The Bristol Room

The Bristol Room, New Place, Shirrell Heath

‘There was something deeply troubling about that fireplace. Had it been the only illuminated feature in the room I could have grasped something tangible about its formidable presence, but this was different; the Bristol Room was permanently furnished and dressed for dining. Rather, its carved beauty had long been ignored; thoughtlessly surrounded by the apparel of catering for ever-increasing volumes of guests. Was this ignorance the source of my disconcertion? Whatever, I had run my hands over the cold carved stone an alarming number of times.’

An excerpt from ‘The Bristol Room’.

New Place, Shirrell Heath

The ineffaceable stain (The legend of Eastbury House)

Eastbury House, Dorset

Precised from John H Ingram: “The Haunted Homes and family traditions of Great Britain” Gibbings & Company, London, 1897.

Eastbury House near Blandford in Dorset, owing to the galaxy of famous names surrounding its story, must take a prominent place among the haunted homes of the country. Its career as a residence was short but brilliant.

Eastbury was begun by Lord Melcombe in 1718. The park and grounds were laid out on the same magnificent scale as the house, no expense being spared ; trees half a century old, and some tons in weight, were transported bodily from distant woods and replanted at Eastbury.

In 1763, a change came over the scene, and Eastbury House was destroyed even more rapidly than it had been created; all the rooms were dismantled, and the splendid furniture scattered to the winds. Twelve years later the ruin was consummated, the house being pulled down, and the beautiful and costly materials disposed of.

The ghostly legend attached to the house is said to be firmly believed in by the inhabitants of Grenville and its neighbourhood, and is to the following effect.
Lord Melcombe advanced considerable sums of money to his steward William Doggett. The greater part of this loan Dogget is said to have parted with to a brother, who got into “difficulties” and was utterly powerless to repay it. In course of time Lord Melcombe required repayments of his money, and Doggett, unable to comply with the demand, was reduced to great extremity.

The only expedient Doggett could find to meet his liabilities was to appropriate some of the building materials and sell them on his own account. Shortly before Lord Melcombe came down to receive his money, Doggett’s courage failed; probably he had a much smaller sum with which to repay his master than he owed; he could not pay him, and, therefore, shot himself.

It was in a marble-floored room that Doggett committed suicide, and it is said the stains of his blood are still visible. One might say that the stains of murder or suicide are ineffaceable!

Since this tragedy, Doggett’s ghost has lingered about Eastbury, and the tradition is that, headless, he drives about the park in a spectral coach and four driven by a coachman in livery. The troubled spirit appears to derive a bitter satisfaction from contemplation of the decayed grandeur of the once proud house, now reduced to scarcely a shadow of its former grandeur.

But it is many years now since the apparition has made itself visible, though the taint of ghostly inhabitation still clings to the remaining wing of the house. On dark nights, when all else is still, mysterious movements are heard, the doors open and shut unaccountably, pointing to the interference that the troubled spirit has not yet served its term of earthly wanderings.

Eastbury House, Dorset

John Daniel returns

St Mary's Church, Beaminster

I, David Harbin, a pupil at Beaminster school, hereby testify that I am a true and honest witness to the events of the 22nd of June, 1728.

I am one of twenty boys benefiting from the charity of our much missed benefactor, the late Mrs Tucker, whose will has provided for us to the sum of £20 a year, derived from the income of her farm at South Mapperton. A portion of the fund provides for a schoolmaster, one who has been most effective in teaching me to read and write — not to mention, taking care to develop my manners; though his tendency to catechise me in a most peculiar manner is certainly unprecedented, but one that I have no wish to make complaint of.

We are schooled in the upper room of an annex attached to the southwest corner of St. Mary’s Church, which is the location of the events I hereby describe.

For those unaware of the long-held customs and traditions of our school, the closure of the schoolroom follows a rather tiresome procedure: every Saturday, the key of the room is delivered to the clerk of the parish by one or the other of the schoolboys. In recent months, that duty has fallen upon myself.

On the Saturday in question, I had handed the key over as usual, then followed my master to dismiss the boys. However, having overseen their passage from the church one half hour earlier, I noticed, with some embarrassment, that eight of the boys remained, loitering within the churchyard where they were involved in a game of ball. It was just about noon. I questioned the boys regarding their reasons for staying — the lads appeared somewhat nervous — and I was soon informed that they were waiting for four of their number who had re-entered the school in search of old pens.

With this, I felt it important to ascertain if there was any impropriety in the aforementioned activity. Walking towards the church, I was startled to hear much commotion; the four boys having emerged from the church appearing shaken and drawn. After recovering their breaths — they had obviously been running at quite a speed — they revealed the source of their distress: they had each been frightened by a sharp, metallic sound emanating from the chancel, something they described as resembling the repeated striking of a brass pan. The four immediately ran to their friends in the churchyard and told them of it.
After much searching for rationality, they came to the conclusion that someone, quite probably a fellow pupil, had secreted himself inside the church in order to frighten them; and deciding upon this, I joined their number in returning to the school to discover the boy’s identity; but our search was in vain, for there was not a soul hiding within.

