The Bank of England and The Black Nun
The Bank of England on Threadneedle Street is sometimes referred to as ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ and is reputedly haunted by the apparition of Sarah Whitehead, also known as ‘The Black Nun’. Sarah’s brother Philip Whitehead worked in the Bank of England’s Cashier’s Office and on 2nd November 1811 he was charged with forgery and executed for the crime the following year. The shock of her brothers crime and subsequent death unhinged Sarah’s mind and every day for the rest of her life (twenty five – thirty years) she would call at the bank, dressed in black and asking for her brother.
There have been various amendments to the story over time, some add that sometimes she hurled abuse and harassed staff at the Bank. Others that she would be well treated by some bank staff and received some money from them. Another states that the Bank paid her off after they got annoyed with her constant visits.
On 31 December 1829, Thomas Maynard became the last person to be executed for forgery. I couldn’t find any record of a Philip Whitehead being charged with forgery and then being executed, however, on 24 June 1811 Richard Armitage and C Thomas, employee’s of the Bank of England were executed for forgery.
Upon her death she was buried behind the bank in the yard of the now demolished church which is now covered over by an enclosed courtyard for the Bank. The church behind the Bank of England was St Christopher le Stocks which dated back to 1282, though it had been altered many times and rebuilt after being destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London. The church was demolished when the bank was extended in 1781. The remains of those buried in the churchyard were reloacted to Nunhead Cemetary during work in 1867 and 1933.
In 1933 the grave of William Daniel Jenkins was discovered and moved to Nunhead. Jenkins had been a Bank Clerk of great stature measuring 6’7”. When he died in 1798 special permission was sought from the Bank Directors to have him buried the court yard (the old churchyard) as it was feared his unique physique would make his body a target for body snatchers.
I can only assume then that Sarah would have had to receive special permission to be buried in the courtyard as well.
The Bank of England moved to the Threadneedle Street site in 1734. Prior to this it was based in Walbrook and that original building was found to be above a Roman Temple to Mithras by archaeologists in 1954.
Sarah’s ghost is said to have been seen many times walking in the enclosed garden under which she was buried. Her apparition is described as wearing black, which is how Sarah came dressed each day to the bank and hence the name ‘The Black Nun’. Sarah is also said to haunt Bank Underground Station.