London has a long tradition of theatres and ghosts. Here are some of the capital’s most haunted theatres and stories of supernatural sightings…
Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, Cambridge Circus, W1D
The theatre opened in January 1891, and is famous for the JK Rowling play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It is haunted by a ghostly ballerina, believed by some to Anna Pavlova (1881 – 1931), and the apparition of the composer and The Lodger star Ivor Novello (1893 – 1951) supposedly still takes in shows from the rear of the dress circle.
Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, WC2A
This haunted theatre opened as The Royalty in 1911, though the current building dates from 1960 and is owned by the London School of Economics. Theatres have operated on the site since the 17th century. Two ghost stories are associated with it – one predates the current building, to about the 1930s – in which, a ghostly woman in Queen Anne era clothing was said to walk down the stairs, gradually disappearing as she reached the bottom, before a shriek signified her complete disappearance. During the 1970s, a dolphin kept in a pool beneath the stage was used in shows, and eventually died of neglect. The remains of the pool can still be seen, and perhaps occasionally, the spectral singing of the late dolphin might be heard.
Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, E15
Built in 1884 by actor-manager Charles Dillon, the theatre is haunted by Dillon’s brother-in-law and fellow thespian Frederick Fredericks, whose family later came to own the theatre. It’s thought that his ghost, which puts in an appearance at midnight, protects the theatre. His apparition is described as being small, pudgy and wearing brown clothes, and once put in an appearance on camera. Frederick is thought to be the initials FF surmounted on the proscenium, and the superstition is that the theatre will collapse if they are taken down.
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Rosebury Avenue, Islington, EC1R
The apparition of the famous clown Grimaldi, who died May 1837, can still be glimpsed wearing his make up, and was seen sitting the boxes.
The Old Vic, The Cut, Lambeth, SE1
The theatre dates from 1818, and reputedly haunted by former manageress, Lillian Baylis. Keeping her company is a woman who can be seen clutching her bloodstained hands to her bosom, though it’s thought she is the ghost of long gone actress, playing out a Shakespearian scene, and the blood is fake.
Theatre Royal Haymarket, Suffolk Street, SWIY
The theatre dates back to 1720, and is haunted by playwright and comic actor John Baldwin Buckstone (1802 – 1879), who is seen only when a show is going to be a success. He was seen by Patrick Stewart whilst he acted in Waiting for Godot in 2009. The ghost appeared during the first act, and later Stewart was asked by his close friend Sir Ian McKellan what had thrown him, to which Stewart replied he had seen a ghost. The ghost apparently appears to see things he enjoys, is one school of thought put forward by theatre staff. He had previously been seen by a stagehand a few years earlier. Another ghost said to return to the theatre is that of ex-manager David Morris, who haunts for one night, every decade.
The Coronet Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, W11
Designed by West End theatre architect WGR Sprague at a cost of £25,000, the Coronet Theatre opened in 1898. Down the years, luminaries such as Dame Ellen Terry trod the boards and it was a regular haunt of Edward VII. In 1916, the theatre started showing films and converted to being a full time cinema in 1923. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of a cashier who had helped herself to the proceeds of ticket sales. She was confronted by the manager in the office, from which she ran and hurled herself to her death from the balcony. It appears to be an anniversary haunting, the footsteps of the cashier being heard running up the stair to the balcony around about Christmas. The Coronet has now reverted back to theatre use.
Vaudeville Theatre, The Strand, Westminster, WC2R
A female ghost haunts the theatre, box office staff often smelling a herb like perfume they can’t explain the source of, whilst backstage bizarre noises are heard and strange presences detected. A workman reported seeing a woman’s feet and the bottom of a cloak go past him after the theatre shut for the evening, but was unable to see the rest of the apparition.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Catherine Street, Covent Garden, WC2B
A theatre has stood on the site of the current Theatre Royal, Drury Lane since 1663, making it the oldest continuous operating theatre in London. It is also apparently the most haunted theatre in the world. The ghost of Dan Leno (1860 – 1904) appeared in the mirror of his former dressing room to actor Stanley Lupino, whilst the latter prepared for a performance. Joseph Grimaldi (1778 – 1837), a famous comedian, clown and dancer of the Regency period still puts in an appearance, being a particularly helpful spook. The long lived Irish actor Charles Macklin (1690 – 1797) was a regular performer at the theatre, and who famously killed a fellow thespian in a duel over a wig, also reputedly haunts the theatre. The most famous spectral resident is The Man In Grey, a dapper figure in 18th century clothing, a powdered wig, tricorne hat, cloak and riding boots, and who is the most often sighted. He is believed to be the ghost of the skeletal remains discovered behind a wall in the theatre by workmen in a walled up passage in 1848. His sighting before a show is seen as good luck. Royalty also accompanies the resident ghosts in the form of Charles II, who was a theatre aficionado.
Fortune Theatre, Russell Street, WC2B
The cast of the stage version of The Woman In Black, which has run at the theatre for over 25 years run the risk of seeing not a ghost of the ilk described by the play’s title, but A Lady In Grey, who has been seen in a lower box. Meanwhile, two mysterious shadow apparitions were seen on the right hand side of the stage during a performance.
