Library Services


Ghosts of Library Services

28 October 2021

A spooky story from the library vaults.

Graphic depicting the Grey Lady of Stanmore. Decorative.

Our Library sites are great spaces to study and work, but it’s also important to take regular breaks for your wellbeing. At Halloween, there’s no better way to take a break than reading a scary story or two.

The Grey Lady of Stanmore

Every November, a ghostly Grey Lady wanders around the site of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, home to one of our libraries, before disappearing into the fogs which surround the hospital high on Brockley Hill.

Who is she? There are two theories. The site is built on a former nunnery. Perhaps the Grey Lady is a former nun.

Others say that the Grey Lady is Mary Wardell, a Victorian philanthropist who purchased the site in 1883 as a Scarlet Fever isolation ward. At the time, Scarlet Fever was one of the most widespread infectious diseases in London. There was a need for a new hospital to look after patients, who had to be isolated from other people.

Mary sought advice from medical experts to find a good location, but she struggled to buy anywhere. No one wanted a hospital in their backyard. She finally chose a large house in Stanmore because of its remoteness at the time deep in the countryside, 450 feet above sea level and 10 miles from Marble Arch.

During the First World War the site became a military hospital for wounded French and Belgian soldiers. It closed in 1917, when Mary died at the age of 84 years. Pegleg productions are creating a podcast series looking at the archives related to Mary Wardell’s work in the war.

Is Mary Wardell the ghostly Grey Lady of Stanmore? Perhaps, but a more interesting story is how she used her money and position to help people during a health crisis.

Discover more

You can access loads of resources from the Library, including novels, films and visual materials, all discoverable through Explore.