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Ghostly goings on at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

By Jessica Labhart | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

It may have just welcomed a production based on ghostly goings on, but Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre has had it's fair share of hauntings over the years.

The theatre, which saw horror tale The Woman in Black take to the stage last month, is known to have a number of its own spectral visitors.

Considering the fact that the Lichfield Street theatre has been going for 125 years, it's hardly surprising that there have been a few paranormal sightings reported.

The first of the ghosts is reputed to be Percy J Purdey, who managed the theatre for many years in the first half of the twentieth century.

He lived in a flat on the upper floors of the theatre, staying there after he retired.

Purdey had the reputation of being a man of habit and his ghost seems to have followed suit, walking around the building at the end of a busy day and, it is said, popping down to the old basement bar for a whisky each night.

Over the years, staff have reported footsteps, figures appearing in doorways, locked doors seeming to have unlocked themselves and items such as bar furniture and glasses having changed positions when the staff member’s back was turned.

The second ghost is known as the Grey Lady or the Lavender Lady, because of a scent of lavender which accompanies her.

She was an audience member and in fact in some stories she is alleged to be a former mayoress of the town, who unfortunately fell to her death from one of the boxes.

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The area of the dress circle closest to this and the box itself are the places where people have observed a sudden chill and the scent of lavender.

However, not everyone believes in the ghostly happenings. Indeed, those who are more sceptical look at the peculiar daily cycle a theatre goes through, from being quiet and empty first thing in the morning, to being full of a lively audience for the performance to being suddenly empty and silent again as the lights are turned off and the building shuts down.

Some sceptics believe that it is this daily cycle, with the changes in pace, temperatures, lighting and equipment in the the building that leads to the strange noises, doors slamming and other oddities cited as being a result of the ghosts.

Iain Watkins, associate director of information and data management at the theatre said: "Even though The Grand has been dramatically refurbished as part of a multi-million pound project, the Victorian auditorium remains at its heart.

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"There are still plenty of nooks and crannies where it is very easy to see, or rather imagine, a shadowy figure lurking."

Some examples of the ghostly goings on that have been recorded over the years include:

One half of comedy duo Little and Large Syd Little had a feeling that he was not alone one night when performing at the theatre in the 1970s.

Attending a party in the upstairs bar he was directed to the nearest toilet, probably the last place you would want to be haunted.

He said at the time: “It was all in darkness and I had a very cold feeling beside me. I had a very strong feeling that someone was there and I knew nothing about the ghost at that time. I don’t believe in that sort of thing…. But I was terrified. I couldn’t get out quick enough!”

Actor Victor Spinetti, who starred in several of the Beatles films and came to The Grand many times, recalled once walking into his L-shaped dressing room and starting a conversation with a woman he had glimpsed going into the corner and took to be a cleaner. Receiving no response, he looked again - to find nobody there at all.

There is a saying in theatre that 'the ghost walks on Friday'. Friday was traditionally payday for many years of the industry.

The implication of the saying is that staff may have spent some of their money at the local hostelry before attending work that evening!

The ghost would then be a handy excuse for anyone who had had one too many and made a mistake or left something in the wrong place.

Whatever you believe, it is easy to see how at the end of a long day hard-working staff might have their eyes play tricks on them as the lights go down.

Modern visitors to the Grand who have an open mind might note that many of the stories focus on the old Upper Circle Bar, which is now the newly refurbished Spotlight Lounge.

Anyone holding a function there might be advised to add an extra place for their buffet order – just in case.

Jessica Labhart

By Jessica Labhart
@JLabhart_star

Reporter for the Express & Star, primarily covering Wolverhampton.

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