Isle Of Man Time’s Office, Douglas (1958)
On 24 December 1958, the Isle of Man Times published the following article entitled ‘The Times Ghost Story’. This centred around the experiences of the staff at the Times’s office in Douglas. The first Isle of Man Times ran from 1847 – 1849. It was relaunched in 1861 by James Brown and remained in his family until 1958, so around the time of this article there would have been a period of transition within the company. The Isle of Man Times ceased publication in 1987 following a strike that also closed Isle of Man Examiner, Isle of Man Gazette and Manx Star newspapers.
SCEPTICS may scoff, cynics may sneer—but many present occupants of the century-old “Isle of Man Times” building are now sincerely CONVINCED that its legendary “ghost” has returned to haunt the darkened rooms and creaking wooden maze of corridors . . .
Two persons working in the building to-day say they have SEEN the apparition—several are certain they have HEARD its footsteps—two women and a reporter, “sensitive” to “atmosphere, will not approach a certain staircase—a dog refused to climb the stairs—and I, myself, can recount two curious “experiences” . . .
Let me assure readers that this uncanny story is no planned Christmas fireside spine-chiller. Nor is it a carefully calculated newspaper “stunt” . . .
It represents the testimonies and beliefs of mature men and women who. not being processing mediums, are genuinely disturbed that a troubled spirit may be manifesting its presence.
The hundred-year-old “Times” Building is a vast network of old and new offices and machine rooms. The oldest section of the building is in Athol Street. The comparatively modern part of it looks out on to Nelson Street. For years the tiny low ceilinged rooms that were once a flat on the topmost floor of the old section have been left abandoned to the ravages of desolation and decay. Old faded pictures, and broken sticks of furniture, litter the bare dust covered floors. The mustiness of a bygone age clings to their dank cob-webbed walls. The dickering old-time gasjets have long ceased to light the way up the narrow rickety wooden stairs to these cold, cheerless, draught-swept relics of a long-dead past. Well might this deserted floor of gloom and grave-like silence (so strangely separated and aloof from the everyday bustling life of our office world below) be the haunt of an astral visitor who restlessly seeks we know not what . . .
It was the strange, startling experience of our office cleaner. Mrs Elizabeth Leece, who lives at XX, Lord Street, Douglas, that has set us all talking about the spectre of the “Times” Building. Elderly, grey-haired Mrs Leece is a native of Liverpool—and a forthright, practical woman who isn’t given to “thinking-up” fantasies. She came to work in the “Times” Building shortly after the “Examiner” staff moved in a year ago—and here are (to me) the important features of her “evidence”. – She had never known or discussed anyone associated with the “Times” of bygone days. She was completely unaware that anyone formerly connected with the paper half-a-century or more ago had occupied a flat 0n the top floor of the old section of the building. She had never set eyes upon a portrait of any past members of the original firm and she was ignorant of the almost forgotten “legend” of “the ‘Times’ Office ghost.”
Yet—on the day following the night of what can only be described as a terrifying experience for a woman of her age —she gave a description of the apparition she claims to have seen — and that description tallied, in detail, with the likeness of one whom some of us knew well in his lifetime.
I have “tested” Mrs Leece’s accuracy and powers of memory on several occasions since the night of her obvious ordeal. Her detailed account remains unchanged.
Here, then, is what she related to me . . . “On a Friday night, at nine o’clock, about a month ago, I was just about to finish cleaning the “Times” reporters’ room and was standing in the doorway, with my back to the dark staircase, when I suddenly felt as if something very cold was behind me. “I turned, and glanced quickly at the staircase leading to the top of the building. “At the bend of the stairs I saw the transparent outline of a small, stocky, elderly man. He seemed to have a short whitish beard. He seemed to be in a sort of glowing light, and was leaning over the stair-rail looking down at me with his head slightly inclined to one side. He looked mild and wistful. “I took all this in while I stood for a couple of seconds petrified with fear. “Then I dropped my mop. stumbled down the lower stairs, and didn’t stop hurrying until I reached my home in Lord Street. When I got there I was still wearing my working apron—I didn’t even stop to collect my overcoat at the office.”
I asked her if she’d ever had any similar experience, and her answer was “Yes! Shortly after my mother died in Liverpool, I saw her for a few minutes one evening seated in an armchair in the firelight, then she vanished.”
“Aren’t you afraid of working alone now in the “Times’ Building after the staff have gone?” I asked her.
“Not now,” she replied. “I don’t believe that a person ever sees the same ghost twice. But I’m sure somebody else will see him one of these nights.”
