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Hotel Hauntings

Fortean Times Haunted Hotel

ALAN MURDIE checks into London’s famous Langham Hotel to find some uninvited guests…

They were like men who drew the bow, and with another shout, their cloud of arrows flew singing and tingling through the air towards the German host…the singing arrows darkened the air; the heathen horde melted from before them.
Arthur Machen, The Bowmen, September 1914

Despite the ease with which many people claim to effortlessly find paranormal manifestations, ghosts and hauntings do not come to order. But every so often a haunted site known from a generation or more ago suddenly produces a fresh crop of paranormal reports. Exactly this seems to have happened during the summer at the Langham Hotel, near Oxford Circus in London, where members of the English cricket team, and their wives and girlfriends, have been troubled by spooky goings on. Problems arose during the Test Match against Sri Lanka in June, when a number of players from the English team became “convinced” that this five-star hotel was haunted, with several requesting room changes and some finding their partners refusing to go there at all.

Speaking of his experiences in a bedroom in the Langham in June, England fast bowler Stuart Broad stated: “It was so hot in the room I just couldn’t sleep. All of a sudden the taps in the bathroom came on for no reason. I turned the lights on and the taps turned themselves off. Then when I turned the lights off again the taps came on. It was very weird”. His experience was shared by his girlfriend Bealey, who was “pretty spooked” by these incidents.

One another occasion at the hotel, Broad stated he had to move rooms because of odd sensations: “I woke up in the middle of the night, around 1.30am, and I was convinced there was a presence in the room. It was the weirdest feeling”. Finding these feelings troubling, Broad put on the light and decided to view the Internet. Looking online, he realised that fellow team member Matt Prior was also online at the Langham. “I went to his room and he said exactly the same thing! He was wide awake as well. Neither of us could sleep because we were so spooked out.” As Prior was occupying a twin room, Broad ended up staying in the spare bed, rather than return to his own bedroom. He added, “I don’t know if it’s because we’re talking about it more that we’re sensing more is going on, but it’s weird. It’s definitely caused a few sleepless nights.”

Concerns are shared by partners of certain team members, some of whom have become so disturbed by the reports that they refused a stay at the Langham. These included “Moeen Ali’s other half [who] won’t stay there because she’s so frightened of the ghosts”, according to Broad. He was also quoted as saying: “Ben Stokes has had some problems sleeping as well. He’s on the third floor, which is where a lot of the issues are.”

Source:… 19 July 2014.

Although relatively minor as haunting experiences go, the England cricket team members are certainly not the first to report uncanny manifestations at the Langham, and to identify them as being concentrated on the third floor. Back in the 1970s, the Langham was routinely used by the BBC as overnight accommodation and as a club for its staff, particularly announcers and presenters who worked on early morning radio shows. It was an open secret among BBC staff that Room 33 (as it then was) on the third floor was believed to be haunted. Today the Langham refers to this reputation – clearly the hotel is not afraid of its ghostly heritage – by stating in particular on its website that: “In 1973 BBC radio announcer James Alexander Gordon awoke suddenly in the night to see a fluorescent ball which slowly took on the shape of a man wearing Victorian evening wear. The announcer asked the ghost what it wanted and it began to float towards him, with its legs cut off some two feet [60cm] below the ground, arms outstretched, eyes staring… At this point the announcer got up and fled.”

This is no mere invention or an advertising puff, and is consistent with stories collected directly from the broadcasters concerned 40 years ago. Gordon, veteran announcer of the football results who sadly died on 18 August this year, had two successive sightings of the Langham ghost early one morning in July 1973, soon after joining the BBC. A very short mention of his experience appeared in Jack Hallam’s entry on the Langham in Haunted London (1976), including mention of Gordon hurling a boot at the figure. However, a fuller account was provided by Gordon for Richard Davis, author of the book Ghosts I’ve Seen: True Stories from Show Business (1979). Describing the ghost for Davis, Gordon stated: “He was dressed in what I suppose one could describe best as Victorian evening wear with a cloak and a cravat, and I remember distinctly the tiepin attached to it”. The figure appeared almost solid, but “I could still see the bedroom basin through him”. Challenging the figure, Gordon called out: “Who are you, what are you, and what the hell do you want?”, whereupon it advanced on his bed. As it moved towards him, Gordon became scared. “I think it was because his eyes were very, very piercing. I dived off the bed, grabbed one of my boots, and flung it at this ‘thing’ – and of course it went straight through”. Quickly pulling on his underpants, Gordon fled the room and sought out the commissionaire, who refused to leave his post. Returning to the room to retrieve the rest of his clothes, Gordon saw the figure was still there, though fading. Considerably unnerved, he went to the canteen, where he met broadcaster Ray Moore who, it transpired, had also seen the ghost.

Gordon described his sighting as the only really frightening experience of his life, but he later regretted running away a second time, stating that in hindsight, he should have stayed to try and question it. He stated: “Several people have gone into the room and tried to entice the thing to show itself, but without success. It comes unbidden.”

He later learned that several other announcers staying in Room 33 had also encountered the ghost. Ray Moore also witnessed it twice, once outside the window and once in the room itself. The first of these sightings was in January 1971. Getting up at 4.30am to do the Breakfast Special, he looked out of the window and saw “a biggish man, thick-set with a crew cut and wearing a uniform-style coat that buttoned up to the neck… surrounded by an aura of white light.”

