The Empire Theatre, Sunderland
A 2004 the Sunderland Echo article stated ‘The Empire Theatre in High Street West is thought to be haunted by the White Lady, known to frequent the bar area. A staff member says she heard doors banging, people walking about and felt an ice-cold presence. Some have speculated the ghost could be linked to the disappearance of a female member of staff from the 1940s.’ The white lady though is only of the three ghosts thought to have a presence there.
The White Lady is thought to be Molly Moselle. The following article by Sarah Stoner looking into Molly’s vanishing was published in the Sunderland Echo on 7 June 2011.‘THE mysterious disappearance of a dancer and entertainer from a Wearside theatre sparked a real-life drama in 1949.’
It was on January 14 that Molly Moselle – an assistant stage manager for Ivor Novello’s show The Dancing Years, then running at the Empire – vanished while on an errand.
The 33-year-old, whose real name was Mary Burslem, had left her lodgings in Eden Street in the late afternoon, after telling her landlady she was popping out for a birthday card.
But the card for Barry Sinclair, the show’s leading man, never arrived. And Molly, a bright, lively and popular girl, was never seen again.
Tom Kershaw, then a dresser at the Empire, is thought to have been the last person from the theatre to see her alive that day.
“It was about five in the afternoon. I was at the window of my flat and saw Molly going across the road,” he later recalled.
“She had an orange jacket on, and orange slacks and a hair band. I told my wife that it was the assistant manager from the Empire.”
Molly quickly disappeared from view into an alleyway, which in those days linked Eden Street with Garden Place, and Tom thought nothing more of it.
But, when he arrived at the theatre later that night, he found that Molly hadn’t turned up. “No-one ever saw her alive again,” he said.
As fears for Molly’s safety soared, so detectives quizzed her theatrical pals. “She was very popular with everyone,” leading man Barry Sinclair told the Echo.
Peter Braid, the Empire’s stage manager, added: “She was an extremely happy girl. She was a girl with a strong personality.”
Beneath Molly’s bubbly and vivacious personality, however, lay a troubled soul. Indeed, she was deeply depressed after two failed relationships.
Her 16-year affair with comedian Bunny Doyle had finished only months before, while a romance with businessman Walter Hattersley had just ended in tears.
Mysteriously, according to old newspaper reports, Molly had received a letter from Walter on the day she disappeared – but she refused to reveal the contents.
“The police search for Molly has been extended across Britain, with many people reporting sightings of her at various railway stations,” reported the Echo.
“No trace, however, has been found.
“Investigations into the possibility of suicide or murder have drawn a blank too, as have interviews with past boyfriends and her family back in Merseyside.”
Numerous suggestions for her disappearance were put forward. One rumour had her snatched by the white slave trade, another that she had stowed away
on a ship to start a new life.
But, despite the many offers of help from the public, Molly’s trail soon went cold. After weeks of investigations, no further evidence could be found – although the police file remains open.
** Almost 21 years after Molly was reported missing, a badly decomposed torso was found in the River Wear on October 12, 1960. A post-mortem examination revealed the body to be that of a woman, aged from 25 to 50, who had been dead for many years.
“A note made at the inquest suggested the body may ‘explain the disappearance’ of Molly, although proving the theory ‘would be impossible,’” reported the Echo.
Eventually, when police inquiries failed to shed any further light on the identity of the river body, the remains were laid to rest on October 17, 1960.
* Molly’s disappearance remains just as much of a mystery as it was 62 years ago, although legend has it that she now haunts the Empire Theatre. As it was never proved that she died, it could just be possible that a 95-year-old Molly is living out her final years away from the spotlight.
According to ‘Why is the Sunderland Empire one of the UK’s most haunted theatres?’, a Sunderland Echo article by Vicki Newman published on 8 September 2016 ‘Molly is said to haunt the mens’ toilets in the dress circle and was last sighted very recently during a run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat earlier this year.
Anthony [Hope] added: “A little boy from London who was here to see the show with his family gave everyone a fright one night. He’d never been to Sunderland before and couldn’t have possibly known this story.
“But he came out of the toilets and told a member of staff that he’d just been talking to Molly in there. The staff member told him no one called Molly was working that night. Everyone was too scared to go in and take a look for themselves.”
The Grey Lady:
In her article, Vicki explains that Anthony Hope a member of the creative learning department, revealed what he knew of the ghosts. ‘The gallery, sometimes referred to as ‘The Gods’, is the highest point in the theatre and supposedly the most haunted area within the building.
A ghost known only as ‘The Grey Lady’ is said to occupy the gallery, although most theatres are believed to have a Grey Lady.
Anthony said: “She likes it up in the gallery because she watches over the shows and the audience to make sure that everything goes the way it’s supposed to.
“People have said that while they’ve been sat up in the gallery, they’ve turned around to see a grey figure standing behind them, but whether or not that’s just an usher in the shadows we don’t know.”
One of my favourite comedy actors, Sid James (Born 8 May 1913 – Died 26 April 1976) suffered a fatal heart attack on stage whilst appearing in ‘The Mating season’. According to Vicki Newman, ‘He was sitting on a sofa next to actress Olga Lowe, who got no response when she said her line to him.
Known for his improvisations, she played along and continued talking to him, but still didn’t get a response.
Anthony said: “She knew then that something was wrong and ran off stage. The company manager came onto the stage and started shouting into the audience, asking for a doctor.
“Because Sid James had been in Carry On Doctor, everyone thought it was part of the show and just howled with laughter.
“Eventually a doctor came up from the audience onto the stage, crying with laughter, and only realised it wasn’t part of the show when the curtain came down dramatically.”
Sid is now said to haunt dressing room one – which he was using – and actors using it have reported hearing his signature dirty laugh echoing around the room.
Anthony added: “Some people who’ve been here for panto have said they’re never coming back because they’re so scared and others have refused to use dressing room one and requested to have another.
“Maintenance workers who’ve been in there alone to paint have also reported hearing the laugh and being tapped on the shoulder.”
There is a story that the comedian Les Dawson (Born 2 February 1934 – Died 10 June 1993) had a strange experience in Sid’s old dressing room in 1989. but this may or may not be the case. An interesting interview with Melvyn James, the theatres Technical Manager appeared in an article in The Shields Gazette (11/01/2009) entitled ‘Theatre Stage An Old Haunt For Sid?’ When asked about Les, he said “I’ve heard the stories, but if Les did see anything, he never mentioned it when he was here. Maybe he related something later, but I saw him regularly and he never made any such claims.”