Patients in beds or wheelchairs with nurses attending

The Grey Lady

One of the most abiding legends through the ages is the ghost story of the gentle grey lady of Salisbury General Infirmary. Stories were regularly based at night around the ward, back stairs and in the annex of Ethel Woodrow or Bartlett Wards. Each one describes a peaceful calm, preceding a female figure present in a grey dress, often seen in the peripheral vision. The photographs below show parts of the Infirmary where sightings were reported. The photograph of the ward on the western wing in 1902 shows a doorway on the left that led to the back stairs – a reported location for the grey lady. The floor plan shows the location of Ethel Woodrow and Bartlett wards and the staircases. Other images in our collection (see below) show Ethel Woodrow ward in both 1936 and the 1950s; the staircase leading up to the wards, and the corridor adjoining Bartlett and Ethel Woodrow ward, taken in the 1980s with the stairs up to the attic changing room, where the grey lady was sometimes sighted. Finally, a colour photograph from 1976 taken from the Infirmary tennis courts, shows Chafyn Grove ward on the right with Ethel Woodrow ward above.

What is perhaps more interesting about this story is the enduring nature of these verbal tales passed down through the ages so they become part of community folklore. A quick search on the internet reveals there are the numerous tales of presentations of grey ladies throughout the country, often associated with military hospitals. From Glasgow to Sheffield, Aldershot to Stanmore – they all have their versions of similar stories. The grey lady was a nurse who, either through guilt or jilted love, took her own life and now wanders the wards eternally caring for the sick. There are also reports of a grey lady at the Rifles Museum in Salisbury too.

The Infirmary story ends when the hospital finally closed in the early 1990s, moving all services to the current Salisbury District Hospital. A chapel service was reportedly held and the grey lady was invited to leave too.

Whatever your thoughts on the validity of these shared experiences or your belief in restless spirits; the emotional nature of hospitals and the night shift patterns all could certainly contribute to the right psychological circumstances. But does this explain how these stories have spread or why there are so many similarities between numerous disparate locations? And how have they become part of an unconscious collective? Let us know if you have heard a story or have an experience to share.


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