The Ghosts Of William Terriss

Willian Terriss

William Terriss was one of the most popular actors of the late Victorian era. However, today, we remember him not only as the “Hero of the Adelphi Melodramas” but also for his melodramatic and sensational death—and subsequent reappearances as a ghost.

Born in 1847, William Terris led an adventurous life: He tried his hand at sheep farming and horse raising in Bengal, Falkland Islands, and Kentucky before he returned to London to become an actor in the 1870s.

In 1897, at the height of his success, he was stabbed by fellow actor Richard Archer Prince in front of the Adelphi Theater stage door and passed away in his dressing room.

Since then, the William Terriss ghost has appeared at various locations, including the Adelphi Theater and Covent Garden Tube Station, which opened after his passing.

The Murder of William Charles James Lewin

According to news reports and case archives, William Terriss’s murder at the hands of fellow actor Richard Archer Prince was an act of passion.

Here’s the chronology of events:

  1. Richard Prince was a younger actor who worked with William Terriss in several productions. After he was fired from The Harbour Lights due to a disagreement with Terriss in 1985, he couldn’t get work as an actor and went to Dundee to work as a labourer.
  2. By 1987, he was desperate for work but found all the doors closed to him, sometimes literally.
  3. On December 13, 1987, he was forced out of Vaudeville Theatre after trying to gain free entrance with his Adelphi Theatre pass.
  4. He confronted Terris the next night at the Adelphi Theater and was convinced that Terriss prevented him from finding acting work.
  5. On December 16, he hid in Maiden Lane, where Terriss would enter the theatre for the evening’s performance. While Terriss was trying to find his keys, he stabbed the actor with a butcher’s knife.

The famous actor passed away.

Richard Archer Prince said “I did it for revenge. He had kept me out of employment for 10 years, and I had either to die in the street or kill him” and initially pleaded “guilty with provocation” in his trial.

He was ultimately found guilty. Presumed mad, he was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum and stayed there until his death in 1937.

William Terriss’s Last Words

According to author Peter Underwood, William Terriss assured his daughter Ellaline Terriss that this was not the end for him before he died: He said “I will come back.

Ellaline’s husband Seymour Hicks told Underwood he heard a disembodied voice say “Are there men living such fools as to think there is no hereafter”. He knew he’d see Terriss again…

The William Terriss Ghost

The earliest references to William Terriss’s ghost come from the archives of the Ghost Club, a paranormal research society active between 1882 and 1936.

According to Ghost Club member Leonard Francis’s diary entries, William Terriss’s ghost first appeared to them on December 30, 1926. His message was short and chilling: “I am William Lewin. I was stabbed at the Adelphi Theatre. I cannot rest.”

Francis and fellow club member Nicholl reported the apparition to the other club members. They continued the investigation with the help of a medium who confirmed it was the ghost of William Terriss.

Francis wrote in his diary that he saw the ghost once more on January 27, after he prayed for Lewin at the Westminster Cathedral. According to his notes, the ghost smiled and vanished.

But that was not his last appearance…

Adelphi Theatre hauntings

In 1928, someone saw a man dressed in old-fashioned clothes vanish into thin air in Maiden Lane, where Terriss was stabbed. After seeing a picture of the actor, he confirmed it was the same person.

June Tripp’s haunting

In the same year, actress June Tripp used the same dressing room as the late Terriss.

George Rowell recounts her experience in his book, William Terriss and Richard Prince’s Two Characters in an Adelphi Melodrama.

One night, her couch began shaking, and she felt a ghostly movement in the room. Something touched her arm. The audience witnessed a green light appear on the stage, apparently independent of the production.

The haunting had begun…

Midnight at Adelphi Theatre

In 1967, William Terriss’s granddaughters, Mrs Mildred Ohl and Mrs Elizabeth Spillane, joined reporter David Gemmell to discover the truth about their grandfather’s ghost. They went into Adelphi Theatre at midnight. It was empty when the night watchmen showed them in.

They followed a moaning sound that seemed to come from inside the walls before following a shadowy figure around the building. When they returned to where they had started, they found that their possessions had been moved.

Covent Garden Underground Station Hauntings

On January 15, 1956, The Sunday Dispatch reported a ghost had been haunting the Covent Garden tube station for months. The headline read “Who is the ghost of Covent Garden Underground Station?”.

Jack Hayden meets William Terriss: Ghost of the Covent Garden Station

The Covent Garden Underground station opened in 1907, a decade after Terriss’s murder. It’s deep underground, so commuters must climb the steep 193 stairs to get out or take the lift.

  • In November 1955, Foreman Collector Jack Hayden saw a man take the stairs after midnight when the station was about to close. He instructed the booking clerk to wait at the top of the stairs to catch the man. The clerk waited for someone to come out, but the man had disappeared.
  • On November 24, a tall man wearing a grey suit and white gloves appeared in front of the staff mess room. When Hayden asked him if he was looking for the cloakroom, he disappeared without a sound.
  • On November 28, Hayden was in the staff mess room with Station Woman Rose Ring when Station Man Victor Locker entered the room in fear. The spectre had touched him before vanishing, leaving him extremely scared.

The underground seance

After several encounters with the mysterious spectre, Hayden decided to alert the transportation headquarters in Leicester Square to the presence of a ghost. In response, Station Foreman Eric Davey, a spiritualist, was sent to solve the mystery.

Eric Davey held a seance to communicate with the spirit, with success. Locker saw the apparition on Davey.

Davey sketched the ghost and got a few words – “Ter… something, and a murder nearby.”

Identifying William Terriss’s ghost

Covent Garden Underground Station staff started putting together the clues: based on the first syllable of the ghost’s name and the history of murder, they linked the ghost to the murder of William Terriss.

They fetched pictures of the actor from Adelphi Theatre and compared them to Davey’s sketch. It matched.

Both Hayden and Locker confirmed the man they had seen was William Terriss – the murder victim from over 50 years ago.

Haunting the London underground

Peter Underwood, who compiled several ghost stories in his book Haunted London, reported that William Terriss’s ghost appeared regularly in the Covent Garden Station until 1965.

Terriss never answered the staff’s questions but appeared to wear the same clothes and was usually present during November and December.

After Jack Hayden left the Covent Garden Station in 1965, the sightings of William Terriss dwindled for a while.

But the quiet would not last long. In 1972, staff saw him late at night near the mess room once again...


What places does William Terriss haunt?

Many believe that the ghost of William Terriss haunts areas in and around Covent Garden underground station and Adelphi Theatre.

When did William Terriss’s ghost first appear?

The earliest records date the hauntings to December 1926, although William had been killed in 1897. Some argue that the gap of almost 30 years between his death and first sighting is because of the lack of reporting.

Final Thoughts

Why does the ghost of William Terriss appear in a station that opened a decade after his passing? Why haunt Covent Garden Station when the Adelphi Theatre is so close?

If you’re curious about his motivations, perhaps the best way to find out is to visit Covent Garden Underground Station at night.

Gather your ghost-hunting equipment and investigate the truth of the William Terriss ghost yourself.

Sam Ashford
Sam Ashford - Author

Hey, I'm Sam Ashford! I'm a ghost-hunting expert, writer and founder of SpiritShack. My mission is to help people like yourself learn about spirituality and how to hunt ghosts!