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Monday, April 26, 2010

The London and Waterloo Tour - The Grenadier Pub

Let me preface this post by saying that it may be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written due to the fact that I had the most chilling experience of my life at the Grenadier Pub. Read on. . . .

Tucked away down London's exclusive Wilton Mews, on the corner of Old Barrack Yard, the patriotic Grenadier pub is painted red, white and blue and boasts a red sentry box that serves as a nod to the property’s military history. Reputedly, the Duke of Wellington's Grenadier Guards used it as their mess. Inside it is small, dark and cozy, the  paneled walls covered with military and Wellington memorabilia. Reputedly, the pub’s upper floors were once used as the officers’ mess of a nearby barracks, whilst its cellar was pressed into service as a drinking and gambling lair for the common soldiers.

A display at the entrance to the pub informs us that "18 Wilton Row was built circa 1720 as the home to The 1st Regiment of Foot Guards regiment and famously known as the Duke of Wellington's Officers Mess. Originally named The Guardsman as a Licensed Premises in 1818, and frequented by King George IV, the Grenadier enjoys a fine reputation for good food and beer." From the same display we also find out that the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards was created in 1656, and that 1st Guards were renamed by Royal Proclamation as the 'Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards' because of their heroic actions against French Grenadiers at Waterloo in 1815. Continuing the Wellington connection, directly outside in the old Barrack Yard at the side of the pub is what is reputed to be the remaining stone of the Duke's mounting block, whilst an archway down the nearby alley forms part of his stables.

Here, a young subaltern is said to have once been caught cheating at cards, and his comrades punished him with such a savage beating that he died from his injuries.

The Grenadier is said to be one of the most haunted places in London. People who have worked there have quit after supernatural run-ins with a solemn, silent spectre reportedly seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms. Objects either disappear or else are mysteriously moved overnight. Unseen hands rattle tables and chairs, and a strange, icy chill has been known to hang in the air, sometimes for days on end. A ghostly face floats in an upstairs window and – the most common tale – the sentry box out front is haunted by the ghost of the dead subaltern.

So . . . a few years ago I was at the Grenadier with Sue Ellen Welfonder (Bozzy) and three other women whom I won’t name because I haven’t seen them in years and have no idea whether or not they want to be associated with the following story. I don’t talk about it myself, as it makes one seem as odd as those who claim to have been abducted by aliens or to have seen the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. We, Reader, saw ghosts. Not a ghost, but a circle of ghosts. Regency soldier ghosts, no less.

The five of us could see that the alley beside the Pub led back to a yard with stable doors and a row of quaint single story houses along one wall. Very atmospheric, very historic . . . very tempting. What was back there? we asked. Let’s go look! we answered. What. A. Mistake. As you can see by the photo, a sort of alley runs beside the Pub and opens up at the end to the doors to what is reputed to have been Wellington’s stable.

We walked down the alley to the end, where the car is visible in the photo below. There was a car parked in the very same spot on the night in question. We got to the end of the alley and saw . . . . . a ring of ten to twelve men – soldiers, whose red coats had been thrown in a pile atop the cobbles. They wore breeches and boots and white shirts. They stood in a circle in the space between the front of the car and the stable doors - surrounding a man who was on his knees at the center of the circle, his face already bloody and bruised from the beating that had already been going on for some time (centuries?). These men were pissed off. Even taking into account the fact that cheating at cards was a much more serious offence then than it is today, their anger was beyond anything justified by such an offence.



We watched them as though we were watching a film that was being played at half strength. That’s the only way I can describe it. The scene was playing out before our eyes, in the bricked space between the car and the black stable doors, the men utterly oblivious to our presence. The film ran for a minute, probably less in hindsight, and then flickered out. Except this film had something extra – this one had been filmed in “emotion-vision.” As we watched the ghostly events, each one of us could actually feel the anger and the venom that was being directed towards the poor schmuck on his knees in the middle of the circle. In fact, I think the strength of that collective emotion was more overwhelming to us than the fact that we’d actually just seen ghosts. The experience was so shocking, so life altering that I will be forever grateful that I was in the company of others when it happened or else I'd truly doubt whether it had all taken place. Bozzy has reminded me that these events happened on Saturday, August 3, 1996, though September is supposed to be the month for the most ghostly occurrences at the Grenadier. Now you see why I call Sue Ellen "my Boswell" for she documents my life - in words and pictures - as thoroughly as Boswell did for Dr. Johnson.


