Greasepaint Ghosts – Glasgow’s Haunted Theatres

Walking past a theatre in my home city, I can’t help but say to whoever is with me, “That’s haunted.” Of course, the usual response is a roll of the eyes, particularly from my husband, who’s probably been told The Theatre Royal has a ghost every time we go by. There are lots of theatres in Glasgow. In fact, the city was notorious for having the hardest audiences in the country to play for. If an act was disliked, it was made extremely clear. Unpopular artistes would be belted off stage with rotten fruit. And of course, it being an industrial city , with at one time the largest output of shipbuilding in the world, rivets from the shipyards would be included in the fruity barrage. Having seen an old riveter’s kit from the yard I live next to, I really wouldn’t want to be hit by one – they’re massive!  Glasgow’s theatres have quite endearing ghost tales, and there are many. Without further ado…

The Panopticon, Trongate – even without the ghosts, the story of this theatre is quite something. It was established in 1857, and is perhaps most famous as the place where Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame, had his first professional performance. Beginning as a regular music hall, it has a chequered history, becoming home to a freak show and wax works, under A E Pickard, who changed it’s name to the Panopticon. It also had a small zoo at one point, animals kept in incredibly cruel conditions.  It was a rather sleazy place in the late 1800s. All kinds passed through it’s doors. It’s seats were soaked in urine as there were no toilets provided – a reason Geoff Holder argues why, unlike other Glasgow theatres of the time, it never went on fire. Nice…

One of the acts held at the theatre in the late Victorian era included mock seances, inspired by spiritualism. ‘Ghosts’ would walk across the darkened stage, plants in the audience would ‘volunteer’ to be put in a trance in a spirit cabinet, while plates, balls and trumpets exploded from it. A ‘medium’ would go in a ‘trance’, producing ectoplasm, in reality material soaked in glowing phosphorous, regurgitated by the performer. Lovely…

It’s also known as The Britannia and The Britannia Panopticon. It closed down in 1938, when it was sold to a tailor. It’s theatre was boarded over and left, until it was discovered in 1999 by Judith Bowers, who played a huge part in bringing it back. What she found was the original stage and seating, in excellent, although fragile condition. Now it is referred to as “The oldest surviving music hall in the world.” Lots of detritus has been found littering the theatre, including old tickets, clay pipes  – and fake body parts dating back to the First World War! All these have been catalogued.
It really was a rather well kept secret in Argyle St. I’ve been in the area many times, and you wouldn’t have thought a theatre was hidden away at the top of the building, above an amusement arcade. To be honest, there are quite a lot of amazing hidden rooms and blasts from the past lurking in Glasgow’s old buildings. It does make you wonder how many there are still waiting to be rediscovered.
And, so you now ask – ghosts? Yes. The list includes a soldier on the balcony, a lady, the sound of children whistling and singing, a ‘man monkey’ (presumably from the zoo) and the sound of piano playing. Years ago, in a conversation about haunted theatres, the Panopticon came up. One night, an open evening was being held, with people being shown around. Someone had left something by the old  piano, only to find it had disappeared, which the guide put down to one of the ghosts. Apparently that sort of thing is quite common in the theatre….
Holder, Geoff (2009) The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow The History Press: Stroud

The Ramshorn Theatre, Ingram St –  Owned by the University of Strathclyde, the Ramshorn’s fate was in jeopardy as plans were afoot to close it as part of the University’s plan to ‘become a centre of technical excellence’, whatever that may mean. There has of course been a campaign to save it. The Ramshorn began life as a church, the building dating from 1826. This replaced an earlier church on the site.

The graveyard of the church is still there, and quite something to look at. Residents in there include Emile L’Angelier, victim in the infamous Madeleine Smith murder case of 1850s Glasgow. The  tombstones of the Foulis brothers, pioneering printers in Glasgow, can also be found on the pavement just outside the north end of the graveyard. This is because the graveyard itself was shrunk, but they didn’t move the bodies! You can also see the cages that were placed over the graves in the 18th and 19th centuries to prevent fresh corpses being dug up by bodysnatchers.  So, with this happening in the graveyard alone, no wonder it’s haunted!

