Gruesome tales of BOV

1 Aug 2023

Kathy and Stella (best friends since school) present a murder podcast, recorded in Kathy's mum's garage.

The cast arrive here next month to blast off our autumn season with some killer songs and homicidal hits. 

To make them feel at home, we’ve been trawling the murky depths of our archives to see what gruesome tales of suspicious deaths lurk beneath our mild-mannered exterior... 

Here are the Top 5 Kathy and Stella would love!


Man thrown from gallery into pit - allegedly due to overcrowding - but maybe not.... 

He was carried into the green room and treated, then (bizarrely) felt well enough to return and watch the rest of play. Sadly, he died a few days afterwards – probably from internal injuries sustained in the fall.

Earliest drawing of the theatre c1805. Image courtesy of Bristol Archives


Lawyer Henry Smith and businessman Richard Priest had an argument outside the Theatre Royal in 1809, resulting in a duel (fought with pistols) in which Priest died. Now facing a murder charge and with a reward on his head, Smith fled, ending up fighting in the Duke of Wellington’s army. 

The Rivals At Bristol Old Vic Theatre Photo By Mark Douet


Cornelius Bryan, organist of St. Mary Redcliff church, fell through an open trapdoor during rehearsal on stage. He injured his spine and died the next day.

Touching the Void, 2019

mid-19th century

Richard Smith a Bristol surgeon and theatre-lover. Around the mid-19th century he created a scrapbook of the playbills he’d been collecting since the late 1700s. It is thanks to Richard that we know as much as we do about the early theatre.

BUT… He was also the surgeon who dissected convicted murderer John Horwood’s body after his execution. Smith had part of Horwood’s skin tanned to bind a book covering the murder, trial and execution of Horwood. The “skin book” is currently on display in M Shed (bleugh!)


Early 1950s, a scenic painter was hand-winching a paint frame into position when the metal handle breaks and hits him in the head – he was killed instantly.

Interview with our previous scenic artist Jane in the 2000s:
“There's a ghost in my paint shop, of a dead scene painter, who appears from time to time.” We think he was killed by the old paint frame round about the turn of the last century...”

Have you seen this apparition? Oh yes he sometimes, he comes and stands next to me --- doesn't pick up a bloody paint brush, he's just there.”


Photograph courtesy of University of Bristol, Theatre Collection