Today’s article has morphed from a chat with my brother about the flat he used to live in, into this blog about the Regency Square ghosts in Brighton. It’s quite often the case that my little trips down a ghostly rabbit hole occur off the back of a fairly mundane conversation. This is one such example! I have enjoyed researching and writing about the ghosts and hauntings of Brighton’s Regency Square. And it was a good excuse for a visit to the city, which may or may not have included a few cocktails after completing my research!
A bit of early Brighton history
So, for now, we leave weird Wiltshire and take a little road trip along the coast to the vibrant and lively city of Brighton in West Sussex. Like many places in England, there is evidence that Brighton, or at least the surrounding area, has roots going back to the Neolithic period. The Romans built a villa there and by Anglo-Saxon times, the beach was used as a landing site for boats.
The first evidence of a real settlement was recorded in the Domesday book of 1086. Over the centuries, Brighton, known in the 15th Century as Brighthelmstone, was a fishing village populated by mainly seafaring folk. It appears to be a pretty unimpressive place back then.
Let’s jump to the 18th century when the town was a little more prosperous. At least it was until two ferocious winter storms hit the south coast, destroying the houses and washing much of the town into the sea.
Brighthelmstone becomes Brighton
I’ve no doubt losing most of the buildings into the deep blue sea didn’t really help its prosperity but the town’s fortunes were about to change. In the 1730s, a local doctor began prescribing Brighthelmstone’s seawater for medicinal benefits. I’m not quite sure where he got that idea from but I suppose, even if the claims are a little dubious, a bit of sea air is always good for the soul! Other doctors followed suit and the town began to attract the attention of the great and good of the times. This included the Prince Regent, who went on to become George IV. His patronage over the course of forty years was integral in the development of the town of Brighton as we know it today.
This includes the building of the Georgian terraces around the centre of town. One of the most famous of these is Regency Square. And this is where we head today to hear all about the ghosts that still inhabit this Georgian square.
The building of Regency Square was completed by 1824 and the 69 sea-facing houses are situated around a public-owned garden with an underground carpark (which was added in the 1960s). This was a prestigious high-class development which attracted the social elite. Each building had six floors, allowing sufficient room for the upper-class inhabitants and their servants.
After World War I, most of the buildings became hotels but most of those have now changed into flats. A lot of the buildings are now residential, with only a couple of hotels remaining.
So, now we have set the scene, we can look into Regency Square ghosts. There are a few! Knowing a bit about the area’s history always helps to give a bit of context to the stories I find.
The Regency Hotel
Let’s go first to one of the remaining hotels, The Regency Hotel. It has held its reputation as a haunted hotel for the last twenty years or so and has even been marketed as a spooky place to stay back in the 1980s. The owners today do not wish to keep this story going as they still run it as a guest house rather than a haunted attraction so I got no response when I emailed them! The 6th Duke of Marlborough’s third wife once owned the house.
Visitors to the hotel have reported seeing a slim, grey-haired lady who walks silently through the hotel walls. Some speculate that this Regency Square ghost was a Victorian guest house landlady. Could this be the ghost that shook the bed of photographer Anna Pearce who stayed there in 2006 while taking photos for the Haunted Brighton book by Alan Murdie? Anna reported she felt an intense sensation of a presence in the early hours of the morning before her bed began to shake.
The Regency Tavern
Head up from the hotel to the top of the square and tucked away in the top right corner, you’ll find The Regency Tavern. Strictly speaking, it’s in Russell Square but it appears to be part of Regency Square. There are reports of several ghosts in this building. Originally there was a dairy and a cobbler’s shop. They became part of the pub in the 1930s when it was extended.
One of the Regency Square ghosts at the pub is thought to be the cobbler’s daughter. You might hear of her being a ghost of The Regency Hotel but that’s not the case! Sometimes these stories do get confused over the years. Anyway, this poor young girl was disabled, and following some sort of minor transgression, she had been sent to her room on the first floor and locked in. She smelt what she thought was gas and, scared of suffocation or an explosion, threw herself from the first-floor window in a panic. She survived initially but sadly later died. Her panicked apparition is sometimes seen at the first-floor window or in the building. Another report says her ghost was seen in the building in a wheelchair heading towards a bricked window. She then disappears into the wall because there is no window there. Just to be clear, I could not find much evidence of this but I wanted to include it in this blog anyway.
Another spook of The Regency Tavern is thought to be the former landlady, who is a more modern ghost. Back in the 1990s, football hooligans smashed up some windows of the pub and the poor landlady, Mrs Penfold, had a heart attack and died. Could Mrs Penfold be responsible for some of the following phenomena or is it down to the other former landlady thought to still be present in the pub?
Her name was Mrs Edlin and she was the first land ‘lady’ to run the pub, following the death of her husband. This was between 1894-1902. This slim, grey-haired lady was apparently a nice person in life. She sometimes makes an appearance in the pub. Maybe she is checking that standards are being kept up!
The pub has a history of interesting activity, including chairs left on tables after closing and being found back on the floor in the morning. Ornaments and other items of furniture have been found to have been moved around. I’m not entirely sure about the dates of this but dogs and cats were reluctant to go up to the first floor. Hackles would raise and backs arch as if they could see or sense a presence. When heading to the second floor, staff would report a feeling of unease. In one room, tea-making equipment is moved around even though the room was unoccupied. And locked!
