Grey Lady of salisbury general infirmary

As Halloween approaches we have been looking at more than bandages and surgical spirits in our historical collections! And one of the most abiding legends through the ages is the ghost story of the gentle grey lady of Salisbury General Infirmary (SGI).

Stories were regularly based at night around the ward, back stairs and in the annex of Ethel Woodrow or Bartlett Wards - each describe a peaceful calm preceding a female figure present in grey dress, often seen in peripheral vision.

(ref: 2018.4006) Plan layout of the second floor wards, bottom left of the drawing are the areas that are the focus of these tales; Intriguingly the SGI grey lady story pre-dates this building

What is perhaps more interesting about this story is the enduring nature of these verbal tales passed down through the ages and they become part of community folklore .

An example of this is, after a quick search on the internet, are the numerous 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 through guilt or jilted love took her own life and now wanders the wards eternally caring for the sick.

There is also a grey lady at the Rifles Museum in Salisbury too.

Top left: One of the wards in the western wing of Salisbury General Infirmary dated around 1902, The doorway on the left led to the back stairs (known location for the grey lady); Top right: Photograph showing Ethel Woodrow Ward at Christmas in 1936; Bottom row: The same wards in the 1950s

The Infirmary story ends when the hospital finally closed in early 1990s, moving 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 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?

Left - from a negative showing staircase inside SGI with signage to wards; right - a colour photograph of the corridor in the 1980s adjoining Bartlett and Ethel Woodrow ward and the stairs to the attic changing room where the grey lady was sometimes sighted.
A colour photograph from 1976 showing the rear of the main building and tennis court. The right hand side is Chafyn Grove wards with Ethel Woodrow above.
Have you heard a story or an experience to share?


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