With Halloween on the horizon, we discover spook-tacular local hidden gems and things to do with the whole family
Halloween: Most haunted Knightsbridge
Visit the Secret Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park
As one of London’s largest Royal Parks, Hyde Park is full of hidden nooks, crannies and surprises. But perhaps the most unexpected of all is tucked behind the unassuming Grade II-listed Victoria Lodge: a secret pet cemetery.
This 19th-century burial site is, in fact, Britain’s first-ever pet cemetery. It all started with Mr and Mrs J Lewis Barned, who were regular visitors to Hyde Park and friends of the gatekeeper, Mr Winbridge. When the couple’s beloved Maltese terrier, Cherry, died of old age, they asked Mr Winbridge if they could bury him in the garden of Victoria Lodge on the north-east edge of the park. The gatekeeper agreed and today you can still see the tiny tombstone inscribed sweetly with ‘Poor Cherry. Died April 28. 1881.’ The second burial was that of a VIP pooch named Prince, who belonged to Sarah Fairbrother, wife of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge. Prince sadly succumbed to his injuries after running under the wheels of a carriage near Victoria Lodge. The trend for pet burials soon caught on, and this diminutive garden became the place for wealthy Londoners to commemorate their pets until it was closed in 1903 – although sporadic burials took place until the 1970s. The cemetery is the final resting place of around 1,000 animals, primarily of the canine variety, although there are a number of dearly departed birds, two cats and even three monkeys.
The cemetery is closed to the public, however private tours are possible at a cost of £12 per person by contacting The Royal Parks.
Search for bats and enjoy hair-raising activities for the whole family
Bats have long been associated with Halloween given their infamy as the alternative form of Dracula. But there’s something undeniably intriguing about these diminutive creatures, not least because they are the world’s only fully flying mammals. Also to be discovered in Hyde Park is a series of 90-minute guided Bat Walks that take place throughout the year. Held at dusk (naturally), these informative group tours set out to discover various bat species in the park and include echo-location calls and a quiz. You may even spot the odd owl and wily fox, too. The tours are designed for adults over the age of 18 and need to be booked in advance. But little ones needn’t miss out on the fearsome fun over October half-term. Hyde Park is hosting Halloween-inspired Discover Days between 24–26 October, with activities ranging from bug hunting to creepy crafts and spooky storytelling. Register your interest by visiting here.
Pull up a pew at London’s most haunted pub – and spot the crouching ghost at Knightsbridge station
London is said to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, and it will come as no surprise that many of the capital’s resident ghouls can be found in pubs. Allegedly, the most haunted pub in London is The Grenadier, located in the charming and clandestine Wilton Row in Knightsbridge. This quirky pub is said to be haunted by Cedric, a former Grenadier Guard who was killed in a row over a card game many moons ago. Today, punters claim to hear Cedric in the cellar, and visitors from all over the world have attempted to settle the spectre’s debt by pinning banknotes to the ceiling. Even if you’re a paranormal sceptic, this traditional British pub is well worth a visit for its quirky interior and abundant charm.
When London’s ghosts aren’t frequenting pubs, they’re said to roam the 160-year-old Underground network. In 2016, a man caught footage of a ghostly ‘crouching’ figure lurking in the tunnel at Knightsbridge tube station. The station is said to be located near a plague pit dating from around 1664, which was used to bury those who died at the nearby Knightsbridge lazar house (leper colony). This is apparently why the track between Knightsbridge and South Kensington curves sharply, in order to avoid the pit. Chilling stuff.
Discover creepy curios at the V&A
With close to 3 million objects and artefacts in the Victoria & Albert Museum, it’s little surprise that some of them are on the macabre side. You just need to know where to look…
Down on Level -1 you’ll find A Damned Soul (ca. 1700), a wax relief of a screaming soul at the moment of judgement. This artwork serves as a memento mori – Latin for ‘remember you must die’ – a reminder of the fate that awaits us all. By the 16th century, wax models like this were considered the perfect medium for imitating human flesh. Regardless of one’s beliefs, religious notions of eternal torment are terrifying, and the horror here is palpable. Another seminal artistic medium is the daguerreotype, the first publicly available photographic process which originated in the 1840s. Thought to have been created between 1845 and 1855 by an unknown photographer is Elderly woman deceased, a ghoulish example of early post-mortem photography, and a unique double-portrait that captures the subject both dead and alive (image right – © V&A Museum).
Elsewhere, there are innumerable spooky objects in the storied halls of the V&A, such as marionettes of clowns whose eyes seem to follow you around the room. Then there’s the white marble sculpture of the head of an ox atop a tree trunk. This unusual statue comes from late 17th-century Italy. In the centre of the beast’s cranium is a cavity in which there is a mysterious growth. People originally identified this as being a petrified or fossilised ox’s brain, but various other theories have emerged, from it being the diseased bone of a larger mammal or an enormous dental growth. The ox isn’t inherently scary. In fact, so many of the museum’s visitors have petted it that it occasionally needs cleaning. Yet it’s indicative of the morbid 17th-century fascination with naturally occurring abnormalities. Something which evidently continues to this day.
Enjoy fang-tastic foodie treats
If you’re a fan of limited-edition seasonal goodies then make sure you head to The Knot Churros, which currently has two Halloween specials on its menu. The Oreo Treat milkshake comes with whipped cream, a lemon meringue lollipop, cotton candy and green sprinkles, while the brand’s signature churros are given a spooky spin, dipped in milk Belgian chocolate with orange sprinkles, soft serve ice cream, crushed Oreo and gold glitter. Meanwhile, Sette London is hosting a Halloween celebration all weekend long. On Saturday 28 October, grown-ups can enjoy a Halloween Dinner Party, which includes an à la carte menu and themed specials followed by partying downstairs at Nolita Social, complete with make-up artist, live music and DJ. On Sunday, bring the little ones along for a Halloween Family Brunch in partnership with children’s event specialists Sharky & George, which includes plenty of spook-tacular entertainment for the little ones while parents can enjoy a three-course feast, live music and free-flowing champagne.