Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Aldwych Station, London, UK

Updated with photos May 12, 2010

The Aldwych underground station in London is a ghost station in two senses. It no longer serves as an active subway station, but is maintained and used to throw parties, show art exhibitions, and is frequently used as a movie set. It also is said to be haunted by the mysterious figure of a young woman. Workers who clean the tubes at night have reported seeing her moving along the tracks at Aldwych, allegedly frightening some of the workers enough that they refused to come back.

A television crew, recording for the programme Most Haunted claimed to have seen someone moving in the tunnels. However, they claimed to have seen this movement just at the limits of their lights (where their cameras couldn't film - convenient or inconvenient? I leave that for you to decide). Also, the show Most does one say this? It doesn't exactly have a reputation for honesty. I recommend reading the book Will Storr vs. The Supernatural for a great behind-the-scenes description of the show.

Exterior of Station in May 2010

Commentary: I am preparing to go on vacation soon, and will be taking my girlfriend to London, provided that Iceland will finish exploding and let the rest of us get on with our air travel. As such, I thought it appropriate to look up some London ghost stories. Interestingly, the first one that I came across through Google has something in common with the last story I posted about my home town, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Aldwych station was opened in 1907 as part of the Piccadilly line of the London subway system (aka "The Underground" or "The Tube", not to be confused with the band the Tubes). The Piccadilly line was nick-named the Theatre Line because of its proximity to many of London's theatres. As noted above, Aldwych station itself is built on the location of the Royal Strand theatre.

The name Aldwych is derived from the Old English words meaning "old settlement", and is the location of the 7th-century Anglo-Saxon village of Lundenwic (meaning London Settlement), located about a mile away from Londinium (the originally Roman settlement that would grow into the city of London).

In the online sources that to which I have access, the ghost is always said to be the spirit of an actress, but no reason is ever given for assuming that it is an actress other than that the station is at the location of the old theatre. However, prior to this, it was also the site of an art gallery, and then a non-conformist (Protestant but not Church of England) chapel. So, in the absence of any other identifying information, why claim that the ghost belongs to an actress and not someone associated with the art gallery (the doomed lover of a painter, perhaps?) or the church (a jilted bride left at the church's alter who died of a broken heart?) or the station (someone who failed to mind the gap?)? For that matter, why couldn't the ghost be associated with Lundenwic? The only reason that she seems to be routinely identified as an actress is because of tradition and the theatre location.

As for the similarity with the story of Acacia cemetery, it is simply this. With one exception, every website that I have come across that describes the Aldwych ghost uses the exact same phrase: "The ghost is that of an actress who believes she has not enjoyed her last curtain call." Admittedly, it's not a bad line, but it gets redundant after a very short while. Why does it constantly show up? Perhaps because webmasters and content providers are woefully unimaginative. More likely because we are lazy, and cutting-and-pasting is easier than writing a new sentence. But it makes me wonder: when I arrive in London, will I hear different stories about the ghost, that perhaps she is something other than an actress? Is the actress story spread merely because it's easy to cut-and-paste a semi-decent line than to write something new? And, given the prevalence of the internet amongst ghost story enthusiasts, is it possible that one version of the story, complete with the "curtain call" line, may become the standard.

If you're interested, silly photos of the station can be found here.

Sources: H2G2, Internet, Television Show, Internet, Underground History, Internet

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