True ghost revealed

The Metropole is the most haunted hotel in Ipswich. Mystery surrounds the identity of the ghostly spectre that walks the creaky floorboards at night. Not even acclaimed ghost historian Jack Sim has an answer. But now the one hundred and thirty year old riddle is solved and the ghost is unveiled. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Only two deaths are known to have occurred at the hotel but only one of them has a reason to be haunting the place.

The Harp of Erin hotel was built on the site of the Metropole perhaps as early as 1847. The first death occurred there on the morning of the 26th of September 1885 when seventy-year-old Margaret Bourke from County Tipperary in Ireland passed away in her bed.

She died from the shock of a fire that had spread through the stables out of the back of the hotel the night before. She was the mother-in-law of the licensee Robert McGrory.

The second death on the site was on the 6th of June 1894 when the hotel’s licensee Alexander Fairley died suddenly from a stroke. His wife and nine children were left alone to recover from a series of disasters that had beset the family.

Alex’s father was a well-known accountant with the Royal Bank of Scotland in Glasgow and his mother was descended from the British peerage. He began his working life as a bank clerk in Glasgow but in 1852 left his life of privilege to go to Australia with an older brother during the gold rush. The brother died not long after arriving and Alex was left to fend for himself.

When Alex’s father passed away in Scotland in 1869, Alex was cruelly denied a huge inheritance. He was the only one of his eight surviving siblings to be left out of the will. Alex was also the only sibling not to have his image recorded in a photograph or an artistic representation. It’s as if all traces of him had to be erased. This must have tormented his soul for the rest of his life.

Shortly after his father’s death, Alex got married and pursued a career first in farming, and then as a publican, to support his growing family of six daughters and three sons.

Alex brought the family to Ipswich in 1886 and took up the license of the Ulster Hotel. The 1890 floods were bad, but the three floods in quick succession in 1893 were disastrous. He surrendered the lease of the Ulster and moved up the road to the Harp of Erin hotel which was seemingly safe on higher ground.

Alex Fairley’s Ulster Hotel flooded in 1893

On St Patrick’s night in 1894, Alex’s cashbox was stolen from his bedroom upstairs at the Harp of Erin, with the equivalent of three-months’ wages inside. The devastation of the floods combined the financial crisis following the loss of the cashbox proved too much. Just ten weeks later, Alex died suddenly from a massive stroke suffered while upstairs in that same bedroom.

Left alone to fight for survival, Alex’s wife Christiana and their daughters continued to run the Harp of Erin, but sadly they ran it into such a dilapidated state that it had to be demolished just over a decade later. Fate smiled briefly on the family however, because once the new Hotel Metropole was erected on the site in 1906, the Fairleys were again in charge. The family remained as licensees and working on the site for twenty years, which is longer than any other family in the one hundred and seventy year hotel history of the location.

Fate again took a turn because three of Alex’s unmarried daughters became overly familiar with the patrons and babies came unexpectedly. This was scandalous in those Edwardian times and Alex’s soul was not allowed to rest.

That’s why Alex Fairley haunts the Metropole today. His ghost is the one that walks the creaky upstairs corridors in a vain attempt to protect his cash box – and his unmarried daughters – from the Ipswich railway men in the bar below.

Alex Fairley was erased from the family history and inheritance. An old letter addressed to him and the spectral presence at the Metropole remain.

Alex Fairley’s 1853 letter

The full story of the Fairley family is in my book ‘Mr Fairley: The Oldest Banker in Glasgow’. Click here to buy your own copy.


Photo credits:
Metropole Hotel in 2014 – my own
Alex Fairley’s Ulster Hotel in the 1893 floods – Sue Bostock family collection
Alex Fairley letter 1853 – Warren Porter family collection


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