The Flames of Stalbridge Manor – a ghost story

The Flames of Stalbridge Manor

An extract from The Flames of Stalbridge Manor:

‘Instinctively, I turned and there before me was the most horrific vision. For it was just that, a picture of intense suffering but one completely noiseless as if it were a silent dream. The flames leapt around the woman, ripping holes through her torso, lifting and wrapping the strands of her hair into a glowing ball of fire. I could see her lips contort as if to scream but no words came forth, only a splatter of fire upon flesh. I grappled with the beam behind me as if to force myself away but I was gripped by fear and found myself bound by the spectacle. The burning figure approached reaching out towards the beam that supported me, but without firmness she passed through it toppling into the void. I turned to see the flames extinguish in the darkness leaving no trace of the poor woman. Suppressing a shriek, I fell to my knees, peering at the open doorway, watching it shut violently upon itself.’

The Flames of Stalbridge Manor

The Flames of Stalbridge Manor

I had met Mrs Crowley on three occasions and expected our next encounter to run upon similar lines; but this was not to be. On entering the room, all swish from the multitude of silk and other fabrics beneath her riding coat, I could tell she had no wish to dwell upon trivial matters.

She approached holding the hem of her skirt and briskly made her comfort on the seat beside me.

“Good evening to you Alice, shall we start with tea before I reveal all?”

I was now familiar with her informality and playful tone though not entirely comfortable with it.

“It’s lovely to see you again Mrs Crowley. The children, are they well?”

“Yes, yes, all happy. But it’s you that concerns me.”

I had little clue to what she was referring to and shifted nervously in my chair.

She paused and released her grip on the teapot.

“A holiday! That’s what you need.”

The comment took me by surprise as I had not expected the conversation to turn in this direction. I searched for a suitable response but neither facial expression nor words came to mind, though I was certain at least one was expected.

Mrs. Crowley paused, her brow furrowing momentarily at my immediate vacancy, then she proceeded to elaborate.

“I recall you mentioned that you and the children had not had a holiday since you lost your husband. This somewhat resonated with me — I myself have not had a break in a considerable time; and only a handful of times to my London residence since Albert passed these ten years gone.”

As she spoke, her fingers nervously twisted the beads of her necklace tugging them in quick succession along the thread.

“It occurred to me that this might be a fortunate coincidence: two people in much need of new surrounds. As you are well aware, this is a large house and one that requires constant tending and management. If I am to be elsewhere then I leave in confidence that the tending part is more than adequately covered by the servants and the management by Mrs Ingram our housekeeper. Nevertheless, it is a concern to me that most of the house is absent of life; I should like to leave knowing that it is not just the staff who will be lifting the shutters at the light of day and closing them when it darkens.”

Unconsciously, I had edged my chair a little closer to hers. The candles clustering around our corner of the room cast the face of my companion in varying degrees of light and shade. Stabs of white brilliance came from the silver rings on her upraised hands that caught the flickering light. I looked upon her and considered her ageing beauty: her dark hair unbound, falling upon and caressing the shoulders of a velvet dress trimmed with Mechlin lace. Continue reading

The legend of the Swan

The legend of the Swan

There is an ancient legend of Wolverley which has endured for centuries. It is the remarkable story of a Crusader, who had spent so long at war that his lady assumed he had died and was about to marry again.

One morning, a milkmaid went down to the meadow to milk the cows, taking with her an old dog. The dog ran before the girl and began barking. At once, the milkmaid ventured towards the scene where she came upon a figure lying asleep on the grass. Her gasps were of shock as the body was less a man but more a creature from the forest – emaciated, unkempt, and shackled in irons.

The dog soon quietened; its defensive posture replaced by a cheerless whimpering, almost as if it came to recognise the bedraggled figure. Confident that he was fully restrained, the girl went back to the Court and told her mistress what had happened.

The lady listened to the maid’s story and accompanied her to the place where the dog rested in the shadow of the recumbent stranger. The man, now stirring, greeted the lady with all the intimacy of someone returning to his wife; but not recognising him, she stepped back, alarmed at such impropriety. Seeing his beloved so afflicted, he took upon himself to confirm his identity, at once tearing a half broken ring from his pocket. The band, a symbol of their love, had been broken at parting, each keeping a half.

Overwhelmed by pounding heart, the lady found her fragment of the ring and lay it alongside the piece offered to her, now convinced that her long-expected husband had returned.

Joyous celebration ensued, and a smith was sent for to release the knight from his fetters. But such rejoicing at the return of the wanderer could not go without attention to the Crusader’s extraordinary adventures. Peering from the half-light, the soldier of the Cross told his tale: he had been taken prisoner, and held captive in a dungeon, till one night, as he prayed to be delivered from his wretched state, an angel appeared and spoke words of comfort to him, then he seemed to fall asleep, till woken by the barking of the dog, when he found himself not bound by the walls of captivity, but lying in the meadow below his own house in Wolverley. Though in transfixture, the Knight had a vague recollection of movement through space, but not to appear so possessed of his own importance he dismissed the notion of an angel winging him to safety declaring instead that a swan had brought him through the air.

To this day, Wolverley marks the miraculous liberation of the soldier: the meadow underneath Wolverley Court is called “the Knights Meadow”; at Wolverley Court the iron manacles, said to have been worn by the Knight, are still shown; and in the church, the mutilated fragments of the alabaster effigy – the head, body and the feet of the old warrior – still remain.

Alabaster figure of knight

A Tale of Chirbury

A Tale of Chirbury

“No sooner do they reach the entrance to the church when a blast of wind, violent and from nowhere, blows out the candles. The procession stops suddenly, each of the hunch-framed bodies consumed by an ice-cold chill. One of them screams and points into the near distance. Ahead, through the swirling mist, they make out a dark shape. It is moving towards them. As it approaches, the apparition grows; and from its black mass stems a gnarled, grey hand, the outstretched fingers of which drum out an invisible beat. Worse still, deep within its shapeless body comes a cold whisper; a voice that calls each of their names in turn: Henry Edwards, Matthew Bradeley, John Thynne, Martha Thynne… the unseen tongue continuing until all twelve names have been spoken.”

A tale of Chirbury

A door to Chirbury Church

Cowering under the deep shadow of St Michael’s church lies the little village of Chirbury, its population rarely venturing beyond the crooked line of buttresses that maintain its walls. Equal in number are those that will not pass through its cemetery; for here, the tendrils of time have reached across the ages to bind brick and soil to an ungodly power, a power diffused into the village conscience. Step into its realm and one feels touched by a sense of suffering, a gateway to the past.

Continue reading