Fitzrovia’s spooky haunts

What do singer Freddie Mercury, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, a leper, a brewery worker, two nurses, a German officer and a bewhiskered butler have in common?

Their ghosts have all been reportedly seen in the area.

Cartoon of man saying "Darling, you were wonderful!" to ghost at stage door.

Cartoon by Kipper Williams.

Freddie Mercury’s ghost was seen by several people at the Dominion Theatre, 269 Tottenham Court Road, during the run of the Queen musical “We Will Rock You” which finished a long run earlier this year.

He appeared during the singing of “We are the champions” according to Ian John Shillito, who was stage manager there. “I had felt a presence behind me whilst I was cueing the show, then I clairvoyantly saw him watching the show from the wings and criticising it,” he wrote in his book “Haunted West End Theatres.” Freddie was also seen by Becky Walsh (co-author of the same book and also a stage manager at the Dominion), and one of the singers in the production.

The ghost of the brewery worker was seen in the same theatre more than 20 times by doorman Dave Allen. He described a stranger in front of the safety curtain dressed in a leather apron and hitting a stopper into a beer barrel. There was a brewery on the site in the 18th and 19th centuries – and eight people were killed there in 1811 when a huge beer vat exploded. They were drowned or poisoned from the fumes as 600,000 gallons of beer flooded the premises and surrounding area.

The leper ghost was seen in the same theatre by its resident fireman Andy Sutherland while playing with a Ouija board on stage after a performance of “Grease”. A leper hospital also used to be on the site of the theatre from 1101 when it was founded by Queen Matilda, consort of Henry I. This was a condition of releasing her from her nun’s vows in order to get married to the king. In the same Ouija session was seen the ghost of one of the theatre’s stagehands who had died of an overdose.

An actress in Dressing Room 27 at the theatre was twice hit in the face by a flying light bulb, as witnessed by electrician Danny Twoomy, and just outside it hovered a white mist the size of a football as seen by deputy master carpenter Kerstin Muller. She also heard steps behind her but nobody was there. A black figure of a man walking through a closed caged door and then disappearing was seen by backstage crew member Alex Sayer. A Victorian girl was also seen in the corridor and doors opened and closed themselves.

University College London in Gower Street is reportedly haunted by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). He was a great supporter of University College when it was set up in 1826 to be “open to members of all religions or none” earning it the nickname “Godless Gower Street.”

To make medical research less dependent on body snatchers he donated his own body. While he was being dissected a violent thunderstorm raged. His skeleton and head were then dressed in his clothes and preserved in UCL’s South Cloisters where it is to this day (his head being replaced by a wax effigy after it was frequently borrowed by students to play football with). His ghost has been seen chasing staff around with his walking stick which he called Dapple.

Just over the road, the original University College Hospital at the top end of Gower Street is haunted by nurse Lizzie Church’s ghost. When patients there were injected with morphine she hovered over them protectively to stop them being given an overdose. This was because she had mistakenly killed her own lover by giving him too much morphine when she was a trainee nurse there at the end of the 19th century.

The ghost of a patient with his head swathed in bandages terrified a lady guest in one of the small hotels in the same street when it visited her room in the middle of the night. She described the bandages as being luminous and the figure faded into nothingness after terrifying her for a few minutes.

The Middlesex Hospital Radium Wing in Nassau Street was haunted until 1931 by the ghost of a nurse dressed in the grey uniform that used to be worn in those days. This wing opened in 1899 for the treatment of cancer with the then new treatment of radium. The dangers of radiation were not then known and two nurses, Sister Clark and Sister Phillips, both died from exposure to it while treating patients, along with Dr C R C Lyster and Mr R Mann. The nurse’s ghost was “wont to take her silent stand beside the bed of anyone about to die.”

The ghost of a bewhiskered butler with a hole in one of his socks holding a tray was seen by an engineer on the fourth floor in the original Broadcasting House in Langham Place early one morning. It was also seen by compere Brian Richie and newsreader Lionel Marsen just before the second world war.

A German officer’s ghost has been seen in Room 333 on the third floor of the Langham Hotel, just opposite Broadcasting House, by more than one person. The late disc jockey Ray Moore saw it in January 1971 at 4.30 am. “He was a biggish man, thick set, with a crew cut and wearing a uniform style coat that buttoned up at the neck, surrounded by a kind of aura of bright, white light,” he stated. After fleeing he told the commissionaire “who said it sounded like the German officer who committed suicide before world war one by jumping out of a window.” In 1973 news reader and announcer James Alexander Gordon saw it in the same room. He described a fluorescent ball taking a human shape and floating towards him two feet above the ground with arms outstretched – “its eyes fixed in a terrifying unblinking stare.” He said it was dressed in Victorian era clothes including a cloak and cravat.

Another news reader Peter Donaldson also reported seeing a ghost in the same room. “I woke up to find a force trying to push me out of bed,” he said. “The curtains were closed but there was a glowing light inside the room.”

This article was published originally in the print issue of Fitzrovia News number 134, Autumn 2014.

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