Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames
The Kenton Theatre in Henley on Thames dates from 7 November 1805 and is thought to be the fourth oldest working theatre in Great Britain. With a 234 seat capacity the theatre is small and run by a group of volunteers. It is also a location where haunting like activity has been reported.
The building itself has not always been used as a theatre. After eight years the theatre closed and in 1813 became a chapel. It did not re-open as a theatre until 1935 and had by that time also been utilised as a church hall, school and storeroom.
In his book ‘The Ghosts’ Who’s Who’ (1977), Jack Hallam says that the ghost of Mary Blandy, was ‘once seen at Henley’s Kenton Theatre, standing at the back of the stalls as if watching a performance of The Hanging Tree, a play based on her crime’
Mary Blandy was executed on 6 April 1752 for poisoning her father. Two hundred years later, in 1950, the novelist, actress and playwright Joan Morgan (Born 1 February 1905 – Died 22 July 2004) wrote a play about her called The Hanging Wood (not The Hanging Tree as Hallam suggested). Though the play was adapted for the BBC in 1977, The Hanging Wood was only performed once on stage and was not well received. This was in 1969, the performance which the ghost was said to have attended.
With the start of rehearsals, strange things reputedly started to occur, including doors opening and closing, lights switching on and off, a large mirror jumping off a wall and items being smashed by what has been described as poltergeist activity.
As mentioned by Hallam, the apparition of a young woman was seen at the back of the theatre watching the rehearsals and vanished when approached. A cup was also reputedly seen rising from a table before dropping and smashing whilst cast members were discussing Miss Blandy.
On the Henley Operatic website Bill Port recounts Mary’s next visit to the theatre. ‘Mary Blandy appeared at the Kenton on the night of Saturday 10th April 2004. A party from the Ghost Club Society accompanied by Bryan Villars and myself spent the night in the complete dark of the auditorium. At around 2.45 am we all saw a mysterious light about four feet in height moving up and down the aisle. A photograph was taken by the GCS secretary. Later a questioning session was held and the ‘ghost’ claimed to be Mary Blandy. Asked why she had come to the theatre the reply was that she had come to see a play about herself which she did not like. Later checking revealed that a play called “The Hanging Wood” by Joan Morgan about Mary Blandy had been performed in the theatre in 1969.