“Times”-‘”Examiner” reporter Sean Kenny is a middleaged “tough”, yet “sensitive” Irishman—and his main job is to deal with FACTS. He is a devout Roman Catholic —and, apart from Mrs Leece, is the only person attached to the present staff, who has actually SEEN the spectre. He saw it several months before Mrs Leece’s experience but, until now, he has kept his own counsel, lest his dramatic, hair-raising yarn should be scoffed at by his fellow journalists . . . Here is colleague Kenny’s startling story . . . ‘It could be that, being Irish. I am a “fey’ and thus have the sometimes unwelcome gift of seeing what others do not. There are many, I’m sure, who would say this is a hallucination. A certain clique will cynically remark that they always knew I was “round the bend.’ “But, quite honestly, Arthur, I do not care what they think. I know what I saw. “I know what I experienced and nothing will ever convince me but that I was in the presence of a spirit from another world! “Temporarily only, mind you. Because, once I saw this shadowy figure, I did not stand upon the order of my going—I got out of the Times’ Office as fast as I could. And, when I stood outside, in Athol Street, I was wet with perspiration caused by SHEER FRIGHT!” Sean then continued . . . “I was alone in the ‘Examiner’ reporters’ room at about eleven o’clock one night recently, and was typing at my desk. The office adjoins the passage in which Mrs Leece was standing when she saw the wraith. My window overlooks Athol Street, and by my side is a telephone table. The corner, a few inches away from me, is occupied by a large old-fashioned safe. I understand it was in the possession of the former “Times’ proprietors for many years, and it’s now filled with old documents. ” I was typing my newspaper story when, suddenly, I felt the room go very cold. I kept on typing but became more and more uneasy, as I felt there was someone watching me.
“The room was in darkness except for the light over my desk. I got up. and switched on all the lights. Then I resumed my typing—but the horrible feeling that I was being watched persisted. I felt waves of coldness about me and I started to shiver.
“At last I ripped the last page from my typewriter and sat back in my chair. I glanced towards the corner by the safe —and it was then I saw IT . . .
“There was unmistakably a shadowy figure. I could see him clearly enough to note that he was staring at me with glassy eyes — and his eyes seemed to bore through me. I would know this figure again.
“I sat for a moment, transfixed. I could not move. Sweat began to trickle down my face. I felt in my pockets for my rosary and murmured a prayer.
“The figure vanished — and I ran! Yes! — I ran from that office, but, when I got to the door, I heard a crash.
“I glanced back—and saw that the wall plaster in the corner near the safe, at the spot where the ghost had stood, had crashed to the floor.
“Afterwards. I went up to St. Mary’s Church, and prayed for the poor soul who cannot rest.
“When I came to the office the following morning, the corner of the floor was littered with plaster. “”Well. Arthur — that is my story. Have I ever seen an apparition before? Yes! — once, on the extreme west coast of Ireland . . . “I saw, and heard, the Banshee— the white – clothed woman — outside the window of my greatest friend’s house. “And that same night, as the Banshee wailed outside, my friend’s father died.” Reporter Kenny paused, then added “I’m convinced I have seen the “Times” spectre, and, remember—I have heard footsteps in the editor’s room next door when the door was wide open. Yet there was no one in the room, but I have heard the footsteps walking across the floor—and so did one of our office girls.”
Then there is the solemn, unswerving testimony of reporter John Quirk, who has told me . . . “When I thought I was alone one night some years ago I heard, plainly and unmistakably, footsteps descending from the top floor and moving slowly about the building. I concluded that a former secretary was also working late, and called out his name. “There was no reply. When I investigated, I was startled to see a shadow on the staircase wall and to hear the footsteps receding — because, by then, I knew no one else was on the premises. I feel sure Mrs Leece saw something supernatural.” Colleague Quirk led me to the top floor, now completely cut off from electric or gaslight. It was so dark on the landing that I had to strike matches before cameraman Will Peters could see us to take the picture on this page. Behind, and to the side of us, were the small, low-ceilinged rooms in which lay scattered the bleak, decaying documents, and remnants of their one-time living occupant’s earthly possessions.
“Times” co-editor Miss Alice Haywood Rylance is a shrewd and practical newspaperwoman who has worked for three generations of this building’s former proprietors. Although she has never seen a ghost materialise, her obviously sincere and unexaggerated contribution to this evidence has impressed me strongly. Her own office is midway between the building’s old and new sections. Exit doors lead, in opposite directions, to two separate winding stairways, which both connect with the printing departments below. Quietly and simply, Miss Rylance has told me she will on no account, when alone, use the corridor and stairs in the OLD part of the premises. And she has an instinctive “dislike” for the former secretarial office, through which she would have to pass in order to reach the old staircase.