The side door to the Grenadier Pub is now kept locked and access to the alley was blocked when I was there last (too right, mate!) and I have to admit that I really only gave getting to the exact site where we'd seen the ghosts a half hearted effort. You might now only be able to gain entry to the stable yard from the street behind. I suppose seeing ghosts is much like childbirth – the true horror of the experience abates with time and fourteen years have passed. Therefore, I’ve promised my eager-to-see-a-ghost daughter we’d go back to the Grenadier when we’re in London in June and so Brooke, Victoria and myself will be stopping by one evening for dinner.  And you can bet that I'll be hoisting a few drinks before I even attempt to visit the alley again. I’ll report back on what we find. Or, with luck, don't find. I say - Where's the ghost of Arthur Wellesley when you need him?

10 comments:

baroness said...

Amazing. How many drinks did you have???

I think I might pass on this place. Or maybe I'll camp out in that stableyard. With ghostbusters.

Kristine said...

Not venturing into the alley with us? Well, I must say, Hinshaw, I thought you had more bottom than that. Actually, we hadn't had that many drinks . . .

Bozzy said...

Hi Gorgeous - I'm just popping in from deadline hell to confirm everything you've said.

To the curious: the experience unfolded exactly as Kristine describes. We really did see these ghosts. They weren't imagined or sensed, we saw them in true, vivid color right before our physical eyes. We really did find ourselves surrounded by a miasma of rage and malice as we stood there, watching.

I'll add that as we neared the end of the alley where the ghosts were, the air seemed to thicken around us. It grew dense and heavy, feeling to me as if we were struggling to walk through waist-high sand. This thickening of the air went away when the ghosts vanished.

I vouch for every word in Kristine's account of our experience.

Diane Gaston said...

I must admit that I took tales of ghosts at the pub with a grain of salt until you told me this tale, Kristine.
How terrifying. How much we don't understand about such things.

Louisa Cornell said...

What a fabulous experience! Yes, I said fabulous. I tend to think that things like this only happen to people who are open to it. My brother does paranormal research and he has said that only people who are open to the possibility will ever experience things like what you saw. It has to do with some sort of place memory. Certain places are magnets for this sort of thing and the energy of such an anger-fueled event would have trouble dissipating in this particular spot. I can't wait to hear what happens this trip!

Kristine said...

I'm looking forward to going back - and dreading it at the same time. In any case, Victoria IS going with us, whether she chooses to wait for us in the bar or not while we venture into the alley. Louisa, I've heard that, too,, about bad things staying in bad places and playing themselves out over and over again. The thing is, now that I know there are ghosts at the Grenadier, I'm left to wonder where else they are? Do we unknowingly walk through them all the time? Where do they go when they're not visible? Knowing the answer to the question, "Do ghosts exist?" only calls up more questions, not so easily answered.

Deb Marlowe said...

I admit, I kept watching out of the corner of my eye when we were there, but I never saw a thing--little did I know we should have stepped down the alley!

Did you mention the experience to the proprietors? I'd love to know if any of them had seen anything like!

Anonymous said...

Hi, i would just like to introduce my self as some one who used to live in this pub. my parents used to manage the grenadier. not for very long......

i myself, had a horrific experience in the cellar. something i will never forget. i am now 30 and i can still feel the chills and visualise the experience that happened to me.
people may believe or not believe about the tails of the grenadier but i know what i saw and felt.
so i for one BELIEVE that this event most likely did occur.
i would like to go back one day, seeing the photos of the pub, it brought back memories and made me shiver

Kristine said...

Oh, it happened alright. As I said, just glad I had witnesses! Thanks for sharing your own experiences at the Grenadier. When I went back in June, I did go into the mews and saw nothing at all. It was just a mews. Incredible to think that people go about their lives there, unaware of what/who lives there, as well.

M. Denise C. said...

When I was in London last October, I made a point to visit the Grenadier, but I decided to go at lunchtime because I was by myself and I knew that there were ghost stories associated with the place. I had a great lunch in the front bar area . . . It's is even smaller than I had imagined, but very cozy, I thought. I shared my table for a while. Always interesting . . .