A close examination of the mysterious goings on in some of the Fylde coast’s most haunted buildings
Spooky tales are inescapable during the Halloween period.
But in Blackpool they are the basis for a niche corner of the town’s leisure economy, catering for everyone from families looking for fun to serious ghost hunters.
Tours of ‘haunted’ buildings like the Grand Theatre are well-established.
The late Victorian theatre is supposedly haunted by Charlie, who has been identified as the spirit of an audience member who threw himself to his death from the theatre balcony after being spurned by an actress.
Charlie has been described as a cheeky ghost who plays pranks on performers.
In the 1980s, a pantomime director told how he was sat in the upper circle of the theatre, close to where Charlie is thought to have jumped, when his shoulder was repeatedly tapped. Nobody else was around.
The theatre is also said to be home to the spirits of a former manager, Thomas Sargentson, who apparently keeps a close eye on current staff, and a recent employee who is thought to be inhabiting the media room.
Paranormal researchers have suggested the heightened spiritual activity is due to a ‘paranormal portal’ above the stage.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is said to be haunted by several ghosts, including Cloggy, a former maintenance worker known for his clogs who died in 1970 and who now apparently haunts the Ghost Train.
People on the ride have complained of being intrusively grabbed – only to be told by staff that this was not part of the attraction.
The ice rink is said to be inhabited by a spooky skater and backstage ghosts. The sound of someone skating on the ice has been heard after the venue has closed for the night. And a Karl Marx lookalike allegedly haunts the former Star Pub, now the Apple and Parrot.
Staff at the Blackpool Illuminations depot on Rigby Road have reported sightings of ghosts, unexplained noises and a sensation of cold air. One medium identified a restless spirit as Ted, who died in a drowning accident.
Current and former pubs and hotels have also reported ghostly tales. Priests, smugglers and members of the aristocracy reportedly haunt The Foxhall building on the promenade – now home to Reflex and Foxhalls. Built in the 17th century, priests fled to the isolated building, also previously a house and hotel, for refuge.
Workmen renovating Frenchman’s Cove on King Street, formerly Duckworth’s tobacco warehouse and now a bar, told how they felt they were being watched and felt something pass by them while working in the cellar. The ghost is supposedly the spirit of a girl called Laura Schoons, who came from Scarborough.
Guests at the Old Coach House hotel at South Shore, previously a vicarage, have reported a man wearing a cap and black cloak staring at them while eating.
It is claimed that the Raikes Hall pub on Leamington Road, previously a house and a convent, is haunted by a woman who drowned.
In 1936 the Gazette reported how Layton cabby Harry Hodges encountered the floating green face of an old man “with sunken eyes, long dark hair, a Punch-like nose and prominent chin” at the gates of Carleton Cemetery. His fare, a young woman, fled the cab.
It’s not just buildings in Blackpool which are said to be populated by other-worldly inhabitants. A figure, believed to be the ghost of a former caretaker, has been seen walking through the walls of the Marine Hall on the Esplanade in Fleetwood. Pilling Hall, Bourne Hall in Thornton and Mains Hall in Singleton all have tales of ghosts.
A highway robber called Murph, who fled to the area from London, is said to roam around the Eagle and Child at Weeton after midnight.
And the owners of the Grapevine, on Market Square in Poulton, have reported noises coming from the cellar.
It is said that one man hanged himself from beams above the bar around 200 years ago.
Paranormal phenomena are not confined to buildings.
Over the centuries, shoreline erosion has consigned coastal villages to the waves, and that is the fate said to have swallowed up the village of Kilgrimol, somewhere off the Blackpool coast, during the Dark Ages.
Ghostly lights have been reported shimmering on the horizon, as well as the sound of melancholy sea shanties across the water.
Carl Carrington, built heritage manager at Blackpool Council, says the closest he came to a “spooky moment” was the discovery of the fish tail coffin of a young woman during excavations for the St John’s Square development. The woman was re-buried at Layton Cemetery.
“Stories are often connected to specific buildings and people who believe in ghosts therefore take an interest in those buildings,” he says.
“I guess ghost stories add to the appeal of these buildings for some people.
“Buildings in Blackpool are relatively recent ones. The oldest are the Blowing Sands and Fishers Lane cottages which date to the late 1700s and the bulk are from 1870 onwards.
“That’s not to say the area has not had its fair share of disasters, shipwrecks and fires, however.
“But the age of our buildings means if we get ghosts reported they are most likely to be from the Victorian era.”
Stephen Mercer, whose company Supernatural Events offers ghost tours and hunts, of buildings including Blackpool North Pier Theatre, The Grand and the Winter Gardens, says: “Any large town or city with heritage buildings and attractions like theatres has stories revolving around them.
“But Blackpool does seem to have quite a few buildings with tales of ghostly sightings and sounds which cannot be explained.
“Some people just sense that there is a ghost or spirit around them while others have actually taken photos of shadows of figures and things like orbs or mists which they believe may be the manifestation of a spirit.
“Until you go and investigate when nobody is around and they are completely quiet you can never be sure about a story.
“In some cases, noises could be down to things like old buildings cooling down at night, cracks in windows or tiles slipping.
“I do think a lot of people want to believe in ghosts.”
Stephen, 46, from Blackpool, says he believes TV ghost hunting shows like Most Haunted, which came to the resort in 2002, have led to a surge in interest in all things supernatural in recent years.
He remains tight-lipped about whether he believes in ghosts or not, and adds that he prefers to let people on his tours make their own minds up.
But he admits he himself has witnessed strange goings on in Blackpool. “I was sat on a bench in Stanley Park around five years ago and there was an elderly couple with a dog on the next bench along,” he says.
“Their dog kept staring at my bench and barking.
“When I got up and moved past them it continued barking at the bench even though there was nobody there.
“It was straining at its lead to get away from the couple and when it managed to do so it sat in front of the bench and stared upwards with its ears pricked up and head to one side.
“It was making a whining noise and then it started to walk away from the bench as if it was walking with someone.
“The owners called it and it sat down and was whining as if it was crying after someone who was walking away from it.
“We then saw what looked like a shadow – a figure but not a full person – walking away.
“It was a bit strange, although not frightening.
“People do say animals have a sixth sense.”