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By Peter Lewis

Did you treat yourself to a copy of Haunted Magazine for Christmas? Perhaps not, but I don’t want you to miss out completely on my stories of haunted hands (you can still buy yourself a copy here by the way).

Whilst I was doing my research I came across a story written by a journalist. It was too long to recount the story of Hanging Sword Alley for the magazine article but it did send a chill up my spine when I read it, so I thought I would share it here.

The author of the story had a couple of tales to tell but this is the one I was interested in, given my love of a haunted hand! You can find the rest of the original article here.


The ghost I am about to tell you about was from a time when I worked in Fleet Street. As a night-time newspaper sub-editor, I used to take a supper break in a pub around 10pm. Coming back from Tudor Street near the river one night, a female colleague and I were late.

A short-cut then existed, a narrow footpath between silent black buildings which was called Hanging Sword Alley. It was swept away during later redevelopment, though the street sign is still there. It was a murky, ill-lit passage, but we were in a rush so began to climb it. You could see the uphill pavement was empty all the way. Halfway along, as we reached the crossing with another passage, there was a streetlight, the only one.

As we passed across, we both suddenly stopped — and froze. Slowly both of us looked back the way we had come. Perched on a step to a building doorway was a large sack which we had not noticed on the way past.

From the neck of the sack protruded a large human hand.

With every nerve in my spine on edge, I gingerly approached it. It was not a glove. I could see the knuckles and veins, even the texture of the skin with uncanny clarity in the light of the streetlamp. It looked very dead.

I bent closer but — I don’t know why — couldn’t bring myself to touch it. The sack was more than waist-high and it could well have contained the rest of a body.

I rejoined my companion. ‘It’s a hand,’ I said, unnecessarily, for she could see it as well as I. We hastened back up to Fleet Street. We agreed that I ought to phone the police, but I thought I’d better go back and check first.

I wanted to make sure what it was. I returned down Hanging Sword Alley and reached the crossing with the streetlight.

The passage was empty. Nothing there, no sack, no hand, even the building entrance looked different from the one I’d seen only two or three minutes previously.

Where could it have gone? The doorway looked firmly locked and unused for years. There were no other hiding places. Could someone have come to collect the sack and vanished? In that short time, it seemed impossible. Anyway, what were the contents intended for?

I did not phone the police but I watched the newspapers in vain for stories of a body being found round there for the next week or two.

Of course, my colleague and I discussed it in every detail — and in every detail we agreed on what we had seen. Particularly the unearthly clarity of the vision and the very disturbing feeling it gave us both. There were two of us sharing one experience. It could not be dismissed as imaginary. I wondered if we had time-travelled into a previous century for those few moments. Or else the sack had done so into ours.

Forty years later, I found confirmation of this theory when I was telling a friend the story.

‘Hanging Sword Alley?’ she exclaimed. ‘But that’s in Dickens!’ Indeed, it appears in A Tale Of Two Cities, set in 1775.

In Hanging Sword Alley lodged Jerry Cruncher, doorman of a Fleet Street bank with a night-time hobby — body-snatching.

 He and his gang called it ‘fishing’ — slinking into cemeteries to exhume recently buried bodies. There was a brisk demand for corpses for dissection at the city’s medical schools. An intact cadaver would fetch 20 guineas.

And the centre of the trade operated in Hanging Sword Alley. The records of Old Bailey trials bear this out, and it’s why Dickens lodged his unsavoury Mr Cruncher there.

Photo credit: Alan_Stapleton_-Hanging_Sword_Alley-_(MeisterDrucke-404818)


That’s where Peter’s story ends but it’s a good one don’t you think?!

I have a love of old London stories, and an even bigger love of the old photos that show snippets of life there. I was born in London and have spent a lot of time in the city as a child and teenager.

Dirty and crowded, poverty-stricken and dangerous, the streets of Dickensian London is everything you need for a good ghost story, even if today they are nothing like what they used to be – gentrified streets, paved with gold now, reserved for businesses and the wealthy.

Hanging Sword Alley – Body Snatchers Headquarters

I can totally slip back in time to times when these old streets were the domain of the body snatchers, filthy unscrupulous characters, sculking around in the shadows after darkness with shovels hung over their shoulders, heading to the graveyards of the city to look for freshly buried bodies. But why bother to dig them up? Knock the living over the head with a cosh, someone who will not be missed easily, and drag them straight along to the anatomists and medical students seeking cadavers for dissection. Was Hanging Sword Alley that kind of place? It seems so!

Next year I will be heading to the streets of the city of London to explore some the of most macabre, brutal history and the remnants of that time, the ghosts that continue float around the old city even though it is nothing like what it used to be. There will be my usual Wiltshire stories as well and a few other trips out and about. Keep checking back to see what ghostly tales turn up.

But for now, I wish you all a very Merry and spooky Christmas and a most Happy Ghostly New Year!


Don’t forget, I’m always on the lookout for spooky and weird stories from Wiltshire and beyond. If you have a tale you would like to share I’d love to hear from you. Contact me via Twitter (or X as we are supposed to call it now) or here.

I’m also now to be found on Bluesky. Hurrah!

If you enjoy my weird tales from Wiltshire and beyond and can spare a few pennies please head over to Ko-fi and buy me a cuppa. Every bit is used to help bring you more stories. I sure would appreciate it!

Stay spooky everyone!

Photo credit main picture and story:

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