Farsight PRS Investigation – Morecambe Winter Gardens Theatre

The Brief
In January 2010 I joined Dead Haunted as a Trainee Team Lead at Morcambe Winter Gardens Theatre. I knew instantly that I wanted to take Farsight PRS in to conduct our own investigation.

A derelict theatre with many reports of paranormal activity is really just too hard to pass up I think, whether the activity is unexplained or has a logical is what remains for Farsight PRS to find out.

On my visit with DHN there were some oddities noted, which fitted in with the reported activity. Such as a few knocks or taps. One women believed she saw a man in the corner of one of the dressing rooms, the experience moved her to tears and I helped her out of the vigil.

I want to take Farsight PRS in to look for possible logical explanations of this activity and try a couple of things to draw it out too!

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History & Activity
Previously known as the Victoria Pavilion Theatre, the Morecambe Winter Gardens Theatre is a Grade II* listed building designed by architects Mangnall and Littlewood, with Frank Matcham consulting.

The Victoria Pavilion Theatre was built in 1897 as part of an existing complex. Dating from 1878, the original complex included seawater baths, bars and a ballroom. In the 1950s, the Winter Gardens were taken over by Moss Empires, however declining profits in the following decades led to its closure in 1977. Although the theatre building that remains today was listed the same year, the ballroom building was demolished in 1982.

In 2008, as part of an appraisal of the Morecambe Conservation Area, the Winter Gardens were listed as one of the area’s most significant features, as the main example of the remnants of the resort’s nineteenth century entertainment buildings.

In 2008, the Winter Gardens were featured on the tenth series of the ghost hunting show Most Haunted. They returned in October 2009, when the Winter Gardens Theatre was opened to the public as the live audience venue for the eight consecutive nights of the Most Haunted Live broadcast.

In parallel with the building history, of which I have kept brief, there are also many reports of paranormal activity. In fact there appears to be the full spectrum here, from audible activity such as knocks, bangs, footsteps, right through to the sound of a woman singing. There have also been physical activity reports, from small objects moving or being thrown to people being touched or pushed. There are even reports of some poltergeist activity within the theatre.

We should also take note of strange smells, light anomalies, any cold spots and perhaps the feeling of being watched.

I know this is only brief and not very specific, but it should give us a slight heads up for the investigation I think. We should learn a little more at the beginning of the night when our hosts give us a tour of the building, remarking on a little history and activity I hope. So notepads at the ready!

Witness Reports
Before arriving at Morecambe I heard a few stories of the oddities that had occurred at the Theatre, but didn’t manage to get an actual witness statement. Some spoke of the Theatre being split between good and evil, with an explanation of there being some good spirits within the building , but also some very dark ones too. These are quite dramatic and even scary claims, but not unusual as the Theatre is derelict and very atmospheric. These kind of conditions can easily fuel imaginations and create such theatrical claims if you will. However, without knowing the actual source of this information it can’t be totally disregarded, after all there could be a little truth to it.

When we arrived at the Theatre and were given a tour of the building, our guide made us aware of a few additional stories. I think for me though one of the more interesting things he told us was about the building architecture and that it was designed to be symmetrical. This meant if you stood at a point at the front of the building everything on your left is the same as everything on your right through the building to the back. He also added that this has been associated with what is known as the good and bad side of the theatre.

Attending Investigators
Ashley Knibb – Lead Investigator
Leanne Knibb – Documentarian
Rich Owen – Camera Crew
Aaron Hardy – Case Manager
Simon Ranson – Tech Manager
Siobhan Evans – Investigator
Kai Allen – Investigator
Kev Ling – Investigator
Joanna Botcherby – Investigator
Andrea Harvey – Investigator

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Location Hotspots & Equipment
As ever before arriving at the location I had some ideas for where we could setup our kit, but for this occasion I would be handing over to Simon to start manage the setup of our tech. This was possibly a little hard for me, as I was used to making the decisions on CCTV camera positions. Not to mention that I also needed to convey this information to Simon, so we may both be happy with the results. In fact 2011 was already beginning to be a year for some changes for Farsight PRS.

We cracked on and between us made some decisions on CCTV locations. The first CCTV camera was setup under the stage. This was for a couple of reasons really, there had been a few reports of activity and odd feelings in the under stage area. I also had a Séance experiment planned for one of our vigils later in the night, so we set the camera to cover that.

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For the second CCTV camera we decided to cover the ladies dressing room on the first floor. There had been a few reports of activity there and it would also be a location that we would pass by on the way to other rooms. Altogether this seemed a good point to setup a camera.

As ever we like to try and setup a camera to try and cover our HQ for the night and a large space, for this we placed CCTV camera three in one of the private boxes to the left of the stage at the first floor level. This pointed out across the auditorium covering a great deal of the upper circle seating area. The good thing about this camera was that we could also use it to log when we left and returned to our HQ.

Our final CCTV camera was up covering the Gods seating area above our HQ area. There had been some reports of the seats being moved and if it happened during our visit we wanted to capture it.