As the boys returned to their sport (and I to my studies) via the worn steps that ran rigidly into the churchyard, we all heard a second burst of discordance, undoubtedly louder than the first for it had broken through the walls of the church. Terrified at this, we ran round the church, and when at the west door, we heard what seemed to be the sound of someone preaching, soon followed by another sound, that of a congregation singing psalms. Both of these noises lasted but a short time.

With the impetuosity of youth, unencumbered by self-doubt, the lads soon resumed their sport, whilst I remained close to the church. After a short time, one of them went into the school to retrieve his book; but seconds after the boy’s entrance, we heard a most appalling shriek, followed by a moment of whimpering. What this boy revealed, after he had returned to the churchyard as distraught as those who had gone in search of pens, was a most chilling experience: passing through the nave, he had seen a coffin lying on one of the benches, only about six feet away. Astonishing as there had not be a funeral that morning; nor would there be one tomorrow.

Alarmed by such a solemn statement, I took to the door of the church, whereupon a throng of twelve surrounded me, and as God is my witness I saw with my own eyes the scene previously described to me; a coffin sat upon a distant bench, with its lid open, and there, worse still, the apparition of John Daniel, who had been dead more than seven weeks, sitting at some distance from the coffin, near to the chancel. I am now aware that only six of us were witness to the said phantom, and it is my conjecture that all did not see the apparition because the door was so narrow that we could not all approach it together. The first who knew it to be the spectre of our deceased schoolfellow was Daniel’s half-brother, and he, on seeing it, cried out, ” There sits our John, with just such a coat on as I have ” — (in the lifetime of the deceased boy the half-brothers were usually clothed alike), — “with a pen in his hand, and a book before him, and a coffin by him. I’ll throw a stone at him.” The other boys attempted to stop him, but he threw the stone, as he did so saying, ” Take it ! ” upon which the phantom immediately disappeared.

The immense furore this created in the place may only be imagined. Despite our tender ages, ranging between eight and twelve, we were all magisterially examined by Colonel Broadrep, and all agreed in what we had seen, even to the hinges of the coffin ; whilst our descriptions of the coffin tallied exactly with that the deceased boy had been buried in. One of the lads, Samuel Coombe who saw the apparition was not quite twelve years of age, and was a quiet dispassionate lad for his age ; he enrolled in the school after the deceased boy had left it and had never seen Daniel in his life-time. The boy, on examination, gave such a vivid account of the deceased, and took especial notice of one thing about the spectre which the other boys had not mentioned, and that was, the body had a white cloth bound round one of its hands. The woman who had tended the corpse of John Daniel for interment declared on oath that she took such a white cloth from its hand, it having been placed around the boy’s hand as a bandage about four days or so before his death.

It is only now that the full details of John Daniel’s death have been revealed to me. His body had been found in such aberrant circumstances: lying in a field, a few hundred feet from his mother’s house; and thereupon had been buried without an inquest, in event of his mother alleging that the lad had been prone to fits. After the appearance of the spectre, the body was disinterred, a coroner’s inquest held, and a verdict returned to the effect that the boy had been “strangled.” This verdict appears to have been mainly arrived at in consequence of the declarations of two apparently upright and trustworthy women that two days after the corpse was found they had paid their respects only to discover a black strip of cotton or other material round its neck ; and likewise of the joiner who put the body into the coffin, who had seen dramatic marking of the neck, as if some sort of tourniquet had been applied. A surgeon who gave evidence could not or would not positively affirm to the jury that there was any dislocation of the neck.

This is all I have to say on the matter for as far as I have learnt, no steps have been taken to bring anyone to justice on account of the suggested death by violence of John Daniel.

The restless witch of Arborfield

Bull Inn, Aborfield

In the Swallowfield road in Arborfield, Berkshire there stand two old farms that face each other – White’s Farm and Bartlett’s Farm. In the early 18th century, residing at White’s farm were a farmer and his wife. The farmer’s wife was scorned by the villagers believing that she regularly cheated customers, often watering down the milk and penny-pinching on the weight of butter and cheese. Some of the locals went further, accusing her of being a witch with arcane magical powers.

After she had been dead a few months, several people reported seeing a spectre haunting that lonely stretch of road – a phantom figure, wringing its hands and moaning in a hollow voice: “Weight and measure gave I never; Milk and water sold I ever!” Then, with a final shriek it sank silently into a deep pond by the road-side near to the local tavern, the Bull Inn.

Arborfield, Berkshire

This went on for some time until the entire population of the village became terrified, and were compelled to take drastic action. Seven priests came out from Reading; and they brought with them a party of men who led a cart on which was laid a huge flat stone. When the spectre appeared, the priests began chanting incantations: the ancient words that would lay a ghost. Then, after the apparition had descended into the pond, the stone was lifted over the shadowy depths and lowered into the water.

No more sightings of the witch’s ghost were reported until about a hundred years later, when a party of workmen was sent to clean out the pond. After excavating it out to the bottom, they came upon the flat stone, and were about to raise it when the manager of the site approached them and pleaded for them to not to touch it, telling them that his father had been one of the men present when the ghost was put down, and if they touched the stone, the spectre would escape and renew its nocturnal wanderings. How much truth there is in the whole thing no one knows, but to this day no one in the village would dare allow the stone to be raised!