The haunting of the Ramshorn includes the ghost of a woman called Edie, who has been encountered around the toilets, in what was originally the vestry of the church. There has also been the sound of footsteps reported as well as strange smells. Poltergeist related activity has also occurred.

Martin Coventry, Haunted Places of Scotland (2nd ed) Goblinshead (2009)
Ron Halliday, The A-Z of Paranormal Scotland,  B&W Publishing (2000)

Theatre Royal, Hope St – This is the oldest theatre in Glasgow, originally opened as the Royal Colosseum  and Opera house in 1867 and renamed the Theatre Royal in 1867. It has been home to Scottish Television, Scottish Opera and now Scottish Ballet. So quite an illustrious place. It was destroyed by a fire in 1875, when it was refurbished to how it looks today.

The ghost stories of this theatre are a little more concrete than the previous ones. There are a few tales to tell. Ghostly activity was first recorded in the upper circle with the sounds of moaning, the sense of some invisible presence and doors banging.  This is the doings of a ghost called ‘Nora’, The story goes that she was a cleaning lady who dreamed of being an actress. She annoyed the manager about it until she finally got an audition. Unfortunately she was meant to be so bad she was laughed off stage. Heartbroken, she committed suicide out of shame. It’s not known when the story first appeared. Although Geoff Holder attributes it’s origins to a play that transferred to the theatre from London in 1894 called A Life of Pleasure, whose main character is a woman called Norah Hanlan. She is seduced and abandoned, ending up as a prostitute. The cad who had his way with her then feels guilty and ends up committing suicide. Holder argues that the ghost of Nora in the theatre could be an example of reality and fiction meeting to spin a little piece of theatre folklore.  Although strange things still occur. In 2006 or 2007, a workman busy in a roof space was hit on the head with a flyer. The vestibule and hall are reported to have an unpleasant atmosphere by staff.

Peter Underwood, the prolific British ghost hunter also encountered poltergeist activity in the theatre during the 1970s when it was home to Scottish Television. And he’d only turned up to be interviewed as opposed to look into the ethereal residents – maybe they wanted to put on a show just for him!

Holder, Geoff (2009) The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow The History Press: Stroud,_Glasgow
Norman Adams, Haunted Scotland, Mainstream Publishing (1998)
Martin Coventry, Haunted Places of Scotland (2nd ed) Goblinshead (2009)

The Apollo/Green’s Playhouse, Renfield St– Demolished in 1987 and now the site of Cineworld, the Apollo is a legend in Glasgow music as the location of some fairly awesome gigs by the likes of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (a personal favourite).  It started life in the 1920s as Greens Playhouse, and became the Apollo during the 1970s.

This is probably one of the first ghost stories I ever heard, probably told to me by an enterprising family member aiming to scare me as a child, but only succeeding in helping to fuel a life long obsession. The gist of the story is that the Apollo was haunted by a workman who died in the construction of the building. Details on it are rather scanty, and are non existent on the internet. What I have been told is that the ghost was seen from the knees up and made regular appearances to performers. Reputedly he has been seen by the Big Yin himself, Billy Connolly, back in the 70s. Something I’ve often wondered about this is has the ghost been encountered in the replacement Cineworld? It’s curious as I’ve heard lots of tales of ghosts haunting buildings replacing the the ones they used to haunt. He’d not be short of a film to watch at any rate.


The Pavillion, Renfield St – To start off, the management of this theatre vehemently deny that it is haunted and won’t entertain enquiries of that nature. But that doesn’t stop the stories going around! The Pavillion opened in 1904, and has been pretty much the same ever since, apart from a few upgrades such as lighting and sound systems. It’s also one of the favourite places of Billy Connolly to play in Glasgow.

