Ghosts of the Leith Citadel
Ghosts of The Citadel: The Hidden Panel
Article to be pitched to Editor of Edinburgh Evening News Tuesday 3rd January 1989
Location: Arden Street, Edinburgh.
Date: October 1988.
Name: Archie Henderson
I do not expect you will respond to this. I am the manager – ex manager – of the recently decommissioned Leith Citadel Theatre. Word has it that you are an atheist of logical disposition, as was I before the dreadful events I witnessed at Leith Theatre last month.
I am no journalist, nor have any personal gambit or political agenda to espouse. All I ask is that you publish my story – my true story – about the fateful things I saw that night. Furthermore, for the safety of others, your readers and your family, I implore you not to enter the Citadel Theatre at this time.
Please do not read this as a frivolous attempt to commemorate the deaths of my two dear colleagues mentioned herein; but, rather, an endeavour to halt my own descent into madness. I can no longer hold the weight of this story alone.
(Manager of Citadel theatre June 1975 – December 1988)
The Citadel’s final show came down on December 30th 1988. It was the pantomime and, as theatre manager, it was a sad moment for me. To see this fine building, its resplendent curves and pointing, breathing its final sigh before closure can move even a left-brained pen pusher like myself, you know! I took it all in: the steady gleam of the follow-spot, dousing the stage with its final rays before extinguishing for good; the deep crimson of the curtain; the smell of bubble-gum; the laughter of children, with their plastic flashing toys; the ushers, in their navy waistcoats. As I edged surreptitiously along the back of the stalls in the dark, I caught a glimpse of Andy in the orchestra downstage. The great golden neck of his saxophone shimmered under the lights like an industrial chimney at sunset. Within 48 hours it would all be gone…mothballed, or labelled for architectural salvage.
I wouldn’t have seen Stewart McMillan that evening had I not gone to Stage Door to return a spare set of keys to the Dress Circle bar. His sparking eyes, lambent with mischief and fun, seemed brighter that evening. Had I not gone to stage door that evening, his gaze wouldn’t have intercepted mine, his breath wouldn’t have mixed with my breath, and he wouldn’t have cause to stop, and turn, and say:
- "Alreet, Archie? Say we go dig it up tonight? That Lady Kindle treasure?"
How I wish I hadn’t heard anything. How I wish I had played no part in this ghastly escapade of malevolent, strange forces. But a peculiar levity came across me. An excitement. What’s life for a bureaucrat like me if you can’t transgress once in a while? I thought for a moment.
- "Huh, okay, sure. I’ll catch you after the show."
Stewart was referring to an old rumour that’d clung to the theatre since it’d opened 1932. Around that time, a famous Edinburgh philanthropist – Lady Ellen Kindle – took interest in the new theatre, quickly becoming its patron. Theatre rumour has it that Lady Kindle hid some money or treasure somewhere deep within the theatre for safekeeping. She was one of those 1930s Miss Jean Brodie types; a straight-backed, beak-nosed, crank-school hating crème-de-la-crème- loving type of woman, with a distrust of banks and radiograms. A stern Christian, but one of phenomenal generosity.
During her lifetime she supposedly donated 15,000 guineas to Edinburgh citizens and charities. There was scarce a show at the Citadel that she missed, sitting aloft on her balcony above stage right; bolt-straight, an ornate brooch glistening on her lapel. Bizarrely, she’d often bring her cat, who’d sit compliantly alongside. Old legend has it that there was something supernatural about the cat, whose name – if I recall – was "Grimalkin". Her purr was velvet like a sea of soft bubble wrap bursting all at once, and her sharp green eyes bewitched their beholder. Any usher who stroked Grimalkin, and locked with her demon-gaze, was said to be hunt-eyed for days after . . .
- "Hey Archie!"
It was the interval, and orchestra Andy was heading to his dressing room, his saxophone hanging freely from his neck by a strap. His face was fizzing with excitement. He leant towards me and spoke in a loud whisper
- "The Kindle gold, it’s definitely here! I’ve found a letter in the library archives. A close friend recalls Kindle stating she wished to bury the remains of her wealth at the Citadel Theatre. I saw it in black and white, Archie!"
- "Sure, sure", I reply. "I’ve spoken to Backstage Stew. We’re meeting after the show."
Andy vanishes in the slipstream of actors coming offstage.
Three hours later, and the Citadel is empty. It’s quarter past midnight and a tangy miasma or pyrotechnic fuel still hangs in the air. Orchestra Andy and Backstage Stew and are sitting in row C awaiting my arrival. I enter from the Rear Stalls treading remnant sweets and crisps into the sticky carpet. (Some parts of this job I won’t miss).
