Torbay: Haunted Places to Visit

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DAVID PHILLIPS, the founder and organiser of Torbay Investigators of the Paranormal (TIP), gives us the benefit of his more than 25 years of experience exploring the unknown in Devon

Torbay Postcard

Torbay is in Devon in the South West of England and comprises the holiday destinations of Torquay and Paignton and the quaint fishing port of Brixham. The bay itself is the mass of water that the towns are built around.

I’ve lived in the area since 1987, after graduating from drama school, and have been running my ghost hunting group, TIP – Torbay Investigators of the Paranormal, for the last 25 years.

Over that time myself and my team have looked into many allegedly haunted sites throughout the resort with some interesting results.

Here are some of the highlights from those investigations, many are open to the general public so you the reader can go and form your own opinions of how haunted they are…

Torbay’s Haunted Museums

Torquay Museum

In recent years, Torquay Museum has gained a certain notoriety for being quite haunted, largely due to the amount of overnight investigations they have held.

Would-be ghosthunters have been attracted by reports of various types of evidence, ranging from a photo of a woman appearing in the farmhouse exhibit that supposedly wasn’t there when the picture was taken and fingerprints mysteriously appearing on the underside of the top of a glass cabinet containing a mummified  boy that weren’t there at the start of the investigation that couldn’t possibly have been put there deliberately. (I’ve spent several nights investigating with my group and although I can’t vouch for the veracity of the photograph I do believe I’ve witnessed the fingerprints.)

However, my favourite part of the museum is an upstairs storage area that isn’t readily available for public scrutiny but I was privileged to be able to take selected sensitive members of my group to check it out. Most of them had an adverse reaction to a collection of spears from African tribesmen, some of which still had traces of blood…

Sadly, in recent years, the committee that runs the museum, has decreed that these events can no longer take place. Hopefully this decision will soon be overturned as Torquay Museum is a most interesting place to spend a night and it is a money spinner!

Brixham Museum

Brixham Museum is quite small in comparison to Torquay and is laid out over several floors in the town’s old police station.

It has many exhibits of interest ranging from displays of its maritime heritage, a toy collection, a war time exhibition and a well kept relic from its days of upholding the law… a prison cell that you can spend time inside! This I did during our overnight investigation.

But the piece of its history that intrigues me the most is a snooker table that somehow found its way into the basement area of the local Royal British Legion headquarters.

We were also invited to investigate here on several occasions after stories started to circulate of alleged activity mainly concerning the snooker table.

Many members of the social club there reported a sensation of being pushed or hearing a voice saying “you are in my way!” when standing around the table, suggesting it had acquired a phantom spectator!

During one of our investigations where mediums were present, a voice calling out “you are in my way!” was heard by two at the same time, one by the table itself and another just exiting the basement… no one else heard it…

Doing a bit of research, I was able to ascertain that the management of the social club had no idea how they had acquired the table. During our guided tour of Brixham Museum, we were shown the old police canteen and recreation area which we were told use to house a snooker table and when the station shut down had been moved to the Conservative Club next door. As far as I’m aware there is no longer a table in said club, so is it possible that the same table found its way to the British Legion taking with it an ardent snooker fan who becomes disgruntled when his view is impaired?

Torre Abbey Museum, Torquay

Torre Abbey on Torquay seafront houses a museum amongst its ruins. It is also notoriously haunted, most famously by a Spanish lady who was held prisoner in the aptly named Spanish Barn.

It was here that survivors of the wrecked remains of the Spanish Armada were placed after being rescued from the waters of the bay. Sadly, many didn’t survive including this young lady who had disguised herself as a cabin boy to be with her sailor lover.

Over the years the figure of a woman shrouded in a black cloak has reportedly been seen scouring the grounds presumably in search of her lost love…

Torbay’s Haunted Theatres

Brixham Theatre

The community theatre in this harbour town is very quaint and is put to many different uses including ghost hunting as it has a famous resident spirit in the shape of John Slater, best known for his role in the TV police series Z Cars.

When he retired from mainstream theatre and TV work, John Slater and his wife moved down to the West Country where he continued his love of the theatre by running and directing productions at this small venue. When he died, his attachment to it continued in death. 

Over the years TIP has been able to investigate this theatre on several occasions and during our last visit my partner Sarah, who is sensitive to spirit, caught sight of someone on stage wearing a straw boater and blacked up face in the style of a black and white minstrel.

As we were leaving, we spotted a photo displayed on the wall of John Slater holding a straw boater in a similar costume but without the black face. Sarah wasn’t aware of the theatre’s haunted history and is too young to remember Z Cars, yet she recognised him as the figure on stage.

So had John made his presence known to us during the course of our investigation that night?

