Explore the author's map to discover strange stories from Mitcham and the surrounding areas.
Part 1 - Mitcham:
The Phantom Cyclist
of Mitcham Common
(update to Strange Mitcham)
A Dark Figure on Mitcham Common
Tales from the
'Calico Jack': The
Playful Ghost of
Lacks the Drapers
The Faces on the Walls:
The Haunted Cottages
in Tramway Path
The 'Haunting' of
Soldier of Graham
The Legend of
Remember the Grotto
The Phantom of
An Apparition at
Woof & Sabine
Haunted Rooms at
The Phantom Cat
Mitcham's (not so)
The Kingston Zodiac
The 'Ghost Tree'
Medicinal Plants and
A Magical Tree
The Wrath of God
A Ghostly Experience
in Morden Road
Mitcham Clock Tower:
When Time Ran
The Rosier Family
The 'Ball of Fire'
UFO over Mitcham
UFO over Tooting
Bec Common, 1990
Part 2 - South of
The Ghosts of
Church & Churchyard
The Figure in the
A Spectral Cavalier
'Haunted Mitcham' Facebook group:
Facebook group set up
by Geoff Mynn in
Thanks to the
and Merton Council
there are some very
maps of Mitcham
Download for free
via this link.
The Mitcham Ghost
Beddington Parish Church and Churchyard
Immediately to the south-east of Beddington Park, beside Carew Manor, stands the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. A nearby notice board informs visitors that although the present building dates mainly from the 15th century, Norman remains have been found within and there has probably been a church here since Saxon days.
Above: St Mary the Virgin church. (James Clark, 2010)
The land may have been considered sacred even before that. In about 1670, a lead Roman coffin was discovered in Church Road, just outside the boundary of the present-day churchyard.
In Strange Croydon, Valerie Hope records that the church's late Norman font shows the marks left by ancient locks. She speculates that these locks were put in place to protect the holy water from witches, who were believed to steal it for use in magical rituals.
In the same work, Hope mentions that this church has been alleged to stand at one corner of a triangular ley, connecting it with a second (not particularly old) church dedicated to St Mary, in Addiscombe, and with Pollards Hill, the highest point in Norbury, which offers a view of the surrounding landscape that may have made it a significant observation post for the area's prehistoric inhabitants. First identified by Arthur Watkins in The Old Straight Track (1925), leys are said to be straight lines that connect ancient, often sacred, sites. Watkins's ideas were later enlarged upon by the New Age movement, which linked these leys with the concept of lines of energy running through the Earth.
Above: Triangular ley claimed to connect (A) St Mary the Virgin in Beddington with (B) St Mary in Addiscombe and (C) Pollards Hill in Norbury. (James Clark, 2012; contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011)
The idea of a triangular ley with one corner at Beddington's parish church was conceived by Christopher Street, who since around 1982 has been researching the alignments and sacred sites of what he sees as a 'complex geometric pattern' involving many of London's oldest churches. He refers to this network as an 'Earthstar'.
Street has also identified a second triangular ley with corners at Beddington Parish Church and Pollards Hill, this one with its third corner at Croydon's Minster Church of St John the Baptist, which is believed to have been founded in Saxon times.
Above: Second triangular ley, this one claimed to connect (A) St Mary the Virgin in Beddington and (C) Pollards Hill in Norbury with (D) Croydon's Minster Church of St John the Baptist. (James Clark, 2012; contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011)
Critics might quickly point out that joining any three points will automatically form a triangle, so why should these be significant? According to Street these triangles form just one small part of an intricate and highly complex arrangement of interlocking patterns that encompasses the entirety of London. For further details, readers are directed to Street's books: my own source for this information was an earlier edition of his London, City of Revelation.
Returning to Strange Croydon, Valerie Hope mentions an unusual architectural feature of Beddington's parish church, namely that the chancel is slightly askew compared with the nave. Such a feature is known as a 'weeping chancel' and is generally thought to be a symbolic allusion to the way Christ's head lolled to one side as he hung upon the cross. Others prefer to believe that certain churches were designed this way in order to align the structure with the sort of energy lines described above.
The Ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh
Even more interesting than the church itself is the churchyard, which has several supernatural tales attached to it. The first of these concerns Sir Walter Raleigh, who once owned an estate in Mitcham, around the area now occupied by Eagle House in London Road.
Above: Sir Walter Raleigh, portrait by Nicholas Hilliard.
Raleigh was a particular favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, but in the early 1590s he made the terrible mistake of having an affair with Elizabeth's maid of honour, Bess Throckmorton (see Carew Manor). When Bess fell pregnant, Raleigh married her in secret; however, by May of 1592 news of their marriage had reached the Queen. The furious Elizabeth had Raleigh arrested and in August he and Bess were sent to the Tower of London. Although they were released before the year was out, Raleigh's courtly career was in ruins.
After his release, Raleigh made brave efforts to re-ascend through the ranks but his ambitions were ultimately squashed in 1603 when the Queen died. She was succeeded by James I and the new King had no faith in Raleigh at all. Convicted on a trumped-up charge of treason, the unfortunate Sir Walter was sent back to prison.
