Since the Winter Gardens opened in 1878, millions of people have crossed its threshold as guests, performers and speakers; dining and dancing in its sumptuous rooms and treading the boards of the Opera House theatre.
How many have left their spirits behind them? Find out on one of the historic venue’s chilling Ghost Hunts, which raise the curtain on the 176-year-old building’s spooky secrets. For rumour has it there are lots of spirits wandering through the extensive complex, including a man in a bowler hat.
The Opera House is reported to be one of the most haunted parts of the venue. It first opened in 1889, then was closed in 1910 for rebuilding works. In 1911 it was reopened only to be demolished 27 years later and rebuilt again. The third theatre, which we know and love today, opened in 1939 and features one of the largest stages in Europe, with a capacity for 2813 guests over three levels.
But not everything, or everyone disappeared when the previous versions were demolished – for example the old projectionist who is said to be lingering in the original projector room.
So those in search of phantoms of the Opera may well feel the hair on the back of their necks stand up during the backstage investigation, which also takes in the auditorium, the circle, and above and below the stage. Apparently stepping behind the velvet curtain may also reveal soldiers, the joker on the fly floor and something strange under the stage.
The Spanish Suite is another ghostly haunt and includes three main rooms which form the perfect backdrop for shadowy spirits of bygone days; the Baronial Hall, designed to resemble a medieval castle; the grand, period-style Renaissance Room; and the elaborate Art Deco Spanish Hall with its courtyard theme. Those who frequent the Spanish rooms have told stories about strange sights and sounds – and staff have even described hearing the footsteps of something invisible chasing them when they were locking up.
You have been warned.
Whilst we’re on the subject of dramatic presences, here are some chilling theatrical superstitions you should always take heed of:
Don’t wish an actor “good luck” before a performance
Well-wishers should instead tell them to “break a leg”. There are a few theories behind this, one of which is that once upon time only those who actually performed, and therefore crossed the edge of the stage known as the “leg” or “leg line”, got paid. So telling an understudy to "break a leg" meant they got the chance to appear on stage and earn some wages.
Always leave the “ghost light” on
A ghost light is a single lightbulb light left on in the centre of the stage when a theatre is left unoccupied. Obviously, this prevents accidents should anyone enter in the dark, but theatrical superstition maintains that all theatres have a ghost, and this light enables them to carry out their own other-worldly performances - thus preventing them from disrupting the real shows. The ghost light is also said to keep away the troublesome ghost of Thespis, ancient Greek’s first actor.
Don’t say “Macbeth”
Some believe that the witches’ chants in Shakespeare’s play are those of actual witchcraft, and that a 17th century curse is to blame for sudden, unexplained deaths during performances of Macbeth. To counter this, it should only ever be referred to as “The Scottish Play” and if anyone says the title out loud by mistake, they should leave the theatre, spin around three times, spit, and make an offensive Shakespearean remark.
Don’t bring peacock feathers
Thought to represent the “evil eye”, the presence of peacock feathers is thought to cause mishaps such as broken sets or forgotten lines.
Don't take mirrors on stage
Mirrors interfere with the lights which can cause all sorts of problems and accidents.
Sailors were often employed as backstage crew and communicated to each other by whistling. So anyone whistling who was NOT in the crew could potentially cause a disaster, such as the lowering of a heavy piece of set on to someone’s head by inadvertently whistling a wrong instruction.
Don’t light three candles together
Superstition has it that the person standing closest to the shortest candle will die first!
Ghost Hunts at the Winter Gardens, run by Supernatural Events, begin at 9pm and end at 2am and are suitable for 18-year-olds and above. Tickets are just £25 and must be booked in advance. Keep an eye on our What's On listings for tour dates - if you dare.