If I told you to go to Soho and keep a look out for prominent appendages, noses are probably not the first thing that come to mind, but if you take a close look at some of the buildings, that is exactly what you will see. If you spot all seven, legend says you will be rewarded with good luck and financial reward.
The mystery of the plaster cast human noses started in 1997 when a total of 35 conks appeared overnight stuck to the sides of various buildings. It took a while for people to notice them, and various urban myths emerged in the years following. Some thought they were spares for the various statues around London, including Lord Nelson; others that they were air quality monitors.
It wasn’t until 2011 that the mystery was solved when artist Rick Buckley decided to come forward and admit responsibility. He said it was a protest against the ever-increasing number of CCTV cameras in the capitol, which he saw as an infringement of civil liberties.
He was inspired by the ‘situationist’ movement, a group of late 20th-century avant-garde artists who created art to ‘critique the corrupting influences of capitalism’.
He also wanted to see if he could get away with gluing plaster cast and resin snouts (replicas of his own nose) onto buildings around London. Originally there were a total of 35 schnozzles, but over the years some have fallen off and some were removed by the buildings’ owners as soon as they were detected. The actual number of honkers seems to have stabilised at seven, so hence the Seven Noses of Soho became a thing.
The Highgate vampire
Get ready for sightings of the undead, a satanic cult and a long feud between two ghost hunters!
The story of the Highgate vampire hit the headlines in 1970 centring on Highgate cemetery. At the time, the cemetery was in a poor state of repair. It had steadily degraded and decayed since the second world war.
Around the late 1960s, there were several stories and rumours about unsavoury incidents. Strange sightings of a figure with blood-red eyes floating above the ground were reported by local residents, a tall figure in a tall hat was spotted and a spectre on a bicycle. There were reports of foxes being found with their throats slit.
It was February 6, 1970, that saw things really hot up though, after more animals were found dead and drained of blood. A local man and self-proclaimed magician, David Farrant, wrote to the Ham & High that he had seen a grey supernatural figure in Highgate cemetery.
Farrant had a rival though, Sean Manchester. He claimed to be an exorcist, vampire hunter and bishop of the mysterious ‘old catholic church’. He declared that the people of Highgate were witnessing the foul deeds of nothing less than a vampire!
And so began a ‘magicians’ feud that would last for the next 50 years. Both men had entered into a veritable duel, each claiming they would destroy the evil figure.
The media were quick to latch onto the story and the situation reached fever pitch on February 13, 1970, as Thames TV ran a live programme on the ghostly goings-on. Within hours of the broadcast, a mob of ‘vampire hunters’ descended on the cemetery armed with wooden stakes and crosses.
The police had been expecting trouble but what followed was shocking. The mob scaled the railings and opened several graves, corpses were removed, beheaded and mutilated with metal bars.
This was repeated on subsequent nights. Farrant himself was arrested several times in the weeks that followed for being found in possession of dangerous weapons, namely a homemade wooden stake and a crucifix.
Farrant and Manchester continued to trade insults, and both claimed they would destroy the ‘undead’ cemetery resident first. By 1973, the rumours had escalated to a level that suggested a cat would be sacrificed in the presence of naked virgins. Flyers were even posted up announcing a magicians’ duel, although this never went ahead.
Finally, it was Manchester that claimed to have won by announcing he had driven a stake through the dead vampire’s heart in nearby Crouch End.
Gradually, the press lost interest over the years that followed, although the animosity continued and the pair continued to trade insults right up to Farrant’s death in 2019. There is still a mystery surrounding the story of the Highgate vampire. Some think it was nothing more than two publicity-seeking rivals, some still think there was genuine evil and supernatural activity manifesting itself over those years.
A tragic rescue at Hammersmith Bridge
A hero from overseas lost his life bravely rescuing a drowning victim.
Designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette (more famous for designing London’s sewer system), the current Hammersmith Bridge opened in 1887 and is an ornate design made from wrought iron.
