Argus 5:30pm Saturday 31st July 2010
By Adam Trimingham
If there were any ghosts in Brighton Town Hall, you might expect them to be old councillors who have been chatting away there for the best part of two centuries.
They could also be famous authors such as Charles Dickens, who gave readings to packed audiences there.
But they do not get an entry in The Ghosts Of Brighton’s Lanes by Rob Marks (SB Publications, £3.99).
Instead Marks mentions the spectre of a friar with an alarming and eerie appearance in the cellars of the town hall.
There is a legend that a former brother of St Bartholomew’s priory, which stood nearby, committed a serious offence. It may have been getting drunk on communion wine.
For discrediting the priory, he was excommunicated to become shamed and destitute.
His ghost also appeared in the Royal Pavilion gardens and in a shop at East Street but he may have finally found peace, as he has not been seen much recently.
Marks says many town hall employees have also seen a second spectre, a repulsive hag-like figure wearing a long flowing gown.
Why this creature persists in manifesting herself is unclear but he says she seems consumed with a bitter hatred and strikes fear into the hearts of those who see her.
But the best known ghost is that of Henry Solomons, Chief Constable of Brighton, who was murdered there in 1844.
In those days the police station was in part of the town hall, with villains placed in cells. One of them was John Lawrence, well known to the police, who was brought in for questioning about a stolen carpet.
In the cells, Lawrence was interrogated by Solomons who received little response to his enquiries.
The prisoner became increasingly agitated and uncooperative. Suddenly he snatched a heavy iron poker from the hearth in the cell. Solomons had turned his back fleetingly on Lawrence who made a frenzied attack on the Chief Constable. The poor man did not stand a chance. He died from severe blows to his head.
Lawrence was convicted of murder at Lewes Assizes and was hanged at Horsham jail.
“Since then, the spectral figure of a man clad in dark attire has been seen down in the cellars.
“In the 1980s, a security guard on duty was awestruck to see the apparition of a man in a long dark coat and top hat appear from the area of the old cells.
“Such distinguished Victorian attire could well suggest this was indeed the troubled spirit of the murdered Chief Constable.
The scene of the murder can be visited in the Old Police Cells Museum. Details are available at the town hall and at the website: www.oldpolice cellsmuseum.org.uk.
I am sceptical about spectres but ghost books are popular and Marks successfully manages to chill the blood.