The Haunted Bingo Hall - The Theatre Royal Margate
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Science and the Spook – George Owen and Victor Sims
THE Theatre Royal (Addington Street) was opened in 1874 and is about the size of the Strand Theatre, holding slightly under 2,000 persons. The theatre had a famous manager, Miss Sarah Thorne, who guided its fortunes till about 1894. She had the reputation of being something of a martinet, but she had also a shrewd eye for talent and gave every encouragement to unknown players. Many famous actors were products of her training school.
Since its great days, the building has undergone numerous vicissitudes, being used as a furniture store, then reopened as a theatre in 1930. Subsequently it has been in turn a cinema, a theatre, and a bingo hall. (Bingo is a legalized and popular form of gambling, once called "housey-housey".)
The theatre seems to have some reputation for being haunted. According to one of the local newspapers several people have claimed to see the ghost of Sarah Thorne on occasions since 1918. Fred Archer in his recent book, describes the theatre as the scene of "the most diverse psychic happenings", including "an orange-coloured ball of light", and a scream which "starts backstage and seems to travel across the stage and finally exits through the stage door".
He refers also to a ghost in one of the boxes "who draws back the curtains if they are closed" (said to have been witnessed by Macqueen Pope). A story relates this ghost to an actor who committed suicide by throwing himself from the box to the orchestra pit early in the nineteenth century.
With the permission of the proprietor, Mr Harry Jacobs, we visited the theatre on 22 July 1966 and interviewed Mr Alfred Charles Tanner (aged 51), a painter and decorator at Margate.
In January 1966 he agreed to work at night in order to repaint the interior of the theatre, so that redecoration would cause no interruption to the daytime bingo sessions. He had come only recently to Margate and says he knew nothing about the theatre's reputation.
On the first night (Sunday, 23 January) he painted from 11.30 p.m. until 3.30 a.m. He then went to sleep on the floor, the night passing uneventfully. When he came to start work on the Monday night the theatre was in darkness. He heard a sound coming from the stage which seemed as of someone whispering. He thought it might possibly be stray cats that had found their way in to the theatre. But when he lit matches and walked over to the stage he saw no intruder, human or animal. He then put on the lights and started painting near one of the two doors at the back of the pit.
He heard numerous creaks as of old timbers, and thought this natural enough. But later he heard a sound which gave him an "eerie feeling". He says he had the reaction often described as the hair rising on the back of the head and neck. (He likened his sensations to those experienced on night patrol with the Eighth Army in Egypt. The patrol was moving with great circumspection in complete darkness, when he had a sudden feeling that someone was near and watching him. A moment later they were being fired on.)
The sound in question consisted of creakings of the floor-boards and footfalls progressing regularly as if someone walked from a point just in front of the stage and came to a halt just behind him. Mr Tanner turned round but saw no one anywhere in the fully lighted auditorium. He went to all the doors and verified that they were still locked, as they had been when he started work.
"Suddenly," he said, "the door of the box office banged violently. This was not due to anyone using it because it is entirely within the theatre."
He resumed painting hoping that he had just imagined these things, when the footsteps started again. They came up behind him. He turned, and again there was nothing visible. Then came a startling-and extremely heavy-thump on the floor between the front row of seats and the stage, as though a heavy object had fallen from high up. Mr Tanner looked across at the spot.
"I swear I saw dust rising," he said, "just as it would if a real object had hit the carpet."
But no object was visible.
On the third night (Tuesday) he started work as usual about 11.30 p.m. and checked that all was fast and secure from interlopers. He had the auditorium fully lighted, but put no stage lights on. The stage was therefore lit by light diffused from the auditorium but not brightly illuminated. While painting near one of the exits he happened to glance across at the stage, and was very surprised.
Moving across the stage from left to right, at a height of about five feet from the boards, was a semi-transparent globular object measuring about ten inches across. Its only discernible features were two dim places where eyes would be if it were a face. It was surrounded with a kind of fuzzy halo, which also descended at the sides to about where the shoulders would be if it had possessed a body.
This apparition travelled slowly half-way across the stage and then vanished abruptly. Shortly afterwards Mr Tanner looked across to the second exit door leading from the auditorium into the foyer. Preparatory to painting, its curtains had been rolled up and deposited on the ledge over the lintel. One of these curtains began to move. It slowly unrolled itself and descended in stages--just as it would have done if being lowered by a real hand doing it in a leisurely way.
The next night (Wednesday, 26 January) a volunteer, Mr Lawrence Rodgers, had been found to stay in the theatre with Mr Tanner. Part of the way through the night there were whispering noises from the stage, but Mr Rodgers, who was very sceptical concerning the "haunting", maintained that it was only the wind. But shortly after, they both heard a terrific bang from the front row of the dress circle. They were both startled and ran out to the entrance lobby. But Mr Tanner then paused and proposed that they should investigate. However Mr Rodgers would not stay. Instead he ran to the police station. The Margate police confirmed, when we enquired of them, that police officers returned in force to the theatre with Mr Rodgers and spent several hours unsuccessfully looking for traces of marauders or breaking-in………………….
Margate is not far from Canterbury which was, in 1382, the site of one of the most powerful earthquake shocks experienced in the British Isles. It is also near the English Channel, and the Channel coast is the most seismically active region in Britain being second only to Perthshire……
…………… But we could argue equal having in mind the fact that Mr Tanner seems not to display physical mediumship anywhere else, that the Theatre itself plays some part, and is "haunted" at least to the degree that it can in conjunction with persons of some "mediumistic faculty" produce physical phenomena and apparitions……………
…………. A gentleman wrote from Broadstairs regarding an experience of his own at the Theatre Royal. ‘On the only occasion that I visited it when it was a theatre, I sat in the third row on the right hand side and throughout a most unusual and most unpleasant smell assailed my nostrils. It was indescribable and sickened me. Last year I smelled this particular odour once more when I was present at the opening of a grave.’