This short story from 1976 recalls the ghostly appearance of our buildings namesake Florence Hall during a 24hr table tennis marathon.
In the early 1890s a young lady from Liverpool was studying at a university in Paris, she became ill, and as the weeks passed by she became worse, and eventually she died. The family living in Liverpool were heartbroken because so much was planned for her future. The family were named Hall and were a wealthy business family in relation to Liverpool’s shipping industry. The father of the family was named Bernard Hall and as well as being a prominent business man, he was also an Alderman of the city. It was therefore not unusual for Bernard Hall to also be involved in work among the poorer people of Liverpool. The work at the Liverpool docks was expanding and new docks were being built along the riverfront from the Georges dock (Liverpool’s first dock) at the site of the Royal Liver building southward towards Garston. Several other docks had already been built namely the Albert dock complex which included Kings, Queens, and the Wapping dock. Liverpool was developing fast and the next couple of docks to be built were the Brunswick, Toxteth, Harrington, and the Herculaneum basin. The Herculaneum basin was mainly a repair group of docks which had three docks which would let a ship sail into the dock and had a pair of water retaining gates and a pump house which was capable of pumping all the water out of the dock leaving ship’s hull available for inspection and repair.as an Alderman, Bernard Hall would be involved in all of this work and he would of noticed how the area was being built up with small family houses and tenant blocks, not that the families were small. The south end of the river and inland of Liverpool was a hive of activity, how could the people get to work. Most people moved to live near to the docks in these new houses. Some people who lived further away would have to get a tramcar or the overhead railway.
In 1889, Bernard Hall had the fulfilment of seeing a building on a Parr with many of the buildings in town being opened which would change the lives of many boys and girls. He had obtained a plot of land on which this building was built in the memory of his daughter Florence, and it would be called The Florence Institutes for Boys. Inside the building was enormous, the gymnasium was almost fifty yards long, by twenty yards wide, and about ten yards high. Upstairs was the dance hall which was slightly larger, and two smaller rooms. One was fitted with a full size snooker table, while the other room had a table tennis unit. These two rooms were for the use of the senior boys. There were two rooms fitted next floor down fitted out the same for the junior members. Most times the building would be a hive of activity, with most of its rooms being used from morning till about ten o clock at night. Later on it became very quiet. After eleven o clock at night the building would be settling and with the heating off, the building would cool down and the timbers in the floors and roofing would start to creek as they expanded or shrank. Many times members of staff had commented on the eeriness of the situation and it being ideally conditioned for ghosts. Some went as far to suggest that the ghost of Florence Hall could be walking around the building, keeping her eye on things. Not many people wanted to stay in the building after eleven o clock at night. My dad who was a member of the Old Boys Committee often used to come home after having a drink in the local pub with other Old Boys, and having discussed weird sounds they had heard
Our story begins early in February 1976. I was working for a British Leyland car factory at the time, working on a two shift system, days and nights. I was also taking a course on part-time youth work. I was approached to organise some method of fund raising for The Florence Institute.at the time there was a lot of time endurance events going on, so having had a talk with some senior boys we decided to do a twenty four hour marathon playing Table Tennis. The next step was to get senior boys of between sixteen and eighteen to take part. Twelve boys come forward to have a go, and gave us permission to get in touch with their parents to get personal legal permission. The boys that came forward were; Jim Digney, Paul Cromby, Mich Pitchford, Harry Dineley, Mich Dineley, George Barrow, Brian Cosgrove, Dave Brophy, Bill Howard, Stan Standish, J eff Bear, and Mich Kent. Each boy would try and get sponsored by parents, family and friends, and all monies went towards club activities. Gifts of food and drinks from friends and interested parties would be the most welcome.
The event would take place on the weekend of the 5th and 6th of March 1976, starting at 10pm Friday 5th. As ten o clock approached, we did the usual countdown from ten and the first group of four boys started playing. Jim Digney, Paul Cromby on one table and Mich Pitchford and Harry Dineley on the other. I opened the snooker room and Mich and George played snooker. Billy, Stanny, Jeff and Dave went out for a few minutes? (Probably for a drink) they returned at ten to eleven. Eleven o clock and we were ready for a change over. Mich and George on one table and Brian (Cozzie) and Dave on the other. Eleven fifteen and the chips arrived that had been ordered previously. All those not playing had their supper. Chip butties were made for those who were playing. The records were playing, and Mich Kent was sketching some signs to hang outside inviting people in to watch tomorrow. Eleven forty and the room is very warm, I am feel weary as I have been up since six am getting things ready. The boys are going strong, some had taken their shirts off.
