Friday, 7 June 2013
“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father,” Eliza Caine asserts. For shortly after she and her father had attended an oratory by Charles Dickens in London (contrary that is to Eliza’s protests and concerns for her father's deteriorating health) he passed away.
Missing him dreadfully, Eliza is eager to getaway from London and make a new start in the country. She answers an advertisement for a governess to two children at Gaudlin Hall, Norfolk. No sooner has Eliza alighted the train, when unseen hands push her forcibly toward the track and into the path of an oncoming train. This encounter is only the beginning of her nightmare, for waiting at Guadlin Hall is an entity consumed by jealously for her two young children; Isabella and Eustace Westerly and will stop at nothing to rid Gaudlin Hall of Eliza Caine.
When Eliza reaches Gaudlin Hall and meets the children for the first time she is shocked to learn that they appear to be living alone and fending for themselves; no parents, no adults and no sign of her employer. The only clues to this baffling arrangement lie with the evasive and reluctant solicitor to the family - Mr Raisin.
This is a gripping and tense tale of the supernatural, superbly crafted by John Boyne of Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas fame. The author manages to capture the Gothic atmosphere of this lonely, creepy old house and its many secrets, whilst cranking up the chills.
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
The Brown Lady
Probably the most famous of all ghost photographs is this one of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall Norfolk, which was taken by Captain Provand and Indre Shira (two notable London photographers) on the 19th September 1936. Provand and Shira had been commissioned to take photographs of the interior of the Hall for Country Life magazine. It was as they were finishing up the days shoot, that Shira noticed a shape descending the stairs and urged Provand to take photographs.
Nothing was really distinguishable at the time, just an amorphous shape, but when the pair were developing the plates later, they noticed the image you see above. The photograph was published in Country Life on 26th December 1936 and in the December issue of Life Magazine. Attempts to debunk it as a fake, have as yet failed.
The eminent author - Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, ‘behind everyman there stands 30 ghosts, that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living‘. The Earth's population is approximately 7 billion, so that would mean there are approximately 210billion ghosts happily, or unhappily, haunting the planet. If Mr. Clarke’s statistics are to be believed, then you would think that we would be falling over phantoms at every turn. The explanation offered by mediums and spiritualists as to why this is not so, is evidently quite simple, we, the uninitiated are not ’tuned-in’ with the spirit plain.
So what is a ghost? I suppose if you were to ask most people, they would probably describe a ghost as a disembodied spirit, cursed for eternity to wonder aimlessly through dark and musty corridors of some spooky old mansion or the like. This may indeed be true, in fact many sightings have been reported in such places.
Ghosts take on many different forms, some are seen as amorphous shapes, like the Brown Lady, whilst others have a distinct shape, whether it be human or animal and some even appear as solid as you or I, indeed there have been many stories where people claim to have engaged ghosts in conversation believing them to be quite real, only to be told later that they have in fact been happily chatting to the dead.
Sceptics are only too quick to dismiss ghosts as “figments of the imagination.” Many encounters are probably just that but surely it is better to embrace it, to attempt to understand this phenomena rather than just dismiss it as fanciful rubbish, a trick of the light or a vivid dream etcetera.
The Imprint Theory
Many parapsychologists are of the opinion that past events, especially powerful emotional ones (murder being one such example) can be retained in inanimate objects such as wood and stone and when conditions are suitable (whatever suitable conditions maybe) are triggered and played back.
This theory may well account for "cyclic hauntings", where an apparition appears to go through a repetitive program or sequence of actions, before ultimately fading away at the completion of the recording.
If you go along with this theory then cyclic hauntings start to make a little more sense. For example; people often report seeing a ghostly figure walk through a wall. Other reports tell of only seeing a ghost from the waist up. On closer inspection of these two examples, is it quite conceivable to conclude that the wall in question used to have a door which is now bricked up and no longer in use. So it follows, that a vision of a ghost with the lower part of the body obscured, could have something to do with the topography of the ground in the past compared with the present.
