The Royal York Hotel was built on the site of a former manor house and developed out of three separate houses known collectively as Steine Place. It opened as a hotel in 1819, slightly preceding the completion of the Royal Pavilion and its gardens in 1822. The name derived from the Duke of York who was cousin to the Prince Regent. This elegant, symmetrical building, with prominent bow windows, sits proudly overlooking the Steine, alongside its neighbour the Royal Albion. Interestingly, the two hotels have much in common. Both opened at around the same time and attained royal patronage. They both also fell into a state of dilapidation at the turn of the 19th century to be later revived by financier Harry Preston a decade or so later.
The hotel boasted 100 bedrooms, many looking inwards over what was soon to become the Pavilion Gardens. It rapidly became a fashionable watering hole with several distinguished guests, including: Benjamin Disraeli, William Makepeace Thackeray, the aviator Wilbur Wright and the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. Charles Dickens even put his head around the door in 1860 to read David Copperfield to a swooning and beguiled audience. The building was bought by Brighton Corporation in around 1930 and converted into offices, going under the name of York Buildings. It has since been returned to its former glory under the auspices of the Radisson Group, becoming the Radisson Blu for a number of years. The building now houses the Brighton YHA.
Throughout the building’s chequered history there have been many accounts of ghostly activity. One of the first was reported in the mid-1980s following a reported break-in. The police were alerted and let into the premises by the facilities officer, who was the main key holder. The police officers were accompanied by two German shepherd dogs. Although an extensive search was carried out no intruder was found. Throughout the search, however, the police officers commented on an uncomfortable spookiness about the place. Perhaps more interesting was the fact that the two dogs were seen to bristle and refuse to enter certain parts of the building, as if intimidated by an unseen presence. It is interesting to note that animals, particularly cats and dogs, are thought to possess and extra sensory perception, being able to perceive things that humans cannot.
Employees began to speak of the sound of footsteps following them and of an icy coldness in the area on the second floor where the footsteps were heard. The footsteps were always accompanied by a sweet, intoxicating smell of perfume. This was experienced on countless occasions, but none more so than by a cleaner called Jim Newings. Having repeatedly experienced the sound of ghostly footsteps and, moreover, the heady smell of scent, Jim tried to identify the perfume. A friend who worked at a cosmetics counter allowed him to smell a variety of scents. None, however, matched the mysterious perfume, which Jim described as ‘absolutely beautiful’.
Mr. Newings remained unperturbed by the spectral presence and frequently spoke aloud to it in jest by suggesting it should ‘get hold of a bucket and mop and lend a hand with the bloody cleaning.’ Nonetheless, future experiences were not to be so jocular. One night in 1989 Mr Newings was alerted when all the phones on the second floor began ringing at the same time, only to stop a few minutes later. He picked up one of the phones and listened but there was no one there. One replacing the phone back on its cradle, all the phones began ringing once more.
On another occasion he was working in a room on the second floor. As he was frequently going in and out of the room he brought along a doorstop so that the door could be secured in an open position. Suddenly the doorstop shot from beneath the door and flew across the room causing the door to slam shut and automatically lock itself. This left Mr Newings in a particularly perplexing situation as it was outside of office hours. Fortunately he was soon released by a colleague who had been searching for him. Perhaps the spirit had been seeking some form of retribution for Mr. Newing’s jovial over-familiarly in asking it to lend a hand with the cleaning.
Another employee who had frequently experienced the strong smell of perfume about the place was one Iris Crook who had been a supervisor cleaner at the offices for some thirteen years. One evening in 1987, at around 7.30, Iris was busy working the third floor corridor. Office staff had by this time all left the building. As she was returning cleaning materials to a storage unit she was startled to see a woman carrying document files walking briskly along the corridor. Surprised to see someone still working so late she called after the woman asking her if she would switch off the lights when she had finished. The woman made not reply and kept walking, only to disappear through a closed fire door. Iris later described the woman of wearing 1930s style clothes.
Unlike Mr. Newins and Iris Crook, there are those who have been so terrified by their experiences that they have left the building and never returned. This happened to a couple of electricians who had turned up one Saturday morning to avoid causing any disruption to staff during normal working hours. One of the electricians had arrived early to begin work before his colleague arrived. However, on his arrival he was surprised to see his friend standing outside of the building. It was never fully known what had caused him to flee the building. Nonetheless, after a conversation outside of the premises, the two men left and never returned to finish the job.
Although the ghost that haunts the building is believed to be a woman, another theory exists regarding the paranormal activity on the top floor. A man in a starched white collar and tailcoat has been seen. It is believed that a love affair existed between a head butler and a maid when the building was a private residence. The owner was so opposed to their liaison that he sacked the maid who then left Brighton to work elsewhere. The butler became so consumed with sadness that he was said to have hanged himself in the staff quarters, which were situated at the top of the building. An icy chill is still said to permeate this room even on warm summer days. It is also in this area that the apparition has been seen.