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The Real Ghosts of London's Theatres

Updated on February 7, 2018
Seeker7 profile image

Helen is from Fife, Scotland. She was a registered nurse for many years before becoming a care manager and trainer for health workers.


Hauntings in the West End

If there is one group of buildings almost guaranteed to produce paranormal activity it's theatres. They have everything from residual hauntings, disembodied voices, poltergeists and orbs, right up to the wandering spirit who likes nothing better than to watch the cast perform.

The theatre has a long tradition of not only superstition but of the supernatural as well. The legends of men in black, women in grey and sad spectres are numerous. In fact so strong are the actors' beliefs in hauntings that many theatres have a 'ghost light' burning constantly. The theory is that this llight - usually just a single light bulb - keeps the spirits content and away from the productions. Many centuries ago, before electricity, a candle would have been left burning for the same purpose

I've chosen four theatres out of numerous possibilities because of the diversity of the hauntings and numerous reports by different witnesses. Hopefully, at least some of the hauntings will be new and refreshing for you. Whether or not they are real? Well I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Real ghosts can be found at the Garrick Theatre.
Real ghosts can be found at the Garrick Theatre. | Source
Ghosts often haunt staircases but we don't know why.
Ghosts often haunt staircases but we don't know why. | Source

Real ghosts in the Garrick Theatre

Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London.

The ground on which the Garrick Theatre now stands has had a few uses over the centuries. In King Henry VIII's time the area was the site of the Royal Mews. This is where the royal hunting birds such as falcons would be kept and it was later the royal stables. The site has also been used as barricks for the Parlimentarians during the English Civil War and over 4,000 prisoners were put here during the years of strife.

The present theatre opened on this site in 1889 and has remained open with the exception of one or two short time periods when it was closed. The building was designed by Walter Emden and C J Phipps. The name of the theatre - Garrick - is in tribute to the great 18th century actor David Garrick.

The main phenomena within the theatre is said to centre around a stairwell, known as the phantom staircase. In the early part of the 20th century a tenant, by the name of Arthur Bourchier, had a lease of an apartment at the top of the stairs. It's thought to be his ghost that often gives actors a good luck pat on the shoulder before a production. Theatre staff also report icy breezes suddenly rushing past, only to suddenly evaporate. It is believed that Arthur the ghost dislikes theatre critics and his full manifestation - dressed in dark cloak and wide hat - is often seen by the perfomers when their show is finished for the evening.

There are various paranormal events that are thought to have been caused by Arthur. The stage curtains were observed moving up and down as if being manouvered but no one was there. A bottle was seen in mid-air, slowly moving before crashing to the ground. There have also been a number of accounts where a disembodied voice has been heard giving instructions to the actors on stage during rehearsal. The cast were not absolutely sure, but the voice seemed to come from the direction of the old prompt corner.

The haunted Palace Theatre - is it home to two ghostly dancers?
The haunted Palace Theatre - is it home to two ghostly dancers? | Source
Haunted theatres are said to be home to famous ghosts - such as ballerina, Anna Pavlova.
Haunted theatres are said to be home to famous ghosts - such as ballerina, Anna Pavlova. | Source

The Palace Theatre - the ghosts of two ballerinas are said to haunt here.

The Palace Theatre

This lovely theatre was the brainchild of Richard D'Oyly Carte. In the late 1880's he was one of the main producers of Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and wanted a showcase theatre to stage them. The theatre was originally named the Royal English Opera House and opened it's doors on 31st January 1891

Two of the most famous ghosts are reputed to be dancers - one of them might be Anna Pavlova the famous ballerina. The apparition that resembles the dancer is said to appear halfway through the current stage floor. The modern stage is higher than previously. Therefore, if this is a residual haunting - a playback rather than a spirit - then it would makes sense that the ghost recording would re-play at the older stage height.The second ballerina is thought to be a young dancer who committed suicide on the back stairs of the theatre. She was apparently found hanged but the cause of her sadness is not known.

There are also a couple of former managers of the theatre whose full bodied apparations have been viewed by staff and performers. The first is Ivor Novello, who died in 1951. His ghost has been seen observing the rehersals from the back of the theatre. Charles Morton 1892-1904, another former manager, likes more intimate and aggressive contact. Witnesses report feeling hands weighing down on their shoulders. One observor, a member of the theatre staff, felt the famililar hands on her shoulders and then her headphones were violently ripped off her head.

