the work, so it’s stood there for over a hundred years.

Looks quite nice in the daytime! Via Wikipedia

There were rumours one of the workers was murdered on site, and his ghost haunted remaining builders there who downed tools and promptly fucked off… the likelihood is that the money for the build just ran out.

From there its history reads like a series of American Horror story!

During the Second World War the grounds of the house were used for D-Day training and one day a fatal accident took place when a bridge over the lake collapsed and soldiers performing a drill were drowned.

Their bodies were taken back to the house and their ghosts still haunt the ruins; visitors claim to have seen men in uniform wandering through the house.

😱 via Giphy

The house itself is said to house a bunch of seriously nasty ghosties. Before it was turned into a gothic shell it was the site of a few other fancy houses so the site has collected all the ghosts from previous incarnations.

There’s a ghost monk in the chapel, a mean old lady ghost who grabs at people in the dark and the ghost of a small girl who likes to trip people up (so all nice people)

It’s been featured in loads of ghost hunter TV shows like Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters International so if you want to get in on the action book yourself in for a ghost hunt there. They do them all the fecking time!


Bleeding Heart Yard

This one is proper creepy. Legend has it that Lady Elizabeth Hatton a beautiful Tudor socialite was brutally murdered in the yard.

She was found torn limb from limb and her still beating heart was left in the road found by a (probably) really fecking traumatised passer-by.


People have reported hearing a loud beating sound like, y’know…. a heartbeat, when in the yard, others have seen a mournful looking woman said to be the ghost of Elizabeth looking for her still beating heart.

Depending on the legend she was either murdered by her lover, a penniless dancer, who was jealous of her attention from rich fancy men or it was the devil himself who killed her. Not much difference between those two really.

Now it houses a super fancy bistro (their eggs Royale is the tits), but we used to work near there and neither of us would walk down the yard at night. It is creepy as fuck.

We hope you enjoyed our countdown, if you fancy visiting for yourself there’s ghost tours round most of these ones that go on year round. Bolsover even has its own FrightFest this October celebrating all their ghosties!

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The Spookiest Stories for Halloween

Tis the season to get spooky fa la-la-la la-la la-la AAAAAAARGH. Now call me old fashioned but there’s nothing nicer than curling up with a ghostly short story in front of a fire.


Traditionally in Britain ghost stories are a Christmas activity with those morbid Victorian’s telling their most chilling tales whilst roasting chestnuts on an open fire (so the song goes) and if the BBC doesn’t show a ghost story drama over the festive period, it fucking ruins Christmas for us.

BUT, we also love reading chilling tales throughout October or ‘Goth Christmas’ as we like to call it, so we’ve pulled together our favourite nightmare-fuelled-historical-spectral tales from masters of the craft. Don’t blame us if you have to sleep with the light on.

The Signalman – Charles Dickens – 1886

Now we’re all familiar with Dicken’s in some capacity and arguably he created the most well-known ghost story in the Western World with A Christmas Carol that story of curmudgeonly old bellend Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey to becoming less of a bellend when he’s visited by three Christmas ghosts. Everyone knows this story, even the Muppets have a version of it.

Spooky and fuzzy! Via Giphy 

Dickens himself liked a good ghost story and had a keen interest in all kinds of supernatural shiz. So no surprise that he’s have a go at writing ghostly tales himself. The Signalman was published in 1866 as a Christmas short story for part of a collection entitled Mugby Junction.

If you’re new to ghost stories I’d start with this one. It’s a short and unsettling read about a train enthusiast who decides to go have a chat with a signalman, back in those days train signalling was done by human hand. Our narrator finds a confused and terrified signalman who is being haunted by a spectre that foreshadows some seriously shitty events.

Pomegranate Seed – Edith Wharton – 1931

Edith Wharton is Queen of the ghost story genre, she’s incredible at creating suspense and malevolence from totally mundane settings. She’s got three amazing collections of spooky tales we highly recommend AND she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921, being the first lady to receive the honour!

Pomegranate Seed might actually be our favourite ghost story of all time. This tale is horrifying and there is a real layer of malice to the entire story and you keep hoping for a happy ending to this one. LET LOVE WIN!

This probably won’t end well 💀 Via Giphy 

It centres round the newly wed Mrs Charlotte Ashby and her hubby Kenneth. He was a widower and his dead wife Elsie decides she has unfinished business with Kenneth. She starts communicating with him through ghostly letters. It’s only gets worse from there.

The Monkey’s Paw – W. W. Jacobs – 1902

First published in 1902 as a short story Harper’s Monthly Magazine this is a brilliant and fairly well known spooky story, was written by William Wymark Jacobs, who was known for his humorous writing. Laurel and Hardy did a film Our Relations based off one of his funny stories The Money Box!

Now our boy Will released a series of spooky and funny stories The Lady of the Barge. This story was included in this anthology. Honestly this story shits me right up. It still makes me recoil in horror reading it, and those of you who like your ghost stories with a bit of necromancy shoved in will enjoy this.

The Simpsons did a Monkey’s Paw homage in Treehouse of Horror. Via Giphy 

The White family have a visit from their old mate who’s a Sargent-Major in the army. He’s had a tour of India and seems to have come back a broken man. The White family press him for all the juicy details and he hands over a manky looking mummified monkeys paw and tells them it grants wishes. That’s when all shit hits the fan and stuff gets proper creepy.

The Nature of the Evidence – May Sinclair – 1923

May Sinclair knows how to do psychosexual horror. She was fascinated by Freud and was a member of the Society of Psychical Research, who conducted scientific studies into supernatural events. We’re imagining a sort of Victoriana ghostbusters.

May released two collections of ghost stories Uncanny Stories, which this unsettling and sessyful tale is in and The Intercessor and Other Stories, both have got some seriously scary stuff in, but The Nature of Evidence is the one that makes us need to sleep with the light on.


It’s basically a sexier version of Rebecca, but with an actual ghost. Our narrator has been gently coaxing juicy details of an X-Rated ghostly encounter from his mate Edward Marston, who’s being haunted by the ghost of his first wife Rosamund. His new wife Pauline doesn’t live up to Rosamund’s standards… and she lets the bitch know it!

The Phantom Rickshaw – Rudyard Kipling – 1885

Now Mr Kipling (not the cake dude) is a well beloved author, he gave us The Jungle Book for fecks sake! He’s famous for his short stories and is seen as a figure who reinvented their popularity during his lifetime. Considering he wrote lots of lovely stories for kids this short story is pretty bollocking creepy. This ghost story is one with a message at its core, this message is


The lovely soothing illustration for Kipling’s Ghost Stories. Via Wikipedia 

Falling into the ‘MEN ARE TERRIBLE’ category our dickhead narrator Jack strings along a married woman he’s been having an affair with, and when he’s done with her tells her she’s uggo and he hates her so could she just piss off please?

Poor lass is heartbroken and she dies, BUT, then our girl gets her spooky groove back. She decides to teach this fuckboi a lesson and haunts the shiz out of him.


These tales are mostly available to read online or you can get them on your kindle, because they’re fecking ancient. But if you want to sink your teeth into more modern collections we heartily recommend Ghostly a collection of spooky short stories pulled together by Audrey Niffenegger, Pomegranate Seed is included in that one.

The Folio Society have an INCREDIBLE collection of ghost stories in their aptly names Folio Book of Ghost Stories. It looks gorgeous and boasts an excellent selection including The Signalman and The monkey’s Paw.

Happy reading folks!

Sorry… we had to do this. Via Giphy 

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

%d bloggers like this: