Haunted Drury Lane Theatre

by Walter Bissell

The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane is located in the Covent Garden district of London, England facing Catherine Street. The theatre you see here today is the most recent of four theatres built at the same location.

Burning Drury Lane Theatre, on FireDuring the early years of the English Restoration, Thomas Killigrew built what was called "Theatre Royal in Bridges Street." The theatre was opened in 1663 during the reign of King Charles II, who was a known lover of the theatre. The building was destroyed by fire in 1672. After the fire, Killigrew built a larger theatre at the same location, designed by Christopher Wren. The new theatre opened in 1674 and was now called the "Theatre Royal in Drury Lane." The building was demolished in 1791 to make way for an even larger theatre, which opened in 1794. On May 15, 1800, an assassination attempt was made on King George III while he was sitting in the royal box. It was reported that James Hadfield fired two shots from his pistol toward the King from the stage pit. The shots missed George by inches and Hadfield was quickly arrested. King George, apparently unshaken by the ordeal, gave orders that “the show must go on.” The beautiful theatre burned to the ground in 1809. The theatre was rebuilt, much as it appears today, and reopened in 1812.

The Most Haunted Theatre in All of England
Theatre Royal in Drury Lane is possibly the most haunted theatre in all of England. It claims to be the home of “a host of thespian ghosts.” The most famous of which is the “Man in Gray.” He appears in full costume wearing a tri-cornered hat, a powdered wig and a long gray cloak with the hilt of a sword protruding from it. Legend says that the “Man in Gray” is the ghost of a man whose skeletal remains were found in 1848. A knife had penetrated his long gray cloak and was still embedded in his rib cage. He always appears in the daytime to actors during rehearsals. He is thought to be “a recordings ghost,” as he is always seen in the same place, walking quietly in the same direction. His ghostly visitations are thought to be a good omen. It is said, that the plays performed after his appearance always do well at the box office.

More Ghost Sightings at the Theatre
Another ghost is also reported at the theatre. Described as “tall, thin, and ugly,” it is thought to be the ghost of a bad tempered actor named Charles Macklin. In 1735, Charles killed his fellow actor Thomas Hallam in an argument over a wig. "Goddamn you for a blackguard, scrub, rascal!" he shouted as he thrust his cane through Hallam’s left eye into his brain. Macklin appears backstage, wandering the corridor where the murder took place.

The ghost of comedian Joe Grimaldi is a helpful apparition that is often felt rather than seen. “He performed often at Drury Lane and gave his farewell performance there.” He is said to guide nervous actors gently about the stage. In 1948, a young American actress named Betty Jo Jones was performing badly during a run of “Oklahoma.” Then, as she describes it, she felt “invisible hands” guiding her into a different position on the stage. They continued to guide her around the stage during the rest of the performance. Her performance was later described as flawless. Also seen on stage during the extremely successful run were the ghosts of King Charles II and a crowd of his attendants. Another young actress named Doreen Duke felt the same invisible hands while trying out for a part in "The King and I." She got the part, hands down. She believed that the ghost of Joe Grimaldi was her helpful guide.

Haunted Drury Lane Theatre - LondonComedian Stanley Lupino was in his dressing room putting on his makeup. While looking in the mirror, along with his own reflection, he saw another face looking back at him. It was the face of Dan Leno, another comedian who had died recently. Lupino was told that he “was using Leno's favorite dressing room.”

A woman in the audience saw what must have been a ghost, intently watching the play that was being performed. She said, “It was a man wearing old-fashioned clothes sitting at the end of the row where I was sitting. When the lights went up, the man was gone.” Sometime later, when she was looking through a book on the history of the theatre she saw a picture of Charles Kean, an actor from the 19th century. She identified him as the ghost that she had seen earlier.

Come join hundreds of Theatre Lovers at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. It’s the place where actors, both past and present, take “Center Stage.”

Ghost Pictures Taken at the Drury Lane Theatre:
Drury Lane Ghost Picture (we're still looking for one - submit your ghost photo!)
Theater Ghosts Pictures?