Jonathan Schofield on a spooky appearance which recalls the Turin Shroud
Some people think Manchester Town Hall has been haunted by two knights (a Leese and a Bernstein) and several councillors for centuries. If so, one of their number has recently left, exorcised out of the building after years of important civic service, by the sacred power of lucrative consultancies and public speaking engagements.
This weekend another ghost appeared in the Town Hall. Or rather, a sinister face, like that image in the Turin Shroud, but this time peering out of stone rather than linen.
The image appeared high up against one of the windows in the mighty Victorian Gothic structure, but our spectre doesn’t seem benign as that of Christ in Turin. This otherwordly starer seems to have wicked eyes and either a beard or a claw. In fact, it looks a bit like he might be putting its finger to his lips saying, “shush!”
...probably, “Shush, the refurbishment of this place is going to cost £330m, don’t tell anyone.”
Of course, there are several ghost stories about the Town Hall already.
Ghost guide Flecky Bennett swears the spirit of thief-catcher extraordinaire, Chief Superintendent Jerome Caminada, who died in 1914, haunts the building.
Meanwhile, around fifteen years ago a member of staff related the story of how a electrician, working late at night in the upper reaches of the building, felt a disturbance and found a Victorian gentleman staring at him and smiling. The electrician fled, he didn’t like that smile one little bit. Downstairs his foreman asked what the matter was and when told didn’t believe the reason. It was time to pack up anyway, so the foreman told our man to go back and collect his tools. The man refused, the foreman threatened to sack him, and sighing went up there himself. Returning with a look of terror he said to his colleague, “Forget being sacked, I saw what you saw. Let’s not work on that level at night?”
Some of the staff back then thought the spectre was Abel Heywood, the Mayor of Manchester when the building opened in 1877. This gent also now haunts the Northern Quarter in the form of a public house owned by Hydes Brewery.
Abel Heywood gave his name to the hour bell in the clock tower – Great Abel. On a public tour up the clock tower a couple of years ago, one woman refused to enter the clock mechanism room. “I don’t like the entity standing in the dark corner. She’s not very nice. I’ll wait until we get to the next room,’’ she said. “My mum’s in touch with the other side, but I want to see the room,” said her daughter adding, “I’m not that sensitive.”
Everybody else in the group suddenly felt very sensitive and kept swiveling their heads to the north western corner of the room. The most freaked person was the guide, me, who had to return later to lock up. It was dark by then and I tell you, the hairs were up on the back of my neck. I felt watched from that corner and I am a sceptic. Going round in my head was the sentence, ‘Why would anybody use the bloody word 'entity'?’
There are other stories. There’s a spook that hates people whistling (for which I’ve got some sympathy). If people whistle while working in the eaves of the building, the spook turns off the lights and slams the doors.
There's another pro-whistling ghost, a policeman who worked in the building and materialises through walls blowing an old fashioned police whistle. One lady in the former typing pool told another guide that whilst working late one night, she heard a man’s voice behind her say, “It’s about time you went home lass.” She turned to reply but the room was completely empty. As with our electricians, she never stayed late on her own again.
Finally, one clearly preposterous story says the building is haunted by a Conservative councillor. Mad. There’s not been one voted into the building in a local election for a generation.
More credibly, there have been many sightings of ‘The Karney, who wanders the building muttering, ‘Wooh, Piccadilly Gardens is the finest public space in the world, woooohoh, the Christmas Markets are now so big and popular they can be seen from space, wooohoh...”
Special thanks to Mike Webb (who took the photo of the ghoulish face) and tour guides Suzanne Hindle, Peter O’Grady and Denise Sackett of Manchester Tour Guides.