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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
After 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.