If you’ve ever been in the West End of an evening and seen a saturnine and stately black Routemaster bus glide past, you’ll already be aware of the ‘Necrobus’, the vehicle for the London Ghost Bus Tour.
The Nectrobus is a reclaimed 19th century funeral bus, or ‘carcass coach’, as it would have been known informally to the Londoners. These fleet of special buses ferried becoffined corpses and their respective mourners to the relevant graveyard. Each bus had its own conductor, who would ring the mournful bell to warn pedestrians and passers-by of the bus’ approach and that they should remove their hats out of respect for the dead.
The ‘carcass coach’ service ran until 1967, when a fire at the company depot in South Dulstead destroyed the building and all the buses within – all the buses, that is, except for one, which survived the inferno without a single mark. Said lucky bus was kept locked away in a storage facility for 40 years, before being purchased by its current owners and refurbished to its former glory – but for the new purpose of ferrying tourists around the gorier hot spots of Central London.
The bus is presented much as it was during its previous occupation, painted in a glossy black complete with red, velvet curtains, which were always to be drawn if a coffin was stored in the vehicle overnight – which often happened. This tradition stemmed from the superstition that a departing spirit might become trapped by its reflection and be unable to ‘pass on’. It also had the added benefit of keeping said rotting corpses cool in the hotter, summer months, naturally.
The modern day Necrobus departs from its designated stop on Northumberland Avenue, just off Trafalgar Square. Upon arrival, patrons are ushered to the upper deck. With the shabby chic curtains and dark leather benches, flickering lamps and rather violin-heavy music, you are transported back in time instantly; it’s rather too easy to believe you are some Edwardian mourner, about to accompany your loved one on their last journey through London.
The tour guide was a treat and set the tone very quickly; it wasn’t going to be a terrifying experience, but rather ‘funny scary’. The interaction was further heightened by the use of a few webcams installed on the upper deck. The guide gave us the history of the lucky bus and warned us that – as is to be expected from a vehicle that has carried so many cadavers – there is often a bit of spiritual interference, but that there’s nothing to be worried about……
Traffic wasn’t particularly a problem on the night I went, and we zipped through London, hitting sight after sight with particularly gruesome or supernatural histories. My favourite of the stories was about the Whitehall Mystery – a long unsolved murder – where a woman’s torso was found , ironically, during the construction of Scotland Yard. Considered by some to have been another victim of Jack the Ripper, her identity – and that of her killer – has never been discovered.
The whole experience was really like a moving theatre, with great sound effects, the tour guide and other ‘actors’ jumping on and off the bus, rushing from the lower deck to the upper, finding blood under seats, taking pictures of ghostly orbs – a great, old-fashioned ‘Hammer Horror’ feel to everything. The ‘background track’ as we passed the Tower of London – surely one of the most haunted buildings in the world? – was particularly superb.
No, I wasn’t terrified (and I am a sucker for this sort of thing – the Pasage del Terror had me hyperventilating in fear a few years ago!). I’ll admit to jumping in my seat once or twice. The script and the acting may have been cheesy at points, but to be honest, that is exactly what I was expecting – some light, strange entertainment. I also learnt quite a few new bloodcurdling facts about my home city.
The Ghost Bus Tour is considered unsuitable for children and lasts approximately 75 minutes. An Adult ticket is £20 and a Concession ticket is £14; I should point out that I got my two tickets on LivingSocial for £12 for the pair, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for similar deals. I also imagine that if it hadn’t been such a fine, clear night we might have had perceptibility problems – the windows aren’t overly large on the top deck and had steamed up by the end of the tour – if there had been rain beading on the outside glass visibility would have likely been very poor indeed.
For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Ghost Bus Tour website.