Some researchers theorize imprint hauntings diminish over time and that inanimate objects which have supposedly retained an emotion will become less sensitive, resulting in a once clear and defined apparition reduced to a diluted amorphous shape, or just footsteps or other sounds that can't be explained. However, it is argued that the explanation for this degradation in clarity is actually nothing to do with the passing of time but is possibly a result in variants in atmospheric conditions at the point of encounter. It is speculated that a combination of air temperature, humidity, daylight or night time, could have a bearing on the quality of an imprint haunting. Many ghosts are reported during the cold winter months, few during warmer weather. In light of this, two people witnessing a ghostly encounter but at different times and under different atmospheric conditions may well be party to diluted versions of the same apparition.
Do Ghosts Exist?
The question as to whether ghosts exist, is as contentious as a belief in a God. Both issues have fuelled many debates over several millennia and will I’m sure, fuel a many more. If you were to ask men of science if they believed in the existence of ghosts, their response would almost certainly be, science deals in facts, specifics, things have to be measured and quantified, experiments have to be carried out again and again and anything that defies the laws of physics, e.g. passing through solid objects can’t possibly be entertained. They may have a point.
To some, the ghost debate can be awkward and is often met with mixed responses. It is interesting to observe the reaction of people when the subject of ghosts is introduced into conversation and just how may folk exhibit a reticence when asked if they believe in such things. Their retort is often to take the guarded route and respond with a nervous chortle and a off-the-cuff and somewhat dismissive, “Lord no, all in the mind; another drink darling?” I can only assume this reluctance to engage any further in the subject, which outwardly may seem to some to be a baited question, is to avoid appearing foolish and embarrass oneself in front of one’s peers. I can’t help wondering, if you were to ask of those same people, do you believe in the existence of God? I’m fairly sure, those that do would happily and without any compunction or fear of ridicule answer yes, which to be honest, boarders on the bizarre. Just how do you differentiate between the two anomalies, after all, is not ‘God’ also a supernatural being that continues to remain an enigma to this day, so why regard ghosts any differently, in fact surely a ghost has more validity than God; that'll start a few tongues wagging. Many millions claim to have seen ghosts throughout history but how many claim to have seen God?
I like to refer to myself as an open minded sceptic, which I know sounds somewhat contradictory. I will be the first to admit that I have my doubts about the existence of ghosts, especially when I am told they are the disembodied spirits of dead people, a belief held by many psychic mediums and spiritualists. I have put myself, on many occasions, in positions where hauntings have been reported and as yet, have seen nothing, but then I don't expect to. Whether this means I am not ‘in tune’ or ‘psychically aware’ as some might suggest, remains an issue for debate. What I will say, is that there have been far too many sightings to just ignore the possibility that such phenomena exists. Ghosts have been reported globally in every civilisation since the beginning of recorded history. Everyone knows someone who has seen a ghost, in fact it is believed that as many as 1 in 7 Britons claim to have witnessed ghostly activity in one shape or another and the chances of seeing a ghost has been calculated as little as 1 in 10. When you think the odds of winning the lottery are in excess of 1 in 14,000,000 and being struck by lightening 1 in 600,000 and being murdered 1 in 18000, then there is every chance that you and I may well experience a ghost in your lifetime, I sure hope so.
‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy‘.
- William Shakespeare -
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
Sightings of mysterious ‘big cats’ have been reported across the British countryside for decades. As early as the 1960’s in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, big cat sightings were on the increase, so much so that the media gave them names: In Cornwall, a huge panther-like creature was christened ’The Beast of Bodmin Moor”. In Devon and Somerset, ‘The Exmoor Cat’ had been seen several times prowling the moors. Descriptions of these animals vary only slightly; black or sandy in colour, resembling pumas, cougars, black leopards and panthers.
Many of these mysterious cats have been photographed and there is also some pretty convincing video footage to support their existence. With the abundance of photographic evidence, you would have thought it difficult to refute the claims of eyewitnesses, but as they say, the jury is still very much out. If they do exist, and there’s no reason to think they don’t, then the obvious question must be, how in blazes did they get here, after all, big cats are not exactly indigenous to Britain.