Mrs Flo Stafford, the popular stewardess of the R.A.F.A. Club, Douglas, is the wife of senior “”Times” reporter, Lancastrian Tom Stafford. She is also a “seventh child,” and a woman with firm religious convictions. This is what she told me . . . “I first visited the “Times’ Building with my husband nearly five years ago. It was in the evening and he was delivering copy to the office. When we reached the first floor landing I said to Tom—’I don’t like it here. It’s not happy.’ My husband asked me what I meant, but I could only explain that, at times. I have deeply spiritual experiences and am extremely sensitive.”
It may be added that Mrs Stafford only learned about the “Times” ghost legend after Mrs Leece’s experience. It may be further added that reporter Tom now frankly admits he will no longer use the reporter’s room if the building is deserted at night.
Some dogs are reputed to be acutely sensitive to supernatural influences. One of them, apparently, is “Rufus”, a corgi belonging to Londoner Jack Sillick, who makes our papers’ picture blocks in the “haunted” part of the building.
Although Mr Sillick pulled gently on the dog’s lead, “”Rufus” refused to budge from the foot of the stairs leading to his master’s workroom!
It was at 10 o’clock one night last September when I had my first personal experience of an unusual “incident” in the “Times” Building. I had promised to phone Miss Margery Tregellis, then working in Port Erin, to convey a message from her mother in Douglas. I was a few minutes late when I unlocked the ground-floor office door in Athol Street so, without pausing to switch on a light, I picked up the receiver of one of the phones on the counter and got through to Port Erin.
Miss Tregellis (an intelligent and truthful witness, incidentally) answered the call. But before I could communicate the message to her, I heard what appeared to be three heavy thuds on the floor above.
“Excuse me just a moment,” I said, and placed the phone receiver on the office counter. I went upstairs to the first floor. It was in darkness.
And I knew I was the only living person in the building. I returned downstairs to the office counter, picked up the receiver, and said to the young lady at the Port Erin end . . .
“Sorry I’ve kept you waiting —I thought I heard someone knocking upstairs.”
“I heard three distinct knocks, too,” replied Miss Tregellis.
Then I was certain I HADN’T merely imagined the knocks though I was reluctant to associate them with the theory of a ghostly presence.
Out of curiosity, however, the following day I requested Miss Rylance and someone else to stand at the counter by the downstairs phone. When I went up to the first floor into the “Times” reporters’ room I stamped my foot three times on the floor.
Miss Rylance and the other person heard my knocks immediately above their heads.
And, as you will recall—the reporters’ room doorway was where Mrs Leece had been cleaning when she turned and saw the spectre on the stairway.
Here is the second of my own personal “experiences” in our rambling old building of draughty corridors and creaking stairs . . .
About a month ago I was working alone one night in the “Examiner” room, when the ‘phone (switched through to the upstairs editorial offices when the shop staff leave the premises) gave a loud, prolonged ring. When I connected with the Exchange, a male operator asked me what number I required.
I told him the bell had rung, and he informed me no one was on the line.
A few minutes later the bell rang again—but this time the sound came from an adjoining room. As the various office phones are inter-connected, I had merely to press a button and take the call in the “Examiner” room. Once more the operator said no one was calling.
Scarely had I returned to my writing desk when a third sharp ringing note came to me—this time from the “Times” editors’ room in which, you will remember, reporter Kenny stated he heard footsteps.
This time I quickly pressed the button connecting me to the Exchange — but the bell continued to ring. When the operator asked what number I wanted, I exclaimed “Listen! Can’t you hear the phone ringing?” I held the receiver towards the half-open door of the editors’ room, and the operator said “Yes—there’s a bell ringing, but I can assure you that your lines are clear. I’ll connect you with Inquiries.” He did—with the result that, on the following morning, a Post Office engineer visited the building to test our phones. He failed to find any fault in them to account for the “calls” of the previous night. I’m not claiming that a ghost caused the bell to ring. I’m simply telling you what occurred. And, though the night operator in question is unknown to me, I am sure he would verify my story if called upon to do so. In conclusion . . . It is not within my province to “analyse” the strange occurrences I have here described. But at least I am sure they would not lightly be dismissed by scientific or spiritualistic investigators of psychic phenomena.
If I must confess that I personally, have not yet encountered our ghost, nor felt its presence, perhaps this is because I believe that, when the “soft, dark, restful curtain” descends, those who die are separated forever from those who still live . . .
Perhaps it is because I believe the living are more to be feared than the dead . . .
Or, it could be that I am just not sufficiently psychic . . .
Yet—as I sit alone in the reporters’ room writing the concluding words of this strange story, I am certainly well aware of the howling wind that rattles the doors and windows—of the distant creaking floorboardsand the dark passage outside my door that leads to the wooden staircase . . .
I have noted, too, that in five minutes’ time, it will be striking the traditionally ghostly hour of midnight . . .
So — all things considered, I think I should end our story, and make my way home — leaving this Athol Street storehouse of Manx newspaper history to its spectre and his Christmas memories.