The Regency Tavern

A Brief History

The Regency Tavern, in Russell Square, has long had a reputation of being haunted. The pub dates from around 1870, when it occupied the site where there had previously been two lodging houses (33 and 34 Russell Square). But these were no common lodging houses. Instead, they catered for upper class visitors who wanted to remain in Brighton for a few weeks or months. In the mid-1930's the Regency was extended to include number 32, which had been a boot and shoemaker's shop.

The boot and shoemaker's business was founded by William Moore in 1893 and one of the pub's ghosts is that of a young, disabled girl, thought to be his daughter who, panicking after smelling what she thought was gas, chose to jump from a first-floor window (possibly she had been locked in her room because of a misdemeanour). She later died from her injuries. After number 32 became part of the Regency, the ghost of the girl sometimes appeared on the first floor, though she has not been seen in recent years.

Another Ghost at the pub is that of a former landlady who so enjoyed her long tenancy at the Regency that, following her death, she elected to stay on in spirit. This is possibly a Mrs Edlin, who was the pub's only woman licensee during it's early years. She arrived at the pub with her husband in 1890, but he died three or four years later and from then on she presided alone over the pub's fortunes until 1902.

This phantom is still seen from time to time. Many years ago, journalist R C Millar, writing in the Evening Argus, recalled that the son of a newly arrived landlord had seen her on the first floor. The son, unaware that he had witnessed a ghost, expressed surprise that his father should take in a paying guest so soon after his arrival at the pub. But there was no flesh-and-blood resident at that moment. In the past, ornaments and items of furniture in the pub have moved around of their own volition. Stuart Bowers, employed as a live-in barman in 1990, reported that a kettle and crockery in his second floor bedroom were sometimes moved around when the room was left locked and unoccupied. The atmosphere on the second floor was sometimes quite disturbing, he said, and he felt apprehensive when going up the staircase.

Other staff also reported a sense of unease about ascending to the second floor. In the 1980s, it was the bar area that became the target for spooky activity. Chairs which had been placed on the tables after closing time in readiness for the following morning's floor cleaning were found to have been placed back on the floor at dawn.

In 1990 the Regency became front page news when the landlady, Jackie Penfold, died of a heart attack as a result of the pub being attacked by missile-throwing, window-breaking football hooligans who had become frustrated by the fact that England had lost to Germany in the Semi-Finals of that year's World Cup Tournament. While Mrs Penfold was at the pub, her Alsatian dog steadfastly refused to venture into the cellar.

That the cellar might dispense it's terrors was confirmed by the frightening ordeal suffered by John Smiles. Towards the end of the 1980s, Mr Smiles was employed as a breakfast chef at the nearby Metropole Hotel. His working hours at the hotel allowed him to work additionally as a part-time barman at the Regency.

One day he was in the Regency's cellar and in the middle of transferring a beer line from an empty to a full barrel when he had the feeling that he was not alone. On looking up he saw, just a few feet away from him, the figure of a woman. But what was terrifying about the woman was not just the fact that the whole of her form seemed to exhude a greenish luminosity, but that she was moving towards him...indeed, was almost upon him.

In that second or two, Mr Smiles was unable to take in every detail of the woman, though he did observe that she was wearing a long, old fashioned dress. He was still crouched down by the barrel when the woman's form passed through him. It was as if slivers of ice had passed through his body, he said later. In another second, the electric tension that seemed to be hanging in the air had gone, and he knew that the awesome apparition had departed.

White-faced and shaking, Mr Smiles fled from the cellar and headed for the bar. Mrs Penfold was the landlady at the time - the actions of the football hooligans and her subsequent death were still two or three years in the future. Seeing the ashen, flustered face of Mr Smiles, she expressed her concern. As he gasped out the reason for his distress she quickly offered him a comforting whisky.