As far as famous staircases go, the Tulip Staircase at the Queen’s House in Greenwich already had its share of niche fame, without the need for paranormal visitation. It is supposedly the first unsupported spiral staircase in the UK; a mundane fact, but an impressive engineering feat, and a tourist draw for many years.
The Queen’s House itself was built between 1616-1619 and was inhabited by many female royals over the centuries. The house was commissioned by the wife of King James I (Anne of Denmark) as an elaborate apology for him swearing at her in public. If anything, I believe his verbal response to be quite measured, considering his wife had just accidentally shot one of his dogs.
I’m unsure as to the fate of the dog, but it may well have mimicked Anne’s. The queen fell ill and died in 1619. At this point, the first floor was completed and was hastily ‘capped off’.
Later, during the reign of Charles I, he employed the same architect, Inigo Jones, to complete the project for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria. Yet again, it was not to be. Due to the advent of the English Civil War, the house was abandoned and repurposed as a means of holding prisoners of war.
Following the war, repairs recommenced and royalty finally moved in. Later, it was used for housing the orphans of sailors, as a hospital school and finally, as the National Maritime Museum.
But why is the staircase so prominent in the murky history of ghost photography?
During a visit to the Maritime Museum in June 1966, visiting Canadians, Reverend Ralph Hardy and his wife wanted to document the beautiful building. Hardy’s wife had been quite taken with a magazine photograph of the staircase from beneath and wanted to recreate it as a souvenir. Sadly, he found the staircase to be cordoned off and could only photograph the staircase from behind a barrier. He quickly took the shot and continues his visit to the museum with no thought to what was on his film.
As with all the best ghost photograph anecdotes, Hardy returned home and sent his holiday snaps off to be developed. Upon receiving the finished prints, he was shocked at what he saw.
There had been no one near him when the photograph was taken, the staircase was also inaccessible. But on the print and the negative, was the figure of a person clawing themselves up the staircase.
Its reported that Hardy sent both the negatives and the photographs to a series of researchers who then forwarded them to Kodak laboratories. After vigorous testing, Kodak concluded that neither the print nor the negative had been tampered with.
Hardy released the image to the press and speculation began in earnest. Many believed the image to show two figures, close together, both struggling to ascend the staircase.
Others conducted a séance by the staircase, attempting to contact the spirits Hardy had captured. Later, an attempt was made to recreate Hardy’s photograph in similar conditions, but it was not fully successful.
But Hardy’s spirit was not to steal all the limelight. There have been several other reports of supernatural happenings within the Queens House, ranging from unseen footsteps, to chanting children and several ghostly figures, gliding through the rooms of the building. Tourists have also reported being pinched by invisible hands. The most elaborate reported spectre is that a ghostly maid, seen mopping up blood from the bottom of the staircase. She was said to be dressed in ‘old fashioned clothing’ and very pale. It is said that a maid was thrown fifty feet from the top of the staircase, dying on impact with the bottom landing.
Ghostly visions still occur at the Queens House to this day, although Hardy’s photograph is the only lasting ‘evidence’ of such. In recent years, a gallery assistant reported that on their tea break with colleagues, they saw a woman ‘glide across the balcony, then pass through the wall on the west balcony.’ They said ‘I couldn’t believe what I saw. I went very cold and the hair on my arms and my neck stood on end. We all dashed through to the Queen’s Presents Room and looked down towards the Queen’s Bedroom. Something passed through the ante-room and out through the wall. Then my colleagues all froze too. The lady was dressed in a white-grey colour crinoline type dress’
For over fifty years, Hardy’s photograph has enthralled and frustrated believers and sceptics alike. But what do you think? I must say, I think the ghost is rather lovely, especially with its very visible sparkly ring (see pictures). As for the Queens House, the Maritime Museum is open 7 days a week, from 10am to 5pm, for all your seafaring and ghost hunting needs. Although I’d check with management before reaching for a Ouija board…
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