Birkdale Palace Hotel


Birkdale Palace Hotel

The Birkdale Palace Hotel was a luxury hotel located in the coastal resort of Birkdale, on the north-west coast of England. It was opened in 1866 and demolished in 1969. During the Second World War it was a rehabilitation centre for US airmen, and in the last two years of its existence was used as a film location. It was notorious as a haunted hotel.

The nineteenth century

Developed by the Southport Hotel Company (funded mainly by Manchester merchants), the Birkdale Palace Hotel was built on a 20 acre site at the end of Weld Road, fronting the Birkdale shore. The 200ft long luxurious hotel opened in 1866 at a cost of £60,000 and was a very grandiose building, having magnificent reception rooms and 75 bedrooms.

A long standing rumour was that the hotel had been built the wrong way round, so instead of the hotel front facing out to sea, it in fact faced inland. It was also said that the architect, William Mangnall then committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the building. There have been stories of how the architect's ghost was heard to travel up and down in the lifts and was heard walking along the second floor stone floors whilst the building was being demolished. Unfortunately for lovers of ghost stories, recent research has revealed that there is no evidence that the hotel was built the wrong way round and William Mangnall actually died of consumption at Lord Street, Southport, two years after the hotel was opened. [http://www.mara.org.uk/Palace.htm]

In 1881 the hotel was completely refurbished and the grounds were reduced to five acres, as the hotel had previously gone into liquidation, because it was not accessible by road or tram. A variety of baths were installed, a pipe built to draw in salt water from the sea and an elevator installed to all floors. It re-opened with over 60 staff, as a Hydropathic establishment to rival the very successful Smedley Hydro. Later, electric lighting was installed, produced by a steam driven generator. By 1910 the hotel was for sale due to financial difficulties.

The Birkdale Palace had extensive surrounding grounds providing facilities for Croquet, Bowling, Archery, Children's Playground, Walks, Bowers, Seats and Stables. Local residents could buy contracts to use the facilities.

A high embankment on the seafront kept the facilities sheltered from prevailing winds, the structure being topped with a convert|650|ft|m|abbr=on promenade to overlook the shore.

The twentieth century

In 1919 the hotel introduced flights from Blackpool to the nearby aviation ground and the Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway (SCLER) also had a station, Birkdale Palace railway station adjacent to the hotel from 1884 up until 1952.

In an official guide to Southport in 1939, the hotel boasted of billiards, croquet on the lawns, dancing, evening concerts, Sunday afternoon orchestral teas and tennis, to name but a few activities available. It had 1,000 rooms and around 200 bedrooms and suites. By this time, the hotel had become a successful holiday resort hotel and conference centre, with stars like Frank Sinatra and Clark Gable staying there.

In 1942, it was taken over by the American Red Cross and used as a rest home for the US Army airmen until 1945. During this period, it was one of the largest rehabilitation centres in the country for US Air Force personnel, with more than 15,000 recuperated from active flying service there.

The hotel was still in use up until the 1960s, when its final owners, Heddon Hotels, went into liquidation and were wound up in 1967. In February of that year there were only two guests - an elderly permanent resident and the company controller's wife.

Its last use was in 1968/9 as a film production base for Tigon, a specialist in low budget exploitation films, which was run by legendary British producer Tony Tenser. "What's Good for the Goose", starring Norman Wisdom, and "The Haunted House of Horror", were both filmed at the hotel, with most of the indoor scenes in What's Good for the Goose making use of the hotel's public areas. Mr. Tenser actually suggested to Southport Council that they jointly buy the empty hotel and operate it as a film production centre but the Council turned down the idea, on the grounds that they did not enter into commercial partnerships.

The Hotel was demolished a few weeks later in 1969. There is now a housing estate called Ascot Close on the site, although what was originally the Coach House of the Hotel survived demolition and is now the Fisherman's Rest pub.

Ghost Stories

The story of the haunted lift at the Palace Hotel has entered into local folklore and was first reported in the Southport Visitor on May 6, 1969, when a group of demolition workers reported that the lift at the old Palace Hotel in Birkdale was acting very strangely. Jos Smith, who was heading up the demolition team, said: "Things began to happen soon after we started the job. First we were woken up by eerie voices and other strange noises in the middle of the night, then the lift suddenly began to work by itself."

Further investigation revealed that despite the fact that the lift's power had been cut and the brakes were on, the four ton box was quite merrily making its way between floors, just as it did before the hotel was closed. "That made the men really jittery!" added Mr Smith.

In fact, the team of hardened demolition workers became so jittery that they cut the giant lift from its holdings, sending it crashing four stories down into the basement. The workmen also reported hearing voices, the sounds of arguments and a woman's stilettoes clattering through the foyer, although these may have been caused by courting couples who were often believed to make use of the hotel's empty bedrooms. [http://www.champnews.com/html/newsstory.asp?id=6227] The workers, from Rochdale, were even locked in their rooms on occasions.

Even more grisly is the murder in the hotel of a six-year-old Southport girl, Amanda Jane Graham, by a hotel porter, in 1961. Her body was found under a bed at the hotel. It is also rumoured that two sisters carried out a suicide pact within the grand rooms of the palatial hotel.

Fishermen's Rest

The only surviving fragment of the Palace Hotel is a pub called the Fishermen's Rest, on Weld Road. Yet like its neighbour, the pub is also supposed to be haunted. The ghost of a little girl reputedly inhabits the hostelry, although the new landlord, Gerrard Brannan, a former Tranmere Rovers player, doesn't know any further details.

However, James Dakin, who is the chef at The Fishermen's Rest, has experienced a presence of a strange entity when he's been working down in the pub cellar on his own. "You know there's something's there, something watching you. The hairs stand up on the back of your neck," says James, who has worked at the pub for two and a half years."

If the Fishermen's Rest is haunted, then it is possible it is by the 14 lifeboatmen who were temporarily laid to rest there after being drowned trying to save other souls on December 9,1886, when the sailing ship Mexico was driven ashore off Southport in the Southport and St Anne's lifeboats disaster. The bodies of their fellow crewmen were viewed at the pub by the jury from the hastily convened coroner's inquiry held at the Palace Hotel.

The pub's name is in tribute to those brave lifeboatmen. The bar counter was moved to the back of the pub after the tragedy and the lost men are also touchingly recalled by the 14 small brass mermaids which hold the bar handrail in place

The link with the hotel is continued by a photograph of the entire site which barmaid Vicki O'Rourke says has never been moved since the pub opened. The scale of the Birkdale Palace Hotel can be judged in comparison to the Fishermen's Rest, located at the northern extremity of the hotel. Although the pub has very high-ceilinged bars, it is dwarfed by the Palace.

The Fishermen's Rest was built as a coach house for the hotel and later converted into the hotel's non-residents bar, so as to keep local residents separate from the hotel guests.

ee also

*Southport and St Anne's lifeboats disaster

External links

* [http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/ Disused Station]
* [http://www.worldofthestrange.com/nlv1603.html/ World of the Strange - Palace Hotel Ghost Stories]
* [http://www.southportforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=16552&page=1&pp=30/ Southportforums.com discussion thread on the Palace Hotel]
* [http://www.virtualsouthport.co.uk/nostalgia/palace.htm/ Virtual Southport - Palace Hotel page]

Further reading

*"The Great Lifeboat Disaster of 1886 " (by J. Allen Miller, new edition by Andrew Farthing. Published by [http://www.sefton.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=5136 Sefton Libraries] , 2001: ISBN 1-874516-09-X)


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