Every traveler loves a good haunted story when they visit a new destination and a visit to London won’t disappoint.
London may be best known for the royal family, double decker buses, and bangers and mash, but we all know that every city has a dark side.
A visit to London can be fascinating for many reasons. London has a history stretching back to Roman times. At its center stands the imposing Houses of Parliament, the iconic ‘Big Ben’ clock tower and Westminster Abbey. Across the Thames River, the London Eye observation wheel provides panoramic views of the the entire city.
Shadowy presences in the wings, glimpses of long-dead performers and ghosts have long plagued the Theatre Royal. London’s Theatre Royal at Drury Lane has a reputation as the world’s most haunted theatre: among its otherworldly denizens are the spirits of the Regency-era comedian Joseph Grimaldi and a fearsome figure known as the Man in Grey, who patrols the upper circle in a riding cloak and tricorne hat before de-materialising into the wall.
Theatre Royal, originally built in 1663 by Thomas Killigrew on Drury Lane, is the oldest London theatre still in operation. Nell Gwynne, actress and King Charles II’s mistress, made her stage debut there in 1665.
The building was destroyed by fire in 1809. Benjamin Wyatt had the current structure built in 1812.
As some believe Borley Rectory to be England’s most haunted house, there are those who consider London’s Theatre Royal to be the world’s most haunted performing arts center.
There is a tradition, on Twelfth Night, the theater’s performers receive a large cake, courtesy of Robert Baddeley, who died in 1794.
Ghosts at Drury Lane
The Man in Gray: This handsome ghost wears 18th-century knee breeches, a powdered wig, buckled shoes and a long gray cloak. He carries a tri-corn hat. His identity is unknown.
In the 1800s, workers found a hidden room with a walled up body and fragments of the previous century’s clothing. A dagger was in the skeletonís ribs. No record exists of a murder in the theater.
One legend is that the victim was a dandy killed in an altercation about an actress.
Appearances of the Man in Gray are usually 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., most often during rehearsals. At times, he has been seen attending matinees. He walks across the balcony and vanishes in a wall. Sighting this ghost is a good luck omen presaging success. An offer to release the ghost was refused by Theatre Royal’s management.
Charles Macklin: He was an Irish actor who, in a fit of temper accidentally killed performer Thomas Hallam during a scuffle about a wig. Macklin defended himself at trial and was found guilty of manslaughter.
The sentence was a fine and cold branding, a punishment of imprinting a letter on the convicted person’s thumb with a cold iron. His ghost haunts the halls backstage.
Dan Leno: The apparition of this comedic mime dancer, actor and singer who allegedly suffered from insanity haunts a dressing room.
King Charles II and attendants: These specters were seen in the audience of Oklahoma in 1948.
Freddy Fredericks: This chubby short ghost tends to the building and is generally seen at midnight. His image has been captured on film.
American actress Betty Jo Jonesí performances in Oklahoma were not going well. She felt something push her into a different position and lead her about on stage. After her acting improved, she felt an unseen hand pat her back.
Inexperienced actress Doreen Duke auditioned for The King and I. An invisible force helped her about the stage. She won the role. During rehearsals and on opening night, she felt the hands guiding her.
Some think these incidents were done by the spirit of Joe Grimaldi who died in 1837. He was a pantomime and harlequinade clown and singer who helped aspiring performers in life.
Paranormal Experts Capture Ghosts on Film
For actors, seeing a ghost in the theater is a sign of good fortune. Considering the history of London’s West End, it’s not surprising that stories have developed over the years of hauntings and spooky apparitions in many of the theaters located there.
Other Spooky Spots in London
Dominion Theatre – A terrible disaster occurred at the brewery that used to occupy the Dominion Theatre’s site. In 1814, 3,550 barrels of beer burst and caused a wave of beer that swept through the area, flattening buildings and killing eight people including teenage brewery worker Eleanor Cooper. Theater patrons claim to hear a child giggling and some have even caught her on camera.
Adelphi Theatre – Shakespearean actor William Terriss was murdered at the Adelphi’s stage door in 1897 by a former friend and fellow actor. He died in the arms of his leading lady and lover, who he vowed to visit after his death. He is said to knock on her dressing room door to this day.
Theatre Royal Haymarket – Theatre Royal Haymarket has a friendly ghost, former manager John Baldwin Buckstone. Buckstone wrote and directed hundreds of plays at the theatre in the 1800s. He’s been spotted by a number of actors including Dame Judi Dench and Sir Patrick Stewart, who claimed he wore a beige coat and twill trousers.
Her Majesty’s Theatre – Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree was an actor and manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre, funding its rebuild in 1899. His favorite place to watch performances was said to be the top box on stage right. Audience members sitting in the top box have complained of sudden temperature drops and the door swinging open.
On your next visit to London, be sure to check out some of the most haunted theaters!