A Haunting Story from Charlecote Park

Charlecote Park by Steve Gale

Charlecote Park is located on the River Avon about 4 miles (6 km) east of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. This photo is taken from the deer park looking across the River Avon, towards the manor house. Image by Steve Gale

In 2008 my husband and my two daughters and I traveled to England for two weeks. We spent one week in London, and one week at Charlecote Park where we rented the upper floor of the north west wing of the manor house from The National Trust.

We’d spent a long time online deciding which property to rent – The National Trust has an incredible range of historic places available. We had it narrowed down to 3 beautiful options, and then my husband let me make the final decision. Even though it cost a bit more than the others, I decided that we should stay at Charlecote Park.

We arrived in mid July. During the day we went out on driving trips to other National Trust

1,000 year old Quarry oak at croft castle national trust

One of the day trips we made was to Croft Castle in Herefordshire. The ancient Quarry Oak at Croft Castle is said to be 1,000 years old (shown here). Also at Croft Castle is the avenue of Spanish chestnut trees – said to have been planted from chestnuts taken from Spanish vessels during the Battle of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

properties and gardens, castles and historic villages. It was wonderful. But what was most incredible was to be staying in this magnificent mansion – a house in which Queen Elizabeth the First had stayed, just two floors below us.

We had full access to the entire park after hours so when all the other visitors and staff left, it was quiet and serene. We played croquet on the beautiful croquet lawn, we hiked around the park and enjoyed the huge old trees and deer and swans – it was an incredible experience.

charlecote croquet

We spent just about every evening playing croquet on the croquet lawn. The park’s herd of deer would often come up to the edge of the river, on the far side, while we were there.

Like many places in Europe the site has a very long history and has been continuously occupied since the Lucy family were given the charter for the lands in 1247 (though Mary Elizabeth Lucy’s memoirs say it was granted to them even earlier by William the Conqueror). The current house was built in 1558 and then remodeled and updated in the 19th century.

charlecote etching

The Great Hall of Charlecote during the Victorian period.

Its not an exaggeration to say that I felt a belonging there, especially out on the grounds in the early evening.

We were staying in what had been the servants’ quarters – in the long, top floor that ran the length of the north west wing. There were numerous old servants bells lined up along the narrow hall and one old clock that didn’t work.

charlecote park turret door

The medieval turret door.

We entered the house with an iron key through a little medieval door in the tower of the wing, and went up a narrow spiral staircase to our third floor apartment. The spiral staircase was always full of webs and spiders – we would send my husband out each time to clear the way for us before we either went up or down…

As we went up and down the ancient stone stairs we could look into the beautifully furnished rooms of the house on the first two floors. At that time the tower stairs were merely roped off from the main house by silken cords.

The museum part of the lower two floors of the home was much as it was in the 19th century – full of treasured antiques, art, books and atmosphere. The current Lord and Lady Lucy lived in the opposite wing on the main floor. We could see a light on at night in their apartment.

The library.

One of the grand rooms of the manor – the library.

Because of my bad back I ended up in a room of my own with a mattress that I could manage sleeping on. My eldest girl had chosen that room the first night, but was scared by a strange noise around 11pm that coincided with her shutting off her light and a feeling of intense terror. She insisted she couldn’t stay in there so I moved her in with her sister across the hall and I took the now empty room.  That left my husband in one room, my girls in another, and I by myself.

My room overlooked the main courtyard and the front door with its Elizabethan family crest above it. Inside the house, the room was located next to a large locked door that opened onto the main interior stairway of the house.

Charlecote hallway photo Betty Malyon

A partial view of the long narrow hall looking towards the front of the wing. photo: Betty Malyon

It had a closet, but I only opened it once because I got a terrible uneasy feeling as soon as I did. Instead, I used a closet in my husband’s room even though it was inconvenient.

I won’t go into the details of the week in that ancient house except to say that my eldest daughter and I experienced strange manifestations every night between 11:00pm and 1am – my other daughter and my husband were unaware of most of these happenings.

Throughout the week the incidents became more intense.

The room I was staying in grew progressively more dank, and stank more heavily of rotting flesh. By the last night the smell was quite unbearable. I understood that the house was an ancient building and the smell could very likely be a dead animal in the wall (a smell I hate to say I was accustomed to from living in the country with occasional dead mice in the walls, and a dead porcupine in our well).

charlecote stairs

View of the main staircase in the house

One night the fire alarm went off around midnight. It was an ear splitting sound that blared, intense, loud and insistent. I was terrified that the place would go up in flames  so I hurried the kids and my husband out into the night. We stood out there on the gravel path in the dark, not knowing what to do. After a few minutes the Lady of the house came out in her bathrobe and told us the local fire department was on its way. So we waited and they came, and they checked the entire building and all the electrical system and the fuses, and finally said that they found nothing that could have caused it to go off – maybe a moth had set off the alarm?

