Tales of the paranormal never fail to grab anyoneís attention, especially those on your doorstep. So, itís hardly a surprise to find believers and sceptics alike, drawn to the promise of a London ghost walking tour, in the hope of experiencing something Ďother worldlyí. When an opportunity like this arises, I admit Iím the first to grab it, and being guided by none other than leading paranormal expert and best-selling author of haunted Britain and Irelandís paranormal hotspots, Richard Jones is about the best place to start.
To set the picture: Itís 4.30pm on a chilly and overcast London day, outside Bank tube. We thought our first challenge was working out how to get out of Exit 4 of the station beforehand (as directed), which is blocked and closed to the public. It turns out this has nothing to do with the promise of unveiling spectres behind its painted wooden doors, but merely London Underground throwing a proverbial spanner in the works.
Outside, and surrounded by the grand faÁades of the Bank of England and newly refurbished Royal Exchange, we spot a man in black. Nope, not a ghost, but certainly a unique presence: Mr Richard Jones, a friendly gentleman with an engaging and broadcasting address who puts you at ease for the task ahead. There is the usual hand count of believers verses non-believers, and then we turn to face the tube, as instructed.
We are told that if we ever catch a whiff of something untoward coming from the stationís tunnels, we should pity the poor track workers, especially those on the Central Line. Now, as a travel-weary Londoner, tired of hearing all manner of excuses from LU as to why there are endless delays and necessary work to be done, this next one takes the biscuit Ė forget whether ghosts exist or not, it was this part of the tour made me the most sceptical. According to our animated guide, our poor transport workers have been interrupted by eerie goings-on down in the tunnels, with some driven to tears and sickness. It turns out that many victims of the Black Plague were laid to rest, not too far from the doors of ĎMoney Centralí, the Bank of England. Double the whiff, it seems, and not just of rotten dealings from some of the walking dead working there.
Richard then tells us of a female ghost who wanders the streets around Threadneedle Street, asking if anyone has seen her brother, a Mr Philip Whitehead who was sentenced to death by hanging in 1812 for forging bank notes at the Cashierís Office at the Bank of England. Sadly, we didnít get to meet sister Sarah, just the usual throng of City workers trying to make it past our group on their way home. In fact Ė and it must be stressed, Richardís tour is not one about hunting out an actual paranormal experience to give you a chill down the spine, like on an episode of TVís Most Haunted, but an enthralling and documented history lesson, set on the historic capitalís pavements, from the City of London to Waterloo. So, if you are expecting Hollywood-style effects and extras dressed as the part, ready to leap out as, say, Jack The Ripper, to knock ten years off your life expectancy, you will be sorely disappointed. Itís also a highly bizarre experience listening to such sinister stories, retold in the midst of the rush hour traffic. Perhaps, taking a later tour would be more effective next time?
That said it is an enormous credit to Mr Jonesís storytelling to be able to set the mood in every location he leads you to, coupled with a healthy curiosity and will to be thrilled, and engage you in the wonders of the back streets and hidden alleys that the city has to offer. This goads you into exploring the magical surroundings you live in, in your own time, as well as allowing you take a moment of reflection from the busy rat race. Richard claims to have recently changed his tour route and stories, to the extent of cashing in on the global Harry Potter phenomenon by pointing out places where one of our greatest British film exports was filmed. Ever been to Leadenhall Market? I havenít, but I now know it to contain the last, real shop faÁade of one of the filmís haunts Ė I shallnít reveal which one, but will let all you Potter fans discover for yourself, if you havenít already.
After taking in the setting of the start of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the site of the original London Bridge, our final stop of the day was also the location for the screening of the evening, Paranormal Activity 2 (out on DVD from 28th February), at The Garrison pub, 171-173 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UW. It was here that I was the most dumbstruck, which had nothing to do with experiencing my first paranormal experience of the evening, but discovering that the genteel Mr Jones lived none other than six doors down the road from me in East London. After grabbing a stiff drink and inviting myself to his next paranormal-storytelling evening to collect a copy of his latest novel, Haunted Britain, I sat down with this ghost guru to find out moreÖ
I read that you were inspired by Andrew Greenís Our Haunted Kingdom, but how did you get into this field?
