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An Atrocity at the Adelphi

Located on the Strand and originally dating back to 1806, the Adelphi Theatre (currently hosting a run of ‘The Bodyguard’harbours a rather sinister story…

The Adelphi Theatre

At the centre of this drama is William Terriss; a Londoner born in 1847 who was educated at a school attached to Tottenham’s Bruce Castle.

William Terriss pictured in 1896.

William’s early shots at establishing a career were adventurous to say the least, including stints in the Falklands where he farmed sheep, the States where he mined silver and Bengal where he cultivated tea.

After this incredibly varied graft, William eventually returned to London in 1886 where, being a good-looking chap with a dashing manner and harmonic voice, he decided to give the acting game a go.

William Terriss in acting mode (image: Wikipedia)

When it came to treading the boards, the former Tottenham lad proved an instant success, quickly achieving a level of fame which was on a par with today’s celebrity culture.

Along with his immense popularity, Terriss was also noted for his tireless generosity and capacity to help others.

An extreme example of this was demonstrated when he turned up for work at the Adelphi one evening dripping wet. William made no mention of why he was in such a soaked state and it was only later that his puzzled colleagues discovered the reason… the actor had plunged into the Thames to rescue a drowning child.

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One person in particular that William bent over backwards to help was Richard Archer Prince; a young actor struggling to make the big time.

Kind hearted as ever, William Terriss took the wannabe thespian under his wing, lending him cash when required and securing bit-parts in his shows.

The Adelphi in days of old…

Prince however was an erratic character whom many others steered well clear of. A heavy drinker, his violent unpredictability earned him a dubious nickname…‘Mad Archer.’

Despite the support from his mentor, Prince gradually became extremely envious and fiercely resentful of Terriss. Fantasising that he was the better artist, Mad Archer despised the fact that his benefactor always received top billing.

These dangerous delusions came to a tragic head in the December of 1897…

On the evening of the 16th, a horse-drawn Hansom cab rattled along the cobbles of Maiden Lane, coming to a halt outside the Adelphi’s rear stage door.

Covent Garden’s Maiden Lane…

The punter on board was William Terriss, who stepped out, paid the cabbie and dug the special key out of his cloak which would provide access to the theatre’s private entrance.

The Adelphi stage door on Maiden Lane.

Before he had a chance to unlock the door however, a figure pounced out of the gas-lit shadows… it was Mad Archer himself who, without warning, launched at William, stabbing the Victorian celeb several times.

Following the scuffle, a crowd quickly gathered and the famous performer was rushed inside the theatre.

Doctors were sent for from nearby Charing Cross Hospital (now a police station on Agar Street), but it was to no avail- William Terriss was dead within minutes.

The former Charing Cross Hospital (image: Google Streetview0

Restrained by the growing mob, the murderer made no attempt to escape and sat quietly awaiting his arrest. He was marched off to a cell on Bow Street, apparently telling the cops that Terriss “knew what to expect from me.”

Bow Street court and police station (image: Old Bailey online)

The murder shook Victorian society and, at the trial, Prince made the baffling claim that William had prevented him from advancing his career.

The jury were quick to find the culprit guilty- although he was spared the noose thanks to the conclusion that he was not of sound mind.

The disturbed bit-player spent the remainder of his days incarcerated in the Broadmoor asylum for the criminally insane, where it is said he liked to write and produce plays in which he always placed himself in the leading role…

Broadmoor Psychiatric Prison, Berkshire…

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William Terriss was laid to rest at Brompton Cemetery; the service attracting over 50,000 mourning admirers.

Brompton Cemetery (image: Wikipedia).

Brompton Cemetery (image: Wikipedia).

Legend has it that his ghost now haunts Covent Garden tube station (in William’s day, his favourite bakery stood on the Long Acre site, the station being built 10 years after the murder).

Covent Garden Tube station, Long Acre.

The first sighting of the phantom was reported in 1955, when a ticket collector allegedly spotted the shimmering actor, donned in an opera cloak with cane In hand, pass through a closed door.

Over the next few years, the ghost was spied on numerous occasions in the staff cafeteria…and, although the last recorded sighting was in 1972, tube workers still sometimes report bizarre, unexplained noises in the dead of night….

Plaque on Maiden Lane commemorating the murder of William Terriss.

(A version of this article originally appeared in ‘LTDA Taxi’ magazine). 
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7 responses

  1. I first became acquainted with the name of William Terris while on a visit to Eastbourne. It seems that the public grief caused by the untimely death of the well loved actor was capitalized by the Daily Telegraph to launch a memorial fund, the proceeds of which were used to build Eastbourne’s lifeboat station, as recorded by a plaque on the wall. Displays inside the station, now a museum, give more details of the background story.

    Richard Prince, according to one source, was born Richard Millar Archer but also went by William Archer and William Archer Flint, and possibly other names, causing some confusion in subsequent accounts. Either way, it is sad that he should prove the nemesis of such a good and admired man.

    Once a regular user of Covent Garden tube station for about 4 years, travelling in the evening as well as during the day, I have to say that I never encountered any ghosts there and cannot help but wonder at the remarkable skill that enables people to identify a vague shimmering figure as a person they could never have seen in life. Strange noises, of course, come as standard on London Underground, especially at night.

    1. Many thanks for the interesting comment. I had no idea the tragedy resulted in the building of a lifeboat station.

    2. Did it explain why a Lifeboat Station? Was Terris a fan of sailing, or something?

  2. Great article! And I love the falling snowflakes. Clever!

    1. Thanks guys! Glad you like the snowflakes… all I have to do is press a special button at Christmas time and they appear like magic! 🙂

  3. Thanks for yet another interesting piece.

    Love this site. I can read it to relax but still feel like I’m studying.

    1. Cheers, glad to be of service!

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