Lyceum Theatre, Wellington Street, WC2E
This haunted theatre dates back to 1765, and is another haunt of the busy ghost of William Terris, the Victorian actor stabbed outside the Adelphi in 1897. He is in company with the ghost of actress Dame Ellen Terry (1847 – 1928). One night, during an 1880s performance, a couple happened to look from where they were sitting in the balcony down the the stalls and saw a woman staring up at them – with the severed head nestled in her lap!
Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, Westminster, WC2H
This haunted theatre opened in 1889, and was managed between 1912 and 1914 by Arthur Bourchier (1863–1927), a slightly hammy Shakespearian actor, who also ran several theatres and reputedly had a disdain for theatre critics. He died in South Africa of pneumonia, but his ghost is now thought to haunt the back of the Garrick, and puts in appearance at the end of performances, or taps folk on the back.
Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, WC2N
Opened as the Trafalgar Square Theatre in September 1892 by Frank Wyatt and his wife Violet Melnotte, the latter owning the theatre right to her death 1935. She was thought to haunt the theatre after her passing, sounds being heard in her private box, and in 1967, her apparition was seen in the Green Room.
London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, WC2N
Towards the tail end of World War One, a group of friends noticed a mutual friend striding down the aisle of the auditorium and vanish, and later found out he had been killed in action in the trenches the day they had seen him. The soldier had attended a performance at the Coliseum on final day of his last leave in London and his spectre continued to be seen in the theatre over a period of 10 years after his death
Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, Westminster, WC2N
Formerly the Albery Theatre, it was built by Sir Charles Wyndham, opening in 1903, when it was known as the New Theatre. It is thought that Wyndham’s ghost, a dashing figure with grey hair, haunts the theatre, and has been seen flitting about the empty stage, backstage and heading towards the dressing rooms by cast and crew alike.
Adelphi Theatre, The Strand, WC2R
Peter Underwood first heard of the ghost of William Terris via the renowned Victorian actor’s daughter, Ellaline. Fifty year old Terris was stabbed at his private door to the theatre in Maiden Lane on 16 December 1897 by deranged actor Richard Prince in front of several witnesses. The stricken Terris was carried into the theatre, where he passed away in the arms of his leading lady Jessie Milward, just after he was heard to mutter something along the lines “I will be back”. Shortly after this, strange things began to happen in the theatre, including mechanical failures, disembodied footsteps and the feeling that someone was there in the empty theatre. Terris’ dapper apparition has been seen where he was stabbed, and flitting about the auditorium. His ghost was also blamed for knocking on the door of Jessie Milward’s former dressing room, a habit, Terris had in life to let Milward know he was about. The ghost of Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean (1787 – 1833) is alo believed by some to haunt the Adelphi.
Orpheus Street, Camberwell, SE5
The Camberwell Palace Theatre once stood at the corner of Orpheus Street and Denmark Hill. In 1902, the story goes that a lion tamer was mauled to death when his act went horribly wrong, and his bloody, bandaged ghost haunted the theatre until it was closed in 1956. It was later demolished and a new building occupies the site. You can read more about Haunted Camberwell here.
Former St James Theatre, King Street/Duke Street, St James, SW1
An office block now stands on this junction, on which once stood the St James Theatre, which opened in 1835, and was controversially closed and demolished in 1957, a decision against which Vivian Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier campaigned. Whilst the theatre was in operation, it was haunted by a female ghost clad in white, who was thought to be an 18th century actress; given that the theatre only dated back to 1835, this is a bit strange, but such is the nature of ghostly legend! Something also knocked dressing room doors and was gone by time they were answered. A strange man also started appearing in shadowy areas when it was announced that the theatre was to close, but he vanished whenever someone went to talk to him. Parts of the theatre are incorporated into the present office block. After the St James Theatre closed, no theatre was demolished without a replacement being put in place.
Infernos Disco, High Street, Clapham, SW4
Formerly the Majestic Theatre, then Mecca Bingo Hall, the building is haunted by the headless wraith of a woman who fell after climbing onto the roof in an alcoholic fuzz. The ghost was sometimes seen by staff near the stage.
Odeon Cinema, Streatham High Road, Streaham, SW16
Chesterfield House, owned by Alfred Frederick Janes, was demolished to make way for the Stretham Astoria theatre, which opened in 1928. James died shortly afterwards, and his ghost was reported in 1933 to be roaming the theatre crying out “I won’t sell!” The Astoria ceased functioning as a theatre in 1962, despite having only being rebuilt to it’s original design in 1950 after sustaining considerable damage from a bomb hit during the war. It served as a bingo hall and now functions as the Odeon. It’s not known if Janes still wanders the building.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, SW19
The Grade II listed Edwardian theatre was built by theatre aficionado and businessman JB Mulholland, opening in 1910. Apparently it might be the only UK theatre with a Turkish bath. Mulholland’s ghost is thought to haunt the theatre, seen as a gent in Edwardian dress, occasionally taking in a show from the circle, or watching a rehearsal from his preferred spot in the second row. A grey lady also roams the gap between the stalls and stage, occasionally setting the theatre’s sprinklers off. More recently, people have reported seeing a strange dark figure lurking over them in the auditorium or in the corridor leading to the bar.
Churchill Theatre, High St, Bromley, BR1
In May 2014, the tale that the ghost of Michael Jackson had been captured in a picture near an impersonator hit the press, though it was most likely a trick of light. You can see the photo here.