Richard Jones: Yes, it was the very first book I ever bought. It started off a long time ago. I had an old uncle who was Irish and he used to tell us stories, which got me into the storytelling aspect of it. Then I went to Buxton [Derbyshire] in the early 70s, and we went for a weekend break. It was pouring with rain, and I was in the hotel bookshop, and they had Andrew Greenís Our Haunted Kingdom. Iíve still got it today. It was that, that really inspired me and got me started. All through my childhood I liked to listen to ghost stories and going to haunted places. I came to London in 1977 on Halloween, and became a civil servant for two years. Then I became a postman. It was whilst I was doing the rounds that I saw all the old buildings, and thought Iíll start learning about those by going to the Guildhall after work to study London. In 1982 I put together a ghost walk, and thatís how it started.
Whatís the most haunted place in London that people should visit?
Richard Jones: The Tower of London. Get there early in the morning, about 10.30am, before the crowds start coming in. But donít follow the crowd route; go straight over to the Salt Tower in the far corner, and pick up the route there because youíll always get that area on your own. Thatís where youíll really get the feel for the Tower of London. Itís the one where all the Jesuit priests were imprisoned, and they carved all their names into the walls. You sort of walk up the staircase thatís like itís been hacked out of rock, and get into the room, and there are all these names carved into the walls. If you are there on your own, it really has got an atmosphere to it.
During the course of all your investigations, is there anything that has actually terrified you?
Richard Jones: The most bizarre thing that ever happened [to me] Ė I suppose it did terrify me, was a place called Rait Castle, up in Inverness in Scotland. I was not there on a dark stormy night, but on a bright summerís morning in August at 11 oíclock in the morning, and to get to this place, you have to cross all these fields. Then you come to this wood and in the middle [of it] is this ruin. I was in the ruin, and I heard footsteps going up the steps. So, I went to look, and there was nothing there. It was like a wall, the steps ended. Then it went really cold, and I heard someone move behind me. I got absolutely terrified and I couldnít get out of there quick enough. I just ran like mad back across the countryside, and all through that day I was convinced I was being followed. I still to this day canít explain it.
Whatís your favourite horror or supernatural film?
Richard Jones: My favourite is The Sixth Sense. Of course, itís one of those horror films that you can only really watch once. For me, I honestly didnít get it until the end. The Others is quite a good one, as well.
Is there any horror or supernatural film that you think is based on utter nonsense and is too far-fetched?
Richard Jones: The silliest one is The Village [ironically, made by the same M. Night Shyamalan, who made The Sixth Sense], where they all live in the woods, and they are made to appear like an 18th Century community, but it turns out in the end that they are not an 18th Century community, but of the modern age. All the elders have actually built this wall around them.
For you, there must be horror or supernatural films that annoyingly twist facts all the timeÖ
Richard Jones: There are a couple of Jack The Ripper ones. From Hell [starring Johnny Depp] was very, very inaccurate. As a film it was good, but as a piece of history about Jack, it was a complete fallacy. The thing is, a lot of people take it seriously; everyone knows he was a member of the Royal Family. There is this wonderful film called Murder By Decree, which Iím quite fond of. It was actually filmed behind Westminster Abbey in Cowley Street, and house is still there, which was Holmesís study in the film. But thereís one scene at the beginning, where if you watch it very closely, Holmes and Watson are coming down in a handsome cab, and they come around the corner, and theyíve forgotten to paint the double yellow lines [on the road] out.
Is there a celebrity or public figure who started out as a paranormal sceptic, but who you managed to change their mind, otherwise, on the subject?
Richard Jones: Thereís no one Iíve ever managed to convince. Iíve taken Joan Rivers around on a ghost walk, but sheís very into ghosts and ghost stories. Thereís Parapsychologist Chris French whoís at Greenwich University and Psychologist Richard Wiseman. They are sort of the sceptics, and youíre always on air trying to convince Chris French, but itís never going to work with him. But Shirley Ghostman [the character on the comedy show, High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman] did pull one over on him, beautifully. But Joan Rivers was really fascinated by the cellars of the Viaduct Tavern, which is the pub opposite The Old Bailey. I did three [private tour] ghost walks with her, but she initially came on a Jack The Ripper walk with me. We stopped at the pub, and someone said, do you know youíve got Joan Rivers on your walk? At the end of the walk she said, would I take her on a private tour? So I took her and a few friends on a ghost walk, and we went to the Viaduct Tavern. She absolutely loved it because the cellars have got a definite feel to them. Next time she booked one, she specified, I want to go back to that pub and that cellar again. I also took Green Day on a Jack The Ripper walk. They were interested, but they were being filmed for a documentary, so it was just a quick rush down the street, and they said: can you get all the murders in one street?