The Lyceum is a haunted theatre with a very gruesome apparition.
The Lyceum is a haunted theatre with a very gruesome apparition. | Source
Haunted London theatres are alleged to house many famous ghosts such as Madame Tussaud.
Haunted London theatres are alleged to house many famous ghosts such as Madame Tussaud. | Source
Actress Ellen Terry is said to haunt the Lyceum Theatre.
Actress Ellen Terry is said to haunt the Lyceum Theatre. | Source

Hauntings at the Lyceum Theatre

In the 17th century the site of the Lyceum theatre was dark, dingy and dangerous. Home to the destitute and prostitutes desperate to earn enough to live on. It wasn't until 1765 that a music hall was built and named 'The Lyceum'. There have been a few buildings since on or very near the site of the present theatre. At one time the theatre also had a sinister repuation for being unlucky as a number of owners went bankrupt. Things seemed to change when American, Colonel Batemen, took over the theatre and put on his first production in 1874. As with most theatres the Lyceum has also had its share of fires, but the frontage of the building is the original.

As to the ghosts, one of the most gruesome apparitions is said to be that of an elderly lady holding a severed head in her lap and stroking it. There are two schools of thought as to who is responsible for the haunting. The first theory is that the elderly lady is Madam Tussaud, the famous creator of the wax works and that it's one of her creations she is holding. In 1802 she had her first exhibition in London on the site of the Lyceum Theatre. But why she is stroking a wax work head is anyone's guess. The second theory is that the head is that of Henry Courtenay, a Cavalier and local landowner who was beheaded on the orders of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War. Allegedly one couple who saw the head stated that the face resembled that of a family portrait in the hallway of the theatre. If this is the case then who the elderly lady is remains a mystery.

The other hauntings at the theatre are of two previous performers. Shakespearean actress Dame Ellen Terry, famous in the Victorian and Edwardian period. Witnesses have reported seeing her ghost quite recently, dressed in a long cloak. An actress who witnessed the ghost while waiting for her cue, described the dead actress in remarkable detail. In 1996 another sighting was made this time by two independent witnesses - one an actress the other a member of stage staff. Both clearly saw a woman dressed in blue in the upper circle. The lady waved before suddenly vanishing.

Another ghost is former Lyceum manager-actor, Henry Irving who had a long standing, successful partnership with Ellen Terry. He is reported to have been seen in various parts of this lovely old theatre.

The haunted Adelphi Theatre is home to the ghost of a murdered actor.
The haunted Adelphi Theatre is home to the ghost of a murdered actor. | Source

The ghostly Adelphi Theatre - murder and poltergeists.

The Adelphi begain in 1801 under the name of Sans Pareil by John Scott and his daughter Jane. She seems to have been a very talented lady. Not only was she a theatre manager but an actress and playwright. It was then, as it is now, a lively and fun place to visit. However, the Adelphi also has a much darker side.

In 1897 actor Richard Prince, in a fit of jealous rage, murdered fellow actor William Terriss by stabbing him three times. At the time of his death, William was a very popular actor and close friend to Henry Irving. He had basically replaced Richard Prince in the hearts and minds of audiences. Prince is reported to have stated after the murder that he had committed the crime out of revenge. Prince was declared insane and sent to Broadmoar Psychiatric Secure Hospital. He spent his time in the prison writing plays that cast him in the lead and gave other prisoners subordinate roles. The ghost of Richard Prince doesn't seem to be lingering around the theatre but his victim, William Terriss, certainly does.

From the day of his murder people have reported seeing the ghost of William Terriss in various parts of the theatre and outside where his murder took place. There are numerous accounts of poltergeist activity happening inside the theatre and it's thought that the spirit of William is the cause. Surprisingly it is also the ghost of William Terriss who is reported to haunt the tube station at Covent Garden not far from the Adelphi. Another interesting aspect of this account is that an understudy to William Terriss is alleged to have had a premonition of the actor's murder the night before it happened.

So is it William's restless spirit who walks the Adelphi because of his brutal death? Perhaps it's merely a residual playback of the violent energy that taints the area? People who have seen the figure of William Terriss state that he is a very tall, striking figure wearing a grey suit with distinctive white gloves.

Haunted theatres add a bit of mystery to the magic.
Haunted theatres add a bit of mystery to the magic. | Source

Haunted theatres - conclusion

It's all too easy to dismiss paranormal activity in theatres as active imagination. Actors and performers in general have a reputation for - indeed need - a good imagination and the ability to put their mind into other realities. Does this make them more prone to thinking something or someone is there when they're not? Or is it because in the theatre the mind and imagination are used so diversely that doorways are opened frequently to another dimension? I say this, because for me at least, the mind plays a huge part in paranormal experiences - I tend to think that it is possible that spiritual forces can work through the mind and use it to tap into the physical world.