In 1616, he was released once more, on condition that he lead a gold-seeking expedition to the Orinoco basin. Once there though, a clash with the Spaniards provoked a major international incident. Desperate to pacify the Spanish, the King revived the old charge of treason and ordered Raleigh's execution. Sir Walter was eventually beheaded in Westminster's Old Palace Yard on 29 October 1618.
Since then, his ghost has apparently taken up residence in Beddington. In A History of Beddington (1923), the Rev. Thomas Bentham mentions the centuries-old tradition that Raleigh's ghost 'haunts the walk behind the old yew tree in the churchyard.'
Bentham also relates how a student of his, with an interest in psychical research, kept watch on that walk for one or two nights. Although his student never saw an actual ghost, he apparently came away convinced of 'the presence of something uncanny' there.
In 2000 Heidi Shearman told me that she had originally heard about this haunting from a friend who grew up in Beddington. According to Heidi, Raleigh's ghost is supposed to appear to anyone who walks around a particular tree in the churchyard three times on Christmas Eve. Presumably, this is the same yew tree mentioned above.
Why should a story about Sir Walter Raleigh's ghost be connected with this churchyard? The answer very likely lies in a letter written by Lady Raleigh to her brother, Sir Nicholas Carew, in which she begs permission to bury her husband in Beddington, where she herself eventually wished to be buried. Carew's response is not known, but history records that Raleigh's headless corpse was actually buried in St Margaret's Church in Westminster, close to his place of execution.
Above: Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. In the background is the rear of St Margaret's Church. (James Clark, 2006)
Whether the body remains there is a different question. The Beddington Parish register contains no entry for Sir Walter Raleigh's burial, but local legend maintains that his body was quietly removed from Westminster and secretly re-buried here. The Rev. Bentham was of the opinion that this was correct and maintained that the ghost story helps to prove it, since it 'must have had its origin in the common knowledge or general belief of the people who lived in Beddington in 1618'.
Interestingly, Heidi Shearman told me that she had heard Raleigh was buried under a tree in the churchyard.
A variation on this belief is that Raleigh's body lies within the now-sealed Carew family vault, the entrance to which is in the floor of the church's Carew Chapel.
If no one is quite sure as to the fate of Raleigh's body, the whereabouts of his head are even less clear. After it was severed by the executioner's axe, it was granted to his widow and she had it embalmed and carried the gruesome relic around with her in a red leather bag until she died. After her death, it is thought to have passed to her son, who was himself later buried in Sir Walter's grave in Westminster. What happened next is a mystery.
Christine Reynolds, Assistant Keeper of the Muniments at Westminster Abbey, told me it is rumoured that the head was taken to West Horsley church in Surrey, where the family owned property. On the other hand, she said, it might have been put into the grave when the son was buried, although Westminster Abbey has no record of it having been placed there. She added that it was also possible the head ended up in Beddington churchyard. Nobody knows for sure.
(For more about Raleigh's ghost, see the chapters about Beddington Park and the alley near the church.)
The Fogged Photograph
Another strange story to come out of this churchyard concerns a photograph of a grave. In Around Haunted Croydon, Frances D Stewart tells how a gentleman from South Croydon visited the churchyard while researching the history of Beddington and the Raleigh family. While there, he came across the mass grave of a group of young girls who had died in Carew Manor during an epidemic, at a time when the manor was in use as an orphanage (between 1866 and 1939). For no reason other than apparent curiosity, this gentleman took a photograph of the grave. When he had the roll of film developed, one of the 36 exposures had a strange image on it. The single affected photograph was the one of the grave, which appeared to have a strange grey fog hovering above it - a fog that was not visible when the shot was made.
This may have been nothing more than a photographic artefact and it is difficult to draw any conclusions without seeing the photograph. Sadly, when I attempted to trace the photographer, I learned that he had died some years earlier, and I have been unable to find a copy of this photograph.
A Phantom Nun?
As well as Raleigh's ghost and the grave mentioned above, the churchyard may be home to a phantom nun! The following account was given to me by local resident Sue Chester:
'When we were teenagers [from the mid-1960s through to the early 1970s], we used to be over "the park" every night. Once, we were all there as teenagers, minding our own business, as you do. And it was about midnight and out of the churchyard came this nun.
'We were all gob-smacked as no way was there going to be a nun, walking around the gravestones at midnight with no nunnery within 50 miles! But there she was ... and she just walked up to us all, said a very godly and polite "good evening" and then ... just went ... gone ... disappeared!
"We looked around and there was nowhere that she could have gone, but there she was . . . gone!'
It is of course quite possible that this was a perfectly human, flesh and blood nun, who simply walked off into the night, but Sue explained why she and her friends had thought otherwise:
'We all knew that there were spooky things going on all around that area and just put it down to experience.'
[Sources: Bentham, Rev. T. (MA), (1923) A History of Beddington; personal communication with Sue Chester, 2000-2001; Hope, Valerie, Strange Croydon website; personal communication with Christine Reynolds, Assistant Keeper, The Muniment Room & Library, Westminster Abbey, London, 2000; personal communication with Heidi Shearman, 2000; personal communication with Frances D Stewart, 2001; Stewart, F. D. (1989) Around Haunted Croydon, Purley, AMCD (Publishers) Ltd and Croydon Libraries; Street, C.E., Earthstars: The Visionary Landscape (Part One: London, City of Revelation), Hermitage Publishing, 2000.]