STAGE HAUNTS: THE GHOSTS OF DRURY LANE THEATRE, LONDON
England is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of reputedly haunted locations. It is a country steeped in rich and enigmatic history. When it comes to ghosts, we have them all: from haunted pubs and hotels, to spooky castles and museums. Yet there is one type of haunting that seems to emerge often — that of the old theatres dotted around London’s West End.
Haunted theatres apparently number many in the heart of London. Whether it’s Lyceum Theatre’s ghastly severed head (of an unknown male) that was sighted in the lap of an audience member, or Adelphi Theatre’s ghostly apparitions of it’s previous manager and actor, William Terris, the stories from the stages are an endless treasure trove of historical murders, suicidal lovers and jealous actors who turned deadly.
One of the most haunted theatres of the West End is Theatre Royal, of Drury Lane, most commonly known as Drury Lane Theatre. A Grade I building in Covent Garden, Drury Lane theatre was originally built in 1663, making it one of the oldest theatres in England. The theatre was actually rebuilt a number of times over the years (in 1674, 1794) with the present structure being erected in 1812. It stands today as one of the most infamous theatres of England’s capital.
Visited by every reigning Monarch since the Restoration, Drury Lane theatre has hosted many notable shows through the years, from Hello Dolly!, Miss Saigon and Oliver, to Gone With The Wind and The Witches Of Eastwick. However, Drury Lane is also just as famous for its alleged ghosts that walk the property, that have been sighted by both audience members and cast alike over its long history.
Such is the theatre’s reputation, that popular paranormal TV show Most Haunted once visited the site to record an episode on location. Filmed in June 2002, host Yvette Fielding along with producer Karl Beattie attempted to make contact with many of the spectres said to reside there.
WHO ARE THE SPOOKS?
One of the theatre’s most famous ghosts is known simply as the “Man in Grey” who is usually seen in the daytime, often spotted in the shadowy seats beyond the stage, watching actors rehearse. Unlike some ghostly sightings which can be an omen of bad luck, spotting the Man in Grey is seen as a good sign by actors and directors, because witnessing his apparition usually means the play will go on to become a success. It’s been reported that the Man in Grey has been spotted during rehearsals for Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Carousel and King and I.
The Man in Grey is said to be dressed in the style of 18th Century fashion, and is seen wearing a grey cape. Rather spookily, remains were found on the site. It was in the theatre’s renovations in the 1840s when a skeleton covered in grey rags was found walled up in a small, forgotten room. After examination, it was concluded that the man had been killed (stabbed with a knife), lending credence to the idea that the skeleton belonged to the infamous spectre who has been spotted ever since, within the theatre walls.
Amongst the other ghosts said to roam the stage and shadowy corridors of Drury Lane is Irish actor, Charles Macklin. Macklin was a respected and distinguished actor who, according to public records, “accidentally” murdered a fellow actor in 1735. Apparently, Macklin became involved in a heated argument over a wig during rehearsals for a show called Trick for Trick. The fight became physical, and resulted in the death of the other performer after Hacklin struck him with a stick (which inadvertently impaled his eye, reaching his brain). Perhaps it is this traumatic and dramatic event which keeps the apparent ghost of Macklin roaming his favourite location?
George Wild Galvin was a much-loved English stage actor and comedian in the late 1800s. To many, he was known as Dan Leno (his chosen stage name). He often performed at pantomimes at Drury Lane theatre. He was known to be quite a troubled individual, who eventually fell deeply into alcoholism. He died at the young age of 43 — and the cause was undetermined.
Perhaps one of Leno’s favourite places to tread the boards was Drury Lane, because his ghost is said to still remain there. In this instance, though, it is not the sight of his apparition which fuels the rumours of his haunting the building, but the unexpected and misplaced smell of strong lavender, which Leno often covered himself in the fragrance of. He has also been blamed for being the invisible, mischievous entity who has pushed actors off the stage before.
Joe Grimaldi was a prominent actor and dancer who had several leading parts on Drury Lane’s productions. One of his most significant roles was that of a clown in the famous Drury pantomimes, in the early 1880s. He was also a huge success in Robinson Crusoe, as well as taking a smaller part in the stage production of Hamlet. After he retired due to bad health (he was said to suffer from respiratory problems), he continued to receive a half-pay from Drury Lane, however once the payments stopped, he fell into poverty.
Grimaldi died in 1937 after being found dead in his bed by a housekeeper. Grimaldi’s spirit is said to regularly visit the theatre, watching over the productions on stage. He has been witnessed many times, allegedly, by both theatre staff, actors and audience members. Some cast members have reported that the actor’s ghost visits them on stage, helping them to perform well, and guiding them if they need improvement.
Drury Lane is known for its ghosts as much as its theatrical productions, and as time goes by, more legendary spirits will likely be added to its spectral guest list. It’ll be interesting to see who is spotted next…