Explanations are wide and varied and some a little far fetched too, for example, it was speculated these animals had been turned loose by a passing circus. I find that theory hard to believe, why dispose of your livelihood, apart from that, most reputable circuses tend to look after their animals, but then I imagine there are disreputable ones too. The keeping of circus animals is set to change though, as the present government has proposed a bill effectively banning the use of wild animals in circuses. I wonder what will happen to the animals then.
One of the more outlandish suggestions to explain away sightings of big cats reported in Wiltshire, is that they escaped from Longleat Safari Park near Warminster. Now call me a bluff old cove but I can’t see Lord Bath’s staff, who I’m sure are very professional, not noticing that they were deficient in the cat department and it would be extremely damaging to Longleat’s reputation to cover up the fact that a big cat or cats had escaped from their enclosures.
A more plausible explanation may be as a result of the ‘Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976‘, which imposed laws regarding the ownership of non-indigenous species in the U.K. It was decreed that licences would only be issued to the over eighteens and only then, following a rigorous vetting of the intended owner and close inspection of proposed enclosures. It went further with regard to the ownership of big cats as ‘pets‘, this practice was to be prohibited. Further legislation included the introduction of periodic veterinary inspections, which I’m sure must have proved very expensive as would the cost of providing enclosures which would pass stringent criteria.
So here was the dilemma, what to do with your unwanted pussies?
The most sensible option would have been to turn the animals over to the RSPCA to be re-homed. Sadly, common sense may not have prevailed and some unscrupulous individuals may blithely have taken it upon themselves to turn the animals loose in the countryside. Cruel you may think but on hindsight, probably not that cruel from the animals point of view. With an abundance of food and cover, I can only imagine this lifestyle must have been preferable to being cooped up in a cage and fed dead stuff on the end of a stick.
There is little doubt that big cats could happily survive the British climate, the thing that intrigues me is why we don’t see them more often. The puma and cougar are native to North America, the panther is native to North America, Asia and Africa. All these cats are renown for their shyness and elusiveness, which probably accounts for their infrequent sightings, that’s assuming of course that what people are claiming to see stalking the West Country is nothing more than a rather large family tomcat, a bit like my rather large family tomcat, who it has to be said, often behaves like something four times his size. A Tomcat with attitude, that‘s my Max.
The Upavon Encounter
There have been many encounters of big cats in Wiltshire but one in particular I think ranks as being up there in my ‘most scary’ category.
The village of Upavon is situated 4 miles south of the Pewsey on the A345. It is flanked by vast areas of downland which borders Salisbury Plain, an area covering some 300 square miles, plenty of room for big cats to establish themselves, that‘s assuming there is more than one, which would seem essential to ensure the propagation of the species. Large puma like cats have been spotted in the meadows and fields by farmers and village folk in Upavon since the early 90’s. Descriptions are pretty much uniform; an animal about the size of a wolfhound, black or dark grey in colour, with a long sleek tail, catlike in appearance (that goes without saying) with an impressive turn of speed, especially when it has realized it has been spotted. However, not all encounters have seen the animal hightail it into the distance, sometimes curiosity is inevitable.
One such case was reported to Marcus Matthews (a local farmer and writer and one who is actively researching the big cat phenomena) by The Revd D.G Sloggett, who described an encounter in 1996 when his son and one of his friends came face-to-face with a panther like animal close to where they were playing some 50 yards from the rectory. Apparently the Reverend’s son and daughter had claimed on several occasions to have seen a large black cat prowling near to the garden’s perimeter for some two years or so.
