Tate Britain has had a colourful past, from prison site to air raid shelter. If only the walls of the gallery could talk - or do they? Take a peek at our eerie CCTV footage and decide for yourself
I’ve worked at Tate Britain for a fair few years now, and the more people you talk to, the more stories there are. The offices here used to be a hospital, (and if you’ve ever visited you can immediately see the connection in its long, bed-wide corridors), and so I’ve heard about ‘padded cells’, the ‘basement morgue’, and just today about the apparent former ‘meat locker’ that is the digital team’s tiled and chilly stationery cupboard. The one that’s stuck out in my visually-driven brain though is the tale of a door swinging open in the gallery and it being captured on CCTV. Intrigued, I tracked down a few others to help shed some light on these ghostly goings on…
Monica, Membership Services Manager fills me in:
This story I heard on my induction tour from a Visitor Experience manager who has since retired. It’s no great secret that Tate Britain stands on the site of Victorian London’s largest (and grimmest) sounding prison. Jeremy Bentham built it in a unusual shape with the guards rooms at the centre. It had miles of dank, cold tunnels where the walls had to be marked to prevent the guards losing their way! Cholera was rife and a lot of prisoners died from the conditions. If you go down to the lower levels of Tate Britain you can still see the remnants of holding cells for the prisoners waiting to be transported to Oz. He said that the ghost of a young woman had been seen in that area and it’s assumed that on emptying an overcrowded cell she fled, got lost in the maze-like tunnels and died, and now haunts the grounds. He also told us that holding cells stretched as far as beneath the Morpeth Arms, (the nearby pub on Millbank) and that customers there have regularly seen an old man in the corner - the ghost of prisoner who died in the holding cell below - and that staff hate going down into the cellar!
John, a longtime member of the security team at Tate Britain, had the scary privilege of witnessing the mysterious footage as it happened:
It was early in the morning, before the gallery opened, a few years ago. I was on late shifts back then and so you’d be at the gallery at night. The old galleries used to be a scary place in the dead of night let me tell you. I heard a big crash and thought that maybe it was a contractor. These doors [in the video] are the old type that now aren’t there, but they’re equally heavy as those in the gallery now. To push it that wide there would need to be someone behind it, but as you can see, there’s no one there. I don’t know what you think about these kinds of things, but take a look - it makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck.
So, what do you think - is Tate Britain haunted? I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Happy Halloween everyone!