Ghosts of No. 10 Downing Street

By , Columnist
"Why would anybody want to be PM anyway?"

I didn't ask that myself, but overheard someone recently during a debate on the coming AV referendum. (You know the sort of debate I mean: the drinks are flowing, grey matter is being lubricated and suddenly people are full of opinions they never knew they held before.)

Well, I can't speak for any of our esteemed politicians but I know why I would like to be prime minister, at least for a night or two. It would give me the chance to stake out No. 10 Downing Street on one of the most exclusive ghost hunts I could ever hope to take part in. I'm undecided as to whether or not to believe in ghosts myself but, the way I see it, if you're going to go looking for them then you might as well do it in style! So, what spectral secrets lurk behind that famous black door?

With luck, a newly elected ghost hunter shouldn't have to walkvery far at all before striking supernatural gold. The entrance lobby itself is reputedly haunted by the apparition of a tall, top-hatted gentleman who marches straight through the aforementioned black door, untroubled by such earthly considerations as opening it first.

Further inside, the magnificent Pillared Room - largest of the three State Drawing Rooms and named for its wonderful Ionic columns - is an appropriate setting for the building's second ghostly resident, a well-dressed female phantom known simply as "The Lady". She is said to wear a long and beautiful dress set off by astring of fine pearls around her insubstantial neck.
There are more mysteries to explore at the rear of the building, where the prime minister's garden is said to be haunted by the sound of disembodied footsteps. Something to keep the bodyguards alert!

Back inside and heading underground, the basement of No. 10 is reputedly home to what are presumably two separate spooks. There are tales of people who when walking through these subterranean corridors have felt but not seen someone take hold of their hand; from the feel of the small hand in theirs this ghost seems to be that of a young girl.

Other stories tell of people smelling the distinctive aroma of cigar smoke down here. This smell has, of course, been linked with the country's cigar-toting, V-sign flashing wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill.

There is one further spirit to watch out for before departing No. 10 and leaving behind the cares of government. This dapper phantom, dressed in the fashion of the Regency period (1811 - 1820) is said to be the ghost of another former prime minister, possibly Spencer Perceval. By account a rather cold and unfriendly chap, Perceval became prime minister in 1809 and is to date the only holder of that office to have been assassinated. A man named John Bellingham shot him in the chest as he walked into the lobby of the House of Commons on 11 May 1812 and his body was afterwards brought back to No. 10, where it rested for five days.

Given that this particular apparition is supposed to appear at times of national crisis, now seems as good a time as any to keep an eye out for him!

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James Clark is a freelance writer based in deepest, darkest south London, UK. His latest book, "Haunted Lambeth", exploring ghosts and legends from the London Borough of Lambeth, is due out in February 2013.

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