Fact or phantom.
Brighton Town Hall dates from 1830 and is built in a neo-classical style with imposing fluted columns. The town’s constabulary was once housed in its basement. It is there, in the area of the old police cells, that a brutal murder once took place. No wonder a dark and brooding presence has been seen to materialise there.
Location: Brighton – Brighton Town Hall
Type: Haunting Manifestation
Date / Time: Twentieth Century?
Further Comments: Solomon (the first Chief Constable of Brighton) died in 1844 after being hit around the head with a poker by a prisoner from the cells. The former officer’s ghost reportedly haunts the basement, while the upper parts of the building are haunted by a monk, a remnant from when a monastery stood on the site.
Whether or not the Town Hall and or the Old Police Cells Museum are haunted is beyond this guide’s abilities to determine. However, some basic facts are beyond rational dispute.
In 1514, 99 years after the Battle of Agincourt and nearly 400 years before the Entente Cordial, French raiders attacked the Sussex coast and burnt St. Bartholomew’s Grange to the ground, killing and butchering all the inhabitants in the process. Most, if not all, the monks were killed and it is quite likely that some of them, or parts of them, found their way into the well. In the 1960s the remains of the old grange walls could still be found in the basements of many of the offices surrounding the Town Hall. Visitors to the Museum today can peer into the well, but need to take care as it is about 28 feet deep and contains approximately 6 feet of clear, fresh water.
In the years following the sacking and burning of the priory and the cold blooded murder of Henry Solomon, the site was occupied by a lock up. A lock-up was an extremely damp, dark building designed to hold criminals before they were taken before the magistrates. Barely a few feet across and with almost no natural light, it is not surprising that it quickly became known as the Black Hole.
In 1844 Chief Constable Henry Solomon was brutally attacked and killed in his own office by a petty thief called John Lawrence. Three commissioners were present and they witnessed the murder. He was the first and only Chief Constable in England to be killed in office. Lawrence was later publically hanged in Horsham.
Many infamous and lesser known murderers have graced the cells with their presence before going on to trial at Lewes Assizes and the Old Baily, including Christiana Edmunds, John Lawrence and Percy Lefroy Mapleton.
If such entities as phantoms, spectres and ghosts do exist they would surely be experienced within the confines of the Town Hall and its environs, and indeed many people have commented on a dark, brooding presence in the sub-basement. Some of our guides refuse to go down there alone and others find evening tours eerily uncomfortable, preferring morning events when the building is generally buzzing with activity.
Many long term town hall staff profess to have seen the image of a woman on the upper floors of the building and I am certain they truly believe it. The sound of a whispering woman has also been heard by numerous people who one would usually consider as being in full control of their faculties. Several visitors have commented on the changes in temperature as they enter certain cells and they also comment generally on the heavy, brooding atmosphere they experience. On a recent tour, a member of Brighton and Hove Council asked one of our guides to turn off the radio commentary in the cell. The bemused guide informed the councillor that we had no radio commentary or any other sound effects. Openly shaken, the councillor asked to be escorted from the building. Whatever she experienced was clearly disturbing. Many groups have arranged to spend a night in the sub-basement and one or two have left long before morning. Presumably, they believed they experienced something truly frightening.