Whatever the reason, the next time you visit a theatre, pay close attention to the people sitting near you or walking around with you on a tour - they might just be less 'physical' than you think!

The city of London has many haunted theatres

Garrick Theatre:
Charing Cross, City of Westminster, London WC2N, UK

get directions

Garrick Theatre

Palace Theatre:
Shaftesbury Ave, London, UK

get directions

Shafetsbury Avenue - The Palace Theatre

Lyceum Theatre:
Wellington St, City of Westminster, London, UK

get directions

The Lyceum Theatre

Adelphi Theatre:
Strand, City of Westminster, London, UK

get directions

© 2012 Helen Murphy Howell


Submit a Comment
  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi to you Mr Love Doctor - what a lovely comment to leave, thank you so much! Now that's interesting about 'the lady in white'. I know one or two theatres do have them, but to have a white lady is quite unique I think in a theatre. With the energy created by such a musical as "Anything Goes" it might well be more than just the white lady walking the aisles and cellars of the theatre?

  • Mr Love Doctor profile image

    Mr Love Doctor 

    6 years ago from Puerto Rico

    Finally! A well researched, well illustrated, an intensely narrated Hub here - and one on something as fascinating as theatre hauntings. I was in a musical of "Anything Goes" one time and they did say that down below stage there was a Lady in White who would go from room to room in the building, crying out for her lost lover. I never did confirm it, but the building was spooky enough. And as you said, we acting types are certainly able to use our minds for the paranormal without any sense of embarrassment!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi LW - you are so kind and what a lovely to comment to leave. It's not often I blush, but boy you've got me blushing now!! LOL! Once I'm finished with the apprentice programme, I'm hoping to get back to more paranormal stuff.

    I agree with you 100% about theatres and the atmospheres. I'm not a regular theatre goer but certainly get there once in a while, and yes, the atmosphere is palpable. I wonder as well if famous people don't perhaps give out more energy than other people and so over the years this makes a theatre definitely buzz! I think most of the paranormal happenings are probably residual, but then maybe some famous folks just can't help but come back to a place that they loved so much?

    I would love to write about ghosts from the USA - you not only have an awesome country but your ghost stories are fascinating! I think not coming from the USA I feel a bit like I might be stepping on other folks toes by writing about them - silly, I know - but aren't we writers queer folks at times!! LOL!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alastar - as always a sheer pleasure to hear from you, your ideas and thoughts. I hadn't thought about Arthur in that way, but yes, you're right, he is definitely a theatre goers ghost and probably sits among the audience - away from the critics - frequently. LOL!

    That's interesting what you said about Madame and the executed people made into wax works. No doubt, away back then as now, the macabre will always lure the biggest crowds who will pay to see anything creepy. So the temptation to have famous criminals on show had to be huge. Perhaps though she had something of a conscious about all this? Maybe more so as she got older an nearer to her own end?

    I'm sure the mind does work, at least partly, through the brain. I think that's why science has such a tough time with the paranormal. And I also think that's why it's so difficult to capture and record it at times. Also, the energies that come through mind, might very well be coloured and shaped by our own ideals, beliefs and even prejudices, so no wonder they present so weirdly at times, that science can only class them at best - imagination. At worst fairytales. Seems a shame to me as I think they are missing out on one of the biggest mysteries ever and I have to ask - where is the great curiosity and open mindedness that so moved the Victorians etc. to discover more? Perhaps present day scientists are too scared to do that, incase of ridicule or losing their research grants? It wouldn't be the first time that's happened to a scientist!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kitty - hope things are well with you and as always great to hear from you! You have some awesome theatres in the USA and I can well imagine the paranormal activity that goes on in them. I often wonder as well, if spirits are able to use up the energy created in the theatres to produce some of the phenomena witnessed? Here's hoping that you might write a hub on some of your theatres and let us know who is haunting where.

    Halloween is on the horizon indeed - great time of the year and not just for spooks but anything or everything is possible at Samhain!

  • thelyricwriter profile image

    Richard Ricky Hale 

    6 years ago from West Virginia

    Up, useful, awesome, and interesting!!! Once again, this is top notch Helen. When it comes to the paranormal, you are the best:) I just love your articles on these subjects, I am a HUGE FAN:) I think a theatre presents the perfect ingredients for the paranormal and hauntings. So much traffic in and out, famous people, ect. I would love to walk in there just to feel the air and atmosphere. Once again, this is a class "A" hub Seeker. You do so good writing these, would like to read some in your words about haunted locations here in the states. Awesome job! Take care Helen.

