Westminster Abbey

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  1. Ian Topham says:

    Re: Westminster Abbey
    All sorts of rumours have been current regarding ghostly happenings in Westminster Abbey, but I have not been able to get any really authentic information on the subject. One story that created some sensation a few years ago was as follows: A policeman on duty outside the Abbey, late one autumn night, saw a man in ecclesiastical robes approaching him at a rapid pace. Supposing a service of some kind was to be held in the Abbey he did not pay any particular attention to the man, until the latter, hurrying right up to the building, passed into it through the closed doors. The policeman was impressed then, and very much so. He rubbed his eyes vigorously and blinked, to make sure he had seen aright and was not dreaming. He was still staring at the entrance to the Abbey when he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. He swung round, no one was near him, but coming towards him, through the slight mist, was a procession of black-clad figures, walking in twos. They were all men, their heads were bowed, their hands clasped in front of them as if in prayer, and their feet made no noise. On they came, right by the policeman, who gazed at them in open-mouthed awe and astonishment, and, like the figure that had preceded them, they passed through the tightly-shut doors into the great building. The policeman was a sturdy Mid-lander, and, like the majority of yokels born and bred in Northamptonshire, without an atom of imagination in his constitution. He had hitherto treated any reference to ghosts with supreme contempt, but his scepticism was now rudely shaken. Could anything but a ghost pass through a closed door? He went up to the building and listened, and, lo and behold, from its interior came the sound of very sweet and plaintive music. Another sound that was not so sweet was the voice of his sergeant who asked him what the something-something he was doing, standing there with his ear to the door ; did he think he heard burglars ?

    Not wishing to experience the sergeant’s sarcasm — the sergeant could be very acrid and often was — he refrained from mentioning the music and procession and merely said: "I thought I heard a noise but I daresay it was only fancy." The sergeant put his ear to the door. "No, all still," he exclaimed, " not the slightest sound. You’ve noises on the brain. No one would ever think of burgling the Abbey ; what would they find, if they did ? " And that ended that. The Northamptonshire lad never saw the procession again, nor heard the sweet and plaintive music, though he often thought of both.

    John Hatfield, who died at his home in Glasshouse Yard, Aldersgate, in 1770, at the age of 102, had a very narrow escape of his life, which escape he always believed he owed to super physical agency, using as its medium "Tom," the great clock at Westminster. The incident occurred, when he was a soldier, in the reign of William III. He was tried at Windsor by a court-martial on a charge of having fallen asleep while on duty at Windsor Castle. He emphatically denied the charge and, to quote from the Book of Days, declared, as a proof of his having been awake at the time, that he heard " Tom " strike 13, the truth of which was doubted by the Court because of the great distance. But while he was under sentence of death, an affidavit was made by several persons that the clock actually did strike 13 instead of 12, wherefore he received the king’s pardon. The incident, we are told, was engraved, presumably in brief, on his coffin. " Tom " had long been popularly believed to be haunted and when, some time after the trial of Hatfield, it was removed to St. Paul’s, the belief persisted. Among other tales and superstitions regarding it is one relating to Royalty. It is said that whenever a very important member of the royal family is about to die, "Tom" invariably strikes out of order.