Prison Cells at The Viaduct Tavern: the power of storytelling

This week I had the chance to go on a walking tour in surrounding areas near where I work. This, despite my love for London’s history, was something I expected to be rather lame.

Yet the evening was fantastic. History behind pubs that I frequent, interesting tales about Smithfield market, gory anecdotes and many, many stories about ghosts were all fascinating.

Now, I’m a believer in logic, science, and a natural sceptic, so ghosts are something that I do not believe in. This was not changed throughout the course of the evening.

The final stop of the tour was opposite the Viaduct Tavern in the City. As our tourguide told the stories about the Old Bailey and where people were once hanged, he then drew our attention to the pub we’d been stood next to: a gin palace, with jail cells beneath it.

“If you are lucky, talk nice to the bar staff,” he said “and the pub is empty enough, you will be able to go downstairs and take a look around.”

Two of our group stayed for a number of drinks in hope of the tour, which we received. And the cells were tiny. “Up there,” the barman said pointing towards a tiny hole in the ceiling, “is where food was dropped from.

“Down here,” he continued, pointing at the floor, beneath that hole “was the toilet.”

I asked about the ghost, which is said to haunt the area. “I never used to believe in ghosts, before working here.”

As a non-believer, I was not fearful of seeing a ghost, yet I will freely admit that if I had been left alone in there, without the hum of the barrel-cooling machines or light, the eeriness would have made for quite a frightening experience.

The truth about the prison cells at the Viaduct Tavern

This morning, I learnt the truth – that they are not cells at all, just a simple pub cellar.

Of course now I’ve read that blog, it all makes sense. The tiny cells, which I described in detail to colleagues at work the next day, were for beer barrels.

This had all been an elaborate ruse, and I – the sceptic and contrarian – had played the part of the fool.

The power of storytelling

If I was to visit that cellar now, I would not have the same sense of eeriness that I felt that evening. I could stand there with the lights out, no noise other than the natural noises of a cellar and think nothing of it. It would just be a cellar.

I’ve realised that there was a concession that I made subconsciously.

I did not believe every word the tour guide told, because I do not believe in ghosts. Which meant that with every part of his tour there was a significant segment that I thought ‘that’s nice, but obviously not true.’

What this meant was that I did believe all of the other parts. So while the stories of the poltergeist in those cells was false, the fact there were cells was clearly true. That I then managed to play the part of the story he’d predetermined – having a drink, waiting around, nicely asking the bar staff and then getting to see the cells- it was a given that I was going to believe it. Those spaces I saw could have only been prison cells.

Does it matter?

On the one hand, probably not. The ghost stories were entertaining and it created a wonderful atmosphere amongst the group. But on the other, it means I now doubt the other truths which he told.

Still, it’s a nice story. And I imagine should I ever be amongst some strangers near to the Viaduct Tavern, with a taste for storytelling and tomfoolery, I may just let the truth slide, because frankly, it’s far more entertaining.

Photo credit.

One comment

  1. jonathan lachkovic

    Hey Joshua this is Jonathan lachkovic I was Googleing our last name and I found you. Me and my family seem to be the last lachkovics over in the USA. Face book me . Your photo looks so much like my fathers kinda crazy. Mabey we are related

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