The Ghosts of Senate House is one part of a creative research project led by Sarah Sparkes. It serves as an archive for uncanny, apocryphal stories emanating from Senate House. These stories formed part of "a Magical library for the 21st Century" an archive of writings, recordings, artwork, artefacts, and other contributions, which was first shown at the University of London as part of The Bloomsbury Festival October 2011.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Bloomsbury - Murder Neighbourhood

Bloomsbury is today one of London's more genteel and pleasant areas, an attractive place that draws tourists from around the world. The numerous Universities give the place a studious, academic atmosphere. Lovers of literature throng its squares, walking in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and W.B. Yeats. The more esoteric-minded visitor may be drawn to Bloomsbury because of the British Museum, and its consequent associations with Wallis Budge, MacGregor Mathers, Aleister Crowley and (again) W.B. Yeats. A pleasant, scholarly neighbourhood. But one hundred years ago it had a very different reputation. Recent research by Dr Jan Bondeson has found the entire area - from Euston station down to Russell Square tube - was thought of as the 'Murder Neighbourhood' par excellence.
[image:'Debra Arif',]

During the 19th century, Bloomsbury's once well-to-do town houses had fallen into decay and disrepair. Converted into flats, they housed down-at-heel people, criminals, prostitutes - the area became known for its transient population. A series of gruesome murders - some unsolved - gained the area an unenviable reputation. 12 Great Coram Street (now Coram Street), 4 and 12 Burton Crescent (now Cartwright Gardens), 4 Euston Square (now Endsleigh Gardens) were all the sites of gruesome murders of women. (Why the preponderance of the numbers 4 and 12? No doubt a kabbalist might shed some light).

[image LEFT:]
[image BELOW: creative commons]

Just as the name Rillington Place was changed to Ruston Close, in order to spare residents' embarrassment and shame, so too were several of these notorious street names altered.
Some of these addresses are no more, victims of the Euston Station redevelopment or of the expansion of local university buildings. Perhaps this is not a bad thing, since (we are told) "the murder house at 4 Euston Square kept its sinister reputation for decades to come: it was reported to be haunted, and strange groans and screams were heard...The bloodstain on the floorboards in the murder room could not be removed by any amount of scrubbing, and no dog would pass this room of horrors without snarling, whining and giving indications of intense terror."--Fortean Times no.318, Sep.2014 (p.46).

But 3 Bernard Street - where the unsolved murder of a young prostitute, Esther Praeger, too place in 1908 - still stands. It is very near Russell Square station and is now a souvenir, confectionary and tobacconists' shop.

Fortean Times no. 318 (September 2014) features an in-depth article by Dr Bondeson on Bloomsbury murders and their locations, and his book Murder Houses of London (Amberley Publishing) will be published later in 2014.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

1980s Memories of a Library Assistant

"For some reason I remembered my time as a library assistant at Senate House today so had a look on the web ... I came across your website. I worked there from 1983 - 1986. I think every library staff member had an experience of some kind - just like those on the blog. The Harry Price library was still there in those days and also Mr Wesencraft.

Here's some of my strange moments:

1. The first time I went to the Harry Price library I was accompanied by another staff member to show me around. Can't remember which book we were looking for but the first one I picked up was one by Harry Lorayne. My name is Lorraine. I told my colleague and she hurriedly found the book we went for and said we should get out! I also was in there once and books dropped on the floor. Everyone mentioned the chair in there that moved but I never saw that happen - Mr Wesencraft said it was only psychic forces and nothing to fear.

[the old HPL - Photograph by Tom Ruffles]
I never minded going to the Harry Price Library when I knew Mr Wesencraft was in there – he was such a calm man and I was never afraid when he was there – used to be petrified going alone when he wasn’t.

2. As I remember - the art books were held on the 7th floor. I went up to 'fetch' (as it was termed) one and a very pleasant man in a grey suit with tidy white hair and beard came along the row I was in and said to me 'I am just going to cross your path'. I got my books and came back down in the lift. I went there later but he had gone. A few days later I was telling my colleagues about the nice man and I asked our boss who had been given a stack pass that day. It turned out that none were issued.

I remember the lift having problems - nobody liked going in that alone."

Mr Alan Wesencraft (1912-2007), or 'Wesey', was Honorary Curator of the Harry Price Library at Senate House. He was known to innumerable researchers as a helpful, kind and extremely knowledgeable man, who would guide people ably around the collection and its contents. He was introduced to later library staff as "the only man now working in the Library who met and worked with Harry Price".