With Hallowe'en on the calendar this weekend I thought I might offer up an offering from my forthcoming book on the paranormal. Entitled Paranormal Birmingham, it covers the traditional narratives alongside the personal experiences of those who have lived and worked in this city of 1.2 million individuals.
No book on any aspect of the history of Birmingham would be complete without a mention of the Old Crown. There is no doubt this is one of the oldest buildings in the city, if not the oldest, while the actual date of construction is difficult to tie down. Early research suggested a date of 1368, however this is based on estimates from surviving records and not actual facts.
In the fourteenth century one Robert o' the Grene is documented as a co-founder of the old church of St John the Baptist. This meant they no longer had to travel to Aston parish church to worship and that he, as a founder, was earmarked to whomever owned the building which is now the Old Crown. This shows the building was here before the church and has also outlived it.
A substantial property was given as a wedding present to the daughter of Robert 'o the Grene. It is most tempting to think this was the Old Crown, indeed it would be difficult to see two such sizable buildings here which was, and remained for many years after, smaller than neighbouring Aston. When the original local historian and antiquary, John Leland, came through here in 1540 he reflected upon the 'praty strete' and its 'mansion howse of tymbar'.
Queen Elizabeth I is said to have stayed here for a single night, perhaps William Shakespeare's eyes saw the large wooden building on one of his journeys, and Prince Rupert may also have admired the even then old building when he came to Birmingham during the English Civil War. We may have to guess as to the identity of many of the historical figures, however more recent visitors and employees have documented their experiences in the Old Crown Ghost Book, a record by the individuals themselves on their personal experiences. These individuals, who shall remain anonymous, may well have been introduced to others whose memory still remains within the walls of this historical building.
Our first two stories come from downstairs in the where the public wander freely. It was November 1998 when a member of staff was taking a hard-earned break on the other side of the counter. Her mind was elsewhere, perhaps planning ahead for the coming festive season, and gazing aimlessly in the direction behind the bar by the till. Suddenly, and with nobody near, a bottle of Martell Brandy fell. It had been nestling in a wine rack to the right of the till, but came crashing down with a bang which, as the witness reported, was somehow far too loud for a breaking bottle.
Around the corner is the restaurant area. Here in September of 1998, when most of the customers had finished their meals, a doorman took the weight off his feet on the stool at the end of the bar. As he sat there he clearly saw an indistinct grey figure, difficult to say it was male of female, walk across the fireplace and into the kitchen area. It never paused when passing the lit fire, nor was it seen by the kitchen staff still tidying up after the evening meals. It had simply vanished.
However it is upstairs in the guest rooms where the most disturbing reports originate. As a member of staff pointed out, these reports have something in common. Nearly all occur between the hours of 2:50am and 3:30am, although the time does not seem relevant to the experiences, as we shall see.
It is May 2007 and in room number three a visitor from the other side of the world was spending his third night at the Old Crown. Previous nights had passed without incident, yet this was to be his last night here and he moved on to another hotel in the city centre. He was greatly disturbed when he awoke in the middle of the night and had the feeling he was not alone. Opening his eyes he turned over to see a man in his early fifties. A hazy, greyish silhouette, the stranger was not himself particularly frightening, indeed the guest said he had a kind face. Perhaps the stranger was more scared at being discovered, for he took a single step back and then vanished.
However the most activity seems to occur in room number five. On two consecutive nights in February 2000 the guest had awoken, the figures on the alarm clock glowing red at 3:26am both nights. On the first night he awoke feeling cold and wet, his first thought being he had wet the bed although this proved not to be the case. The following night he woke again feeling cold and wet, yet this time he opened his eyes to the sight of an old woman above the bed weeping bitterly. She vanished but left him wondering it had been her tears which had made him feel wet.
Our last story also comes from room number five and is rather different. Nothing was seen, so far as we are aware, although something was most assuredly felt as we shall see. It is September 1998 and two twenty-somethings were spending the night in that room. The boyfriend was awoken, needing to answer a call of nature and had arisen, leaving his girlfriend sleeping. When returning he distinctly heard her voice, not speaking but the tell-tale little moans and gasps he was quite familiar with. He crawled back into bed and she snuggled up to him, arms around one another.
It was then he was taken aback by her commenting on how that was, in her words. "The best willy ever!" He resolved never to tell her he had been otherwise engaged at the time!