A young grenadier, accused of cheating at cards at the Guardsman, a Taylor Walker pub, in Belgravia, central London, was beaten to death by his comrades - or so the story goes.
The fiendish deed was reputed to have taken place in the early 19th century. The pub, now called the Grenadier after the unfortunate fellow, has suffered strange goings-on ever since.
General manager Tony Whitehead admits he is a sceptic but says: “Candles have smashed on the carpet and my shirt has been pulled. My chef’s seen a tall man walking through the bar when the pub was closed. He’s not one to exaggerate.”
Whitehead has also seen the vacuum cleaner move on its own. He tries to convince himself there is a scientific explanation but has not come up with one so far.
“Some people have said they’ve felt they’re not alone in the toilets. A woman at a paranormal night said there were four ghosts. Last year I was talking to [Hollywood actress] Goldie Hawn here and she said she felt the presence of a ghost.”
Whether ghosts exist or not is beside the point. Whitehead reckons about 15% of trade at the Grenadier is from those attracted by the pub’s haunted reputation.
He’s no mug — annual paranormal nights attract about 50 new punters who all return individually.
Caught on camera
This video appears to show a shadowy figure flickering into view by the bar, was filmed at Ye Olde Man and Scythe in Bolton on Valentine's Day.
Spectral shenanigans are even bigger business for freehold the Mermaid Inn, in Rye, East Sussex, where ghostly sightings are said to have taken place in several rooms.
Georgina Kite, co-owner, reports how a bank manager and his wife awoke to find a man walking through the bathroom wall and across their room. They were so frightened that they spent the rest of the night din the downstairs lounge and asked the porter to bring down their luggage.
Kite says: “We had to take the rocking chair out of room 17 because it was freaking some people out when it rocked for no reason.
“The Daily Express did a piece years ago, headlined Bed for the Fright. We framed it and hung it in reception but had to take it down because some wives refused to stay here when they checked in.”
Kite’s not too concerned: she estimates that between 30% and 40% of the pub’s business is ghost-related.
People tend to like to ghost hunt in October, which she tries to discourage. “You can’t have people roaming around the hotel in their pyjamas in the middle of the night. You have to find a happy medium.”
Several Fuller’s pubs are reputed to have the odd ghoul. A Spanish barmaid is said to haunt the Flask in Highgate, north London, while restless spirits are reputed to haunt the Viaduct, in the City of London, where Victorian debtors’ cells still exist in the pub’s cellar.
Fuller’s operations director Justin Carter says: “Ghosts can be great for business, giving pubs a unique selling point, and these two pubs are attracting the curious and the thrill-seekers. People are enjoying a pint and hoping to feel the ghostly chill of an unearthly presence.”
Phil Carney, founder of Ghost Pubs, which provides ghost tours among other entertainments of a psychic nature, says he is aware of more than 1,300 haunted pubs in the UK — although not all are still operating.
In most cases, hauntings are good for business, Carney says. “The growing dark tourism market attracts visitors from all over the world,” he adds.
Carney, who is writing a book about ghost pubs in Stockport, Greater Manchester, says publicans can make ghostly phenomena work for them by providing haunted accommodation and offering services such as paranormal events — including séances, psychic nights, tarot card-reading events and ghost hunts.
Whether or not it is a ruse for some businesses, claiming that a pub is haunted could help a struggling site or increase the success of an established one, while working in a haunted pub can give some licensees and staff the fear: “I’ve heard many a landlord and staff exclaim that there are parts of a pub they won’t enter,” says Carney.
A British Beer & Pub Association spokesman says the alleged presence of ghosts highlights an important selling point for Britain’s pubs, and “ghosts tend to prefer” heritage buildings, of which the UK has a huge number.
When it comes to a drink, he adds, “any pub ghost could be forgiven for choosing a spirit instead of a pint”.