Is LJMU haunted?

Is LJMU haunted?

John Foster
John Foster Building: reputed to be haunted. Can you spot any ghostly figures in the windows?

With an old city, you get old buildings, and with old buildings you get claims that something from the past still lingers on within their walls. Liverpool is one such city. According to the 31 volumes of Tom Slemen’s Haunted Liverpool, the Shiverpool tour guides, and the many rumours passed from generation to generation about spooky goings-on in the pubs, halls, theatres and hotels – Liverpool is haunted.

It seems LJMU has its own rumours floating about, with one particular building having a reputation for harbouring the spirits of those who’ve passed on – the John Foster Building. The Grade II-listed building on the corner of Hope Street and Mount Pleasant dates back to the mid-19th century and is formerly a Catholic teacher training college that was run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. It is now the home of LJMU’s School of Humanities and Social Science. Rumour has it that the spirits of the nuns still inhabit the building.

John Foster garden

Determined to find out more about the rumours, we decided to carry out our own paranormal investigation. It was time to pay a visit to the building in question. We began by taking a look at the disused top floor of the John Foster Building, where the spirit nuns are meant to be most active. The floor is made up of a strange mix of large rooms, with vaulted ceilings letting in eerie sunlight, and oddly shaped small rooms – it’s difficult to imagine how this space was once used. As we walk on creaky floorboards, we find tiny doorways and small access passages and strange discarded items like electronic devices from decades gone by, stage makeup magazines and a landscape painting left leaning on the floor. We approach each corner timidly until we reach a darkened staircase – it was time to make our exit and get back to the land of the living.

After our exploration of the deserted top floor, we were ready to speak to people who could share some of the building’s secrets. So we decided to talk to the University's Estate Management Team – after all, if anyone would know anything it would be those who are responsible for locking up late at night and with access to all the shadowy areas. We met up with Cathy Fox, who had a story about a presence she encountered some years ago. Apparently when she entered a particular room, the radio would automatically turn itself on, wedged doors would slam shut and chain-locked ones were open when she arrived to clean in the early morning. Her most frightening encounter was one particular occasion when she felt a ‘presence’ come a little too close:

“I had picked up a plastic glass from the floor and then I felt a sensation move up from my feet to my waist and my back felt like it was on fire. I still had the glass in my hand as I ran out. I never ran so fast in my life.”

John Foster

Her back pain was so severe that Cathy was taken to hospital. However, all this didn’t occur while she was cleaning the John Foster Building, unfortunately for our purposes, this happened at the Unity Theatre. Still, a tale worth sharing. A warning perhaps if you’re planning on visiting the Unity.

Our next course of action in the investigation was to ask an academic if they could shed any light on the rumours. We spoke to Gerry Smyth, Professor of English Literature, who told us a bit about his experiences working in the building.

“I went up to the third floor when we moved in. It reminded me of the Marie Celeste – there were coffee cups and papers lying around, offices and desks, but the whole thing was deserted and covered with dust. There was a really oppressive atmosphere up there, and other colleagues who went up reported the same feeling. Some thought it was the dust…”

Since then, has he had anything strange happen to him while in the building?

“I’ve not seen or heard anything specific, but there’s definitely still an atmosphere around the building, especially on the two top floors. If it’s late in the evening, especially in winter when it’s dark outside, I’m always conscious of a kind of brooding quietness up there, and I’m quite happy to keep my head down and speed up a little.”

With no real evidence gathered thus far, we’ve had to put our investigation on hold. This is where we need your help. Have you seen or heard anything that made your hair stand on end while in the John Foster Building or anywhere else in the University? We’d love to hear and share your story, so get in touch.

Don’t let the ghosts put you off the John Foster Building. Everyone we spoke to loves studying and working in the building. Its unique setting offers a mix of character with its converted chapel lecture hall, grand staircases, tall windows plus all the modern facilities you need to study and relax including the new social spaces.


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