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Weird Norfolk: The haunting of the Pavilion Theatre on Cromer Pier

PUBLISHED: 15:00 24 March 2018

The Pavilion Theatre on Cromer Pier.   Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

The Pavilion Theatre on Cromer Pier. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Archant Norfolk 2015

The ghost of a well-known impresario and a host of hauntings mean that Cromer Pier is a magnet for paranormal investigators - those spirits do love to be beside the seaside.

Cromer Pier feature. Backstage of The Pavilion Theatre.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYCromer Pier feature. Backstage of The Pavilion Theatre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

It’s the grand old lady of Cromer which allows visitors to walk on water and enchants everyone who sets eyes on her: it’s unsurprising, therefore, that even supernatural guests have felt loath to leave.

Originally built in 1391, the pier was little more than a jetty. Letters granting the right to levy duties for repairs suggest that the jetty was maintained until 1580 until Queen Elizabeth I granted the right to those who lived in Cromer to export malt, wheat and barley for the maintenance of their town and towards the rebuilding of the pier.

A 210ft wooden jetty was built in 1822 but lasted just 24 years until the North Sea claimed it during a ferocious storm – replaced in 1843 by a 240ft structure, the new pier was regulated by stringent bylaws which forbade smoking until 9pm when it was assumed ladies would have retired to bed. After a storm the town remained pier-less for almost 15 years until 1901, when a 500ft iron pier was built at a cost of £17,000.

A bandstand was built at the head of the pier, within eyeshot of the drowned village of Shipden, which was later extended to create a pavilion. It is this pavilion, which became the Pavilion Theatre which is of greatest interest to those who seek the unusual and the unexplained. Concert parties were played in the pavilion from 1906 and throughout the 1920s and 1930s the pier was host to a carousel of entertainment including Ronnie Brandon’s Out of the Blue in 1936.

Cromer Pier feature. The Pavilion Theatre.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYCromer Pier feature. The Pavilion Theatre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

In 1978, Irish impresario Dick Condon – one of Theatre Royal Norwich’s most famous managers - formed a partnership with Cromer Pier and the Seaside Special was created, now an institution which welcomes thousands of theatre fans every year. Mr Condon died in 1991, but it is said his spirit can still be felt on Cromer Pier: several performers have reported seeing him on stage standing next to them, others have seen his shadow cast across the theatre.

In addition to those who believe the spirit of Mr Condon is still at large on Cromer Pier, there have been a host of other ghostly reports: moaning and shuffling feet have been heard, mediums report communicating with spirits that date back to the 1300s, ghostly members of a lifeboat crew have been reported on the boards outside the theatre and visitors and members of staff have witnessed the ghostly apparition of a man in a tall black hat and another ashen-faced man with jet black hair.

Members of staff have seen objects moving on their own accord and bottles and glasses have mysteriously smashed in the bar. Figures wearing medieval clothing have been seen wandering along the pier and ghostly cries have been heard from the sea, performers and staff have reported the feeling of being watched backstage and in a particular dressing room and mysterious disembodied laughter, singing, footsteps, taps and bangs have been heard across the theatre. People talk of a very intense and oppressive atmosphere occasionally felt backstage.

The ghostly goings-on attracted the camera crews from Most Haunted in 2009. Yvette Fielding walked the pier with medium Patrick Matthews who picked up on the spirit of a lady called Elizabeth from the 1920s who had apparently witnessed an accidental manslaughter on the stage. Backstage, Yvette had a spirit mimic her singing and saw an apparition while Stuart and Karl were physically affected by something unknown in the stage area.

Gemma Snow, events director and organiser of Fright Nights Cambridgeshire and East Anglia, visited Cromer Pier with her friend Graham in February 2017 with a view to talk to staff about organising a ghost hunt for Halloween. She recalls being taken for a tour of the Pavilion Theatre and hearing footsteps and tapping in the auditorium but assuming they had come from Graham, who was standing behind her as she chatted to staff: “I turned to look round twice and Graham had a puzzled look on his face. Later it became evident that Graham hadn’t made the noises, nor had he shifted his feet, he’d remained completely still and had heard the noises himself.

“As we walked through the stage door and entered the backstage area I felt a little peculiar. The only way I could describe the feeling is that I had walked through an invisible wall and the atmosphere changed instantly. It wasn’t just a temperature drop, it was like a wall of sadness hit me. I can honestly say that I had never experienced this before: I was standing outside the notoriously haunted dressing room.”

The group’s event was held just before Halloween and two mini ghost hunts were held by Gemma, colleague Lynda Hughes and medium Ian Doherty. During a silent vigil at the foot of the stage, the auditorium was in darkness, illuminated only by torches.

“I heard a sound which made me turn my head to the right and as I did so, I saw a black mass move diagonally across the seating area on the right-hand side,” said Gemma, “I immediately said ‘Lynda, do you see that?’ to which she replied that yes, she had. A few of the guests also saw the same thing. Was it the tall man in dark clothing wearing a black hat, who’s been seen in the theatre before? I couldn’t say, but it’s the closest description of what I did see that night.”

Many thanks to Gemma Snow and Ian Doherty from Fright Nights for their help with this feature. Find out more about Fright Nights Cambridgeshire and East Anglia at www.frightnights-cambs.co.uk

For more Weird Norfolk stories, head to https://tinyurl.com/weirdnorfolk

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