Andy, his ruddy face still beaming, hands me a plan of the auditorium, crammed densely with notes he’d added after scouring library archives. In the top left hand corner, the Lady Kindle Seat is circled – B14 – and, behind an adjacent wall, a square marked "PRB Ducting Hatch" is excitedly decorated with exclamation marks. I finger the paper silently while Stewart, his lank hair hanging before his eye, noisily opens a large toolbox at his feet, its two symmetrical tiers splaying apart evenly like a popup book. Taking a drag of his cigarette, he rummages through it. The jingling of metal upon metal makes me think of a set of gaoler’s keys.
- "Ok", I say, "There’s no harm in looking, gents, is there. Let’s head up."
Moments later, we’re in the stairwell. I gaze out a dimpled windowpane that lays to my right. Beyond the tenements, I see the new tower blocks of the Leith Fort development; each window, a tiny cell of yellow light struck across with washing lines. Some adjacent walls are even dimpled with those new ‘satellite dishes’. A groaning bus breaks my daydream, and suddenly Andy is knocking a piece of oak panelling by my feet. I watch as his eyebrows raise and a wry smile falls across his face as the tone of his knocking changes. There’s a hollow behind the wall. A gap, an entry, - something. Bullishly, Andy turns to Stew’s toolkit, grabs a crowbar, and begins prizing the panel splinteringly away from the wall, his forehead corrugating up in wrinkled intensity.
- "Woah, woah, just a minute", I say.
- "Yeah, yeah alright, Antiques Roadshow!"
- "No, I don’t mind, just don’t go ruining it"
- "Who gies a fuck, man! There’ll be a wrecking ball through here Monday morning."
- "Ok, sure, it’s just…"
- "Dunny be a numpty, Archie. Do you want this gold or not?"
I realise suddenly that I am not their boss anymore. There’s nothing I can say or do. The theatre now closed, I have no standing. They know as well as I do that this’ll all be blanketed in dust. My power had evaporated…like an abdicated king … or a teacher, caught on the toilet.
The panel dropped to the floor.
- "Careful And’ there’s a live bus bar in there for the rig lighting. I’ll need to throw the power."
Stewart vanished down to the electric box on the ground floor.
Two minutes later, and we’re in darkness.
I reach into my pocket and get my torch. Casting the beam down, I see Andy already has his arm stretched deep into the wall cavity. Scuffle, scuffle. Outside, I hear laughter. A bottle breaks and a bus expels compressed air. A cell of light extinguishes from the tower block in my peripheral vision. It’s now past midnight. It’s suddenly very cold, and I start to feel anxious. I feel that someone’s coming up the stairs behind me. A … presence. I count to quell my nerves. One, two, three, four…
- "Ahhh haaaaa! Ya DANCER!!!"
Andy is clutching something wooden and square. For a minute it’s wonderful and we feel elated. Like we’re all pals who’ve cracked the Enigma. We are the Leith Indiana Jonsers. The glorious pilferers of bygone chattels! The Winners. And here is our first find. The first of many. We excitedly kneel down at the box, silent with the thrill. My torchlight flickers off what appears to be a scorpion etched deep into the wood at the centre. The corners are gilded in an orange gold, and along the top, two silver letters reflect back my torchlight. An ‘E’ and a ‘K’ – ‘Ellen Kindle’. Andy loses patience, and yanks open the lid like an adrenal burglar.
A moment passes. The smile fades from Andy’s mouth like breath from a cold window.
Two things fall out. The first is a brooch – a simple, multi-angled amber stone – like a 50 pence piece. The second is a piece of paper. It’s yellow and wax-sealed with an image of the same distinctive scorpion – its tail doubled back like a cracking whip, and its stinger bulbous and pointed. An excitement returns to my compeers; though I feel shame: shame, that I was so quick to devote my energies to ransacking the effects of this poor old woman.
Andy savagely breaks the seal, letting the brittle paper cascade downwards under the glow of my torchlight. The writing is calligraphic, but legible none-the-less:
In death I rest
With nowt to give
Though money must the flesh outlive;
The gold you seek
My bones to plunder,
Is folly’s profit
Though mars my slumber.
Tis this, thy greed, I won’t forgive
Now mayflies will thy soul outlive!
- "What ‘eh loooooad o’ gash!"
Stewart breaks away from the huddle, sighs, and kicks furiously at the skirting board. I jump, but Andy is grimacing and unnervingly still, clenching the fragile yellow paper into a scrunched ball.
- "The brooch might be worth something?" I say, this time too filled with cowardice to stand up against Stewart’s rage.