The Palace Avenue Theatre, Paignton, is where I started my “professional” acting career back in the summer of 1987. It also gave me an introduction to the area’s haunted history. It is said to house a Lavender Lady, who frequents the downstairs dressing room area, as well as making various appearances on the stage itself.

Nothing untoward was reported during my time there but years later after TIP had become an established local group, a friend of mine was putting on a production of A Christmas Carol and he thought it would be a good stunt to stage a ghost hunt to raise a bit of publicity.

So it was that one night shortly before the curtain went up myself and two friends were locked in with our cameras to see if we could capture any activity. Sadly, the night passed quietly and slowly with nothing of significance to report. Then at 6am the following morning, a journalist arrived to get a picture of three bleary-eyed investigators and our story. At least that part of the exercise was a success!

The former Festival Theatre, Paignton

Paignton also used to have another theatre, the Festival Theatre situated on the seafront which was sadly turned into a cinema back in the late 90s.

It was here that I started my box office career after leaving the acting business, deciding I needed money over fame!

I didn’t hear any stories of hauntings during my time there. But since it became a cinema, members of staff have told me that there have been several sightings of a lady sitting in the front row who can’t be accounted for by members of staff when the audience leaves the auditorium. Maybe it’s a disgruntled theatre fan disapproving of the new use for the venue?

The Princess Theatre, Torquay

The Princess Theatre is where I currently work as manager of the box office.

Once again, over my time there, a few stories have come my way that other members of staff and customers have had odd experiences in certain areas of the building that warranted further investigation. Nothing too well-defined but enough for us to make an attempt at opening up the venue for a guided ghost hunt by yours truly.

Prior to this event taking place, I took some members of my team on a scout around to see if they could find some meat to the bones I was going to offer my audience and they didn’t disappoint!

We can now claim to be home to the spirits of stage performer Danny La Rue, accompanied by his dog, and singer Lena Zavaroni, both having performed there during their careers.

Torbay Haunted Pubs

Since TIP was formed 25 years ago we have held our Monday night meetings in several pubs throughout the bay, several of which have a haunted history.

These include The Blagdon Inn, the old stables for Blagdon Manor which stands behind it, where resides the spirit of John Henry, a stablehand who took his own life in the barn and has been blamed for starting several mysterious fires that have broken out over the years…

Also The Inn on the Quay, which used to be a hospital dating back to the time of the Napoleonic war and where, from time to time, the spirit of a nurse has been seen standing over the last remaining grave that is situated on the lawn outside, site of the hospital cemetery. One of our meetings was disturbed by the commotion caused by a customer catching sight of said nurse, sadly none of our group ever did…

Churston Court Hotel, Brixham

While staying at Churston Court Hotel, you can enjoy the sun and surf of the beautiful Devon coastline.
While staying at Churston Court Hotel, you can enjoy the sun and surf of the beautiful Devon coastline.

But our favourite public establishment in Torbay is the Churston Court Hotel now renamed Churston Manor by its current owners and home to our Monday night meetings for the best part of the last 20 years.

It’s built on the site of an old Saxon manor and lovingly restored to its former glory by one of its previous owners.

It truly is a sight to behold and, of course, it has its own history of hauntings, remaining active to this day – one of the reasons why we like to call it our home!

Myself and members of the group have all had our own experiences there, some actually during a meeting, others during the many investigations we have held there over the years. There’s too many to recount here but if you are ever in the Torbay area on a Monday night, feel free to pop in and join us and swap stories!

Or if you can’t wait that long check out our Facebook page and the Torbay Investigators of the Paranormal (TIP) documentary below my niece Beth made during one of our after hours vigils.

Berry Pomeroy Castle

Finally, any article about haunted Torbay can’t go without a mention of this infamously haunted castle.

Although, not strictly in Torbay, it’s very near. And besides, it was finding out that I was living on Berry Pomeroy Castle’s doorstep, when I first moved to the area, that was partly responsible for me staying and subsequently starting up TIP.

Berry Pomeroy Castle is a beautifully atmospheric ruin, well deserving of all the legends it has acquired throughout its history,  although whether it is still active or not is a matter of opinion.

Either way, it still attracts its fair share of ghost hunters, much to the chagrin of English Heritage who look after it nowadays, They allowed us to be one of the last groups to spend the night there before turning its back on a potential money spinner…

Again, I have many stories to tell about its white and blue ladies, the sounds of horses and even old-fashioned gunfire that emanate from this illustrious old pile of stones. Some I have personal experience of, others are tales I’ve heard over the years from visitors to our meetings.

So if you want to hear more that’s another reason to pay us a visit… or better still go and check it out for yourself first and then come and tell us all about it!

Have you seen a ghost in Torbay? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Watch Spooky Isles interview with David Phillips

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