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Explore the author's map to discover strange stories from Mitcham and the surrounding areas.

'MYSTERIOUS
MITCHAM'


Contents:

Front Cover

Introduction

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'Mysterious Mitcham' is the online sequel to the original 'Strange Mitcham', which contains stories not found on this website:

Second (2011) edition is now available in paperback and eBook formats.

Part 1 - Mitcham:

The Phantom Cyclist
of Mitcham Common
(update to Strange Mitcham)

A Dark Figure on Mitcham Common

Tales from the
Vestry Hall

'Calico Jack': The
Playful Ghost of
Lacks the Drapers

The Faces on the Walls:
Hancock's Cottages

The Haunted Cottages
in Tramway Path

The 'Haunting' of
Hall Place

The Spectral
Soldier of Graham
Road

The Legend of
Mitcham Fair

Remember the Grotto

The Phantom of
the 'Folly'

An Apparition at
Woof & Sabine

Haunted Rooms at
Fry Metals

The Phantom Cat

Mitcham's (not so)
Haunted Mansion

The Kingston Zodiac

The 'Ghost Tree'

Ghostly Gardeners,
Medicinal Plants and
A Magical Tree

The 'Thing'

The Wrath of God

A Ghostly Experience
in Morden Road

Mitcham Clock Tower:
When Time Ran
Backwards

The Rosier Family
Legend

The 'Ball of Fire'

UFO over Mitcham
Common, 2004

UFO over Tooting
  Bec Common, 1990





Part 2 - South of
Mitcham Common:

Carew Manor

The Ghosts of
Beddington Park

Beddington Parish
Church & Churchyard

The Figure in the
Alley

Under Beddington

A Spectral Cavalier





Other Information:

Author's website

'Haunted Mitcham' Facebook group:

Facebook group set up
by Geoff Mynn in
January 2015

Heritage maps

Thanks to the
Mitcham Society
and Merton Council
there are some very
nice heritage
maps of Mitcham
available.

Download for free
via this link.

The Mitcham Ghost
Ride

Strange Mitcham
(2002): Errata

Strange Mitcham
(2011)

Paperback:



Kindle:

Haunted Wandsworth
(2006)

Ghosts and legends of the London Borough of Wandsworth (covers Balham, Battersea, Putney, Tooting & Wandsworth):

Haunted London
(2007)

Ghosts and legends of London:

Haunted Lambeth
(2013)

Ghosts and legends of the London Borough of Lambeth (covers Brixton, Clapham, North Lambeth, Norwood, Stockwell & Streatham):

The Poltergeist Prince
of London

(2013)

The remarkable true story of the Battersea poltergeist:


 

Tales from the Vestry Hall

When the Vestry Hall was first built, some considered it a monstrosity.

Designed by the architect Robert Masters Chart, son of the vestry (parish) clerk Edwin Chart, the Vestry Hall was officially opened on 18 May in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Writing in 1895, one unhappy author referred to the building's 'extreme architectural ugliness', complaining that: 'That red brick blot has ruined for ever the picturesqueness of Mitcham of old'. [1]


Above: The Vestry Hall. (James Clark, 2010)

Over the coming decades, however, that 'red brick blot' beside Lower Green ('Cricket Green') would firmly establish itself as a vibrant centre of local life. Open parish meetings, temperance meetings, lectures, debates, concerts, plays, religious services, village celebrations and all manner of other social events would be held here as the Vestry Hall cemented its place in the landscape of Mitcham.

In August 2010 I was shown around the building by centre manager Carol Warren, who has worked here for the past five years. The layout inside is rather more complicated than one might expect from the building's exterior and Carol admits that it took her several months to master her way around the numerous stairs, corridors and rooms.


The 'Dungeon'

In one compact meeting room, a small door hidden behind a coat stand unlocks to reveal a narrow and rickety old staircase leading down into the cobwebbed depths beneath ground level. Marked on the building plans as the 'Coal Hole', the room at the foot of these stairs is affectionately known to some of the staff as the 'dungeon'.

For safety's sake (in case we have an accident, for example) we have to let at least one other member of staff know we are heading down there. As we start down the stairs I helpfully ask if I should close the door behind us. 'No, good Lord!' replies Carol. 'Are you mad?'

In the 'dungeon' Carol's torch beam reveals a treacherously uneven cobbled floor. Then, as she slides the light up the surface of the old stone walls, the beam illuminates several rusty metal protuberances. These, she thinks, may be the remains of shackles.


Above: The 'dungeon', deep in the bowels of the Vestry Hall. (James Clark, 2010)

Officially, the room's purpose was as a coal store but Carol wonders whether it was once also used to hold prisoners. Although an unlikely idea on the face of it, it seems more possible when some of the building's history is taken into account. Part of the site where the Vestry Hall now stands was once used for the local watch-house. Permission to erect the watch-house was granted in 1765, its purpose being to act as a lock-up or temporary gaol. The resulting single-storey, rectangular and (probably) windowless structure of red brick and tile became known as the 'Cage'. Used to detain miscreants before they were taken either to stand before the justices or to be transported to more permanent prison, the 'Cage' is unlikely to have been used for anything more than short-term confinement. This is just as well, given the apparent lack of security. A local story has it that a prisoner escaped from Mitcham's 'Cage' one night simply by removing a few of the roof tiles and climbing out!