Twelve midnight change over Billy and Stanny, Jeff and Mich on time. It is important that the change overs are on time as after an hours play you’re just about ready for a break. Twelve thirty and the records are still being played. Those boys not playing are getting drinks for those that are playing. I take the opportunity to ring up Radio City and tell them what we are doing. “We will ring you back in a couple of hours to see how you are getting on.” Was the reply.
At the one o clock changeover, Jimmy and Paul on one table and Mich (Picky) and Harry on the other. Each boy has now done an hours play and we are starting the second round. At this time in the morning the records player had shut down (thankfully) for it had been so loud, and we had a time of quietness. Some refreshments were made and the four boys still playing had to manage eating with one hand. The only noise that could be heard at times was noise of the table tennis ball as it bounced from side to side as I was sitting in one of the window bays, every now and then a vehicle would go past, and the lights of the vehicle would shine through the window. Most of the lighting had been turned off, save for the important lighting, the table tennis room and coffee bar, the passage, and the toilets and main stairs leading up to the office. Everything was getting quieter, the boys had stopped talking. Two boys had closed their eyes though they were not asleep. I was just sitting there and watching them play and gazing at nothing. Mick K looks as though he has been doing his homework, he had been doing a lot of drawing. I asked him what he was doing and he said it’s a central heating system?
Thankfully the two o clock changeover had crept up on us and we were awoken from our shallow dreams. The next four boys were ready to do their stint, namely Mich Dineley and George Barrow and the other pair being Brian Cosgrove and Dave Brophy. They all reported fit and well and away they went. It only took five to ten minutes before we were all back in the old routine. Heads nodding down, eyes closing, staring into thin air. Golly, we were feeling the pace. I had worked shifts many times and the hours between two and five o clock in the morning were killers. You could be seeing things that were not there, your stomach felt terrible, you wanted to eat food, and you wanted to go the toilet. Then we heard the creaking and cracking as the building cooled down a bit. I put it down to the timbers in the floors, ceilings and the roof, expanding and shrinking. We were all starting to feel a bit cool, and on came the shirts. Then of all things someone said “There is a knock at the door Eddy.” Who could this be at this time in the morning? I went to the main door, took all the bolts off top and bottom and opened the door. There was no one there. I stepped out onto the pavement and walked to the corner of Mill Street and Wellington road, no sign of anyone. It was absolutely freezing, I noticed none of the boys followed me out because it was so cold. So I locked up again and went inside.
Going back into the building, I noticed that the gym door was closed at the top of the stairs. This was the most unusual as the stairs going down into the gym were used as a viewing point. The door was always open. It was getting near three o clock now and it was becoming quite cool within the table tennis room. The boys could feel the chill and the shirts were the order of the day (night). The problem now was that none of the boys could remember where they had left their shirt. That problem solved, it was time for the three o clock team to get themselves into action. Three o clock its Billy Howard and Stanny Standish, Jeff Bear and Mich Kent. It’s quite cool in the building now and I have fear the heating has gone off. I had specifically mentioned to those responsible that we would want heat all night. The control meter was down in the basement and it was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do, go down and switch the power back on, with the building being in semi darkness. I made no mention to the boys of my thoughts as I quietly slipped down the passage towards the toilets. Just by the toilets was the spiral staircase that led to the basement, there was no lighting here. As a vehicle passed along Mill Street, its lights would flash a penetrating beam through the windows of the basement.as I got nearer to the boiler room you could imagine me, being slightly deaf hearing all kinds of noises. My eyes were not functioning properly. I could see shadows in that freezing basement, I was scared. I had my hands out in front of me so that I would not walk into something. As I felt my way along the wall seeking the opening of the doorway, I could feel heat on my hands and the sweet smell of perfume as if someone was breathing on me. The perspiration was running down my face as I tried to control myself and think clearly. It was at that very moment the boiler ignited, and the noise from it shook my whole body and I surmised that the heating had come on.
I made my way back along the basement passage, feeling the wall for a door opening which was to the old office that was the Old Boys Committee meeting room. After the door opening I knew I was near to the spiral stairs which led to the ground floor. I climbed the stairs quicker than usual with my face wet with sweat. I made my way back to where to boys were still playing and those not playing were just resting.
