ELLIOT DAVIES recalls the paranormal tales from the once-glorious Birkdale Palace Hotel in Southport, Lancashire
The Birkdale Palace Hotel was a grandiose, 200ft long building of 1,000 rooms. It opened in 1866 but was demolished in 1969. Throughout its 103 years of existence the hotel certainly had its good days. By 1919 business was thriving. It had electric lights, extensive luxurious facilities, a variety of hydropathic baths and even its own airport.
Reports of paranormal activity surrounded the hotel right from the start. Rumours persisted that the hotel had accidentally been built the wrong way round, with its front facing inland rather than out to sea. In an understandable moment of supreme frustration, the architect, William Mangall, threw himself from the top of the building before proceeding to haunt the hotel’s lift for years to come.
This story, though, has been debunked. Zero evidence exists that the hotel was built the wrong way round, and William Mangall officially died of consumption two years after the hotel’s opening.
During the Second World War, the hotel was used by the American Red Cross as an R&R home for USAAF bomber crews. The largest rehab centre for USAAF personnel in the country, the Palace was the target of a 1943 German bombing raid. But the bomb missed, and instead hit a nearby home for blind babies.
Further tragedy struck in 1961, when a six-year-old girl – Amanda Jane Graham – was kidnapped by a Palace Hotel porter. Her body was found under his bed in the hotel itself. There are also stories of sisterly suicide pacts and of the temporary laying to rest of 14 dead sailors in the Hotel’s coach house.
Honestly, some buildings are just asking to be haunted.
In the late sixties, the hotel’s owners went into liquidation. By February 1967, only two guests remained: an elderly permanent resident and the company controller’s wife. Grey Gardens meets faded seaside glamour; it’s not difficult to imagine how eerily poignant must have been the Palace’s atmosphere in those latter days. With the relentless and punishing sea breeze licking at the peeling wallpaper, it’s perhaps no wonder that the hotel’s last use was as the set for a film entitled The Haunted House of Horror.
Demolition began on the Palace Hotel in 1969. But the place wasn’t going without a fright.
In addition to reports of eerie sounds and distant voices, the demolition team had an extraordinarily hard job of demolishing the hotel’s lift shaft – the same lift shaft which, you remember, was supposedly haunted by the ghost of a frustrated architect.
Even though the lift’s power had been cut and its brakes had been activated, the lift continued to move between floors. This was particularly inexplicable as even the lift’s emergency hand crank had been removed some time ago. Put simply, every effort had been made in order to ensure that the lift would not move. And yet, the lift moved. By itself.
Being no-nonsense types, the demolition team decided to nip this ghost story in the bud and proceeded to cut the lift’s cables. Defiantly, the lift stayed in place. It took 25 minutes of heavy duty hammering to finally cause the lift to come crashing down and bury itself in the basement. By then, though, the hotel had made its message clear: It didn’t want to be demolished.
Alas, heed is seldom paid to the wishes of haunted hotels, and now all that remains of the grand old Palace is its coach house. Look out for a pub on Weld Road, Southport, called The Fisherman’s Rest. Itself supposed to be haunted, the pub takes its name from the 14 victims of a lifeboat disaster – the aforementioned dead sailors who undoubtedly contributed to the paranormal legends surrounding the Palace Hotel.
Stop in for a pint and imagine the grand and increasingly gloomy mass of masonry that once dwarfed this humble pub. Ask the landlord – a former Tranmere Rovers player – to tell you about the strange feelings he gets in the cellar. He might not be able to tell you anything for sure, but you may be overheard by a regular with a story or two to tell.
Looks like it’s going to be a heavy night.
Elliot Davies has a blog called NinetyEightyTwo, where he “reviews each and any film I see that I haven’t seen before”. He also occasionally writes for Found Objects. His previous articles for The Spooky Isles are here.