In front of the 'Cage' were the village stocks, which probably stood here until the early nineteenth century. By the time that punishment by pillory for any crime other than treason was abolished in England (in 1816), the Mitcham stocks had in all likelihood already fallen into disuse.

A link with this crime-fighting facet of the site's past was revived after an extension to the Vestry Hall was built in the 1930s. A chamber on the first floor of the extension was put into use as a courtroom, with a small detention room complete with barred windows adjoining it. Still in place in the corridor outside the old courtroom are the gates that were once used to hold prisoners waiting to be taken to trial. Carol's idea is that the 'dungeon' might have been used to (possibly unofficially) detain some of the more troublesome prisoners.


Above: Were these rusty metal protuberances in the 'dungeon' used simply to hold
cabling or are they the remains of shackles? (James Clark, 2010)

Before we leave the 'dungeon' Carol draws my attention to a small hole in one wall near the foot of the stairs. At first glance it appears to be some sort of ventilation shaft but peering inside with the aid of the torch reveals what looks like a sizeable room beyond. As far as can be ascertained that room has no other way in or out and must have been bricked up from the 'dungeon' side of the wall. None of the Vestry Hall's present staff know what this room is, or was, or why it was bricked up.


The Tunnel

In another part of the building, partway along one of the many corridors that riddle the interior, Carol slides a bolt and swings open a wooden gate to reveal more stairs heading below ground. As before, we have to let one of her colleagues know where we are going before we descend once more to the rooms beneath the Vestry Hall.

Passing through a mundane-looking door marked simply 'Store Room A', Carol heads to the far corner of the room to show me what is believed to be the entrance to an old tunnel. Pulling back a small metal door set low in the wall here uncovers a narrow rectangular opening, approximately 2 feet in height, that leads away into darkness.

According to a tradition passed down to present staff by their predecessors this is the entrance to a tunnel that leads out beneath the front of the Vestry Hall and then turns to the right (to the south-west). The tunnel supposedly led to an opening either in or close to a nearby pub, The White Hart, which stands a few minutes' walk to the south-west. The present building on that site dates back at least as far as the mid-eighteenth century. One story told about this claimed tunnel states that it was constructed in order to allow men attending meetings at the Vestry Hall to make their way to the nearby pub for a drink without danger of their wives spotting them. Alternatively, if someone's wife happened to call at the Vestry Hall to meet her supposedly working husband while he was actually enjoying a drink in the pub, the husband could use the tunnel to return to the Vestry Hall without being caught out. According to another tale, the tunnel was somehow connected with thieves, who would sneak back and forth underground to avoid detection.

(Note: if there is or was a tunnel, then a more likely contender for its destination would seem to have been The Cricketers the now-closed pub next door to the Vestry Hall. The story I was given, however, specifically mentioned what was at the time The Hooden on the Green and which later reverted to its older name, The White Hart.)


Above: Does this narrow tunnel lead towards a nearby pub? (James Clark, 2010)

To the best of Carol's knowledge nobody has been down the tunnel in recent years to investigate where it leads. This is not surprising. Squeezing into the small opening with its damp concrete walls and floor dank with dirty water is an unappealing prospect and one made even less attractive by Carol's next revelation.

Apparently, one of her colleagues once took a photograph of the tunnel entrance and when they looked at the picture they were startled to see an image resembling a human face peering out at them. Perhaps this was nothing more than a trick of light and shadow, but maybe it was connected with the long-standing rumours of a ghost haunting the Vestry Hall.


The Ghost

Carol was first told about the building's resident ghost by the woman whose job she took over, who had worked in the Vestry Hall for around 18 years. In the years since then, several people have told Carol that they have sensed a strange presence in various parts of the building, including down here in the basement.

'I won't go down [into the basement] on my own,' Carol tells me. 'It just gives me the creeps. I can definitely sense something [...] I don't see anything but just especially in here I feel I want to get out of here with my back to the wall. [...] I think if it [the ghost] is going to be anywhere it's going to be in here.'

We leave the basement and head back up the stairs. Carol informs me that the ghost is supposed to be that of a past caretaker who once lived in the Vestry Hall, although she does not know his name. Passing through more corridors and rooms (and leaving me increasingly lost as to whereabouts in the building we now are) Carol unlocks yet another door and leads us up a creaking wooden staircase to what used to be the caretaker's flat. No longer used, these rooms on the third and fourth floors are empty and in a state of disrepair. We are evidently at the northern end of the building now, I surmise, because a ladder in one of the third-floor rooms leads up, I am told, to the clock in the Vestry Hall's tower.

