Spooks and scary spirits (28)

It’s that time of year again – the time for spooks and goblins.

This skull with its hourglas hat is a tiny detail on a memorial in the church of St. Mary's Putney, next to Putney Bridge.This skull with its hourglass hat is a tiny detail on a memorial in the church of St. Mary’s Putney, next to Putney Bridge.

In England, Halloween has not traditionally been celebrated as a time for young children to dress up in “scary” costumes and roam their neighbourhood, knocking on doors and shouting “Trick or Treat” – but it’s gaining popularity. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have the innocent atmosphere of little children having fun – it’s more likely to be teenagers out to cause havoc. Today on the radio news report, I heard that stores in London are being asked to refuse to sell eggs and flour to teenagers in the week before October 31 because it likely to be used to bombard old people.

That’s not the spirit of Halloween that I remember.
What a shame – it ruins it for everybody.

In London you can find lots of little reminders of the spooks and spirits of All Hallows Eve, the last day of October.

It was the beginning of the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the religious calendar dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.In the Middle Ages it was widely believed that at this time the spirits of the dead would revisit their homes demanding hospitality. From at least the 1500s people in Ireland, Scotland and Wales would dress up in costumes representing spirits of the dead. They would go from house to house chanting verses. Offering food to the costumed visitors would bring good luck to the house, and those who refused might be threatened with mischief.

This is a detail from the memorial to John Lilburne, on a column in the church of St. Stephen Walbrook.

I really like the little dancing skeleton above. It reminds me of the lyrics of an old spiritual song “Dem bones, dem bones, gonna dance around”.  In the Bible, in Ezekiel 37:1-14, the prophet has a vision where God breathes life into a field of dry bones and they are re-assembled and stand up.   I don’t think it says anything about dancing around.

Maybe that’s not the intended reference of this little carving – but it certainly fits the spirit of Halloween!

St. John's Priory, Clerkenwell - Crypt, tomb of William WestonThis is the tomb of Sir William Weston, Knight in the crypt of the Priory of St. John, Clerkenwell. He was born in Boston, Lincolnshire; became a knight and fought with the Knights of St. John in Rhodes and Crete. He died on 7 May 1540, the day the order was disbanded during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. William Weston’s tomb in the crypt of the Priory has a skeleton on top – a “Momento Mori” to remind viewer of “the fleetingness of earthly pleasures, luxuries, and achievements, and thus also as an invitation to focus one’s thoughts on the prospect of the afterlife”.

I wondered about the object near the skeleton’s feet – it’s a drawing of Weston’s original tomb
which had several levels and a canopy. The skeleton was in the bottom level.

Southwark Cathedral - tomb of Thomas CureThis Momento Mori is on the tomb of Thomas Cure at Southwark Cathedral. He belonged to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, and was a generous benefactor of the church who died in 1588. He donated money and land on which to build an almshouse for 16 poor people. The charity housing stayed in Southwark for 300 years, then relocated twice. In 2006 the current facility opened in Purley in 2006 and provides housing for 70 residents. There is an annual Service of Commemoration for Thomas Cure in Southwark Cathedral – when they place beautiful flowers on his tomb.


St. Botolph Aldgate - memorial for Sir Robert DowThis memorial to Robert Dow is in the entrance hall of the church of St. Botolph Aldgate. Dow was a member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors and died in 1612 at the age of 90. The portrait memorial says that in his lifetime he donated 3528£, 10 S and 8D to “divers” charities in London. (It’s very complicated to compare the value of this amount of money with today’s value, but it’s worth millions of pounds today.)

Robert Dow rests his hands on a skull – another Momento Mori, but this one is a little more sophisticated than the skeletons that were popular in the 1500s.

Skulls were a popular form of decoration on churches in the 1600s.

Robert Coombes, Champion Sculler, Brompton Cemetery


Here is the tomb of Robert Coombes,
Champion Sculler, in Brompton Cemetery.
He is wearing his rowing costume but the poor fellow has LOST his head. I think it was an accident rather than an artistic statement!






There are lots of very weird little faces on London churches. These three are on the outside of St. Mary’s Putney, by the Putney Bridge on Putney High Street.

Here are three of the MANY grotesque faces in the chapter house of Temple Church, the ancient church that was consecrated on 10 February 10, 1185 by Heraclius, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. YES – this church is 830 years old.

It was seriously damaged by a bomb in World War II but was rebuilt as closely as possibly to the original.
These little faces are typical of medieval churches. They seem very irreverent to us, but I guess to the church members and sculptors they represented the variety of the human condition!

Somerset House, Strand - Face of Death




This strange face is one of many that look out of carved relief roundels on Somerset House.

Apparently it is the Face of Death.





All photos were taken by Cathey Leitch                                                 @Cathey Leitch, 2015