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The mystery of Jimmy Garlick – In the first of a series of articles on famous hauntings, John West investigates the strange tale of the ‘mummy‘ at St James’ Church, located in the heart of the ancient City of London.

Some people express surprise when I tell them that many churches are reputed to be haunted. But why shouldn’t this be so? These buildings were at the heart of the communities for centuries, bearing silent witness as countless souls attended services such as baptisms, weddings and funerals.

It’s only natural to expect that the intense emotions associated with these events will echo down the centuries, later to be picked up by those sensitive enough to see and hear psychic phenomena.

St James’ today

One of the most intriguing haunted churches in Britain can be found on Garlick Hill in the heart of old London. It’s known as St James Garlickhythe (Garlickhythe refers to the nearby landing place, or hythe, near where garlic was sold in medieval times) and can trace its origins back to the 12th century.

The church was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and was rebuilt by the legendary Sir Christopher Wren, achitect of St Paul’s Cathedral, between 1676 and 1682. It was later nicknamed ‘Wren’s Lantern’ due to its profusion of windows.

In 1855, a mummified male corpse was found in the chancel and was placed on display in a glass-panelled coffin for the curious to view – upon payment of a small fee!

Theories about who he might be have ranged from a Roman general to the first Lord Mayor of London. Later carbon-dating tests, carried out for a recent TV series entitled Mummy Autopsy, confirmed that the corpse could be dated between 1641 and 1801.

Further tests showed signs of balding, tooth decay and osteoarthritis. The corpse also had pierced ears. Some suggested that he was a sailor who died at sea, was embalmed on board, and brought to the church for burial after the ship reached port.

“Visitors claimed to have felt a presence in the building and it was theorised that the ghost of the mummified man was unhappy about being put on display for a paying public.”

St James’s reputation as a haunted church began only after the discovery of the corpse, who was known as ‘Jimmy Garlick’. Visitors claimed to have felt a presence in the building and it was theorised that the ghost of the mummified man was unhappy about being put on display for a paying public. It’s also said that choirboys sometimes carried the mummy around the church in jest, something that can hardly have pleased ‘Jimmy’!

Researching haunted locations can sometimes be a frustrating business and ‘Jimmy Garlick’  certainly is no exception. The haunting has been featured in several books and internet sites devoted to ghosts. Unfortunately, each account lacks information crucial to the investigator.

For example, accounts of ghostly activity within the church are given but witnesses are not named, so we are left to guess as to the years and months when the phantom was seen. With the passing decades it can often be impossible to trace the original source material and we are therefore left with more questions than answers.

All we can say for certain is that the church had a reputation for being haunted, that the mummy was blamed, and that a figure resembling the corpse was alleged to have been seen on several occasions.

St James’

In May 1941, a German bomb hit the church, grazed Jimmy’s coffin and landed in the crypt. Fortunately, it didn‘t explode. Following this, apparent paranormal activity increased in the church. It’s interesting to note that many ‘ghosts’ seem to become more active after their surroundings are altered or damaged.

Is the spirit objecting to the changes or is the activity the result of a ‘recording‘ that has somehow been activated? According to the stone tape theory, stored residual energy in the fabric of a building is released by alterations to the structure, thereby resulting in a display of increased recorded paranormal activity. If true, this could explain many hauntings – but it’s still just a theory.

Peter Underwood, ghost investigator and author of Haunted London, records that a fireman during the Blitz spotted a white figure inside the church. The figure ignored his calls to take shelter and vanished when approached. The figure, clad in white, was also seen in the nave for a few seconds by a visiting priest on another occasion.

In addition, a lady visitor was sitting in one of the pews when she noticed, on the north side, a tall figure in white with arms folded. It was gazing intently towards the tower. She turned around to see what the figure was looking at and when she turned back it had gone. She went to the spot where it had stood but could find nothing.

Mr Underwood also recounts what occurred when an American tourist visited the church with her two sons. The older boy suddenly startled his mother by insisting that they leave the church.

He was clearly terrified and claimed he had looked up the staircase to the balcony and seen the figure of a man, arms crossed, covered in something resembling a white winding sheet.

      John West is an author and radio presenter. He hosts a monthly paranormal chat show for Radio Castle in Suffolk and has presented a number of programmes on ghosts for internet TV. He has recently completed a TV pilot on ghosts for East Media Productions. John can be contacted via his blog: http://eastanglianghosthunters.blogspot.co.uk/

His face and hands were like those of a dried-up corpse. Neither the boy nor the mother knew of the mummy, or the stories connected with it. The balcony had been deserted prior to the sudden appearance of the apparition.

Other activity in the church has included the movement of objects, unexplained noises and the appearance of a phantom cat. It’s not known if these events were connected with the appearance of the ‘mummy’.

‘Jimmy Garlick’ was eventually hidden from view and now lies in a new coffin in the tower, free from prying eyes. The words on his final resting place read:

“Stop stranger, stop as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so shall you be. So pray prepare to follow me.”

Can it be just a coincidence that the decrease in ghostly activity within the church coincided with the decision to hide ‘Jimmy’ from view? It’s also interesting to note that the figure had been seen gazing towards the tower on a previous occasion – at the very spot where he was finally interred!

Let’s hope he can finally rest in peace.

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