The bridge’s first recorded tragedy occurred near midnight on December 27, 1919. Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood, a South African serving in the Royal Air Force, was on his way home across the bridge on a cold winter evening when he heard a woman shout from the river’s edge down below.
In the still night air, he could hear her quite clearly cry ‘my mother is drowning, will you save her?’ Without hesitation, he jumped over the rail from the side walkway and down into the icy river below. Because of the darkness, he couldn’t see that the tide was out, and struck the bottom with considerable force, banging his head. But he saved the woman, bringing her safely to the riverbank.
The doctor who attended him marvelled that he had been able to maintain consciousness. Sadly, the wound to his head caused him to contract tetanus (the Thames at the time was notoriously polluted) and he tragically died just over two weeks later on January 10, 1920. He was aged 28.
His bravery is commemorated by a small brass plaque on a handrail that reads: ‘Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood RAF of Bloemfontein, South Africa dived from this spot into the Thames at midnight 27 Dec. 1919 and saved a woman’s life. He died from the injuries received following the rescue.’
With no relatives living in England, he was buried without any family at his funeral in East Finchley cemetery.
His effects totalling £14.9s.3d were forwarded on to his mother, Mrs Grace Ellen Wood, in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Whitechapel Fatberg
In 2017, during a routine inspection deep beneath London’s streets of the sewage system, a group of engineers came across a sight that literally stopped them in their tracks and scared them sh*tless.
They had just discovered ‘The Whitechapel Fatberg’, the largest fatberg ever found on the planet. The discovery sent alarm bells ringing back at Thames Water’s HQ, as they realised they were just weeks, if not days, away from a sewage backup of biblical proportions. Thousands of homes and businesses were at risk of being flooded with raw sewage.
A fatberg is a solidified mass of oil and grease bound together mainly with wet wipes and other items that shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet such as condoms and sanitary products. The resulting structure is as hard as concrete and extremely difficult to break up.
At a monster 130 tonnes and a quarter of a kilometre long (that’s as heavy as two airbus A318 aircraft and longer than Tower Bridge), the Whitechapel Fatberg dwarfed the previous record holder.
Thames Water has traditionally, and unofficially, named fatbergs after dead British comedians. The Whitechapel Fatberg was christened the ‘Ronnie Barker’ and followed on from the ‘Peter Cooke’ of 2013, the ‘Max Wall’ of 2015 and the ‘Arthur Askey’ of 2016.
Using high pressure hoses, it took workers 13 weeks to dismantle ‘Ronnie’. The final stretch had to be removed manually with pickaxes and shovels. The total cost was a buttock-clenching £2 million.
But the story doesn’t end there. The Museum of London were keen to get a piece of lavatorial history for their collection. Curator of the human effluent department, Vyki Sparkes, said: “What we flush down the loo tells us a great deal about ourselves. We found all manner of strange items, false teeth, money, drugs and even an Alba 14” TV/VHS combo.”
Visitors to the exhibition weren’t allowed to smell the fatberg chunk (it was in a three box system), but Vyki Sparkes reveals: “It smelt like a cross between rotting meat and a festival toilet.” The fatberg chunk even had its own webcam 24 hours a day, where people around the world could see it ‘evolve’. Its colour changed from dark brown to grey and it began to ‘sweat’ as it released its moisture. Coffin flies, which feed on decaying matter, hatched and flew around the Perspex box. The rest of the fatberg was recycled into bio-diesel fuel.
As a tribute to the heroes who fought and won against the putrid leviathan, Thames Water commissioned and installed a special edition manhole cover which reads: ‘The Whitechapel Fatberg Was Defeated Here In 2017’.
Keep a look out for it next you exit Whitechapel station. Find it where pedestrianised Court Street meets Whitechapel road and remember to heed Thames Water’s advice of only flushing the Three Ps down the toilet – Poo, Pee and Paper.
This November, we have returned to the ever-popular COLIN BAINBRIDGE for some of his interesting tales of London. Enjoy!
Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.