On three separate occasions my daughter, my husband, and I each heard what sounded like books falling in the long empty hallway (loud thunks), but there was never anything there – only the old clock and the bells like usual.

charlecote iron gatesAfter the sun went down the atmosphere of the place changed dramatically and took on a Gothic feel. It was an ancient castle after all, and its towers stood tall against the dark sky, highlighted by the moon. The elaborate and beautiful iron gates that led from the main green into the area of the croquet lawn were clear and delightful during the day – but at night seemed ominous and dripped with spiders like something from a horror movie.

On our last day staying there, we went down into the historic rooms just before closing time.

Charlecote gr hall

The Great Hall at Charlecote is full of family portraits including the one of Mary Elizabeth that looks like me. It is said that William Shakespeare stood trial here for poaching a deer from the park.

I stopped to talk to a lovely, old, frail docent in the room that Queen Elizabeth had stayed in, and when I went out into the Great Hall I found my husband and two daughters staring up at a portrait high on the wall. “Look – look –  she looks just like you” they said  – well, she did look a lot like I did when I was in my late teens or early twenties. She was Lady Mary Elizabeth Lucy.

That night (the last night we were there), when I went to bed I turned off the light and saw something I’d never seen before – the door moved ever so slightly, with a little, almost imperceptible, wobble. There was light out in the hall so I could see a few inches between the door and door frame. And while the door moved I saw something disturb the visual field – it was like looking through a swirling liquid lens. It lasted only a moment but it was so surprising I remember it well.

Then I sensed a mass – something large and palpable, moving into the room around the foot of the bed towards the window. I couldn’t see it – I felt it…

mary elizabeth lucy

Lady Mary Elizabeth Lucy born 1803 died 1889

It slowly flowed from floor level by the window, up and over the side of the bed. Though it was invisible in the dark, it was heavy and dense and very cold and it had a doleful, grim presence.

It came up over the bed til it was over me – oppressive and suffocating. I knew that it was real, that it wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

My heart was racing – I was panicking – not knowing what to do…

I pulled the covers over my head and lay there for an instant still feeling the cold despondent pressure on top of me. It was literally blood chilling.

I let out two hysterical yells:  “Leave Me Alone!” “Leave Me Alone!” (no one in my family heard me)

Then I tentatively reached out to the bedside lamp with one hand and fumbled to turn it on. When the light switched on I slowly uncovered my face from the blanket and whatever it was, was gone. In the morning I noticed that the little mirror on the wall next to the window was askew – I’d never touched it and it had been right when I went to bed the previous night.

CharlecotePlace_2432607kI told no one. I was afraid no one would believe me. That they’d think I was nuts. I was afraid I was nuts.

We left for London early that morning and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

When I got home I put the whole thing out of my mind – the incidents all that week were seemingly random, and I didn’t want to examine my experiences too closely.

But months later, in mid October, I heard a woman’s voice I didn’t know clearly call me by name while I was meditating. I know it sounds like I was having some kind of hallucination, but it happened. I called out to everyone in the house – “Did anyone just call me?”  – “No”, no one had.

For some reason, this got me thinking about Charlecote and what had happened there.

View of statues in the forecourt at Charlecote with wall and stepped gateway behind.

View of statues in the forecourt at Charlecote with wall and stepped gateway behind.

I told an old trusted friend about the voice and about the incidents at the ancient manor house months earlier. She encouraged me to do some research – she didn’t laugh at me or say I was crazy – she thought that whoever it was, needed to contact me for some reason.

The first thing I did was ask my kids and husband if they had anything happen to them at the house.That’s when I discovered that my eldest had experienced many of the same things that I had between 11:00 and 1am – but instead of being visited by a presence – she actually saw a woman’s face in the far window three nights in a row when she got up to go to the washroom down the hall.

Charlecote rental apartment window

The window where my daughter saw a woman’s face three nights in a row. It is three stories up. photo Betty Malyon

It was such a startling sight that she tried to logically explain it to herself by moving back and forth to see if it was just a trick of the light – but it wasn’t – the image stayed the same no matter how she moved.

