Tales & Wails: The Royal Victoria Hotel
Entry 5: A sinister spirit haunts this once-grand hotel
The Royal Victoria Hotel
The Royal Victoria Hotel’s large windows and expansive balustrades overlook the waves crashing against the pebbled shore of St Leonards-on-Sea. Today, visitors marvel at the prestige and glamour echoed in the arched windows and elaborate mouldings. Many come to nibble at scones and crustless sandwiches for high tea or to stay in rooms offering breathtaking sea views. But some report a cold, sinister presence, a slinking shadow glimpsed out of the corner of their eyes that disappears when they take a second look.
When the hotel’s construction finished in 1828, a crowd of men in fishing oilskins and women in handwoven wool shawls gathered around, peering up at the many levels and imagining the sort of wealthy elites who would make the trek from London to seek the sea’s healing benefits. This sweeping elegance greeted Charles when he arrived on a foggy autumn day in 1883.
Charles descended from his carriage, holding onto his top hat as the wind whipped past, and stepped up to the hotel’s entrance. A bellboy opened the oversized door, and Charles sank into the plush carpet of the lobby. As a man who grew up amongst London’s lords and dukes, he was no stranger to extravagance and barely spared a glance for the ornate staircase and giant mirror. Besides, he wasn’t here for pleasure.
No, quite the opposite. Charles had come to St Leonards in pursuit of Cynthia, his wife. Her mousy brown hair, narrow-set eyes and disproportionately large mouth meant she was no beauty, and she always seemed to find the most embarrassing thing to say at precisely the wrong moment. However, her father owned a steel factory in Sheffield, and Charles had valued the connection to a wealthy industrialist more than his own vanity. At least, he had at first. After the wedding, Cynthia quickly became prone to drinking too much at parties and gambling with increasingly significant portions of their wealth. He’d sent her to St Leonards, hoping the fresh sea air would purge the alcohol from her veins and bring her sensibilities back.
The initiative hadn’t worked. Cynthia had found friends who indulged her worst tendencies, and rumours ran wild about dalliances with young men. Charles was prepared for a confrontation, but when he arrived at her room, he found he didn’t need to raise any accusations.
Charles found Cynthia in the embrace of a handsome young man, Oliver. The argument was loud and heated, and the hotel staff escorted Cynthia away. Oliver hadn’t stopped blushing since Charles had thrown open the door and he slunk away at the first possible moment. Still simmering in his rage, Charles followed Oliver out of the hotel and down the narrow streets behind the hotel. Working people lived here and glanced curiously at Charles’s expensive top hat and overcoat.
Oliver arrived at the Horse & Groom pub, settling in his favourite booth in the back corner. Charles paced the street outside, growing increasingly angry with each step. He had never loved Cynthia, but perhaps he was fuelled by the shame of having an adulterous wife or maybe jealousy of Oliver’s youth and vitality. Whatever his motivation, he had worked himself into such a state that when Oliver stumbled out of the pub, Charles leapt on him and drew his knife across his neck.
While Oliver’s blood still pooled between the cobblestones, Charles walked away, never to be seen again. It is said the echo of his dark, angry spirit never left the Royal Victoria Hotel. Oliver, despite his grisly end, remains good-natured. He is occasionally spotted at his favourite table in the Horse & Groom, enjoying a pint and a pipe.
About the story
In the past year, I've gone deep into local ghost stories. I love how these stories preserve the past and invite us to learn more about the place we live (even if they are dark and depressing sometimes). I have collected dozens of stories and love retelling all of them, but I like this one in particular because of how it contrasts the elegance of the Royal Victoria Hotel with the harshness of a brutal murder.
I don't know if it's true, and honestly, I hope it's not. Regardless, it raises the air on the back of my neck every time I pass the Royal Victoria Hotel. I've never spotted Oliver at the Horse & Groom, but it's always a good excuse to stop in for a pint.
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