Monday, 20 June 2011

The stately ghosts of England: Part Two.

The Ghost of the Brimstone Butterfly
One of my earliest posts was on the ghosts said to inhabit the stately homes of England. That was back in October 2009 and I promised a follow-up. This is it.
A number of years ago the Aviatrix and I went on a ghost tour of Ham House. It was as fascinating to see Ham House at night as it was to hear about the various ghosts believed to haunt the place. The hall seemed oddly smaller and more intimate with the shutters closed and the lights dimmed. We placed our bags and coats on chairs and began the tour. I was a little disappointed. The publicity material said it would be by torchlight, leading me to entertain the fanciful notion that we would be conducted around the house by the light of a blazing torch. Not surprisingly, the torch was powered by batteries and did not require being dipped in pitch and set alight to work.

I recall that the first stop on our tour was the grand staircase built by William Murray in the late 1630s. But it is not his ghost but that of his daughter, whose laboured footsteps and the tap of her walking stick can be heard making their way down from her apartments on the upper floor to the chapel below. The body of her beloved second husband, the Duke, had laid in state here for a number of days before being buried. It seems the shade of the Duchess of Lauderdale is as imperious in death as she was in life and is not above giving a good shove to anyone impertinent enough to get in her way. The guide said he had once sensed someone shoving him in the small of his back as he stood on the third tread by the Museum Room. Given that he had been rather rude about the Duchess in his talk, I cannot say I am surprised that she might have taken umbrage. Some people claim they can smell the scent of roses, her favourite perfume, in her bedchamber. If the air was heady with the aroma of roses on the night I went to Ham House, it was probably because I had drenched myself in Penhaligon’s Elizabethan Rose eau de toilette. The lingering aroma of tobacco in the Marble Dining Room has been sufficiently pronounced to draw complains from fire officers carrying out annual inspections.Yet no-one has smoked in the chamber for decades, although the first Duke of Lauderdale was known to be partial to the odd pipe or two with his chums after dinner.
The Dairy at Ham House
There are also spectral King Charles Cavalier dogs at Ham House. Let us hope they don’t leave behind spectral doggy mess as well. The 20th century has contributed its own ghostly legends. In the Stewards’ Hall can be found the wheelchair of William Tollemache, the 9th Earl of Dysart who died in 1935. He used to be wheeled around in it by his valet George Horwood. Apparently, this wheelchair seems to be able to move across the room by itself. The sound of a wheelchair has also been heard making its way from the back of the house to the dairy. The childless 9th Earl used to enjoy taking Christmas presents across to the family who lived there. His ghost now re-enacts that act of generosity, complete with a sharp rap on the dairy door to announce his presence and presents.

Other ghosts wafting around the outside of the house include the heartbroken servant girl mourning the death of her lover, who threw himself from the uppermost storey of the South façade onto the gravel below in a fit of despair.

The most poignant of the Ham House ghosts must be that of Lieutenant John Eadred Tollemache. During the First World War, a gardener at Ham House rushed indoors to tell the others that he had just seen the man in question in the Cherry Gardens, looking wistfully up at the house. The gardener was surprised to see John Tollemache because he had not been expected home on leave. It later transpired that Tollemache could not possibly have been in the Cherry Gardens. On that very day, 21st August 1916, he was killed in France whilst leading his troops in the Battle of the Somme. He was just 24 years of age.
Eastbury Manor House

I was told by staff at Eastbury Manor House that they had never witnessed any spooky happenings. That does not stop ghost hunters from hiring the place and solemnly claiming later that they had found evidence to the contrary, particularly in the turret containing the Tudor oak spiral staircase. Many modern ghost hunters accord a great significance to orbs on photographs, which are supposedly intimations of a ghostly presence.  If that is the case some of my photos are choc-a-bloc with them, especially those taken at Hampton Court.

Light anomalies appear in one of my photographs of the Stuart Room at Trinity College of Music at the Old Royal Naval College. However, it is the principal concert room across the way that witnessed an apparition. In recent years, a member of staff came across a stranger warming himself by the fireplace. When challenged, the stranger simply vanished through a set of locked doors at the end of the chamber. Nearby academic staff had rushed to their colleague’s aid upon hearing the commotion. They were all disconcerted to discover that the fireplace was still warm to the touch despite the fact that an open fire had never been lit in the grate for as long as Trinity College had occupied the building.

