Thursday, October 13, 2011

Corfe Castle; a place of haunting

From the mysterious apparitions of a marching Roman legion to the ghostly recollections of a much-loved Prime Minister, a day out in a hauntingly atmospheric house will give everyone a fright. During Halloween, the haunting season, enjoy eerie tours and creepy tales in some of Britain’s oldest homes, where the floorboards creek and the faces of the past stare out from every wall.

Royal cruelty and a headless Lady at Corfe Castle, Dorset
Believed to have been first settled 6,000 years ago, Corfe Castle is a majestic, brooding ruin and with many years of turbulent history that includes Civil War, torture, treachery and imprisonment.

Legend tells of the 18 year old Anglo-Saxon heir to the throne, murdered in the grounds of the castle at the orders of his stepmother, Queen Elfrida. She was determined to bring about the succession of her son, Ethelred, later known as ‘The Unready’. While in the 14th century, Edward II was imprisoned at Corfe prior to his own horrific murder.

During the Civil War, Corfe belonged to a family supportive of the Royalists, and was overrun by Cromwell’s Roundhead’s and eventually blown up. The sound of a child weeping can occasionally be heard nearby and it is believed that the headless body of a woman in white who stalks the battlements and walls of the ruins is the one who betrayed the besieged Royalists, bringing about the ruin of both the family and their formidable fortress.

A murderous past at Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire
Given Baddesley Clinton’s history (it was a haven for persecuted Catholics in the Elizabethan era) it isn’t a surprise that there are a number of ghost stories associated with the house.

Many people claim to have heard ghostly footsteps along corridors and have had the unnerving experience of seeing door handles turned by an unseen hand. In the 19th century, a house guest wrote, “I once heard that solemn tread. It had an awful and mournful sound…and affected me deeply.”

The library at Baddesley Clinton is particularly known for its dramatic history. In Tudor times, this was a first-floor chamber. It was here that, according to legend, Nicholas Broome, who had inherited the house in 1483, returned home unexpectedly and “slew ye minister of Baddesley Church finding him in his plor (parlour) chockinge (choking) his wife under ye chinne…” The slaughtered priest’s bloodstain made an indelible mark in front of the library fireplace, but scientific analysis has since proved that the stain was actually pig’s blood. Nevertheless the murder was documented as having occurred at Baddesley Clinton, in one of the older parts of the house.

The hard-up Duchess of Ham House, Surrey
Set on the banks on the River Thames, Ham House, near Richmond, is said to be one of the National Trust’s most prolifically haunted houses. Once home to the tenacious and strong-willed Duchess of Lauderdale, a highly ambitious aristocrat, it is her ghost which is believed to roam the house to this day.

After ignoring public outrage about the unseemly haste of her match to the 1st Earl of Lauderdale, whom she married after the convenient death of both her husband and the Earl’s wife, they set about living at Ham in luxurious style. However, when the Earl fell out of Royal favour and died in 1682, he left the Duchess increasingly hard-up; forced to sell many of her prized possessions she ended her days at Ham, writing “I am a prisoner now in my beloved Ham House, and I will never leave.”

The ground-floor room to which she retreated, the Duchess’s Bedchamber, now has a strangely oppressive atmosphere. The room emits sounds of footsteps and wafts of the Duchess’s favourite rose scent, while her looking glass with its slightly clouded appearance is often home to the reflection of a malevolent looking figure. So powerful is the atmosphere in this room that some of the staff take the precaution of murmuring “Good afternoon, your ladyship” before entering.

A lifeless legion march at Treasurer’s House, York York is the leading contender for the title of the most haunted city in Britain, with at least 140 ghosts, and the Treasurer’s House, built over the main Roman thoroughfare leading into York, was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for having ‘Ghosts of the greatest longevity’.

Many people have reported seeing the ghosts of a Roman army in the cellars of Treasurer’s House. The best known account is of an engineer who was installing central heating in cellars of the house, when he heard the sound of a trumpet and saw the top of a soldier’s helmet apparently emerging from the wall against which he had just been working. He leapt from his ladder, watching in disbelief as behind the trumpet player plodded a horse and about twenty soldiers walking two abreast, carrying lances, round shields and short swords.
The engineer was not alone in his Roman vision. While the house was in private hands in the 1920s, a fancy dress party was held and one guest was amused to find herself in the cellars with a man dressed as a Roman soldier who barred her passage by placing a spear across the corridor… she was less amused to discover subsequently that not one of the guests had come dressed as a Roman soldier.

More to follow ...

Post from Ted Flett

Photograph copyright Anne Gordon


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