She was also far enough down the hall to know that the glowing apparition in the window wasn’t a reflection of herself. The realization that it was someone else’s face illuminated in the third floor window kept her from going any closer those three nights – it was a terrifying experience to see that face looking at her in the dark.

She never told anyone at the time because she was afraid we’d think she was crazy… I told her she wasn’t crazy and I told her about my visitation on our last night.

Next, I wrote to the Manager of the property and sent a list of our experiences without putting any interpretation of them in it. I just asked if anyone else had any of these experiences staying there. We were some of the first to stay in the apartment. It had just recently been renovated for public use.

The manager wrote back to me and told me there had been reports of hauntings in other areas of the property, like in the brew house, but this was the first one reported in the main house. She noted that she didn’t doubt my account and that the staff didn’t like being alone in the house even during the day, and there were some who felt particularly uneasy on the first floor. She said she would keep my comments on file.

The brewery at Charlecote Park Warwick

The brewery

The important thing to me was that she took me seriously, and put a name to what we experienced and called it a haunting.

I went online and found that a publication existed of the memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy (the lady in the portrait that looked like me).

She married into the Lucy family in 1823 and took on the renovation of the house and outbuildings and landscape. She lived a long life and lost many of her loved ones in that house – in fact she even called one of the rooms The Fatal Room (she had 8 children and only 3 survived her).

I was surprised to read her memoirs and find that there were were several things about her that were similar to me. For example: in addition to looking much alike, Mary Elizabeth loved art and surrounded herself with beautiful things, she was a passionate gardener, and she suffered a devastating horse riding accident that caused her to live in pain the rest of her life.

A portrait of one of her daughters looks even more like me in my opinion… (though poor Carry and I had little in common: She married young and contracted Tetanus in India and suffered from painful attacks for years; she also caught on fire from a candle and suffered 3rd degree burns on her arm; she lost two babies; and died in great pain in horrible convulsions. A great tragedy. She is buried at the Lucy Family church at Charlecote.)

Carry Lucy Charlecote

I think Carry (one of Mary Elizabeth’s daughters) and I look even more alike… Caroline Lucy Pawlett (Carry) born 1828 – died 1864

Charlecote church

St. Leonards, the church built by Mary Elizabeth for the Lucy family. Carry and other Lucy’s are buried there. photo: Richard Rogerson

There are many things that science can’t explain – a realm that many religions claim authority over and call spirituality.

I have been seeking answers, but mostly I just find ridiculous nonsense on TV shows or more unexplained phenomena that just complicates it all in my mind.

The Brown_lady

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall a claimed ghost photograph by Captain Hubert C. Provand. First published in Country Life magazine, 1936

My mother had a sensitivity to the departed (I wrote about it in another post) and maybe my daughter and I have a bit of that too. Its honestly frightening to consider.

There are so many unanswered questions:

I’m sure many people have died in that house since the 13th century – but why were my daughter and I being contacted?

I don’t know whose voice I heard (I also heard it again a few months later during a meditation workshop).

Why did I choose Charlecote to stay at out of hundreds of properties available from the National Trust?

My daughter and I do look like we could be sisters of the women who lived at Charlecote Park – is that what provoked the experiences?

According to people who investigate paranormal experiences, renovations often stir up spirits and can give rise to hauntings.

Was it one of Mary Elizabeth’s lost children? her husband? Mary Elizabeth herself?

I will never know – and I’m not planning on returning to find out any time soon.

Charlecote gatehouse cosylife.co.uk

View from the main gate to the gatehouse at Charlecote Park. photo: cosylife.co.uk

Insane Politics Then and Now

Anthony Trollope’s social and political commentary is just as true today as in 1867

My parents were big readers. Between the two of them, I think their interests covered almost all the subjects in the Dewey Decimal System. There were always a lot of books around, and when they weren’t discussing art or looking at art or making art, they were often reading. We had quite a collection of literature to read at home, and more from the public library that they brought home every few weeks. Living out in the country far from everything, like we did, gave me a lot of free time so I read a lot of what my parents read.

Laurence_Olivier_Merle_Oberon_Wuthering_Heights

“Oh Cathy, Cathy…” – Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon from the 1939 movie Wuthering Heights – the height of romance for my teen self.

In my teens I read books like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre repeatedly – brooding over the tragic love stories and enjoying the rich imagery and language of the novels.

I discovered Melville’s Moby Dick in grade 12 English class, and read that tome 3 times.

moby_dick

… death-glorious ship! must ye perish, and without me? …Towards thee I roll, thou all destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee… Moby Dick

And I discovered Charles Dickens, whose books have continued to enchant me throughout my life.