I witnessed the ghost of Kenwood House which had a penchant for slamming the door shut in the Suffolk Gallery. Unfortunately, the latter rooms are rarely if ever open these days as they lack the staff to man them. Thus, I have been unable to determine whether the ghost is still up to its old tricks.

Sutton House's “blue lady” is thought to be the shade of an eighteenth century owner, the Huguenot Mary Tooke. Apparently she does not take kindly to the menfolk. One unfortunate member of staff, who had livings quarters at the top of the house, awoke one night to find her glaring balefully down at him.

Sutton House might have a ghost in a fetching shade of blue but the Old Palace Croydon boasts its own green lady. This apparition, not thought to be related to either the Incredible Hulk or the Jolly Green Giant, haunts the passageway leading to the ancient chapel, which was restored in the 17th century. The passageway contains a small wooden staircase. Having already heard of the ghost I asked my schoolgirl guides if they could elaborate on the story further. They said a woman was supposed to have deliberately thrown her baby down the stairs to kill it. Thus, it was her remorseful ghost that had inspired the legend. But they added that they were not sure whether there was any truth in the story or whether it was simply been a way of scaring impressionable juniors.

A rather odd thing happened to me as I stood on my own in the reportedly haunted 17th century Long Gallery at Charlton House. I challenged the legendary ghosts to show themselves as I panned my camera around the room. Nothing appeared on screen but coincidentally, or otherwise, my mobile phone suddenly went on the blink despite having worked perfectly well when I had first entered the house. I was unable to switch it on again until I had returned home a good few hours later. The ghost of one 18th century owner, Sir William Langhorne, forlornly wanders the ground, doomed for eternity to seek out the woman with whom he could sire a living heir. Sir William’s chief claim to fame today is that he married a 17 year old girl when he was 84, making him the Hugh Hefner of the 18th century. Unlike  Hugh Hefner, Sir William was not jilted by his young bride but he had the good grace to render her a widow  within a few months of their wedding, whereupon she  promptly married a much younger man.

The power of suggestion can of course play its part in ghost sightings. I was convinced I had heard the voice of a Catholic martyr in the Cradle Tower, within the walls of the Tower of London. There was no-one else present yet I could clearly hear a man’s voice reciting the Lord Prayer’s in Latin. On my return to the Cradle Tower several months later, I realised that I had indeed heard a man’s voice, but it was that of a modern actor played back on a loop.

At Kensington Palace I was once mistaken for a ghost myself. I had been standing in a small closet when the door suddenly opened and a woman stepped into the room. She gave a small gasp of shock when she saw me. She later admitted that she had taken me for a ghost on account of my elaborate straw hat. I was rather tickled at the thought of being mistaken for the shade of a long dead courtier.
Caroline of Brandenburg Ansbach
Not surprisingly Hampton Court has more than its fair share of ghosts. When the Palace ran a special exhibition on grace and favour apartments and former residents, the Eagle and I made our way to the top of the building above the Queen’s apartments. The guide on duty was pleased to see us as not many people were prepared to venture up so many flights of stairs. As a consequence, we engaged in a lengthy conversation with her. Out of the blue she revealed a strange phenomenon she had bore witness to in the Georgian Rooms. It had only been a few days earlier when a thick fog had enveloped the palace. She suddenly became aware, as did her fellow colleagues and the few visitors tempted out on that inclement day, that there was the unmistakably aroma of turpentine in the air. There were no building works taking place that might have explained the smell. Perhas a nursery rhyme about a regal namesake of mine might shed light on the mystery:

Queen, Queen Caroline,
Washed her hair in turpentine,
Turpentine made it shine,
Queen, Queen Caroline

The Queen of the ditty was Caroline of Brandenburg Ansbach who married George II and came over to live in England when her father-in-law, George I,  became king in 1714. She stayed at the palace both as Princess and as Queen. During the Georgian era, turpentine was used to treat body and head lice. I do not recommend washing hair in it, or indeed bathing in it. Perhaps it was the aroma of Queen Caroline’s turpentine that had been detected at Hampton Court. I have to say, I would much rather my ghost left a trail of rose water perfume wafting in its wake, like the Duchess of Lauderdale, than  reek of Queen Caroline’s Eau du Turpentine.

