Haunted Manchester: The Grey Lady at the Palace Theatre

There's actually supposedly a few different manifestations at the city's theatre...

Superstition and the supernatural strangely go hand-in-hand with acting and performers, so it will probably come as no surprise to you to hear that Manchester’s Palace Theatre is actually home to a rather ghastly manifestation known as ‘The Grey Lady’.

The story of The Grey Lady is rather simple. A cleaner died in the building “many years ago” and now can be seen drifting in the halls and on stage, sometimes in a grey mist.

Reports claim that guests have seen the figure sitting in the corner of the ladies toilets before vanishing – and, essentially, that’s it. Ghost story done.

I’m obviously not going to leave it there – and so have decided to delve in deeper into the history of the building and see whether there’s even a tiny ounce of truth to any of these claims.

The first obvious question arises when we look at the death of this cleaner – and, perhaps quite obviously, I’ve been unable to find ANY report of the death of a cleaner inside the Palace Theatre throughout its 140 year history.

The theatre itself was actually originally known as the Grand Old Lady of Oxford Street when it opened in May of 1891, but was re-designed and improved just 5 years later by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham into the ‘Palace of Varieties‘.

Palace of Varieties, 1903

The stage here has hosted pretty much all of the great names from the Music Hall era, including Charlie Chaplin, Harry Lauder, Lillie Langstry, Vesta Tilley and in 1913 – Harry Houdini himself.

It was hit by a bomb during the Manchester Blitz in 1940 and much of its original Victorian features were destroyed – leaving a rather bland version of its former glory that we see today. From what I have gleamed, nobody died in the building during this bombing either.

So I’m not sure where this death of a cleaner is supposed to come from. I highly doubt someone died in the theatre and they swept it under the rug – there must be some kind of evidence somewhere about such an event.

Manchester Archives and Local Studies

Another story revolves around the wife of a previous Music Director, again – very vague on names or dates or anything – who was tragically killed outside the venue. It’s said that her spirit it still seen sometimes wandering around the theatre, holding his beer during intervals.

I’ll just stop that there. “Holding his beer”? So this must be a rather recent event surely, considering the fact that for the first 40 years or so that the theatre was open, it was unable to get an alcohol licence. So this means 20th Century, and news of someone dying outside a theatre is pretty big – this isn’t Gotham City.

Finally, and this is probably the most vague one of all, staff have told stories of seeing spectators “from the theatre’s history” sat in the boxes, or lingering around in back stairwells leading to private areas.

Again, there’s not much detail on these sightings either. Were these old guests dressed like Victorians? Or were they wearing shellsuits from the 80s, spirits eternally wandering the halls of the venue after watching Jesus Christ Superstar in 1984?

Beauty and the Beast is currently on at the Palace

I’m getting the impression that it’s all a load of rubbish – because unlike many of the ghost stories we hear elsewhere, there’s absolutely ZERO details on the manifestations themselves. If there’s a dead cleaner, who was she? What year did she die? HOW did she die?

Alas, there is nothing – just rumours amongst staff and in a couple of badly written books about the history of theatres in the city. I suspect that these staff members simply saw an extra or understudy on stage – surrounded by mist from a fog machine – practicing their lines and minding their own business.

If anyone out there has any more information, proof or better yet – a couple of videos of The Grey Lady – send them over and I’ll be more than happy to do some more investigating. Before then though, I’m calling this a big fat load of BLARNEY.

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Head here for showings at the Palace Theatre, where you may (or most likely may not) see The Grey Lady during the interval…

What’s On at Palace Theatre

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