Our HQ for the night would be one of the old bar areas just off the main seating area. From here we setup our CCTV hub unit, laid out our kit and those all important refreshments to keep us going. It wasn’t long and following a minor hick up during the setup (my fault) that we were ready to go.

As we had quite a large team for this investigation we decided to split the team into two smaller teams. The first team would be me, Kev, Jo, Andrea and Leanne on camera. The second team was lead by Aaron with Simon, Siobhan, Kai and Richard on camera. Although we would investigate different parts of the theatre would still remain in contact by radio.

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Vigil 1 – Team One – Gents Dressing Room & Stage
My team began their vigil by heading up to the Gents Dressing room on the first floor. After a short while we soon realised that the only thing that could be heard were noises from a neighbouring pub and decided to continue down onto the stage.

The stage felt completely different to us all though! Almost immediately Andrea felt the presence of a man on the stage following us about, overlooking what we were up to if you will. Leanne also got a similar type of feeling. Now, neither of these team members claim to be psychic mediums, but both show a tendency to be a little sensitive towards the spiritual side of things at times.

They both went on to agree that the man was wearing a white short, had dark hair and possibly had a moustache. They also felt that he questioned our presence on stage.

This was all accompanied by a slight temperature drop and more dramatically by what seemed like gentle taps or raps on the huge metal fire curtain. I attempted to recreate the sound by knocking on the fire curtain or by gently moving it, but the only thing that sound similar was me tapping on it with my finger nail!

Quite an eventful first vigil I think.

Vigil 1 – Team Two – Gods Seating & Front Area
Team two began their investigation at the front of the theatre and around the Gods seating area. However, they didn’t appear to be as lucky as we were. They did experience a temperature drop around the area outside of the Ladies Bar, but they were unable to obtain a reading to quantify this.

Vigil 2 – Team One & Two – Under Stage Area – Séance
Our second vigil of the night would combine both teams to begin with and experiment with a more older and spiritual form of communication, a Séance. However, for this Séance I included some simple things, a round table to create a circle for the participants, three candles and a minimum of three people around the table.

As Andrea, Jo and Leanne had already shown a level of sensitivity I decided they would be the best ones to start things off. Later on Siobhan joined in as a fourth member and possibly increased the energy a little.

There was a slight temperature drop during the Séance, but not really dramatic or controlled enough to be labelled as an effect of the experiment itself.

As we continued with the Séance, Aaron and Simon decided to take a look around on their own. After they left us we heard them above on the stage for a little while, but then they were quiet. We later learnt that they headed to the front of the theatre to check on the seating. This was later seen during the review of the CCTV footage.

As the Séance drew to a close, Leanne thought she heard a voice copying everything she said, but coming from the stage area above. At the time we thought it was probably Aaron and Simon, but we soon realised it wasn’t, which was later confirmed when they returned. This left us wondering who might have been mimicking what Leanne was saying?

Singapore Theory Experiment – From Main Auditorium
We kicked off the tailored Singapore Theory Experiment for the theatre based on its past and some of its more well known acts. We had a playlist of about twenty nine tracks, which included a few old Morecambe and Wise songs, followed by music from the forties. In fact I think one track or two may have actually been performed at the theatre, although recorded elsewhere.

We hoped that these familiar sounds filling the theatre once again may stir some energy and give us some good results. We would leave it running during our next vigil and then turn it off before our forth and final one.

Vigil 3 – Team One – Ladies Dressing Room, Dress Circle & Ladies Bar
The team headed up to the Ladies Dressing Room to begin our vigil, but we were soon drawn to the balcony area overlooking the stage below. This was because we were hearing the odd noise from where we were earlier. Across the stage at the door to the Gents dressing room we witnessed a darkening around the doorway and sometimes what appeared to be shadows passing the door.

As we stood high up looking down at the stage in darkness we actually heard possibly the loudest knock of the night! In fact rather than a knock it sounded more like someone had walked right across the stage , but knocked a chair as they did so. We immediately radioed the other team to ensure they were not down there, and they weren’t!

As things quietened down we headed down towards the front of stage and stood in one of the private boxes overlooking the main auditorium. As we did this I saw a strange light anomaly move towards the stage and then suddenly change direction towards us before disappearing.

Although this wasn’t caught on film it was witnessed by Jo who was stood next to me. It was very odd though as it appeared to be travelling along the floor.

Towards the top of the staircase Jo picked up on something too, and felt a little uneasy,

Vigil 3 – Team Two – Gents Dressing Room & Seating
Team two headed towards the main seating in the Gods and main circles to check them out and ensure no seat had been disrupted since earlier. In fact they hadn’t, but the team did experience a brief possible communication in the form of a flash or two on the K2.

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Vigil 4 – Team One – Stage
For their final vigil of the night team one returned to their most active location of the night, the stage. As soon as we arrived back Andrea picked up on the presence of the man again. This was soon followed by the return of the tapping again. However, this time a followed it and found where it was coming from, the corner of the stage, but still on what seemed like the other side of the metal fire curtain. After a while I became convinced someone was on the other side of the metal curtain tapping for some reason. I radioed through to Aaron’s team and asked their position. They responded by stating they were in the Gods Seating overlooking the stage, so I asked if there was anyone on the stage near the metal curtain. The response to that question was a ‘no’, and with that I took a step back from the curtain. I searched for a logical reason, but found none!