Most recently I added Anthony Trollope to my reading pile. Trollope wrote around the same time as Dickens in the mid 1800’s and my parents were always encouraging me to try reading him because they enjoyed his books so much.

Anthony_Trollope

Trollope was a civil servant so he knew all about government from the inside. A caricature of Anthony Trollope from the mid 1800s.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, when I was looking for something to read that I picked up their old copy of Phineas Finn by Trollope. It was written in 1867 and it is remarkably modern in subject matter. It covers such topics as women’s rights, the inanity of politics and old boy networks, unhappy marriages, and the inequity of social class. No one is safe from Trollope’s caustic eye and quick humor.

The book is about Phineas Finn, the handsome young son of an Irish country doctor who finds his way by happenstance into the British Parliament, and then into high society.

Phineas is good-natured, friendly, and everyone in his circle is enchanted with him. He moves through politics without thought and happily discovers that as long as he doesn’t upset things and follows his official Party Line, his powerful friends will smooth the way for his success.

The only problem is that he is idealistic and well meaning and a passionate Liberal. He sincerely wants to help “The People” – the only snag is that sometimes his opinions on these matters differ from his fellow party members and this makes his head hurt – especially when he follows his colleagues, instead of his conscience.

When he finally recognizes that he has been blindly enjoying his newfound status and wealthy lifestyle (given to him from his wealthy, influential, and powerful friends), he deliberately sacrifices his position and comforts to vote for what he believes is right; even though its against his own Party. His Party’s entrenched stand against the Opposition Party just insults his sense of justice too much for him to do anything else… for following his conscience, he is banished back to Ireland and poverty.

He is disenchanted and broken at the end of the novel. (But believe me it is an entertaining read… despite the heavy political and social commentary.)

Trollope John Everett Millais Monkton Grange

Fox hunting was an elite pursuit in the 19th century (as it is now) and Trollope includes several characters in Phineas Finn who are obsessed with it. Its quite clear that the author didn’t care for the practice – nor do I. Illustration by John Everett Millais.

The book cleverly shows how governments operate following the old party system (considered old even in 1867!) – where members rarely vote for what is right, but vote to support their party, and defy the opposition no matter what the cost. It was true in the 19th century and just as true today – you have only to look at American, British or Canadian politics to see how divisive the party system can be.

rupert friend 1830s

Let’s pretend that this is Phineas Finn in 1867, even though its Rupert Friend in an 1830s costume from the film Young Victoria. (Its very hard to find a handsome young man from the real period.)

But there is more to the story than that. The secondary story is what truly amazes me, considering when it was written…

One of Phineas’ dear friends in London is a woman who is high born but has no money of her own. As long as she lives with her father she can enjoy political discussions, a social life, and pursue her intellectual interests. But there comes a time when she feels forced to marry for money to save her financially poor family.

She doesn’t love the man she marries and ends up suffering in a stifling, controlling marriage. She loses all her intellectual and physical freedom; she is tormented by her narrow minded, rigidly religious, miserly husband with no respite. She can’t escape – she is trapped.

Her situation is so carefully drawn by the author – so sensitively shown – it demonstrates profoundly the societal oppression of women.

1860s Duchess Sophie Charlotte

This is a portrait of Duchess Sophie Charlotte from the 1860’s – the time period of Phineas Finn. The main female characters in the book are nobility and would have dressed much the same in huge silken crinolines. National Portrait Gallery, London

There are also several high born women in the book who are adamant supporters of women’s right to vote. Just remember that the book was written in 1867 and women didn’t get the vote in many countries til just before WWII.

It surprises me how on the nose Trollope’s observations of people are – in Dickens the women are often weepy or dull simpering things. In this book Lady Laura and her contemporaries are brilliant, independent thinkers – fighting for their individuality on every page.

givenchy 2012

Givenchy 2012

philip treacy 2000

Philip Treacy 2000

I’m very happy to be alive now in the 21st century and not be subjected to arranged marriages and corsets. But we tend to applaud ourselves a bit too much sometimes – we really aren’t that much more socially advanced than our ancestors of 200 years ago (especially regarding politics) – so we shouldn’t rest on our laurels.

And I’d like to point out that some other things besides politics haven’t changed much since the 1860s… look at these contemporary couture dresses – their skirts are just like the hoop skirt in the photograph of the Duchess – in fact the Philip Treacy gown is probably corseted too, and it is ginormous – it must weigh a ton – imagine trying to move in it or even sit down?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

(An epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”) : the more things change the more they stay the same)