This story started out for me in Norman Adams’ Haunted Scotland – one day in 1989 when a porter in the Pearce Lodge saw a little old lady in grey come to the door. He went to offer her assistance, opened the door…and she was gone. At the time I read this book, I was still a student at the University of Glasgow and instantly became intrigued. Not least because I was about to begin my undergraduate dissertation on ghosts, and here was one on my doorstep, so to speak.
To clarify, the Pearce Lodge, was the original entrance to the University when it was originally sited in the East End of the city. The University moved to it’s present site, Gilmorehill, in 1868, and the Pearce Lodge was taken down and rebuilt on it’s present site. It has had many uses over the years and at present is used as offices. It is quite a lovely edifice to behold when you’re haring off to a class nearby.
Anyway, I decided to look into the story of the Grey Lady and asked the University porters who gave me a wealth of leads to chase up. The story grew legs, so to speak. It turned out not to be one ghost, but quite a few. I certainly made the right choice of university to study at! After hearing the stories of some of the staff, I came to the conclusion that the Grey Lady didn’t ‘reside’ near the Pearce Lodge after all. It had some of it’s own ethereal residents. I went in and spoke to the staff in the Pearce Lodge. They hadn’t had any experiences of their own, so to speak, but had heard plenty of stories. Security on night shift had seen a figure stand in the window of one of the turrets, which housed a stairwell.
There was also the story of a student who had taken a dare to spent the night locked up in the top room after hearing that the Lodge was haunted, much to the slight hesitation of security. The student was duly locked in, but didn’t last the night and had to be rescued after yelling to be let out. Apparently when in the room, books had come flying off the shelves of their own accord. This was more than the Dutch courage offered by the Beer Bar of the Glasgow University Student Union (the men’s union) could cater for. I believe the hapless victim got a bit of stick from his friends.
And the Grey Lady? Well, she chooses to walk the Cloisters of the Gilbert Scott Building, and also the Lion and the Unicorn Staircase, which are at the end of a passage way that begins from a door way in the Cloisters.
Security doing the rounds at night have seen a young girl wander this area in late hours. Thinking it was a student who was lost, (and who should be in bed/studying/in one of the Union bars – delete as applicable!), she has been approached, only to disappear. One guard checked underneath desks that are stored in the Cloisters during exams, thinking she might have been hiding there, but nothing. The guard said there was no way she could have disappeared in that time. She has also been seen on the Lion and Unicorn Staircase, a feature of the old University buildings that was brought along in the move of 1868.
Inspired by these stories, I asked permission from security to have a look around that area of campus, the gorgeously gothic Gilbert Scott Building at night when the Grey Lady was most commonly sighted. So accompanied by a friend, I spent 3 hours from midnight in the chilly Glasgow autumn having a look for her. It was to no avail. Though it is safe to say I found my familiar campus very creepy in the dead of night! Further stories around the Grey Lady place her as a young student who died in the last few decades, perhaps the 1920’s – 40’s, as she has been described as wearing a coat of that era, which was grey. The lady in the original story of Norman Adam’s book had her as elderly, so two separate ghosts? There is also a photograph to be found allegedly in the University archives taken for the University magazine. In it was the slightly unexpected figure in a stovepipe hat (like a top hat) – unexpected as the person wasn’t there at the time the photo was taken. And stove pipe hats weren’t the in fashion by this point. So a third ghost?
The Grey Lady story has a slightly special ending for me personally. When I sat my final exams, my first one was in a small hall just off the passageway leading to the Lion and Unicorn Staircase. I couldn’t help but think of her when going in to sit the paper. It was also the only one I got an A in ( I passed with B’s and one C in the others, earning a 2:1), so perhaps in a small way she brought me luck!
In tracking down the Grey Lady, I also came across some other rumours of ghosts in the University. One is located in the University Chapel. The story goes that about 1982, the Chapel was undergoing some maintenance. One young work man was working near the ceiling on scaffolding, when he slipped and fell. He sadly died shortly after. A pew, I was told, still has a dent from the accident. One lunch time, a secretary sat on a bench in the Cloisters to have her sandwiches. She heard a screaming come from inside the Chapel and ran in. Yet it was empty.
Another ghost is reputed to haunt the relatively more modern Boyd Orr Building across the campus. This is a lovely 1960s edifice (it’s ugly, but it’s ours I say as alumni!) which is primarily a science building, but one where I took Anthropology of Religion in my Junior Honours year, and I have fond memories of it. The building is often used in the evening for events, including meetings of the Scottish Society of Psychical Research every month. However, when people have gone home, the janitors have found the lifts take on a life of their own and frequently go up and down of their own accord. The building and the lifts are usually empty on investigation. From my own experience,the lifts are actually quite scary during the day on the way to lectures as they are getting on a bit and are quite creaky – though they have nothing on their counterpart in the Adam Smith Building!
The story goes that the Boyd Orr is haunted by a janitor who committed suicide some time in the 1970s and comes back to carry on his job…
A final story from my Alma Mater concerns the Queen Margaret Union, or the QMU as it’s called on campus . To explain, Glasgow University originally had a men’s union (the Glasgow University Union, or GUU, mentioned above) and the women’s union, which was the QMU. The QMU was the first to allow both sexes to become members in 1979. The GUU followed suit a few years later, albeit grudgingly. My mother-in-law can tell a few tales of that struggle as she was a student then! I was a QM member throughout my undergrad years and am now a life long member, which allows me to feel very old whenever I drop by these days. Anyway, the story is that Qudos section of the QMU was haunted, something lurking in the lighting gantry. Qudos is on the ground floor and is primarily used for live shows and disco nights, such as Cheesy Pop (fond, fond memories!). This was making cleaners nervous about going in to work. On asking the porter Michael, who has been in service at the QM for about 3 decades, he gave a hearty guffaw and said someone had made up the story a long time ago as a joke!
However, there is one story that can’t be ruled out so easily in the QMU. On the first floor is Jim’s Bar, a place I and my now husband got to know very, very well as students – him probably slightly more than me! The bar was renamed in memory of a member of staff who died. Some say he can still be found keeping an eye on things. Jim’s Bar I have always found to have a wonderful atmosphere and I have always enjoyed going to it. So it’s a nice thought…