The Ghosts of Senate House is one part of a creative research project led by Sarah Sparkes. It serves as an archive for uncanny, apocryphal stories emanating from Senate House. These stories formed part of "a Magical library for the 21st Century" an archive of writings, recordings, artwork, artefacts, and other contributions, which was first shown at the University of London as part of The Bloomsbury Festival October 2011.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Death of Sir Edwin Deller

New staff commencing work at Senate House are inevitably regaled with stories of the 'haunted lift', although there is some uncertainty as to which lift (Senate House has several) is intended.

What does not seem to be disputed is the identity of the putative ghost - that of Sir Edwin Deller, Principal of the University of London. Elected to this position in July 1929, Deller was originally "...a member of the administrative staff, who had left school at 14 and worked as a clerk in various offices, taking his degrees in law as an evening student. He was, in fact, a born admin-istrator as well as a man of great wisdom and savoir-faire." [(p.218, The University of London 1836-1986: an illustrated history by Negley Harte, Athlone Press, 1986]

On 27th November 1936, Sir Edwin was showing some visitors around the half-finished building, still being constructed. A contemporary newspaper article explains what happpened next:

"They were standing in a temporary lift used to reach the tower of the buildings. The lift had gone up to the first floor, about 30ft, with a skip containing concrete, and this had been run along steel rails on the first floor and emptied. John Lapper, a workman employed by Holland, Hannan and Cubitt, Ltd, who was handling the skip, did not know that the lift had gone down again for Sir Edwin, who was going to view the new works. The skip, weighing about 5 cwts, was pushed along the rails to return to the lift. It fell down the shaft with Lapper on top of it, and struck Sir Edwin and those with him."

Three days later, Sir Edwin died. His memorial service was held the following month at the Temple Church. The inquest arrived at a verdict of accidental death, additionally stating that the tragedy had been the result of "negligence by employees."

Newspaper obituaries did not fail to point out the irony of his death having been a direct result of the new University building project, a project to which Deller had dedicated so much time, energy and enthusiasm.

A death notice published in The Times (30th November 1940) contained the following elegy:

I find him in the wonder of his Tower,

That monstrous, beautiful and bloody Tower,

His wordless monument, which seems to say,

"For this he worked and planned and gave his life,

Then took his wages - Death - and went his way"

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