Dark spaces, larger than life characters, vivid imaginations… it’s no wonder theatre has always lent itself to the most lurid of ghost stories. Our own Robert Hamilton takes us on a journey to the dark heart of the West End.
William Terris haunts the Adelphi Theatre. Murdered by a jealous fellow actor, Richard Prince, Terris died in the arms of his mistress, Jessie Millward, at the stage door. His last words were ‘I will come back’. His ghost has been seen backstage at the theatre and ghostly raps of his cane on the door of Jessie Millward’s dressing room are still heard. More strangely still, his shade has been witnessed on the platforms at Charing Cross Station and several times in Covent Garden Underground station.
The Theatre Royal, Drury lane is the most haunted theatre in London, with a gaggle of ghouls from every stage of its long and frequently grisly history. The phantom of Regency clown Joseph Grimaldi is a helpful ghost who purportedly guides inexperienced actors about the stage. Pantomime dame and top of the bill comedian Dan Leno lives on in the form of a spectre who wafts the scent of the lavender water he used liberally in life. Charles Macklin haunts the spot upon which he murdered a fellow actor, Thomas Hallam, in 1735 in an argument over a wig – “Goddamn you for a blackguard, scrub, rascal!” he shouted, thrusting a cane into Hallam’s face and piercing his left eye.
Most famously of all, the theatre is haunted by the Man in Grey… The man in grey is a ghost of a man in a powered wig, tricorne hat, a grey cape and riding boots, he has been seen most often from the stage of the theatre and is considered a good omen. He has been spotted by the casts of The Dancing Years, Oklahoma!, South Pacific and The King and I (obviously a Rogers and Hammerstein fan!) and as recently as the original production of Miss Saigon.
When the dress circle of the theatre was being renovated in 1848 a secret compartment was found revealing a skeleton in tattered grey rags, with playing cards and a dagger through the ribs-was this the body of the Man in Grey in life?
Life also imitates art as one of the West End’s most recent ghostly sightings was onstage at the Fortune Theatre during a performance of the spooky play, The Woman in Black when the actor onstage was confronted by the terrifying sight of two Women in Black – when there should have only been the uncredited actress who plays the part onstage…perhaps Theatre-land has a new ghost?
And we couldn’t let the occasion pass without sharing Samuel French’s very own tale of the unexpected. We recently received a letter from a man who worked in our shop in the 1940s, when it was located in Southampton Street, Covent Garden. Fittingly enough the shop was on the site of the home of the great 18th century actor, David Garrick. Being a good neighbour, he would often pay us a visit, and be seen coming down the staircase.
So do pop in and pay and see us – you never know whoooooo you might bump intooooooo.