I have just realised that Caroline of Ansbach, she of the eau de Turpentine, was the same Queen Caroline who attended a feast held in her honour at the Octagon (now known as the Orleans Gallery in Richmond).in 1729. Apparently details of both the seating plan and the menu have survived on into the 21st   century. The latter menu included oysters with capers and chicken with peaches. I was intrigued to discover that both dishes are still eaten today.

Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein

The tragic Tudor queen, Catherine Howard, is one of the better known shades flitting around Hampton Court Palace. Her ghost gave the Haunted Gallery its name. She had been confined to her rooms within the palace after stories of her unseemly past had reached the ears of her husband, Henry VIII in the autumn of 1541. According to legend, Catherine made a desperate bid to evade her guards and escape to the Chapel Royal where she knew Henry would be at prayer. She believed that if she could but see him he would surely forgive her everything. Alas, her attempts were thwarted at the last moment and she was dragged screaming away from the Chapel door. She would never see her husband again. A brief stay at Syon House stood between Cartherine and an appointment with the axeman on Tower Green. Catherine's ghost is said to re-enact her frantic attempts to see the king.

We were told that Henry VIII’s ghost haunts Chenies Manor House as he makes his slow way up the turret staircase to catch Catherine Howard entertaining her lover on the upper floor. Like the Duchess of Lauderdale at Ham House, the infirm Henry relied on a walking stick in his old age. Thus, the heavy footsteps of a limping man and the tap tapping of a walking stick are both attributed to him. Time Team debunked this as mere fancy. The long demolished state apartments were discovered by Time Team to be located elsewhere by the modern car-park. Consequently, Henry’s bedchamber was not on the ground floor of the current extant building, but at some distance away in another building all together and so too presumably was Catherine’s, which rather undermines the suggestion that Henry's ghost would be found on the Turret staircase chasing after his wanton wife. Whilst I was at Chenies, mention was made of another wandering spirit belonging to William, Lord Russell. The later was executed in 1683 for his alleged role in the Rye House Plot, which centred on a conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and his Catholic brother James I. William refused to flee abroad after he had been implicated in the plot, believing that his innocence would absolve him of all blame. He was mistaken and ended up being beheaded. I assume it is his headless ghost that roams the grounds of the manor house.

Some of these ghost stories only gained currency in the 19th century despite the fact that the subjects of the stories had died in early centuries.  The English writer and raconteur, Augustus Hare,  for example, recalled a visit to Ham House he had made in 1879 in Volume 5 of his “The Story of my life.":

 “There is a ghost at Ham. The old butler there had a little girl, she was then six years old. In the small hours of the morning, when dawn was making things clear, the child, waking up, saw a little old woman scratching with her finger against the wall close to the fireplace. She was not at all frightened at first but sat up to look at her. The noise she made in doing this caused the old woman to look round, and she came to the foot of the bed and, grasping the rail, stared at the child long and fixedly. So horrible was her stare, that the child was terrified and screamed and hid her face. People ran in and the child told what she had seen. The wall was examined where she had seen the figure scratching, and concealed in it were papers which proved that in that room, Elizabeth had murdered her first husband to marry the Duke of Lauderdale”

Given that Sir Lionel Tollemache, the Duchess’s first husband, had died in Paris, his lady wife would have been hard pressed to have killed him from  a room within Ham House. Moreover, the mysterious papers have never subsequently been found to corroborate Hare’s story of the supernatural. Nevertheless, there is a twist to the tale. When John Maitland, the future Duke of Lauderdale, brazenly flaunted his relationship with Elizabeth Murray, his future Duchess, Maitland’s first wife fled to Paris where she died 3 years later. So perhaps it is not so Hare-brained to speculate that the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, who were both notorious for their ruthlessness and aggressive pursuit of their own self-interests, were able to pull strings to have inconvenient spouses bumped off in Paris.

Even the home of the Brimstone Butterfly has its own resident ghost. (I still cannot explain the disembodied voice I captured on film calling for Lara whilst I lay in the bath). But then every stately home should have one. Heaven knows it has been difficult enough determining which stately home I would wish to take up residence in should the rest of the world’s population be wiped out in a catastrophe. It is even harder to decide which fortunate abode will be haunted by the Brimstone Butterfly for all eternity.