Our attention was also briefly caught by a loud bang from another part of the stage, which Leanne later recreated at the trap door. Still, there was no reason for the noise to occur when it did though!

Vigil 4 – Team Two – Gods Seating
Other than a radio call from team one, to check their position and what they could see, this was a quiet vigil for the team.

Captured Evidence & Personal Experiences
Although our night in the Morecambe Winter Gardens Theatre seemed quite active with a certainly a few oddities, not to mention a couple of personal experiences, actual evidence eluded us once again. However, we did capture an odd light anomaly on Aaron’s camera which does resemble the light anomaly I saw in front of the stage. Unfortunately these kind of small lights which appear on video whilst filming using an IR lamp can often be dust particles or even bugs, which become illuminated as they pass in front of the camera. This was the case for many of such lights which we picked up on the night, but under review there is one which stands out as being slightly different. Whether or not its a spirit is unknown, just that it remains unexplained and matches the light anomaly I personally witnessed.

We had some temperature fluctuations which we managed to get a readings on, but still these were not specific enough to call paranormal in my mind. After all we were investigating a large derelict theatre, varying temperature comes with the territory. However, my team did experience a few moments when we felt cold around the same time as we noted some activity or Andrea picked up on a presence. Possibly there was a connection, but on this occasion we were unable to obtain supporting evidence.

There was the incident where Leanne believed she heard slight whispery voices on the stage above her copying her word for word. At the time Aaron and Simon were away from the group, but at the time this occurred the CCTV placed them in the seating area. One of my regrets for the night was placing a camera overlooking the stage and with the abundance of activity which appeared to be centred around it this may have been a missed opportunity. On their return to the group Aaron confirmed there was no one on the stage and that it wasn’t them mimicking Leanne. Perhaps there was a spirit with a child like sense of humour on the stage?

The most significant occurrence at Morecambe, for me was the tapping on the what had to be the fire curtain on the stage. This happened the first time we investigated the stage area, but we found it hard to pin point. However, on our second visit I narrowed it right down to a specific area of the curtain. Following a brief radio call to Aaron’s team we also established that there was no one on the other side of the metal curtain. We also tested the curtain to try and recreate the noise we heard and the only thing that came close was the sound of me tapping my finger nail against the metal. This remains truly unexplained!

More often than not you can investigate a location and hear all sorts of taps, knocks and various sounds, but usually they are hard to pin point. On this occasion I stood right next to the metal curtain and listened as something tapped only a few feet away from me. I have to admit though it sent a shiver down my spine when I realised there was no actual reason for it and no one on the other side of that curtain!

Conclusions
The Morecambe Winter Gardens Theatre was a great opener for the Farsight PRS to begin their 2011 investigations. The location was huge and in its current derelict state very atmospheric, making it an investigators dream location. Not to mention the fun you could have shooting some kind of horror film there, but that’s another tale.

I have to admit I had already been once before as a Dead Haunted Team Leader and from the moment I walked in the location I knew it was a must for a team investigation. In fact the Dead Haunted team relayed a few stories to me that night and some of the guests shared some info too. Some guests even had experiences of their own that night.

As a Most Haunted location in years gone by and more recently a Live location it had seen its fair share of interest from the paranormal world.

Is the Morecambe Winter Garden Theatre haunted? Well, from my own personal experiences it certainly seemed that way or at least to have something going on. The place did throw up a few weird things throughout the night, in the form of both audible and visual phenomenon. However, evidence to support this is lacking and as much as I would love to go purely on personal experience, we must remain slightly scientific and allow the evidence to speak.

On this occasion the evidence has remained firmly quiet, albeit a few fluctuations and a light anomaly were captured, we can’t confirm these as paranormal in origin.

So, where does that leave us? Although it sounds as if I am a touch stuck on the fence, that’s possibly because I am. In my own opinion there is most definitely something odd at Morecambe Winter Garden Theatre, something that requires further investigation, possibly over a longer length of time. Our usual eight hour window over one night is never really enough! Although we didn’t capture any dramatic evidence of the paranormal that doesn’t mean its not there. Our more sensitive team members picked up on quite a lot, we heard tapping from no where and we saw odd lights.

The one thing I will add is in reference to the theatre having a good and bad side. Personally I think this a psychological development deduced simply from the fact the individual is in a building which for all tense and purposes is symmetrical. As its supposed to be haunted, this can create a mirrored environment and the perception of a good and evil side of the theatre. We found no evidence of any dark or evil spirits and never really felt threatened during our investigation.

Farsight PRS leave the Morecambe Winter Gardens Theatre and great start to our year, as we head to Reading for our next investigation at Watlington House. We take with us a few additional pieces of knowledge and the our new team members which after one investigation have already began to settle in.

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