“At Chrystmas tyme,” to quote an old chronicler, “ye ghostes do love to walke abroade.” And certainly there are many ancient houses at which spectres of the past are as inevitable a feature of Christmas as the turkey!
Strange and terrifying tales are told of the ghosts that gather at Glamis Castle, that grim Forfarshire home of the Earls of Strathmore, at Christmas time — of a bearded man who flits about at night and hovers over the beds of sleepers; of pale faces that peer through the windows and vanish to an accompaniment of shrieks; of sounds of hammering, “as if somebody was putting up a scaffold.” And these are by no means the greatest of the castle’s terrors. A lady guest at the castle awoke one Christmas night to hear the moving of a soft body over the floor of her bedroom, and the crack of a bony joint, and then to see the outline of something “luminous and horrid.”
“Slowly,” she says, “the thing, whatever it was, took shape. A body, tawny and hunched; arms long and spidery, a large and terrible head covered with a tangled mass of grey hair, a face white and staring—pig-like in formation, malevolent in expression.”
“As I stared at it aghast it reared itself on its haunches and leered hideously at me, then, shuffling forward, it rolled over and lay sprawled out like some ungainly turtle. At this juncture the handle of the door turned, someone entered, there was a loud cry, and the. whole tower, walls and rafters, rang with the most appalling screams I have ever heard.”
Newstead Abbey, the ancient home of the Byrons, is credited with a galaxy of ghosts, who appear at Christmas time. Among them is the sister of the fifth Lord Byron, who has been seen again and again taking spectral rides with her brother on dark and stormy nights, vainly imploring him to forgive her, and the “Goblin Friar,” who takes his nightly walks in the cloisters and halls.
For many a century Hilton Castle was supposed to be haunted at Yuletide by the “Cauld Lad”—an old-time scullion, who amused himself by breaking crockery and flinging pewter dishes in all directions.
One Christmas Eve, a scullery maid stayed up late in order to taste surreptitiously the plum puddings in the larder. She extracted a plum here, chipped off a tasty morsel there. Suddenly the hall clock struck the midnight hour, and a little figure, in scarlet cloak and green hood, appeared.
“Ye taste,” it cried, “and ye taste; but ye never gi’e the Cauld Lad a taste!”
Tamworth Castle is the possessor of’ two ghosts, who never fail to appear at Christmas—a “White Lady,” who promenades the terrace, arrayed in glistening robes which shimmer in the moonlight; and a “Black-robed Lady,” whose haunt is the ancient staircase leading from the royal bed chamber to the tower.
And the ghost of Lady Jane Grey is said to drive round the grounds of Bradgate House, in Leicestershire, every Yuletide, in a phantom carriage drawn by four spectral grey horses.
Each Christmas Day, it is said, the “Radiant Boy” flits along the corridors of Corby Castle, in Cumberland, and stands by the bedside of sleepers. The ghostly drum is heard in the silence of the night at Cortachie Castle. And the “bad Lord Lonsdale’s” shade may be seen furiously driving his six-horsed coach in the grounds of Lowther Castle.
A novelist looking for a sensational story might do worse than investigate the ghost that centres about Marischal College, Aberdeen. The apparition is of one Downie, who in the flesh was a sacrist, or janitor, of the college, who incurred the enmity of students owing to the strictness with which he performed his duties. To be revenged, a number of them seized the luckless man one Christmas Eve, and after a mock trial, blindfolded him, and “beheaded” him with a wet towel. Of course it was intended as a practical joke, but the consequences were serious. Poor Downie died of fright; and since his unintentional murderers could not possibly be brought to justice, his wraith celebrates each anniversary of the occurrence by “walking” the college grounds.
The ghost story of Four Oaks Hall, sadly now demolished, is worth repeating. Elizabeth Pudsey, of Langley Hall, married the owner of Four Oaks, who died about 1742. But attached to her death is a mystery of mysteries, inasmuch as neither the date of her death nor the place of her interment has ever been discovered. It may be presumed that it was the ghost of this lady that haunted the Hall every Christmas, which view was strengthened when the building was demolished and the workmen employed discovered a portion of what they took to be the remains of a human being bricked up in what appears to have been a closed window in the servants’ hall. This was regarded at the time as a possible solution of the lady’s disappearance and a satisfactory explanation of the haunting. Alas, however, for romance, the remains were those not of a human being, but of a calf. Thus, not only was one mystery left unsolved, but another was created. How came the calf to be bricked up in such an unusual situation?
Gruesome, too, is the story of the “Manx Dog” which haunts Peel Castle each Christmas Day. This is a dreadful apparition of a misshapen hound, pure white about the body, with red, cavernous jaws. The story goes that a soldier of the garrison, in a spirit of bravado, went one Christmas night alone to the gallery where the “Manx Dog” roamed. He returned a gibbering idiot, and died the next day.
A remarkable ghost story is that of the Spectre Horseman of Wyecollar Hall, another manor house that now lies ruined. The apparition is supposed to be the ghost of one of the Cunliffes, who, in years gone by, is said to have murdered his wife. Once a year, at Christmas time, he revisits the scene of the tragedy.
He is attired in the costume of the early Stuart period, and the trappings of his horse are of a most uncouth description. On the evening of his visit the weather is always wild and tempestuous. There is no moon to light the lonely roads, and residents of the district do not venture out of their cottages.
When the wind howls its loudest the horseman can be heard dashing up the road at full speed, and after crossing the narrow bridge he stops at the door of Wyecollar Hall. He dismounts and makes his way up the broad oaken stairs into one of the rooms of the house. Dreadful screams are heard, which soon subside into groans. The ghostly horseman then makes his appearance at the door, remounts his steed, and gallops off up the road by which he came.