Dec 16 1897: London’s Adelphi Theatre gets a Christmas ghost

A drawing of the Adelphi by English architect and novelist Samuel Beazley in 1840. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
A drawing of the Adelphi by English architect and novelist Samuel Beazley in 1840. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

A Victorian Christmas season was in high gear when William Terriss approached the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre for another performance of Secret Service. Good-looking, talented, and a regular on the West End circuit, Terriss was the toast of London. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to him, he had one bitter enemy: fellow actor Richard Prince, a washed-up alcoholic with unstable mental health who was out of work, and blamed Terriss for his woes. 

On the night of December 16th, Prince had been hiding across the street, waiting for Terriss to arrive. When he did, Prince raced across the road, wielding a deadly knife. 

“My God, I am stabbed!” Terriss cried out, collapsing at the stage entrance. “Arrest him!” Prince was indeed arrested and convicted and sent to Broadmoor, but he had achieved his wicked goal: As Terriss lay dying in an alley beside the theatre, with staff surrounding him and his love, actress Jessie Millward, by his side, he reportedly whispered into her ear: “I will come back.”

The first apparent sighting was in 1928: a young actress in her dressing room felt her couch begin to shake, then had her arms pinned down by an unseen force. She then heard two knocks. It turns out the room had previously belonged to Terriss, who would always knock twice before entering. That same evening, theatre-goers reported seeing a green mist on-stage.

Almost 30 years later, in 1955, a ticket collector at nearby Covent Garden tube station claims to have seen Terriss walking the train platform.  

His last reported sighting was in 1972. 

Maybe it’s the inherent spiritualism of Christmas, or maybe it’s the fact that the dark, cold midwinter is a perfect time to curl up by a toasty fire and tell tall tales; either way, there is no shortage of Christmas ghosts and deliciously creepy stories surrounding them. 

Here are few little gems on YouTube — in the spirit of the season.

The Dead Room – A Christmas Ghost Story   At just under 30 minutes, this is a bite-sized, wonderfully atmospheric little drama about an old voice actor for a radio horror series — it aired December 24, 2018 on the BBC. As one commenter aptly put it: “Brilliant; dark chocolate with a tip of poison and a hint of nostalgia that stirs the imagination…” (Quick trivia note: The Dead Room’s creator is Mark Gatiss, who not only stars as Mycroft Holmes on Sherlock, but is one of the show’s writers.)  (28 min)

A Ghost Story for Christmas   I somehow lucked out and found this awesome little playlist of a series, A Ghost Story for Christmas, that once again comes to us courtesy of the BBC’s Christmas programming. It aired from 1971 to 1978, and was later resurrected from 2005 to 2013. All episodes are under an hour, and they’re generally well-acted with lots of atmosphere — perfect for tucking into with a hot drink and the lights down low. (Note: You can probably find others in the series outside this playlist.)

“I will come back”: The murder of William Terriss   This is more audio than video, but oh, what delicious audio it is. It borders on campy, but pulls back just enough to be creepy. Turn down the lights, snuggle up and enjoy.  (7 min, 12 sec)

A Christmas Carol (with Alastair Sim)   I did a full happy dance when I tripped across this on YouTube a couple of weeks ago. It simply is not Christmas without A Christmas Carol, and it is not A Christmas Carol without Alastair Sim. To this day, the ominous rattling of Jacob Marley’s chains as he lumbers up the stairs to confront Scrooge in his library never ceases to give me chills. A heads-up that the audio is a tad wonky, but I always found the sound in this movie a bit tinny and scratchy, so a little more tinniness and scratchiness simply adds to the atmosphere.  (1 hr, 26 min)

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas! 

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