Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Birkdale Palace Hotel

The Birkdale Palace Hotel, in Southport, Merseyside, England, was opened in 1866, and was a huge building by the standards of the day, boasting 75 bedrooms and a magnificent reception area. Occupying a 20-acre parcel of land, the hotel was the model of a mid-19th century luxury hotel. In 1880, the building was modified and refurbished, and the grounds reduced to five acres.

Image from www.archiseek.com

During the 1880s, further modifications included the installation of baths (complete with pipes to bring in salt water from the ocean - bringing in "special" water, weather salt water or mineral water or some other such type, was a common practice in the rather highly pseudo-scientific health spas of the late 19th century), elevators, and electric lights. In 1884, a railway station was built adjacent to the hotel, which remained open until 1952. In the 1920s (some sources say as early as 1919, which seems somewhat unlikely though not impossible), flights from Blackpool began landing at the local airfield.

During the 1940s, the Red Cross converted it into a rest home for U.S. Army Airmen. It went back into use as a hotel in 1945.

It closed as a hotel in 1967, but was used as a filming location for What's Good for the Goose and The Haunted House of Horror (subtle title, there) in 1968 and 1969. The hotel was demolished later that year, though the coach house had since become the Fishermen's Rest pub and remained standing and open. A housing estate now sits on the ground that once were home to the hotel.

The pub itself has a bit of history. A group of 14 lifeboatmen drowned while trying to save other people in 1886, and their bodies were brought to the pub and laid out until more permanent arrangement could be made. Now, 14 brass mermaids on the bar commemorate them, as does the arrangement of some of the bar furniture.

The popular stories about the hotel claim that hauntings began almost immediately after construction (though whether or not these stories date to that time or are later inventions in unclear), when the original architect arrived to find that the hotel had been built the wrong way around (facing away from, rather than towards, the ocean), and climbing to the roof to commit suicide by leaping off. His ghost was said to be seen riding the elevators (one would assume after they were installed, 15 years after the suicide, probably because they were novel and kinda' nifty to a bored ghost) and wandering the second floor. During the 1969 demolition, the construction crew allegedly heard voices and other strange noises coming from the elevator shaft, and reported that the elevators continued to move on their own accord even after their power had been cut. When the demolition crew finally cut the elevator's cables, they reportedly had to hammer at the elevator to get it to drop.

This same construction crew reportedly found themselves locked into their hotel rooms on several occasions (what, the rooms lock from the outside?), strange noises would wake them up at night, shouting and fighting could be heard in unoccupied parts of the hotel, and that they would often hear the clack of women's heels walking on the non-carpeted floors, and the voices of people in the lobbies. Though, they were quick to admit, that these latter sounds might have been from young unmarried couples who would sometimes sneak into the hotel to use the empty rooms for a tryst.

It is also alleged that in 1961 a 6-year old Southport girls' body was found underneath one of the hotel beds, killed by a hotel porter, and that at some other point in the 1950s or 60s, two sisters culminated a suicide pact in one of the hotel's rooms. While these rumors are repeated in the talk of ghost stories, there is little information regarding ghosts directly associated with them.

The Fisherman's Rest, the former coach-house-turned-pub, is also said to be haunted. The hostelry is said to be haunted by the spirit of a little girl, though how she makes herself known is not clear, and most of the haunting of the pub is said to be of the "I felt like something was watching me" variety, with no actual physical manifestations.

Commentary: This is an interesting one in that many of the stories of the hauntings persist well after the hotel was torn down. Whether or not these stories pre-date the demolition of the hotel, I do not know, but I will try to find out and will update this entry if I do. Regardless, unlike many a haunted hotel story, this one is not being kept alive by hoteliers hoping to make money off of the deal.

The allegedly earliest ghost story, that of the architect, is pretty clearly false. The architect did not kill himself, but dies of a lung disease (likely tuberculosis) several years after the construction of the hotel. What's more, there is no evidence that the hotel was constructed facing the wrong way around - and with a building project such as this, it stretches credulity that A) it would be built the wrong way around (the foundation engineering, if nothing else, would likely prevent this), or B) that such an occurrence wouldn't leave a distinctive paper trail. Remember, this is the 19th century, when bureaucratic paper trails were really getting their steam up.

It is also interesting that the ghost stories for this place do not appear to be particularly well known. Though the sources state that they are a strong part of local folklore, and I have no reason to believe that they are not, the stories are not well represented on line, or (as far as I have been able to tell) in print. I have found references to it on Wikipedia, a historic architecture site, and a smattering of other sites, all of which appear to have liberally cut-and-pasted from each other. This is another case where it appears that plagiarism and laziness are slowing the evolution of the ghost story.

Sources: www.archiseek.com, Wikipedia Bookrags.com, UFO Digest (UFO Digest has ghost stories?)


  1. I live a 15-minute train ride from Southport and have never heard of any of these stories!

    The elevator's an interesting one though - I have a book about ghosts from the 1970s which tells the exact same story, only the hotel's in Wales. You can read that story here:


  2. That is excellent! There really needs to be more elevator ghost stories, when you get down to it.