Stewart arched his eyebrows nonchalantly. But my mind is on the note. Its words keep turning around my head, and I crave the space and quiet to be able to think about it. Stuff like that clearly held no emotional resonance for these two fellas, and I wanted peace to think. Something about those words was making me feel nervy deep down.
- ‘Well gentleman’ I chime up. 'Fun as that was, I should like my bed now, if it’s all the same with you.’
As we go to leave, out the corner of my eye, I see Stewart scoop up the broach like a truffle from a damp forest floor, remove his Walkman from his back pocket, and ferret it quietly away in his pocket. He winks at Andy who grins back; both believing themselves to be concealed by the gloom.
We head down to the foyer, and I lock up front of house as Stewart and Andy skulk backstage to start de-rigging the show. Walking back to the flat, I feel oddly nervous, as if something was unfinished. On Broughton Road the thick, chunky thuds of a train rolling over a knot of rail, waft up from below. I look over the bridge at the shiny, criss-crossed points like a field of javelins. What did that letter mean?
Tis this, thy greed, I won’t forgive
Now mayflies will thy soul outlive!
My mind turned the words over and over like a smooth sea pebble that might reveal itself to contain a tiny fossil if only you look close enough. Folly’s profit though mars my slumber. I think hard. In the buttery gloom of a doorway, the calls of a homeless man trail across the pavement, like a radio slightly out of tune with the rest of the world. The gold you seek my bones to plunder. I reach in my pocket for some change, and offer the man a pound. "God bless yer charity, sir." he replies.
For a moment then, I had it, but then it went away again like a phantom sneeze. This, thy greed, I can’t forgive.
Ellen Kindle was a philanthropist… She offered money to those genuinely in need. She had a cat, but I’d never heard anything about a scorpion. And the brooch?
And then there’s the legend that Lady Ellen had a side to her… That she used to frequent the South Bride Vaults with her cat "Grimalkin" and partake in séances and black magic. The letter, the trinket box… it must mean something. A cautionary tale of some sort, against the perils of covetousness, against taking goodwill for granted. And the consequences.
"Now mayflies will thy soul outlive!" I said again to myself.
It’s a curse! Mayflies only live for a day! Kindle is wrecking revenge for the covetous plunder of her gold. She set up a fake rumour to purposely catch gold-eyed fortune hunters from beyond the grave. A honey trap for the greedy! For Alan and Stewart!
Turning on my heels, I run back to the Citadel. If the curse bore out, I had 24 hours, but Andy was planning to head up north this evening. Panting, the gum-freckled pavements raced beneath me under the glow of the street lamps. My heart was pounding and I felt sick with fear. As I reached the end of Bonnington Road, a strange scent of rubber and electricity met my nostrils that was frightful. I was not fit, like my colleagues, and sweat was already beginning to trickle off my brow, blurring the tenements of Great Junction Street that eyed each other across the street like armies heading into battle. A stitch shot across my chest, as the eerie catacomb-like outline of the Citadel came into view. Its long coffin-like alcoves and austere bullet-hole windows seemed to beckon with foreboding.
As I wrenched my keys out my pocket, the stench of electrical burning was now nauseating. The door flung back on its hinges as I ran into the auditorium and stopped dead.
Silence. A thin mist hung in the air like a fog over a lake on an autumn morning. Resting diagonally over the front row of seats, was an enormous lighting gantry, as wide as the auditorium itself, its numerous spotlights flickering strangely behind their coloured gels. Trailing up from it, and behind the Proscenium Arch, were two slack cables that drifted slightly to the left and right as if still coming to rest after a sudden movement.
"Hello? Stewart?! Guys I have to talk to you."
Tensing, I inched forward. A crackling caught my ears, and a new scent of burning fabric.
Approaching the lighting gantry, I extended my hand to touch the glistening metal, before being struck by a most curious thing. Where the metal was making contact with an upholstered chair back, the fabric was fizzing, sending out a thin wisp of smoke.
It was then I heard it. Its eerie, chilling yawl. Jet-black, fang-toothed and red-eyed, the thing stared down at me wildly from seat B14. It was, Grimalkin – Ellen Kindle’s cat.
I became rigid.
- "I don’t know what you’re trying to do!", I shouted pointing at the ghastly, lank-haired beast.
And it was then I saw them. Casting my eyes down, between rows B and C, were Stewart and Andy, jagged-limbed, mouths-agape as if gasping for air. A hideous, chilling look in both eyes that stared dartingly from their sockets. The lighting rig had clearly made contact with an un-earthed electrical cable. Stewart and Andy had burned to death through their nerves.
The last thing I remember of that night, was Grimalkin’s long snake-like tail disappearing below the balcony.