Like Gordon, he felt impelled to leave the room in a hurry. On another occasion, he saw the same figure appear actually in the room with him while he was shaving. These sightings were treated with scepticism and ridicule by some BBC colleagues, but Radio 4 newsreader and announcer Peter Donaldson spoke of poltergeist-like incidents when staying in Room 33, including a force pushing him on the bed, and of seeing a glowing light.

One point of note is a comment made by Ray Moore that: “If you happen to encounter the Langham’s third floor ghost you’re up long before the crack of dawn.” (Quoted in Hallam, 1976). This is consistent with many reported cases of apparitions where the experiences involve visual imagery occurring before fully awakening from sleep. A preponderance of ‘half-awake’, so-called ‘hypnopompic’ states has been noted in studies of collections of apparitional experiences. Some surveys find that up to 70 per cent of the percipients had either just awoken or were in bed but awake when having their experience, as with Professor Hornell Hart’s study in 1956.

The same connection was noted by GNM Tyrrell in his classic work Apparitions (1942), where he asserted that there were two stages in an apparitional experience. In the first stage, the percipient unconsciously experiences the apparition, and in the second stage the unconscious information is then processed into consciousness through dreams and certain waking experiences that resemble ordinary cognition.

A link with ‘half asleep’ or hypnagogic and ‘half awake’ hypnopompic states was also made by Andrew MacKenzie in Ghosts and Apparitions (1982), finding in his collection that about one third of apparitional experiences occurred just before or after sleep, or when the percipient was in a state of relaxation. Similar results have been reported for other types of entity experiences, often occurring when the percipient is alone, often when resting in bed. Experiences vary from dream-like or unrealistic impressions to vivid and realistic figures mistaken for actual persons. In light of this link, the over-excited atmosphere whipped up on many “true paranormal” investigation shows is entirely the wrong emotional atmosphere for actually witnessing an apparition. I have long noted that no one ever seems to see an apparition at breakfast time. None of the reported stories begin: “I was eating my cornflakes when I saw…” but usually earlier, before dawn. The period midnight to dawn or ‘cock-crow’ was the traditional time for seeing ghosts.

Sources: ‘Can we make progress with Apparitions?’ by Peter Hallson, Paranormal Review (2002) No. 21, 3-5; ‘Six Theories About Apparitions’ by Hornell Hart (1956) in Proceedings of the SPR vol.50, 1953-6, pp.153-239; ‘Survey of claimed encounters with the dead’ by Erlendur Haraldsson, in Omega: Journal of Death and Dying (1988) 19, 103-113.

What was the same, or perhaps a different, male apparition in the corridors of the Langham was reported even further back in the history of the building. In his autobiography No Common Task (1983), ghost-hunter Peter Underwood recalled that after an interview with presenter Michael Aspel, he was put in touch with two witnesses who had seen the figure. One, a BBC engineer, took it to be a real person until it vanished, while another BBC staff member described the form “as completely lifelike but moving at an unnatural pace, so slowly that it was like watching a slow-motion film.” The strange way that some apparitions may move has been noted by a number of scholars – e.g. GNM Tyrrell, op. cit; Hilary Evans Seeing Ghosts: Experiences of the Paranormal (2002).

These sightings may be of the same figure that ghost hunter Andrew Green learned of independently, through an interview with BBC Radio 2 presenter John Dunn. In his Ghosts of Today (1980), Green placed these sightings in the 1950s and cited one unnamed BBC employee who noticed that the figure appeared to limp, giving the impression that the man “had been wounded in the war. He seemed to have been the right age to have been in the services”.

As to the origins of the haunting of Room 33, it has variously been attributed to a German military officer who committed suicide at the hotel before World War I, or to the ghost of a butler from the early days of the hotel. One uncorroborated tale is that the butler murdered a girlfriend in a bedroom which later became known as the haunted room.

This story might also account for the apparition noted by Green, of a woman reputedly seen in the Langham after 1974 wearing a “bluish gown, probably a nightdress” who was believed to haunt the building. However, a close reading of the account given by Hallam indicates that the ghostly butler – described as bewhiskered and carrying a tray – was not associated with the Langham but actually was regarded as haunting the corridor of the fourth floor of the BBC’s headquarters at Broadcasting House, which stands close by.

According to Hallam, this ghost was last seen a couple of years before the start of World War II. Green’s investigation found that “imaginative tales about the couple are, of course, rife”, and it seems that stories of two adjacent haunted sites might have become mixed in the imaginations of BBC staff. This blending of different stories and tales often happens where no clear history or explanation is available for repeated unexplained experiences. Alternatively, it could be a case of the same ghost haunting two adjacent buildings or witnesses, familiar with both buildings, confusing the locations. Hallam learned that the ghostly butler had been seen in Broadcasting House by a sound engineer and a producer and by two pre-World War II radio personalities, compere Brian Michie and newsreader Lionel Marsen. Like the apparition inside the Langham, it appeared very life-like, with one witness even noticing a hole in one of the socks worn by the figure! This odd anecdotal detail, involving a feature that might ordinarily be difficult or even impossible to perceive, is also characteristic of a number of apparition reports. It suggests that the experience of seeing an apparition is a complex one, involving more than just normal perception by the human eye, as proposed by Tyrrell.

ALAN MURDIE is a lawyer and writer. A former president of the Ghost Club, he compiles FT’s Ghostwatch column every month as well as being a regular feature writer.

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