The Haunted Pubs of Leeds

The Palace, Leeds, at dusk.

When my dad was a teen, one of the myriad jobs he did was working at The Fforde Grene; a cavernous pub in Harehills, which is now an Asian supermarket. As I got older and started showing an interest in all things Fortean, he regaled me with stories of the ghost that haunts the place; of people seeing an old lady sweeping up the upstairs rooms when no cleaners were hired, and of bottles being thrown in the cellar by unseen hands.

With such a number of old Pubs and Inns across Leeds (and indeed, Yorkshire), it’s no surprise that many purport to be haunted. A good story, passed down through generations of drinkers, finds the ideal breeding ground in Pubs. No matter what your thoughts are on the supernatural, these stories only add to the rich history many of our pubs enjoy, and help keep alive a tradition of storytelling.

In the city, The Palace’s resident spectre is an interesting one. The figure was for many years supposed to be a lady, however more recently the theory has emerged that the ‘Grey Lady’ could be a male entertainer dressed up as a female. Given that Actor and Entertainer Michael Hall died on the premises in 1848, this rumour certainly has credibility. Actors often played parts of both sexes whilst entertaining the drinking hordes in those days. The Golden Lion (now a hotel) at the opposite side of Leeds Bridge, has a couple of ghosts; a man dressed in Victorian dress upstairs, and a woman dressed in similar attire downstairs.

One of my favourite stories concerns The Old Red Lion, opposite The Adelphi. A girl has been seen looking out of the upstairs windows, a rumour that apparently has grounds in reports of a female hanging themselves there previously. The room is permanently locked, apparently. According to Kenneth Goor’s excellent book Haunted Leeds, a Pagan society used to meet in the pub. During one of thier meetings, drops of blood appeared on one of the women’s hand, dripped from above. Screaming, she looked up, expecting to see blood dripping from the ceiling. Of course, there was none.

‘Grey Ladies’ seem to be popular. The Mustard Pot in Chapel Allerton has stories of a Lady in a long dress walking around, and –  although not strictly a pub – The City Varieties  has many sightings of ‘A Grey Lady’; propping up the theatre bar. People have reported seeing elderly-looking ladies behind them in the toilets of The Cardigan Arms and Brudenell Social Club, only to find no-one behind them when they turned around.

And finally, take my local – The Abbey Inn in Newlay. Previous landlords have seen and heard all sorts of things; a girl’s giggling emanating from the Cellar, barstools stacking themselves up overnight like Jenga bricks, beer taps that won’t turn off, and at least two apparitions – a grey lady and man in a tall hat – purport to roam the premises. It’s not surprising when you consider that the Abbey Inn has been standing for a very long time and once doubled up as a mortuary.  The pub was featured on the ghost-hunting TV show Whines and Spirits, and last year a sleepover was held in aid of charity. I can attest to seeing no ghosts there myself, however. Yet.

This is only a handful of tales, and in the City only. I suspect most old pubs have claims to infamy and restless spirits inhabiting them. Keep an ear out, and tell that story yourself; pass it on. Be part of the oral history of these buildings. After all, what’s the point of a goof yarn if you don’t tell it?

Leeds’s older pubs have seen a lot; the drinkers of the past have found refuge within their walls and maybe – for whatever reason – didn’t want to leave. The next time you’re enjoying a pint, take a minute to wonder who has sat there before you, doing the exact same thing. And if you feel a little chill as you do so, bear in mind that you may not be drinking alone.


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  3. Fascinating! I used to work in a pub in Spain with a resident ghost. It was built on the remains of a bakery that had burned down 80 years previously, killing three people.

    The ghost could be quite violent – one time I was alone in the pub kitchen when someone pushed me very hard from behind. I thought it was one of the staff and turned down about to snap their head off only to find nobody there…

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