This week is National Storytelling Week, and so I thought it would be a bit of fun to do a blog on my favourite urban legends. They’re a bit weird, but the best urban legends always are!
1) Dick Whittington and his Cat
Not just a pantomime starring failed TV stars! Richard Whittington was a real man, who really did become Mayor of London three times, but as for whether the Bow Bells really did call him back to London, or whether his cat was the basis of his fortune (it ridded a sultan’s palace of mice, apparently) is more the stuff of legend. You can see a memorial to Dick’s cat on Highgate Hill – not bad for a fictional moggy.
2) The Corpse on the Tube
I can’t tell you the number of times I have been told this story by someone who knows someone who knows someone who this actually happened to: the friend of a friend of a friend was on the tube late one night, and there was a person asleep opposite them. They noticed they didn’t seem to be moving much, and just as they were about to see if the person needed help, the person sat next to them stops them and says: “Listen mate, I’m a doctor, and that person’s not sleeping. They’re dead.”
But why would there be a corpse on the tube?! And why wouldn’t the doctor want to help? It makes no sense.
3) Old Mother Red Cap
This one is a particular favourite as it’s a legend local to me – Jinney Bingham, or ‘The Shrew of Kentish Town’ / ‘The Crone of Camden’ lived in a cottage where the The World’s End pub now stands in Camden. Hers is a pretty grim legend – her parents were hung as witches when she was a child, and after giving birth to an illegitimate daughter at sixteen she slipped into poverty, and, allegedly, witchcraft. If she was a witch, it didn’t do much to help her, as she was eventually found dead and so stiff that the undertakers had to break her bones to fit her into her coffin. Before she died though, she made this one prophecy: “Before the good folk of this kingdom be undone, Shall Highgate Hill stand in the midst of London.” Jinney now allegedly haunts The World’s End – which probably suits its heavy metal patrons just fine.
4) Banksy vs. King Robbo
This one puts the ‘urb’ in ‘urban’ – this is a fun legend that is best depicted here, but in a nutshell, Bristol-based graffiti artist Banksy majorly annoyed London boy King Robbo when he ‘wallpapered over’ one of Robbo’s Camden pieces. What ensued is a hilarious and witty tit-for-tat graffiti argument, but with plenty of legend along the way – it’s not known if the two artists were battling themselves or whether it was their ‘teams’, and whether or not King Robbo is even still alive is much in debate.
5) The Dog in the Suitcase
Similar to ‘The Corpse on the Tube’, I’ve been told this one so many times that now I just interrupt people when they try to tell me it. The legend goes thusly: a friend of a friend of a friend was asked to look after a neighbour’s beloved dog for the weekend. Unfortunately, the dog dies (exactly how is a matter of some debate). Friend panics, and rings the local vet to see if they can destroy the dog’s remains before the neighbour returns (friend plans on telling neighbour dog ran away) – vet says fine, but you’ll have to bring the dog to me. Friend has no car, and doesn’t want to get a cab (considering the next part of this story – WHY?!) so PUTS DOG IN SUITCASE and gets on the tube. Obviously, the dead dog is heavy. So, when friend gets out of the tube and is trying to heave the suitcase up the stairs, a kindly stranger offers to help. Stranger picks up suitcase – and runs off. Friend is left gawping on platform… but is presumably quite relieved, as the dead dog is gone.
Thus concludes my favourite London urban legends – and if this kind of thing is up your street, you might want to consider picking up a copy of Alison Rattle’s The Quietness when it comes out in March. Based partly on the life of notorious Victorian baby-farmer (read: baby-killer) Margaret Waters, we will be bringing out a bonus-content e-edition of the book, which will include all the facts behind the story. Also, let me know what your favourite urban legends are – and whether you’ve heard any of these ones yourself!