The town of Southend-on-Sea is a seaside resort in Essex, situated on the north bank of the Thames estuary. Initially little more than a handful of fisherman’s huts, the town saw rapid growth during the 19th century as the Victorian enthusiasm for the seaside saw an explosion in the popularity of coastal resorts. Much like my own hometown of Blackpool, this holiday heritage has generated many ghost stories over the years. One of the most well-known is that of strange entity known as the ‘Ratman of Southend’.
Quite how the Ratman came to be remains debated. Two competing theories seem to have grown to explain the origins of a strange, ghostly creature said to lurk in an underpass close to Southend Victoria station. Notorious as a crime-ridden no-go area after dark, the story of the ratman only adds to the compelling reasons to avoid the place.
One version of events is that a former mayor of Southend, a frequent adulterer, was punished for his waywardness after his son was born mutated. The infant possessed the face, hands and tail of a rat. As the child grew, he also developed a taste for flesh. To conceal his secret shame, the mayor locked the creature away in an underground cell constructed alongside the underpass. Despite its incarceration, hunger would drive the ratman to escape in the hopes of preying on anyone unfortunate enough to be found using the underpass.
In what seems to be the more common version of the story, the ratman is described as a ghost rather than a living creature. Seeking shelter from heavy rain, a homeless man took to sleeping in the underpass. Old and unsteady, one night he was attacked by a group of local drunks, who beat their vulnerable victim badly and stole the blanket he used to keep warm. Left lying in the underpass, he eventually succumbed to hypothermia. The story goes that when he was eventually found, the rats that inhabit the area had eaten away his face. Since, many locals claim that at night they hear strange noises in the underpass, including the scratching of claws being dragged along the walls and high-pitched squeaking.