Stories are that there is the ghost of a woman to be encountered in one of the boxes.  Geoff Holder notes the experiences of psychic Tom Rannachan, who once performed in a show at the theatre. He was waiting to perform when a girl in a blue dress smiled at him as he stood in the corridor of dressing rooms. This was believed to be a girl who died in one of the dressing rooms when her dress went on fire. Rannachan also encountered the spirit of a grinning man leaning towards him from one of the boxes, who he later recognised as Tommy Morgan, a popular comedian whose favourite theatre was the Pavillion. His ashes were scattered on it’s roof following his death.  Activity includes a seat in Row F of one of the stalls being frequently found lowered, as if someone was sitting in it, and the sound of a piano being played when the auditorium was empty. The Ghost Club has noted this.

A few years ago, a member of staff reported their experiences on an internet forum. Showing a family to their seats, the staff member saw the lid of a bin go flying about 2 meters. They and another colleague also saw a door open by itself, followed by the apparition of a man holding his hand out to them. Suspicious, one followed him, only to see he had vanished and couldn’t be found anywhere.

Holder, Geoff (2009) The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow The History Press: Stroud
Martin Coventry, Haunted Places of Scotland (2nd ed) Goblinshead (2009)
Ghost Finders Scotland Forum

The Citizens Theatre, Gorbals St – Built in 1878, it became the Citizens in 1948 and is now one of the leading theatres in the country. The Citizens has played host to Stanley Baxter, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean and Robbie Coltrane.

The resident ghost is a green or a grey lady, rumoured to be the spirit of a ‘house mother’ or front of house manager who killed herself by jumping from the upper circle. This is supposed to have happened in the theatre’s early years. She gave a theatre carpenter quite a turn when he saw her late at night in the 1970s when he was working alone.

Martin Coventry, Haunted Places of Scotland (2nd ed) Goblinshead (2009)
Norman Adams, Haunted Scotland, Mainstream Publishing (1998)

The Tron, Trongate – This has an extremely colourful history. Originally, the site was that of a church, which was burnt down in the late 18th century, allegedly by the Hellfire Club. The church tower survived and can be seen today. All apparently involved in the fire high tailed it out of town the very next day! Other episodes in it’s history include it being used as a meeting hall, storage, execution place and as a police station.

The ghosts of two children have been reported. The box office, a man dressed to go horse riding has been encountered. Other phenomenon reported by staff include feelings of being watched, and one reported feeling what seemed to be an icy finger being drawn along his neck. The back two rows of the auditorium are particularly active. A member of staff saw an office door handle open on it’s own. Someone else saw a huge man trooping past the kitchen door. Ghosts have been seen in the Victorian bar, and Ghostly phenomenon includes a ‘threatening presence’ in the boiler room, described as a dark apparition. The breeze block wall down there is allegedly down to an architect having a toe curling time. It also happens to be the former crypt of the church…

Several groups, other than the Ghost Club have investigated the Tron, including Scottish Paranormal Investigations in July 2005. They contacted numerous spirits, including a small child of about 8 years old, a teenage girl with a missing hand, a town crier and a luvvie called Arthur. The Ghost Club investigation uncovered the sound of a child, a little girl and the name Robert Adam, which is linked to the church’s past. The fresh batteries of the group’s walkie talkies drained, and problems hit other pieces of equipment in the boiler room where staff had encountered an unsettling presence. A recorder picked up the sound of someone moving in the auditorium when it was empty. Enough for The Ghost Club to make a return visit in 2007 – when they again encountered whatever lurks in the boiler room. The psychic picked up on a ladder accident which the boiler room ghost caused. Eight months earlier, it was recorded in the Accident book that a workman was pushed off his ladder. By the ghost. More children’s noises were encountered and the psychic picked up on the presence of prisoners and a noose dating back to when the building housed a police station.

Guess I won’t be going to the bathroom alone at the Tron again..,.

Holder, Geoff (2009) The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow The History Press: Stroud
Martin Coventry, Haunted Places of Scotland (2nd ed) Goblinshead (2009)
Ghost Club Investigation report 2006
Ghost Club Investigation report 2007
Scottish Paranormal Investigations report


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