The story goes, that the two boys had been playing with some bail twine, which they had fashioned into makeshift Walkie-Talkies by attaching two plastic cups at each end. As they played, one of the boys spotted a large black cat some yards away on an embankment near the ‘Pottery Track‘. The animal appeared to be staring directly at them. When it realized it had been spotted, it slunk off into the undergrowth, only to reappear again crouching close to where the boys were playing, almost as if it had circled them to gain an element of surprise. At this point the boys became frightened, they would later describe the animal as about the size of a German Shepherd, black and broad with a long thick tail. The animal was obviously in a playful mood (the boys didn’t know that of course) as it suddenly leapt from where it had been crouching and made a grab with its paws for the twine and cups. Now terrified, the boys ran for all they were worth, one of them still clutching the bail and twine with the cat in hot pursuit for said bail, twine and cups.
Never looking back and discarding the bail and twine in the hope the cat would stop chasing them, the boys managed to make it back to the rectory garden where they dashed into a garden shed slamming the door behind them. They tentatively peeked through the window where they discovered to their relief that the cat, the bail twine and cups had vanished.
Big cat sightings continue in Wiltshire especially on Salisbury Plain. I understand that the likelihood of encountering one is pretty rare but if you do dear reader, then the best thing to do is slowly back away in the other direction whilst avoiding looking directly into the animals eyes, as this can be interpreted as aggressive and threatening; the same can be said of dogs I believe. Big cats are rarely confrontational (unless you meet the ghostly White Cat on the Ridgeway of course) and will usually be long gone, so you wouldn’t have known they had been there in the first place - watching, waiting...
Enjoy your country walks guys.
Sunday, 17 March 2013
Kitchen showing annex room and corridor exits
There appears to be an increase in ghostly activity at Avebury Manor. Only recently stories have been passed to me with regard to shirt pulling in the corridor leading off from the staffroom. Shadowy figures seen passing the kitchen and snooker balls mysteriously appearing in pockets when the table has been left set for play. There is no history of hauntings in the Billiard Room that I am aware of but there is history of hauntings in the kitchen. A couple of months ago my partner and a member of staff were chatting in the annex room just off the kitchen when they became aware of someone passing the entrance to the annex room. This would have been ignored but for the fact that the kitchen and adjoining corridors were empty at the time.
The ‘shirt pulling’ has been witnessed by two members of staff on separate occasions as they have walked from the staffroom to the toilets.
The snooker balls are a mystery. A cleaner had set the table for play. He left the room momentary, when on his return he was stunned to see the table clear of all the balls which were in their pockets.
Avebury has always been a hotspot for spooky goings on but of late things seemed to have shifted up a gear.
Will keep you posted.
Posted by Willow at 15:46
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Avebury Manor (east view)
Avebury Manor (south view)
A Brief History
Avebury Manor dates from around the mid 16th century, confirmed by a recent dendrochronology analysis carried out by Wessex Archaeology. The team took samples from a lintel beam in the kitchen (the oldest part of the house) which showed a felling date of between 1555 - 1580. However, the site the Manor occupies is considerably older and in all probability may have had monastic connections. There have been few excavations of note but those that have been permitted have revealed several small finds which would indicate the site to have been occupied for at least a thousand years.
Earliest records of a building in the vicinity date from 1114, when King Henry I granted the estate to his chamberlain - William de Tancarville, who in that same year gifted it to the Benedictine French Abbey of St Georges de Boscherville, Rouen, Normandy. A priory house, probably made of timber, was established soon afterwards and may have stood close to where the current Manor is now situated. The priory was a small unit, just a few monks eking out a simple existence raising sheep and farming the land.
In 1378, England was at war with France which ultimately spelled expunction for the monks at Avebury. The last prior to leave Avebury was Stephen Fosse in 1379. Fosse was one of many monks expelled from England during that year. A succession of chaplains took charge of the priory until it finally passed into the hands of Fotheringhay College in 1411.
In 1547, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) the College exchanged the estate for other lands. The Crown took possession of the estate and granted ownership to Sir William Sharington, owner of Lacock Abbey. At some point the priory was demolished or possibly remodelled leaving a small lay house. In the years that followed a successions of tenants and owners, extensions and modifications transformed the house.
