Tell us a Ghost Story

2 Oct 2019


Over the years, many have told how they've sensed her ghostly presence, caught a whiff of her lavender perfume, heard her voice and even felt her breath on their face. The spirit of Sarah Macready, who managed the theatre with a rod of iron for two decades from 1829, is still said to wander the halls of Bristol Old Vic.

To support the launch of the Bristol Old Vic Heritage Education offer we are asking pupils across Bristol and beyond (from ages 8  to 12) to send us their best story on the spooky topic of Sarah Macready’s ghost. We are asking for no more than 500 words so you need to make it short, sweet and relevant. 

The competition will be judged by Tom Morris, Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic. Tom won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for the Broadway production of War Horse in 2011, along with co-director Marianne Elliott. He is also the writer of this year’s Christmas show A Christmas Carol.

The results will be announced on the 14th November 2019.

The winning entrant will win 5 tickets to a performance of A Christmas Carol on a night of their choosing*.  The winning story will also be published in a blog post on Bristol Old Vic’s website.

* Excluding performances between the 19th December and 2nd January. Tickets are subject to availability.

How to enter:

Click Here to enter by email, with Bristol Old Vic Story competition in the subject line.


Post or hand deliver them to: Heritage Story Competition, Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED

Please include the name of the entrant, their school year, and the full name and contact number/ email address of a parent or guardian in your entry. The personal data provided will be used solely for the purposes of administering the competition and in accordance with Bristol Old Vic’s privacy policy. Full details of this policy can be found here at found here.

All entries to be received by 12.00pm Thursday 7th November latest.  Any entries arriving after this time will not be included.

A bit about Sarah Macready

Sarah Macready's Life before Bristol Old Vic 

Sarah Macready was born Sarah Ashton Desmond in 1790. The day and month are a mystery, as is much of her early life. We think she grew up in Newcastle or Newcastle under Lyme. 

We do know that Sarah started acting at a young age, joining her future husband William Macready’s touring theatre company. She wasn’t very successful at first and was criticized for not having enough experience or range. Instead of being discouraged by these negative reviews though, they only made Sarah work harder. Surely enough, slowly her reputation began to improve.

Life as an actress during the nineteenth century wasn’t glamorous. As a member of a touring company she frequently travelled between venues which involved days on the road in uncomfortable coaches. People travelling by coach were at risk of being robbed by highwaymen, so Sarah must have been very brave.

Sarah Macready's life as a manager

In 1819 Sarah’s husband William took over the management of the Theatre Royal Bristol (Bristol Old Vic’s original name) and Sarah quickly became the theatre’s leading actress. In 1834, five years after William’s death, Sarah became the first female manager of the Theatre Royal Bristol.

Sarah’s acting experience really helped her in her new role as manager. She understood how to attract a crowd, and the way actors worked. During her time as manager the theatre’s stage was graced by magicians, tightrope walkers, animals and acrobats. She even found performers in unexpected places. Sarah could often be found walking around the Welsh Back area of Bristol at the end of an evening trying to persuade any unsuspecting sailors she came across to come perform a merry jig for her audiences. 

Sarah was also an excellent employer. To keep her employees warm during the winter she installed heating backstage for the very first time. She also never once failed to pay her actors on time, even if this meant using her own money when times were hard.

Sarah died on the 8th March 1853 aged sixty three, having managed the Theatre Royal Bristol for nearly twenty years. Local newspapers described her as “an energetic manageress and scrupulously just in all of her transactions” (The Weekly Review and Dramatic Critic, 18th March 1853) and praised her “great tact, energy and judgement” (Bristol Mirror, 12th March 1853).

Sarah Macready's After life

Sarah’s death isn’t the end of her story. Over the years, many people have sensed her ghostly presence, caught a whiff of her lavender perfume, heard her voice and even felt her breath on their face.

One evening, alone in the dark theatre with only his Alsatian dog Rex for company, a security guard felt a strange draft rush through the auditorium. Suddenly Rex, who normally wasn’t scared of anything, rooted himself to the spot and started to growl. The guard then heard an unfamiliar female voice say “get out!” Walking towards the direction of the voice the smell of lavender perfume, Sarah Macready’s favorite, overwhelmed him. “GET OUT”, the voice spoke again, and this time the guard felt breath on his face. Terrified, he finished locking up the building as quickly as he could. The next day he arrived at work convinced he and Rex had met Sarah Macready’s ghost.

"I've experienced the spirit twice," says Andrew Stocker, who has worked at Bristol Old Vic for over thirty years. "One evening I was in the theatre and I thought someone was messing around, making noises and trying to scare me. Suddenly I didn't feel very safe; I felt threatened. But nobody was there – it was very eerie." Most recently, Andrzej Blonski, the architect in charge of the most recent redevelopment of the theatre, told the BBC that he encountered Sarah as he climbed the back stairs of the theatre at lunchtime. She was wearing a long, white crinoline dress and had her black hair down, but when he tried to speak to her she vanished. While she appeared angry to the security guard and Andrew, she smiled at Andrzej. Andrew and the security guard’s experiences both took place after Peter Moro’s 1970s renovation of the theatre. This renovation changed the theatre considerably. It no longer resembled the theatre Sarah knew and loved. In 2012 however, Andrzej and his team restored the theatre to how it was before. We think that Sarah smiled at Andrzej because finally she felt like the theatre was in safe hands, and she was home again. 

For more information on the Sarah Macready you can:

Read our blog post on Sarah’s extraordinary life (and afterlife). 

Read about Andrzej Blonski’s spooky encounter with Sarah.

Watch Andrew Stocker talking to University of Bristol students about Sarah’s ghost below. 

Bristol Old Vic acknowledges that the ownership of any intellectual property rights in the entry remain with the entrant. By applying each entrant's parent or guardian grants Bristol Old Vic the right to use or reproduce, free of charge, any part of their entry for any purpose, including publicizing the competition or any associated competition.