In 1758 thirteen year old Anne Naylor and her younger sister were apprenticed to the Sarahs Metyard, a mother and daughter who ran a milliner’s on Bruton Street in West London, the result of which led to a grisly murder and a haunting that continues to this day.
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The Naylor sisters, were two orphans that were residents of a workhouse in 18th century London. It was common practice at this time for children once they reached the age of 12 to be apprenticed out to a local business. Anne Naylor, and her younger sister were given into the care of a local woman who ran a millinery shop. A Mrs. Sarah Metyard and her daughter Sarah “Sally” Metyard ran this establishment. These two women had five young girls apprenticed to them but what they provided would not be characterized as “care”.
The girls under the Metyard’s care were often beaten and starved. Both women had hot tempers and enjoyed inflicting pain. Anne unfortunately, was often their main target for she was sickly and could not keep up with her assigned work. At one point Anne managed to escape the Metyard’s house but they sent a boy, who found her and forcefully returned her to their shop. As punishment Sally beat Anne and then locked her in the attic where she was given only bread and water.
Anne now desperate once more escaped the Metyard’s home. This time Sally, brought her back. She viciously beat Anne with a broomstick and then Mrs. Metyard tied Anne to the Attic door where she was forced to stand for hours during the day. She was tied to this door for three days without food or water. Mrs. Metyard pointed her out to the other apprentices warning them that this would happen to them if they ever tried to escape or disobey her.
On the fourth day, the other apprentices noticed Anne was not moving. They called for Sally. She beat Anne about the head with a shoe but when she didn’t respond she called for her mother. Mrs Metyard tried to revive Anne with smelling salts but when this didn’t work the two women realised Anne was dead. They locked her body in a trunk in the attic, and then made an attempt to cover up the crime. They made a show of taking food to her for several days so the other apprentices would not suspect anything was amiss. They even left the attic door open and the shop door ajar, claiming Anne had run away yet again.
After two months had passed the two women started to worry the neighbours would wonder about the smell for Anne’s body was still in the trunk in the attic. On Christmas day they attempted to dispose of the body by cutting it into small chunks and burning it in their fireplace. At first, they tried to burn these pieces in their fireplace but realising this was causing a foul smell, they decided instead to dispose of the remains by taking them and dumping them an open sewer in Chick Lane, near the site of Farringdon Station.
The remains of Anne’s body were found by the night watchman who reported his grisly discovery to the Parish Constable who duly informed the Coroner Mr Umfreville. He, however, presumed them to be the remains of a corpse that had been dissected by the Surgeons and, therefore, declined to summon a jury for an inquest.
Soon after, witnesses started to see the ghost of a young girl dressed in white in the area where the body had been dumped. Other witnesses heard a young girl’s scream. So many people saw and heard this apparition that soon most of this London parish felt Chick Lane was haunted.
The Metyards would have got away with the crime had it not been for Sally confessing in a fit of rage. Four years after they disposed of Anne’s body the mother and daughter had a huge argument which prompted Sally to move out and instead live with her lover. When he mentioned the ghost of Chick Lane, Sally told him what she and her mother had done. Naively, he informed the authorities, whilst downplaying Sally’s role in the belief she would not be accused.
But both the Metyard women were arrested, tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty and sentenced to death. The pair were executed on the 19th July 1768, after which their bodies were to be given over to the surgeons for dissection.
When Mrs. Metyard was walked to the scaffold she collapsed. Her jailers were said to have been unable to revive her so she was hanged while still unconscious. Sally cried as she took this final walk. Both bodies were put on public display after they were hanged, before being taken down and their bodies were then dissected at “Surgeon’s Hall”.
Chick Lane is now called West Street. Many of the 18th century buildings in this area have been torn down, with new ones having replaced them. Despite these changes the area is still said to be haunted today. Nearby the area where Anne’s body was dumped stands the Farringdon Station, a stop on the London Underground. Countless witnesses have heard Anne’s screams as they stand on the platform after the last train has left.
By Paul Middleton, source: Ghosts, the paranormal, myths and legends