Apparently, a medium visited the pub in the 1980s and moved the first-floor presence on but the dogs then became reluctant to go into the cellar. A more recent landlady of the pub, in the early 2000s, reported seeing black shadows out of the corner of her eye. She reported her dog didn’t seem too bothered to be either on the first floor or the cellar. But there is one pretty terrifying report I found on the Ghost Walk Brighton website.
They tell of a barman that worked there called Mr Smiles. One day, he was down in the cellar doing things with the beer lines. He had a strange feeling that he was not there alone and when he looked up, he saw the figure of a woman. She was glowing and seemed to be exuding a weird green luminosity. Poor Mr Smiles froze in fear, unsurprisingly! This scary apparition moved towards him and he was able to recognise she was wearing a long old-fashioned dress. When he was later describing the feeling, he said it as if ‘slivers of ice were passing through his body’. The feeling left him within seconds and the creepy apparition disappeared.
On returning to the bar, the landlady saw how disturbed poor Mr Smiles was and handed him a whisky to calm his nerves. She must have had some inkling of what Mr Smiles might have seen down in the cellar. I feel that one or two of the previous landladies are still keeping an eye on their pub!
Another Regency Square ghost, frequently seen in the 18th century, back when Regency Square was called Belle Vue Field, was nicknamed Bedlam Betsy.
She was a female phantom who would appear as the evening gloaming descended on the field. Lurking in the shadows, she would leap out on those passing by, frightening their life from them. What made Betsy so incredibly terrifying was her hideous and contorted face with staring eyes.
What has Bedlam got to do with it?
Back then, a fun day out might include a visit to a mental asylum to have a look at the incarcerated patients. You could actually pay to do that. Isn’t it awful? In Victorian times, no care was given to people with mental health conditions and they would have been locked away in rather prison-like asylums and left to their own devices. Many would have come across as very scary with strange-looking faces. One of the most famous asylums was the Bethlem Hospital in London. It was known as Bedlam. Interesting, this is where the idiom comes from, describing something as ‘bedlam’. It basically means craziness or madness. Anyway, I digress. Poor Betsy’s ghost got her nickname because of her look of madness.
I can find no modern-day sightings of Betsy. Her phantom seems to be one of the Victorian era and people were said to avoid the field as evening fell for fear of encountering Betsy.
The Maid of Flat 65-66
The last Regency Square ghost we will find out about today is the one that started this whole blog off. And this one comes about as a result of a personal story told to me by my brother. Back in 2006, Simon lived in Flat 65-66 of Regency Square. It was a rental flat which he shared with his friend Sarah. They lived on the top floor, up six flights of stairs. Back in the days when the upper classes inhabited this square, this level probably would have been the servant’s quarters.
I found that, according to records, by 1865, this particular terraced home was registered as a guest house. It is possible it still had servants living there at this time to assist the masters of the house with guests. Either way, it comes as no surprise to find that the ghost seen in this flat was one of a young servant girl.
Simon told me that, while living there, he would wake every night and get a strong sense of someone watching him as he slept. The wind, blowing straight off the sea, would rattle the sash window in its frame (nothing paranormal about that) but it just added to the spooky feeling. He said he had also been woken by someone poking him in the ankle like they were trying to get his attention. After getting progressively tired of being woken night after night, Simon eventually asked the ghost. “Please leave me alone tonight so that I can get some sleep.”
One particular night, Simon awoke. He looked at his clock and it was 3 am. He got up to use the toilet and opened the bedroom door while half asleep. It was then that he witnessed the actual apparition. She was a maid, wearing a black dress and a white bonnet. Simon reported she flashed past him and went into the kitchen. He said he was alarmed but not scared. I asked if he had followed her, but he didn’t. The continuous nights of waking up meant he was really very tired and just wanted to get back to bed. We discussed whether it could be explained away by tiredness and Simon just replied. “I saw what I saw!”
Simon discussed these feelings of being watched with his flatmate Sarah. She confirmed that she felt the same in the flat and was also suffering from being woken in the night with a feeling of someone watching her.
The most alarming thing to happen to Sarah was that one night she was asleep in bed and her boyfriend at the time was there too. They had a heavy-duty pint jug glass by the bed for water. Right in the dead of night, they were awoken by a large bang, scaring the life out of them. It came from the glass. Sarah or her boyfriend (we aren’t sure which) picked up the handle and the whole glass had severed from the base. It wasn’t a particularly hot or cold night, so the expansion or contraction of the glass due to the temperature was not a viable explanation. All they knew was that it was a bizarre event and not easily explained. Sarah felt, once again, that the ghostly maid was trying to get their attention.
Simon and Sarah didn’t stay in the flat for long, so their experiences ended. I plan on writing to the flat to see if the present owners or occupiers can add to the story. Most of the time, people think I am mad when I contact them but once in a while, you find a little nugget of information to add to the story. Fingers crossed!
That’s all, folks!
So, these are all the ghostly tales of Regency Square for now. I’m hoping someone might reply to my reach outs for more info. If I do get any, I’ll be sure to update you all.
Got a ghostly tale for me?
I look forward to chatting with you.
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