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The Case of Valentina Andrecozzi and the Olde Bell Tavern, Fleet Street, London

Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 23

The ghost is such a complicated phenomenon that one or two relatively simplistic explanations cannot hope to account for the whole range of variations within the subject. An investigation into the numerous ghosts and hauntings around the world must necessarily include why they occur and our willingness to believe in the supernatural.

As always, ghosts live in the borderland between this world and the other.

Born in Putignano, Italy, as a child Valentina Andrecozzi liked to play in the karst caves, creating stories inspired by the ridges, towers, fissures, and sinkholes formed by the eroding landscape. Her friends would sit before her for hours, spellbound as she wove tales of ghosts, spirits and apparitions. Everywhere she went people were captivated to her magnetic personality.

In 1871, her family moved to London where she grew to be a plump woman, a bit madcap, with a boisterous sense of humor, great energy, and a talent for profanity. Her bawdy speechifying was fueled by all the fanciful details of her life as she commonly held court in the pubs and taverns in Fleet Street, and those who knew her well were always surprised at her ability to mesmerise a crowd.

Her untimely disappearance occurred on Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday (Martedi Grasso or Mardi Gras). This was the day when everyone overindulged in rich foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. After this typical night of tippling and rabble rousing, she left the pub and was never seen again.

Her route home was predictable. She would walk along Fleet Street to the Strand, Westminster, and so to Ludgate Circus and on to Ludgate Street (what is now Ludgate Hill), where she would turn into one of the small alleys in which her flat was located.

Her friends and “followers” searched for many days but could find no trace of her.

In 1909, an anonymous letter appeared in the London Times suggesting that there was a woman in an unmarked grave near St. Paul’s Churchyard. Along with this were these words:

"I cannot feel the sun. I cannot take in air. Darkness faces me every day, and no one comes to find me." The letter seems to complain of some accident that has happened, but it does not specify the subject or cause of it.

The hauntings on Fleet Street began about a year after Adrecozzi’s disappearance and continued every night for about four years. As hacks and inkies (printers) frequented the pubs, particularly the Olde Bell Tavern, many complained of a woman, probably a down-and-outer, who accosted them with tales of injustice, and sometimes talked of “living in the graves” (referring to the graves at the Church of St. Bride’s).

Recent activity (2012) to repair the crumbling stonework of the old church has disturbed the ground, and the haunting of this area of Fleet Street by Valentina Andrecozzi is said to have begun again.

R. Fintan Drost, a professor of paranormal activity studies at Queen’s University in Belfast had this to say:

“The disappearance of Valentina Andrecozzi at the height of her grandeur was as if her whole “kingdom” had sunk into the sea.”

As it happened, Andrecozzi left the Olde Bell Tavern on Shrove Tuesday night and, being tipsy, walked toward the church and passed out, stumbling into an open grave. In the morning, the hole was filled with dirt, with no one aware that she lay there.

For all the naysaying of science, there are those who still hope that the remains of Valentina Andrecozzi can be identified.

Ghost, Spiritual Or Historic Stories For Pubs And Restaurants