Club Batchwood: the spooky past behind St Albans favourite nightclub
- Credit: Archant
In the heart of St Albans, nestled in picturesque grounds, lies an iconic building adorned with ivy that creeps up the classic brick walls to a quaint tower.
Those who are not familiar with the property may mistake this former stately home as a museum, maybe a gallery, but locals know it as the district’s staple nightclub, Batchwood.
Now re-branded as ‘Club Batchwood’, the popular night-time haunt has been frequented by generations of clubbers after launching as a party venue in the 1970s. But behind the dance floors and drink deals lies a colourful history including two tunnels believed to link the hall with the cathedral.
Built in 1874 by Lord Grimthorpe, the renowned architect lived in Batchwood Hall while he oversaw the construction of the West Front, roof, and transept windows of St Albans Cathedral.
Also an esteemed engineer, Grimthorpe is responsible for designing the clock mechanism that chimes Big Ben, the prototype of which is housed in the nightclub’s tower.
Peter Bell, on-off manager of Club Batchwood since 2002, said: “I don’t think he was a very nice man but the people of St Albans were quite happy to take his money because he built the new part of the Abbey.
“The legend is told, and we did find one here in 2003, that he was quite a mean guy to work for. Instead of going in his cart to go and see if people were working hard, he had these tunnels built.
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“He would literally go through this tunnel and jump out at the Abbey and say ‘right you’re not working!’ kind of thing.”
But has anyone ever tested the secret gateway? Peter added: “We’ve seen an entrance here but I don’t think anyone was brave enough to see how far it went.”
Lord Grimthorpe may have died in 1905 but his presence lives on in the building, where his ghost has allegedly been spotted standing on the balcony over the dance floor.
The former owner of the property is not the only spooky soul hanging around, as Lord Grimthorpe is allegedly one of 11 ghosts haunting the nightclub.
The scary sightings came after a two women from the Discovery Channel visited Batchwood in 2003.
Peter had put an article in the local papers during the club’s £1.5 million refurbishment, jesting that the builders didn’t want to work late because of the ghosts.
Peter said: “Two days later there’s a knock at the door and I’ve gone down to meet these two ladies.
“They said ‘we would like to show you these pictures from the last two nights’ and they were full of orbs.”
From the man who runs up and down the old cellar’s corridor to Lady Grimthorpe who haunts the ‘attic’ where she allegedly started a fire, there have been some chilling experiences noted by club’s staff over the decades.
Peter commented: “No one wants to be the last to leave.”
Earlier this year, Peter became frustrated when the attic room repeatedly flooded after the tap on the bar was left on.
In the search to find the tap culprit, Peter and a colleague watched CCTV footage of the room, and ended up witnessing something far creepier.
Peter said: “We watched a balloon left from a night out circulate the whole room, up the stairs and back again. I mean we have air con in here sometimes, but the air con isn’t going to make a balloon move like that.”
When the lights go out and the music stops the club may be a spooky place, but during opening hours the three bustling dance floors attract partygoers from across the county.
Peter added: “Everyone from the area has a story about Batchwood.”
It’s not only clubbers that are drawn to the three floor building; top artists have also taken to the dance floor for some momentous performances, the likes of which include Glastonbury headliner, Kanye West.
The multi-award winning rapper performed at Batchwood in 2006, a week after he won his first Brit Award.
Peter said of the controversial artist: “What a lovely guy. I know he’s had some terrible press about him.”
But the American star, who often hits headlines as the husband of Kim Kardashian, made an odd condition to secure his appearance at the club.
Peter continued: “All these American stars have a rider, and a rider is a list of what they need. Kanye West’s rider was all these drinks and he was very specific about a bowl of Skittles with no red ones in.”
Kanye is not the only iconic performer to hit the Batchwood dance floor, as ‘Granddad Batch’ is also regularly spotted strutting his stuff.
The 94-year-old St Albans man is famed for his weekly trips to the nightclub since it opened in the 70s and his relentless partying has seen him become somewhat of a local celeb.
Peter said: “He’s always got a group of people around him dancing.”
But it hasn’t always been fun and frolics for the nightclub. The company who owned Club Batchwood went into administration in 2011 and the following two years were a struggle.
The building had gone 11 years without any refurbishment, and failed to attract punters, hitting a particular low point in 2013 when Peter left to launch another venue elsewhere.
Peter said: “We’re never going to allow 11 years with no investment, it’s going to be every four or five years. It’s a fashionable industry; if we’re not going to be up on that, people think with their feet, and people did, it was a real shame.”
They couldn’t keep him away for long though, and following a £500,000 refurbishment, Peter returned to re-launch Club Batchwood last year.
He added: “There are clubs that are iconic. Batchwood is one of them. You can go away on holiday and find someone who has visited St Albans and says ‘oh yeah, I’ve been to Batchwood once’.”
The business has since gone from strength to strength, branching out as a film set for the likes of Keith Lemon, and as a venue for boxing matches to wedding fayres alongside its three club nights.
Peter commented: “We’re constantly looking at ways to branch out the business and keep it exciting.”
Club Batchwood will be channelling its spooky roots this Halloween with a weekend of events.
For the chance to spot one of their many ghosts, visit their website for tickets.