In 1551, William and Mary Dunch purchased the house and estate form Sharington who had been happily defrauding the Bristol Mint where he held the title of under treasurer. Sharington managed to avoid execution by calling in a few favours in high places. He didn't get off scot-free though, for he still faced a huge fine. To cover his costs he was forced to sell many of his properties, Avebury Manor being one of them. Recent evidence now points to the Dunches’ being largely responsible for building a new house between 1555 and 1580.
In 1600-01 the east range was extended by Sir James and Mrs Debora Mervyn (daughter-in-law to the Dunches') later adding the south range and ornate porch over which are engraved their initials.
In 1740 Richard Holford remodelled the Great Hall in the south range and the bedchamber above it in line with the latest fashions. The original stone gables (noted from a drawing in 1723 by William Stukeley) were removed by Holford to allow the construction of a deep coved ceiling which would later become known as the Queen Anne Bedroom. Queen Anne is believed to have visited the Manor during her reign, though the ceiling would have been in its original form at that time.
The final alteration came in the early 1900s when Lt-Colonel Leopold and Mrs Nora Jenner added the West Library. In addition they landscaped the gardens and introduced Yew and Box topiary.
Sarsen and limestone were used primarily for most of the early building projects. It is likely, though not certain, that the sarsen stone would have come from the Avebury henge at a time when the stones were of little interest other than for building material. Failing that, they would have been quarried from the Marlborough Downs.
Over its 450 year history, Avebury Manor has commanded significant importance in the village, surrounded by high boundary walls and formal gateways. Although not the most prestigious of country houses, it still retains an air of opulence with its impressive gables, deep mullion windows, tall imposing chimneys and beautiful topiaried gardens.
The Ghosts of Avebury Manor
Sir John Stawell of Cothelstone
The staunch Royalist - Sir John Stawell, purchased Avebury Manor from William Dunch in 1640. Sir John played a significant role in the English Civil Wars, indeed, at his own expense, he raising five regiments in support of Charles I. Sir John’s allegiance to the crown was to prove his undoing, for during one of his many campaigns in the West Country he fell foul of the Parliamentarians at the siege of Exeter and was captured in 1646. Later that year he went to London with a copy of his terms of surrender issued by Sir Thomas Fairfax. He was instructed to swear on oath ‘not to bear arms against Parliament’. He refused, and in doing so was immediately committed to Ely House in Holborn on the advice that his possessions and estates were to be sequestered, including his beloved Avebury Manor.
On 13 August 1646 he was summoned to the Bar of the House Of Commons, where he declined to kneel and take the oath when ordered to do so by the Speaker. He was immediately committed to Newgate Prison on a charge of high treason. His trial at Somerset Assizes was repeated several times but on every occasion no proceedings followed. In July 1650 he was moved from Newgate to The Tower of London and on 17th December of that year he was brought to trial once more but the judges neither acquitted nor condemned him. He remained in the Tower of London for the next 11 years. In 1652 Avebury Manor was sold to George Long who in turn leased it to Sir Edward Baynton.
Sir John was to remain in the Tower until his release in 1660 on the Restoration of Charles II. His estates and possessions were reinstated in full. He returned to Avebury where he lived a short time until his death on 21st February 1662. He was buried with great pomp at Cothelstone on 23rd April. Some say he died a broken man, suffering from ill health and depression. It was rumoured that he took his own life in a moment of utter despair, although there is no evidence surviving to support this claim. I suppose it is not surprising that such rumours grew as to his state of mind, lord knows what conditions he must have had to endured during his imprisonment.
It would seem that Sir John is reluctant to leave his beloved Avebury Manor, for it is the aptly named Cavalier Bedroom, now the Withdrawing Room (renamed for the BBC project) where his ghost has been seen gazing out of the south window which overlooks the gardens. He has also been spotted standing quite motionless to the left of the fireplace. He is described as being solid in appearance, just like you or I and suited in the finery of a Cavalier of the time. A melancholy figure by all accounts, who, when encountered, appears to be weeping. Some say his arrival is often preceded by the fragrant smell of roses. During that period, rose water was often used to disguise body odour, as personal hygiene was yet to establish itself. Sir John is said to have adored his garden and spent a lot of time strolling therein, which may also account for reports of his ghost being seen thereabouts.