Most of the boys were trying to get some sleep, sleeping pads were now out and a coat makes a good pillow. “Where have you been?” someone asked.
“Oh only to put the heating back on.”
“No ghosts down there then?”
“Nooo” I replied, “No one worth scaring down there.”
Another boy replied, “I thought you were upstairs in the office. I went to the bottom of the stairs and I thought the light was on, I could see your shadow moving about in the room, and it must have been the reflection of the car lights as they went past.”
I changed the subject. “Right boys, nearly time for the next changeover, who is it? Right Jimmy and Paul, with Picky and Harry.”
Four o clock and on they go without any complaint. The boys who had just come off are still lively. Billy never stops talking. Brian Cozzie and Dave Brophy start to warm up some soup that my wife had made. While the others were still sleeping, I take the chance to go upstairs to the warden’s office. As I start up the stairs, I see the shadows the boy was talking about. Is it possible that when I went to the door earlier that someone had managed to slip in? The door is wide open so I crept up one step at a time, each step seemed to make a terrible noise as I put my weight on it. I was just about to go into the warden’s office when a vehicle passed by along Mill Street and its lights cast a shadow onto the walls of the office. It was as simple as that. Nothing to get worked up about. I came out of the office, locked the door, and as I was turning around, the door to the dance hall was just closing. What is going on here I thought, and skipped up the couple of stairs that led to the next floor. It was not someone going into the dance hall, it was someone coming out and walking towards the boxing gym upstairs. I caught a glimpse of a lady which was dressed in a beautiful evening gown. She walked past the door and disappeared through the end wall. Once again I could smell that fragrance of perfume that I smelt while down in the basement.
“Could it be a ghost?” I thought. “No don’t be stupid, there’s no such thing as ghosts.” I pulled myself together and go downstairs to where the boys are playing. They are in a sleepy mood, two boys are asleep on the chairs in the coffee bar. It’s getting near to changeover time and I have to wake the two boys up to do their stint.
Five o clock change over time, Mich Dineley and George Barrow, and the second pair is Brian Cosgrove and Dave Brophy. We had the radio on now and those not playing were singing to the music. I gave Radio City a call to let them know how we were doing and ask for a request. I asked for a Beatles record. Five forty our request over the radio came on.
“For the boys of The Florence Institute playing table tennis all night, keep it going boys.”
Everyone was cheering, great stuff. Some boys went outside but did not stay out long as it was freezing.
The six o clock change over passed and everything was ticking over fine, I could not wait for morning. It was now time for some refreshments, and I kept myself busy making tea and toast. My thoughts were always going back over the night, was I seeing things? Who would believe me if I told anyone.my heart was beating with trepidation as I moved around the coffee bar in a dream. Could it have been the ghost of Florence? Was she keeping her eye on the boys? Nothing like this had happened in the Florrie before, had we disturbed her routine of a late night walk? Was she making sure they were all safe and trying to keep them interested? Was it her that turned the heating back on so we could keep warm and taking part and making everything fit into place?
The change overs still carried on this was a good group of boys, and as seven o clock approached, the four boys were preparing for their stint with the expectation of some young ladies coming to make breakfast for us. Seven o clock all change, the boys are on and a knock on the door, or should I say a banging on the door. In come the ladies to make breakfast along with some strangers with them. I had had enough of strangers for one night I thought as they came into the hall. The ladies named Gillian Douglas and Doreen Pugh got right into feeding some twelve hungry boys and their leader. One of the strangers asked for Mr. Reeves. I thought they were police officers but they were staff from the Liverpool Weekly News wanting to take photographs and wanting to write a report for our team event. We still had over twelve hours to go before we would be finished, but happily we reached our target. Sadly we never had another event like this, and what happened that night only I can read some theory into it. It was not long afterward that the Florrie closed, and arsonists broke into the building and set ablaze. But along came a group of people who were not going to let arsonists ruin the opportunity for boys and girls, men and women to use the assets of the building.
Bernard Hall left a heritage for the people of Dingle and perhaps the Florence Hall has taken the job of Minder maybe someone else will see a sign of Florence to show she cares.
THE FLORENCE INSTITUTE
Registered Office: The Florence Institute Trust Ltd, 377 Mill Street, Liverpool L8 4RF. Charity Registration No: 1109301. Company Registration No: 05330850 (registered in England and Wales).