Many of the theatres in London’s famous West End are well known to be haunted and the subject of many a ghost story about the city. Who knows whether actors are more prone to haunting or being haunted than most but there are several well-known theatres that hold their own ghostly tale. This particular tale focuses around the famous Adelphi theatre. It is said that since the brutal murder of the theatre’s actor-manager, William Terris, all the way back in 1897, the theatre and the surrounding area have been haunted. Another one of the London ghosts to roam these ancient streets, and one with a particularly grisly history behind it.
At the beginning of his life, William Terris was sheep farmer from the Falkland Islands who dabbled in a number of occupations from trading to sailing until he came to London to become an actor. He achieved great success, even becoming the actor-manager for the Adelphi Theatre. All of this culminated in him performing the main part in the popular thriller ‘Secret Service’. The major problem that Terris had was a minor actor by the name of Richard Prince. Prince was wildly jealous of Terris and was convinced that he could play the lead better, if only Terris was no longer in the picture. So Prince set about playing out his own version of Macbeth and planning the downfall of the man who stood in the way of his success.
On the 16th of December, 1897, Terris was making his way down Maiden Lane round the back of the theatre, to the private stage door he would use every night. He had just had a meal with friends and was preparing for the performance ahead when Prince struck. He stabbed Terris with a knife he’d bought only that afternoon and made a run for it, leaving the forty-nine year old actor bleeding to death in the doorway. Terris was brought inside and died twenty minutes later being cradled by his friend and leading lady, Jessie Milward. His dying words were reported as “I will be back.”
Terris’ son-in-law was called to identify Prince who had been picked up by the Bow Street police and was now ranting and raving like a mad man. After he had done the evil deed he returned to his now deceased father-in-law and said in that moment, as he knelt by the corpse, he heard a voice in his ear saying, “Are there men living such fools as to think there’s no hereafter?” It was in that moment that he knew he would see Terris again one day. As for the murderer, Prince was convicted but declared mad and went to live out the rest of his days in Broadmoor prison for the criminally insane. He finally died in 1937 at the age of seventy-one. This should have been the end of the matter, but Terris clearly wasn’t finished with his acting career.
Soon after the brutal murder of Terris the theatre came to life with stories of strange tapping sounds and noises that nobody could quite explain. Some of the actors and stage hands became convinced that they could feel a presence nearby when they were alone, or eyes that would always watch them. This mostly happened around the two main dressing rooms, where Terris and his leading lady would prepare themselves for the performance ahead. In 1957 a visitor to London and the theatre said that they were strolling down Maiden Lane one evening when they bumped into the solid figure of a middle-aged man in old-fashioned clothing who disappeared as soon as he reached the private theatre door where Terris had been attacked.
The most famous paranormal occurrence at the Adelphi theatre happened in 1928. A musical comedy actress now only known as June had been performing a long run of her most recent show when she was confronted with the ghost of William Terris. Relaxing in her dressing room, the one reserved for the leading lady of the time, she had just performed the matinee and was waiting for the evening show. A light meal and a nap was her usual routine but today was a little different. She was rudely awoken by the shuddering of her couch, as if it were being kicked from below. Suddenly a terrifying green light appeared in front of her dressing table; she approached it and reached out but felt pressure on her arm, welts appearing as if someone was gripping her. Then there were two taps from behind the mirror and the light disappeared. When June’s dresser turned up she believed her, saying that whenever June went on stage she often heard tapping on the door. It was said that Terris would often tap on that dressing room door with his cane when he arrived to let his leading lady know that he was there. Psychic investigator, Henry Price, was called to perform a séance but nothing of interest was reported. Many claimed that June had come up with the story as a publicity stunt, but years later she swore blind that she had seen the light and been accosted by the spirit.
The last known sighting of the Adelphi’s resident ghost occurred in 1962. During a performance the stage went dark and two stage hands claim they also saw the mysterious green light hovering in the air. One of them said that he felt a sudden and inexplicable cold and both could sense a presence that wouldn’t leave them. When they asked to be moved to different duties, the manager of the theatre told them that it had probably just been William Terris, and that he was completely harmless. After that both stage hands agreed to stay where they were but never saw anything like it again.
So next time you have cause to visit the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand, or take a walk down Maiden Lane, make sure to watch out for the ghostly apparition of William Terris. Yet another of the London ghosts.
If you wish to join us for more ghostly tales of London, and see the locations where they are said to lurk, then join us on one of our fantastic Haunted London Ghost Tours!