With TV shows like Most Haunted and Ghosthunting With..., how much of that is merely set up and how much of it is real?
Richard Jones: Most Haunted, definitely, there are aspects of it that are interesting. I think the thing with Most Haunted is that when you go into these locations, youíve got Karl [Beattie], Yvette [Fielding] and Derek [Acorah] Ė when he was still in it, they are sort of there on camera. But in those locations, itís pitch black and there are night-vision cameras, but youíve got about 15 other people standing around in the dark, at the edges, and it just takes someone to open the doorÖ because if youíre in pitch blackness and you feel a door open somewhere, of course, your other senses become that much more heightened, and youíll ask, whatís that? Of course when they say, whatís that, whatís that, the camera never turns around to look.
Do you actually channel into the paranormal, like a psychic or a medium?
Richard Jones: No, Iím a psychic as a teapot. I prefer the storytelling, historical aspect of it. I think itís a great way to get people to know history. For example, when I did a Most Haunted Live on Dick Turpin, the very first one I ever did, I had so many people come up to me on the ghost walk and say, [for example], this woman who said, you know what, my son whoís 12 years old, and he watched that programme and loved it. Now, he and his friends for the last seven weeks, every Saturday, theyíve been going to the local library, and theyíve done a big project on Dick Turpin. Theyíve learned all the history on him, and itís great. So, I thought if it inspires kids to do all that thenÖ
Have you ever upset anyone, or had a backlash from your ghostly storytelling?
Richard Jones: Oh yes, I definitely get a backlash every so often. In fact, there was a lady in a house in Northern Ireland, just outside Bangor [County Down], and she owns this massive mansion house, but she lives there on her own. I went there one Sunday afternoon, and I rang the bell. I said, oh Iím doing a book. Can I just come in? She said, Iíve just been to church and Iím very tired. She said, just walk around the grounds and you can go in all the outhouses and everything. I said, thank you very much. So, I walked around and took some photographs, and away I went. I put it on a website, and I thought Iíll just put a few photographs on the website, too. About a year later, I get this phone call from her, four months before the bookís due to come out: ďCan I speak to Richard Jones, please?Ē I said, Ďspeakingí. ďI want to know why youíve put my house in your book. Youíve never been here, youíve never spoken to me, or asked my permission, and here you are, putting my house in a bookĒ. I said Iíd spoke to her, and she says, youíve never spoken to me. I said, I did, and she said when? I said I came around there one Sunday afternoon, and you said Iím a bit tired and Iíve been to church, but have a look around the grounds. She said, I must say that sounds like me, but I donít remember you. I said you never met me, you just said it through the intercom. But she said you still put it in the book. I said how do you know Iíve put it in a book? She said sheíd had a chap around today who was planning tours of Ireland, and he came to see me as he wants to do a house tour. She said that book is a very bad book, if thatís the standard of photography. Then it suddenly dawned on me, hang on, the book is not out yet. Then I remembered that I hadnít put her in because I couldnít guarantee people could visit the place. So, I said to her, but youíre not in the book, and she said, why not?
Iím not a medium, though. Iíve never been into Ouija boards or anything. The worst Iíve got is went you do the history on live TV, and you donít know whatís coming up. Youíve got to try and guess where they might go? Of course, whatís happening is everyone at home is on the Internet, so when you say something, theyíre Googling it, and saying, ah, that dateís wrong. Then it goes up on all the forums; he saidÖ So, I think thatís the most Iíve got. A friend of mine got told off for putting a hotel in a haunted book, but itís in the public domain and they put it in their brochure, Ďweíve got a haunted roomí, therefore, people are going to pick it up, arenít they?
So, whatís your latest book?
Richard Jones: The latest oneís called Haunted Britain. It has just over 110 haunted places. I wrote it last winter , so I was driving around in all that snow. The best thing about it is Tom Baker did the foreword for me. I have a foreword done by Tom Baker [the original Doctor Who]!
And thatís the lasting impression of Richard Jones, a man full of great stories and very enthusiastic to tell them. His uncle would be very proud. To find out more about the London Ghost Walks, visit: www.london-ghost-walk.co.uk/
Paranormal Activity 2 is out on DVD on 28th February.
Pre-order your copy right here.