THE HOUSE WITH BLACK SHUTTERS, a tale of torment

house of torment

When I was a boy almost all the folk, especially in Romsey, where I was brought up, believed in ghosts. Those that worked the breweries, the corn mills, the iron and jam makers’ works, the leather board and paper mills all had stories to tell. My mother believed in them; I believed in them; everybody believed in them. I have run many a mile from my own shadow and returned home with a certainty that I was followed the entire way.

Now, among the countless mysteries of the surrounding country there was one that seemed to torment my mind, possessing me deep into the night, far beyond the limits of its estate: an old brick house, with black shutters, said to be haunted, situated on the top of the hill.

No one ever saw the shutters open, nor even a light, except in the turret, where it burned every night without ceasing.

Any time after dark, especially after midnight, a spectre could be seen, moving to and fro, sometimes beckoning its long fingers or waving its arms toward the roadside. Rest assured that that was always a signal for the lonely wayfarer to flee for his life.

In consequence of these nocturnal manifestations the main road had about grown over with weeds, and it was indeed a stout-hearted man that would not go out of his way rather than pass the house with the black shutters in the middle of the night.

All kinds of stories were afloat about the strange noises heard at night and the rattling of chains. The place was declared to be alive with evil spirits, unrestful souls returned to make the living perform some unfinished deed, or perchance vent its wrath upon the occupants for some crime committed there.

The owner was rich, but a sort of recluse, and the house seemed to be kept practically closed. He had but one tie on earth, a beautiful young daughter, who had been sent away to school.

One day she returned to be married. Continue reading

How a New York society girl came to inherit the ghost of an English bride

The Mistletoe Bride

In 1923, one of the most touching and melodramatic of legends connected with the ancient castles of England was brought vividly to the attention of an American readership by the reported appearance of “The Mistletoe Bride.”

This most thrilling of old English family legends tells of a bride who was lost on her wedding day and not found until fifty years afterward. Several versions of the legend are in existence. They represent the strange and tragic events as occurring in many different old families and castles.

Although there is some uncertainty concerning the supposed scene of this old tragedy, owing to its great antiquity, the researches of historians and antiquarians have proved that it most probably occurred at Bramshill House, in Hampshire, the seat of the very ancient Cope family.

T. F. Thiselton Dyer, who made the most exhaustive study of old English romances and mysteries, writes in his “Strange Pages from Family Papers”:— “The chest in which The Mistletoe Bride was found is shown to visitors at Bramshill House, Hampshire, the residence of Sir John Cope.”

Now, this statement was of peculiar interest because, in 1923, a charming American society girl, Miss Edna Hilton, had just become the bride of Captain Denzil Cope, heir of Sir Anthony Cope, the chief of the ancient family that had long occupied the old house.

The Mistletoe Bride, Bramshill House

Mrs Cope was well known in New York society as she was one of the Hilton family that inherited part of the Stewart millions. For several years, before her marriage, she lived in Paris, where her mother, Mrs Edward Baker Hilton, had a magnificent apartment.

Young Mrs Cope now virtually became the owner of the famous chest in which the poor bride was locked up and lost. Americans who knew her were intensely curious to know what experiences she would have with such a gruesome relic. It was said that persons staying in the house were kept awake at night by the stifled moans of a woman in terrible agony. They would hear muffled sounds like those of a person beating on the interior of a thick wooden chest.

There was little surprise in the considerable gossip that attached itself to the new Mrs Cope and her unusual home. The chattering classes of New York society discussed the matter at length. What would the new bride do with the tragic chest? Would she have the hardihood to climb into it herself? Would she send it away for fear of it being haunted by the bride who died in it? Would she remove the great lock that was the real cause of the tragedy? Continue reading

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

Why I write ghost stories…

The shrieking pit

My partner often asks me why I write ghost stories — and why I don’t write wholesome stories for children. My answer is simple: there is more horror in our local communities, on every street corner, than there is a single macabre tale. Tales of nefarious deeds and the supernatural are often vehicles for exploring human frailty; in telling them, we may help society to debate and unravel the age-old moralistic dilemmas we as humans are constantly trying to understand and define.

Walk with me (to the estuary) – a ghost story for Christmas

walk with me...

A bolt is thrust aside and one half of a stable door swings back. The sound of a sharp kick announces the peeling back of the second. A bulk of a man steps through carrying a thick meshed bundle of sticks and logs searching for a suitable spot to dump the damp load; his nose is held aloft, at a distance, enduring the sickly-sweet aroma of the mildewed bark. His face fidgets nervously until the wood is set down on a sheet of newspaper, neatly dragged into position by his foot. The dispatching of the load relieves his body, but his expression still retains the weary slump it entered with.

It is almost time for Manning to leave, a suitable moment to consider the sweet restorative powers of a few days by the coast. And with this thought, he finds his spirits lifting. It has been several years since he last visited Leet and walked its impressive shores; he has missed the place. No longer resisting, he succumbs to the pleasantness teasing his lips.

Perhaps you know Leet? It is a south facing sandy beach next to the entrance of the Beaulieu River in Hampshire, a landscape rich in character, with great stretches of open and unspoilt countryside.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

But it is the agents of erosion that have defined this sea-place. The shore is littered with corpses: trees that have finally, but grudgingly, relinquished their fragile grip on the sandy soil, just a few metres above. Tendrils of seeping rainwater and the gnawing effect of the wind have gradually removed the earth, exposing roots to the mercy of encroaching elements. It is a natural decay, but not one that removes all evidence of existence; for old trunks lie entombed in wispy layers of sand, creating fragile barrows on the shore. In the early hours of a wintry morning, the landscape transforms into a surprisingly gloomy affair; the dead bodies of trees are thrust into the greyness, and any living thing roaming amongst the decay looks quite lost, as lost as a child. Continue reading

The Viaduct (A ghost story)

Balcombe Viaduct

I had returned to Balcombe out of instinct, not for pleasure. Though the train had refreshed my memory of its seductive beauty I had a less romantic place for those thoughts to reside. The landscape view of sun-drenched streams and sparkling lakes played like a cinematic trailer, catching the attention of the couple opposite me who immediately sprang into a congratulatory embrace. This only served to heighten my unease with the place.

A sudden lurch of the train announced our arrival, propelling the occupants into a flurry of activity. All around me, day tripping couples leapt from their seats and set about passing bags as elegantly as possible from carriage to platform. With this I allowed myself a wry smile; briefly charmed by the obvious enthusiasm of the new arrivals.

Alighting on the platform I turned and looked down the length of the train, beyond the carriages, towards the track curving away into the distance. Though not visible from this point I knew the rest of the line well; not to mention the shadows that dwelt within its tunnels and archways.

On reflection, it occurred to me that this was an entirely perfect setting for what had happened. With so many trains passing over the structure on the Brighton Main Line, the spirits of men that toiled here could never be far away from the living.

But it is the ghosts of more recent times, just as numerous as those of their Victorian counterparts that I am here to consider. For now his words are clearer to me than at any time over the decades that have passed since they were uttered. This is his tale; one told to me almost forty years ago, when I was a young man living in Balcombe, working on the London to Brighton line. Continue reading