The Birkdale Palace Hotel in Southport, Merseyside was a luxury hotel on the North-West coast of Lancashire. The huge building opened its grand doors in 1866 and lived a very colourful life before being torn down in 1969.
It was long rumoured in the area that the hotel was built the wrong way round by the architect William Mangall. With the front of the building originally meant to face the seafront. The original architect plans, now on display at Southport museum indeed show the hotel facing west, and not east as built.
It is also claimed that this mistake made Mangall throw himself off the hotel roof to his death just before the grand opening, but the more likely story is it was Mangall’s younger brother who jumped from the roof – for reasons unknown
His ghost was said to be seen riding the elevators (one would assume after they were installed, 15 years after his death) and wandering the second floor.
The next 14 dead bodies
On 9 December 1886 there was a tragic lifeboat disaster and the hotel out building was used as a temporary mortuary for the bodies of the 14 lifeboatmen who drowned after being launched to rescue a boat named “The Mexico” that had run aground in a storm.
All members of their crew were rescued.
The hotels heyday
In 1919 the hotel introduced flights from Blackpool to the nearby aviation ground. In an official guide to Southport in 1939, the hotel boasted of billiards, croquet on the lawns, dancing, evening concerts, Sunday afternoon orchestral teas and tennis, to name but a few activities available. It had 1,000 rooms and around 200 bedrooms and suites.
By this time, the hotel had become a successful holiday resort hotel and conference centre, with stars like Frank Sinatra and Clark Gable staying there.
In 1962, the Beatles even performed there.
During the Second World War it was taken over by the Red Cross and became a rehabilitation centre for US airmen. It was one of the biggest centres in the UK for US Air Force personnel, with more than 15,000 of them recuperating from active flying service at the hotel during his period.
A dark dark hotel
After the war, hotel staff quickly noticed an abundance of strange activity. One receptionist who worked at the hotel in the 50s called Pauline, recalled never using the lift and never venturing around the hotel unaccompanied as she felt a sense of dread for reasons she couldn’t explain.
In 1958, records showed no fewer that 17 guests died during that year at the hotel, 4 of these in the same room, Room 287.
This fact was reported as “17 dead – beating the hotels previous 1886 record of 14 dead”
In 1961, there was a horribly gruesome real event that took place. Six-year-old girl Amanda Jane Graham was abducted by a porter who worked at the hotel. Her dead body was found under his bed, she had been raped and strangled.
Alan Victor Wills, who worked at the hotel as a porter, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. Wills was 33 but said to have had a mental age closer to 11.
There is also a persisting story about two sisters who carried out a suicide pact in the hotel.
The hotel soon closed its doors – the haunting reputation driving the final few guests away in the late 60’s.
The hotel was still in use until the 1960s, when its final owners, Heddon Hotels, went into liquidation and were wound up in 1967. In February of that year there were only two guests – an elderly permanent resident and the company controller’s wife.
Strangely – nobody can account for the departure the elderly permanent guest.
Near the end of the hotel’s life in 1968/9 it was used as a film production base for Tigon Films, the horror movie company run by legendary British producer Tony Tenser who lived in the area. They filmed “The Haunted House of Horror,” an early teen slasher movie.
Tony then tried to save the hotel, suggesting to jointly buy the empty building with Southport Council so it could be turned into a film studio, but the Council turned down the idea, as they didn’t enter into commercial partnerships. The rest then was history as the demolition began on the faded grandeur of the old hotel, which is when things got really spooky.
The horror begins!
The demolition team experienced the strangest activity when tearing the building down in 1969. It centered around the large Victorian lift. When the team cut the lift’s power and put on the brakes the lift continued to move between floors. Oddly thee emergency hand crank on the lift had been removed. The crew were puzzled. Speaking to the local newspaper the Southport Visitor in 1969, Jos Smith who was heading the demolition team, said,
“Things began to happen soon after we started the job. First we were woken up by eerie voices and other strange noises in the middle of the night, then the lift suddenly began to work by itself.”
Furthermore according to that particular report the team of workmen became so unsettled by the inexplicable goings on ‘they cut the giant lift from its holdings, but still the lift didn’t drop, the workmen hammered the top of the lift until this caused it to come crashing down from the third floor into the basement.’ It seems the lift and indeed the hotel didn’t want to go anywhere.
This same construction crew reportedly found themselves locked into their hotel rooms on occasions.
In fact these poor men must have thought they were losing their minds, they claimed to hear a man and a woman arguing on the top floor and when they investigated the same disruption then appeared to be coming from the reception of the hotel, even though access was restricted due to the rubble on the staircase and the fact that the handrail had been removed.
They also reported hearing stiletto heels in the lobby and as the men were staying at the hotel to save on money and with so many empty luxury spaces available, a number of them reported that they found themselves locked in their rooms by an unknown force. The madness doesn’t end their however, the local police force received a call traced to The Palace from a distressed woman claiming to be locked in one of the rooms, however upon arrival the local bobbies discovered the phone lines had been disabled months before and were no longer working.
After the hotel, the poltergeist!
Even to this day stories abound in the local area of strange goings on in the newly built properties that reside on the original land. In the 90s poltergeist activity was reported at a house on the corner of Oxford road, part of the site that was The Palace.
A family fled their home leaving all possessions behind. Something certainly spooked them. Eye witness reports from those who visited the scene said it was literally like they’d all suddenly left in the middle of what they were doing at the time, with cans and a tin opener set out in the kitchen ready for cooking and other signs they’d left in a hurry.
In 2011 another haunting at the same location resulted in an almost identical occurrence, when another young family fled in a hurry after an “invisible force” seemed to rush through the house every evening – strong enough to knock down there 4 year old child.
It seems then that you can tear down and demolish old buildings, just as they did with The Birkdale Palace Hotel, but some guests only check out when they themselves are ready to leave.