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 

    6 years ago from North Carolina

    Arthur is still in the action it would appear, good luck pats for the actors and dislikes the critics...a theatre goers ghost if there ever was one! Wow, on Pavlova's ghost- i'd pay triple to see her perform again. Some interesting speculations on the Lyceum; if its the Madame perhaps her many waxworks of the executed kind give her no peace. I'm with you Helen in positing how the mind may be a conduit for these spirit-forms to enter- act in the material world. Great and unique read with these ghostly London theatres my friend--up and awe, certainly!

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Kitty Fields 

    6 years ago from Summerland

    We have many haunted theaters in the US, as well. One in my own neck of the woods! Awesome hub, as usual...and's getting closer to Halloween! :)

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alicia, lovely as alwas to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub. Theatres have always been fascinating places for me and not just for the performances. I think there is always a weird kind of energy in a theatre that you don't get anywhere else, so it never honestly surprises me when I hear that a particular theatre is haunted.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Gypsy, as always lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub! London is one of those fabulous cities that I love to visit but wouldn't want to stay there - I love the countryside too much. I haven't see anything either in the theatres but imagine meeting up with Madame Taussaud or Anna Pavlova - how cool would that be?????

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi kashmir56, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub - thank you as well for the vote up, it really means a lot to me!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LOL! Frank you are by far my favourite sceptic - such a gentleman with it!! The theatres are exciting for both the performances and the spooks, if any, are an added bonus!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    I enjoy reading your hubs about the paranormal, Seeker7, and this is another one that is filled with fascinating stories! I'm looking forward to your next ghost hub.

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Voted up and interesting. Wouldn't mind meeting or seeing some of these apparitions. This is fascinating. Great pics. Not surprised though since it's London and I know that not only the city but lots of places in England have paranormal activity. Thanks for sharing and passing this on.

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    6 years ago from Massachusetts

    Very well written and both interesting and fascinating ! This hub was a very enjoyable read !

    Well done and vote up !!!

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    6 years ago from Shelton

    Seeker it must be exciting to visit such haunting places.. I visited a few here in the states.. but there was no haunting feel.. I kind of sense a haunting feel through your visuals.. but I am always Skeptic.. Thanks for the share :)

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Mhatter99, many thanks for stopping by. It's not easy a lot of the time to believe in ghosts - even for a believer like me - since the paranormal, can at times be so weird compared to our own bricks and concrete life experience. However, I look at the evidence that has been gathered and built up over the last century or so and if shown in a court of law, then I think a judge would say there is something genuine about it all. I know people say well it's never been proven. True, but then it's never been disproved either. Personally science is testing and looking for paranormal activity with physical instruments and physical outlook - the paranormal isn't physical, so personally I think science is not only looking at it the wrong way but is just not good enough to track some other forms of energy.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay, as always, lovely to hear from you! I love the superstitions and ghostly happenings around the theatres. I never wanted to be on the stage, but like many people I do have a fascination for the stories that involved anything to do with the stage. I'm also never surprised when I hear that yet another theatre has a resident ghost!

    LOL! Now one thing I couldn't find out is whether or not the director or cast did take any notice of the spooky intstructions. I think I might have tried to just in case the spook decided to play silly beggars on opening night!!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi kissayer, sorry to creep you out but thanks for the visit and glad you found it interesting. Hope your sister enjoys it as well.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi writer20, many thanks for the visit. That's very interesting about the spelling of theatre coming from the French language - I never knew this. That's the great thing about HP you learn something new everyday. I've been to the Garrick once - it's a very special place and the atmosphere is amazing!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi mperrottet, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub! I always take a second look at the person next to me just to make sure!!

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 

    6 years ago from San Francisco

    Intriguing report. I want to believe in ghosts...

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 

    6 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    Yet another awesome article. There are so many superstitions around theatres and it is easy to see why. I hadn't hear of any of these so it is really interesting to read.

    Fancy getting instructions from a ghost Arthur Bourchier, I wonder if the actors or producer took any notice.

  • kissayer profile image

    Kristy Sayer 

    6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Creepy! But so interesting - I'm sharing this with my paranormal loving sister!

  • writer20 profile image

    Joyce Haragsim 

    6 years ago from Southern Nevada

    Good hub about London's Theatres. I remember all except the Garrick Theatre probably as I've been to many. (Theatre spelling we British use, comes from the French).

    Voted up and interesting, Joyce.

  • mperrottet profile image

    Margaret Perrottet 

    6 years ago from San Antonio, FL

    Really well presented. Next time I'm in a theater I'll be sure to check for ghosts!


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