From a Nazi grave in London, to a train for the dead, and from a reverend who preached to a paper congregation to a 15th Century earl haunting a store's sportswear department.

Britain truly is a strange and mysterious nation.

And these strange but true tales are amongst many related in a new book, "Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits Of Our History", by Justin Pollard.

Britain's strangest secrets finally revealed

By David Edwards
The Mirror

History book's odd tales

From a Nazi grave in the heart of London to a special train for funerals - Britain's strangest secrets are finally revealed.

Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits Of Our History sheds light on strange goings-on - such as the eccentric reverend who preached to an imaginary choir and how early terrorists hoped to bring the American War of Independence to our shores.

Ours is truly a mysterious nation..

Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits of Our History, by Justin Pollard, is published by John Murray and is on sale at £7.99.


Tucked away in Central London is one of Britain's unlikeliest secrets: a Nazi memorial.

In the grounds of 9 Carlton House Terrace, near St James's Park, lies a body buried with full National Socialist honours.

The building - occupied by The Royal Society - used to be the embassy of Hitler's Third Reich.

Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch was so distraught over the death of his Alsatian dog Giro, who died after chewing an electricity cable, that he insisted he should have a proper Nazi send-off.

The tombstone is inscribed "Giro: Ein Treuer Begleiter", which means "Giro: A True Friend."


In the 18th century, George Quayle was renowned for founding the first bank on the Isle of Man. But he also had a secret sideline in smuggling.

In 1789 George decided he needed a boat, the 26ft Peggy, named after his mum, to carry out his shady dealings.

But just before his mum died he retired the ship, unhappy at associating his mother with crime. He put it in a cellar, bricked up the door and turned the dock into a courtyard.

But 120 years later, the forgotten Peggy was found by the building's new owner under old floorboards.


Britain's first homegrown terrorist brought the American War of Independence here in 1775.

Funded by an American commissioner, painter James Aitken razed a Royal Navy building in Portsmouth to the ground. This caused widespread panic across England, amid fears that French and Spanish agents were operating.

Aitken was arrested in 1777 and hanged himself from the mast of the frigate HMS Arethusa. More than 20,000 people turned up to watch him swing.


With burial places at a premium in the 19th century, an enterprising businessman came up with the idea of the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company.

The idea was to build a train station next to Waterloo to ferry funeral-goers to a 2,000-acre plot near Woking. It opened in 1854 but only 3,200 burials took place in 20 years.

Today only the station's frontage exists.


Warleggan is twinned with Narnia, but even weirder is the Cornish town's former reverend.

The Reverend Frederick Densham arrived in the tiny Cornish village of Warleggan, near Bodmin Moor, in 1931 as minister of St Bartholomew's Church.

But he angered parishioners by painting the inside of the church bright red, yellow and blue and allowing dogs to roam on the moors among subjects' sheep.

Tensions rose when he surrounded the rectory with barbed wire and threatened to sell the church organ, prompting his flock to complain to the bishop of Truro, who did nothing.

After the congregation boycotted his church, Densham preached to cardboard cut-out figures and he continued to do so until his death in 1953, aged 83.


The statuette that adorns every Rolls-Royce is motoring's most famous and most tragic icon.

When Charles Stewart Rolls and Henry Royce went into business in 1904, they needed a mascot and decided on a statuette of a woman in robes with a finger to her lips.

This was suggested by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who had in mind his pregnant mistress, Eleanor Thornton.

She died in a U-boat attack in 1915 as they travelled to India together but he survived.

When the Royal Family travel around in their Rolls-Royces (such as the one Charles and Camilla were recently travelling in when set upon by a mob in central London) the Spirit of Ecstasy statuette is replaced by one of Britannia.


There's no sign of the depravity that unfolded beneath 77 Maidenstone Hill today, but two centuries ago, this garden in Blackheath, South London was the entrance to debauchery.

The way in to a huge network of underground caverns created in the 17th century, they were sealed off until 1780, when an enterprising man began charging for tours.

They were a huge success and after a bar was installed, they became England's first underground nightclub, full of prostitutes, drunks and gamblers - eventually prompting their closure.

They were left undisturbed until 1939, when they were considered for air-raid shelters.


Arthur Ransome is best known for his idyllic Swallows and Amazons books, but the author was tormented by personal demons.

After a bad marriage, he left for Russia in 1913 to research new material and became close to Lenin and Trotsky. While regarded as a friend of the Russian Revolution, it was later learned he was working for the Secret Service Bureau - a forerunner of MI6.

Not that this satisfied the secret service, which was highly suspi-cious of his 30-ton boat, the Racundra, which later became the subject of his first great sailing book, Racundra's First Cruise.


Henry Stafford, the Second Earl of Buckingham, was executed as a traitor for allegedly rebelling against Richard III in 1483, spending his last hours at the Saracen's Head Inn, in Salisbury.

Workmen found a skeleton beneath the building in the late 1830s, ground down the remains and mixed them with the clay. A Debenhams now stands on the site. The Earl is said to haunt the store's sportswear section.


Shropshire cop Anthony William Hall came to believe he was the direct descendent of Henry VIII. In the late 20s he made 2,000 speeches pushing his claim to the throne. He promised to write off the national debt, create full employment and pledged free healthcare for all. He even pledged to set up a Ministry of Pleasure "to revive the ancient merry times".

He offered to fight George V in a duel and was arrested for "using quarrelsome language". Judged insane, he was fined £10. He died in 1947.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Dec 12th, 2010 at 03:05 PM..