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Haunting History at the Old Royal Naval College

Our stories

Wed 22 Jun 22

With centuries of history embedded in every corner of our grounds, it will come as no surprise to find out that there are many tales of haunted happenings and spooky sightings from across the years.

Do you dare read on to discover some of the more unsavoury tales of the Old Royal Naval College?

Admiral’s House

Although there have not been many visual manifestations within the Admiral’s Residence, the main staircase is alive with activity, and there have been many reports from staff and visitors of the sounds of footsteps ascending and descending the stairs.

Some years ago, a commander of the Royal Naval College wrote to The Times stating that he had entered a room in the lodging to see a man in old naval uniform. He had recognised him from portraits as Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, flag captain to Admiral Lord Nelson and a former Governor of the Royal Hospital, who is buried in the mausoleum in the grounds of Devonport House across Romney Road.

The most regular visual sighting, however, seems to be the vision of a lady in white who has been seen by different witnesses patrolling the lower levels, particularly in the room which was previously the Admiral’s Office. Could she be the ever-faithful housekeeper still about her duties?

One of our guides came here to check out the state of the house recently, before a tour, and a manager came with her to check some work that had been done.

A little later he called out that he was leaving, and she carried on checking the paintings downstairs.

Then she heard noise and footsteps on the stairs and came to look – no one was there. She called out to the manager in case he had returned – no reply.

Again, she heard noise on the stairs and thought it might be musical sounds from the Trinity students next door … but the sound of footsteps continued to move down the stairs and towards her and she realised she was, as far as she could tell, utterly alone.

Skittle Alley

Before the building of the Dreadnought Infirmary in 1763, there were no official medical facilities at the Hospital.

During the early years, it was believed that the hospital used this room as an operating theatre, up until about 1712 when an arrangement was made with St. Bart’s.

Operations, especially amputations, would have taken place here in primitive and barbaric conditions. Later still, it was claimed to be used as the mortuary where the bodies were kept until their burial in the mausoleum across the road.

How many sailors met a painful end in this poorly lit and often very damp Undercroft?  One can only dare to imagine the horrors seen and heard down here.

A tour guide in training was not aware that the Skittle Alley door should have been locked and that they should have not had access.

The door closed behind them and a huge gust of wind flew across the alley. The musty smell associated with old buildings became much, much more acute.

The terrified guide could not get out of there fast enough!

Invariably, the skittles which have been stood ready for an event have often been found lying in disarray or, adversely, with the skittles having been left lying down, on returning you may find them standing neatly in rows with all the heavy lignum balls sitting expectantly in the rack…

Something happens every year in the Skittle Alley around Halloween – people have reported smelling smoke, one visitor had an unprovoked asthma attack, and another had to leave the room because she heard screaming…

The Painted Hall

The Painted Hall has been the scene of many ghostly sightings.

A figure floating during the time of the Royal Navy above the tables was witnessed by two of the catering staff entering the hall early one morning.

The headless uniformed figure standing near the steps to the upper hall was witnessed late one evening as the hall was being put into darkness following a Naval dinner.

A figure that disappeared through the back wall, as seen by a member of the hall staff when clearing the hall of public one evening.

A caped figure checking the standards at Trafalgar night dinner. Seen moving from table to table and described by one guest as “a nice touch”.

At another Trafalgar Night dinner, after the departure of the Navy, the military Sunset Ceremony was performed. During the ceremony, five figures in Pensioner’s uniform were seen to march smartly from the Nelson Room and line the top upper hall steps saluting, and the ensign was lowered.

This caused no alarm at the time as people who witnessed it believed it to be part of the evening entertainment.

Only afterwards was it realised that there was only one yeoman in ceremonial dress, and he was not in the room at the time…

Book your tickets now – keep your wits about you when you visit, and keep an eye out for any appearances that might be out of the ordinary…