According to the story Carol was given, the caretaker in question was both born in and died in these rooms. A number of visitors, and Carol herself, have reportedly felt an eerie presence here. In Carol's opinion, the presence tends to be felt most strongly on the upper floor of the old flat, in a room she thinks was probably the bedroom.


Above: The caretaker's 'bedroom', where Carol feels the ghostly presence can most
strongly be sensed. (James Clark, 2010)

Carol believes in ghosts and feels that she is sensitive to 'Spirit', and she believes that she can definitely sense something odd in the Vestry Hall. She is not the only member of staff with strange stories to tell, however.

One of her colleagues, Terry, is a sceptic when it comes to the paranormal, yet he has also experienced unusual goings-on while at work here. Before my tour of the Vestry Hall comes to an end, he tells me of a series of incidents that he had 'found very disconcerting'. They had happened in around 2005, shortly after the building's lift was installed:

'I used to come in in the morning and start going round the building. I'd be the only one in the building and I would hear doors opening and find the lift [that had been on the ground floor] was on the first floor. I don't believe in ghosts or anything like that so whether it was some form of electronic thing.... But the first two or three times, you know, you're walking past there and it says "doors opening" so it's gone from the ground to the first floor.... I don't know....'


A Short History of the Vestry Hall

Carol's pride in and fondness for the Vestry Hall is clear. 'I love this building,' she tells me, 'and I love the fact that I can walk around it and be where so many people have been before. It's got so much history to it, and it's still being used.'

The Vestry Hall's history is closely interlinked with the changing history of Mitcham itself as the area was slowly absorbed into the expanding metropolis of London. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, following the Local Government Act of 1894, the administrative responsibilities of Mitcham's old Vestry passed to a new Mitcham Parish Council within the Rural District of Croydon. During the first decade-and-a-half of the twentieth century Mitcham's population more than doubled in size and after Mitcham was granted Urban District status in 1915 the Vestry Hall became the main office of the Urban District Council. But Mitcham continued to grow, gradually becoming a suburb of London, and as it did so there was increasing pressure on the limited space within the Vestry Hall. Something had to give.

Since its beginning, the Vestry Hall had been the headquarters of Mitcham's fire brigade complete with its fire engine but in 1927 the brigade moved to a new fire station specially built nearby. Around the same time a large extension to the building was constructed and this was completed in 1930. But still Mitcham grew.

In 1934 Mitcham attained borough status. The Vestry Hall became the Town Hall but when it became clear that it did not contain enough office space staff began to be relocated to other buildings in a process that was to continue over the coming years.

On 1 April 1965 Mitcham merged with the Urban District of Merton and Morden and the Borough of Wimbledon to form the new London Borough of Merton. The town clerk's, borough surveyor's and treasurer's staffs were moved from the Town Hall to other offices within the borough and the building became known again as the Vestry Hall. It became home to the new borough's public health and school health departments.

During the late 1970s, however, the environmental health officers moved out of the Vestry Hall and, while the area health authority and the borough's treasurer's department continued to make some use of the building, the Vestry Hall increasingly became a venue for local community groups. Following refurbishment in the late 1980s, the old building was formally reopened for community activities.


The Vestry Hall Today

Today the Vestry Hall is a valuable resource for all members of the community, from voluntary groups to residents and businesses.


Above: The Vestry Hall, from Lower ('Cricket') Green. (James Clark, 2010)

One service on offer is the provision of flexible working space, enabling businesses to cut overheads by paying only for what they require. A 'virtual office' with a professional address can be hired for a small fee, as can physical office space with desk, internet access, etc.

Rooms of varying sizes (to accommodate from as few as three to as many as 125 people) can also be hired for business needs such as staff training and meetings, as well as for social events such as parties. Access to various pieces of equipment (for example, an interactive whiteboard, projector, laptop computer and flipcharts) can be arranged, as can catering.

At the time of writing (September 2010), the charges for these services are as follows:

• Virtual office..............10 per month
• Flexible work space.....10 per hour
• Room hire..................from 10 an hour

The fees seem excellent value considering the intriguing surroundings on offer!


How to Contact the Vestry Hall:

Address: Vestry Hall, 336 338 London Road, Cricket Green, Mitcham, CR4 3UD

Telephone: 020 8640 3333

Email: vestryhall@merton.gov.uk

Website: www.merton.gov.uk/vestryhall.htm

[Note: [1] Barrett, C.R.B. Surrey Highways and Byways, 1895, cited in Montague, E. N. Lower Green West: Mitcham, Merton Historical Society, 2004, p. 43.]

[Sources: personal communication with Carol Warren, August-September 2010 (my thanks go to Carol for giving up her time to show me around this fascinating building); Montague, E. N. Lower Green West: Mitcham, Merton Historical Society, 2004]

 
   
© James Clark. All rights reserved. Should you wish to refer to material presented here you are most welcome to quote a short excerpt (of no more than one or two paragraphs) provided you give full attribution and supply a link back to this website. Use of longer excerpts will require the author's prior written permission - by all means feel free to ask! But please DO NOT steal my work by copying great chunks and posting them in their entirety without permission. Thank you.


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