Visitors have, on occasion been overcome by feelings of intense sadness in this room, some even unable to cross its threshold. Only recently whilst I was working in the Manor, a young man in his early twenties came down the exit stairs ashen faced, visibly shaken and tears in his eyes. He asked if there were somewhere outside where he might sit. I showed him into the garden where I found a bench seat for him and left him alone with his thoughts not wishing to pry. I promptly returned to the exit where I met his parents who were looking for him. I enquired as to what the problem was and they told me that in one of the rooms he had suddenly been overcome by sadness and needed to leave. I asked which room they had been in and was not surprised at the answer. I explained the stories associated with that room to his parents and reassured them that their son was not the first and no doubt wont be the last to experience such feelings of utter misery and dread in that room.
The Tudor Bedchamber
The 'Tudor Bedchamber' is another room which has been renamed for the BBC project, though this room would undoubtedly have served as a bedchamber at some point. It forms part of the east extension, built between 1580-1600. One of the guides recently told me of a frightening experience he had whilst working in this room several years ago. A group of visitors had just entered the room, when all of a sudden one of the party, a woman, was overcome by something only she could sense.
“Her eyes rolled up till just the whites were showing then she started to shake but worse was her voice which was deep and guttural, I couldn’t’ understand what she was saying. It only lasted for a few seconds then she came out of this ‘trance’ I suppose you’d call it. She was lead out of the room by friends. I was told that she was a medium and she had obviously had a reaction to something in the room.”
Another of the guides will not work this room, she too claims to be sensitive to whatever may be present here and firmly believes that this particular entity is malevolent. As for me, well, I’m as psychic as a brick. I love this room, it is always my first choice when I occasionally help out as a room guide for The National Trust. It has three large mullion windows which face east, south and west and as a consequence the room is bathed in sunlight all day long, surely an environment which is hardly conducive of such a malevolent presence.
|Illustration by Christine Bozier|
The White Lady
The house and gardens are reputedly haunted by a beautiful young woman dressed in white. ‘The White Lady‘ is arguably the most active of the Manor's ghosts. Her story is one of tragedy, as are many ghost stories. Although her identity is uncertain, it is believed she may well have been a ward of Sir John Stawell. Sir John ran a strict house, especially with regard to protecting the young lady’s integrity and virtues.
In defiance of Sir John's house rules, she met and fell in love with a hansom young man who worked on the estate. Sir John got wind of her deceitfulness and immediately put a stop to their secret rendezvous. She was to have none of it and continued to meet covertly with her young suitor.
Their brief romance was to be cut short, for the young man received orders to join ranks and participate in the Civil Wars. As each day passed she would pray for his safe homecoming, for they had decided to elope together at soon as he returned. Then came the news that she had been dreading. She received notification that her lover had been killed in active duty. With a broken heart and little to live for, she took her life by jumping from a second floor window breaking her neck in the fall.
Her ghost is said to follow visitors around the gardens where she will randomly select a gentleman (preferably with a beard it would seem) and tap him sharply on the shoulder. It is believed this ‘tap on the shoulder’ signifies her attempt to identify whether the recipient of her advances is that of her lover. The startled gentleman who has been “selected,” would turn round to find no one behind him, confirmation one would assume, that the poor girl had got it wrong again. She is most often encountered at the south gate close to the pet cemetery.
One of the National Trust guides at the Manor told me of an experience he had during a film shoot for the Trust whilst in the gardens. He described his encounter as suddenly being “gripped by the shoulders and pulled back.” He spun round to see who was there but to his surprise discovered there was nobody near him.
The White Lady has also been seen by guides and visitors descending the main stairway inside the Manor. She is dressed in a flowing floor length white gown and described by all who have seen her as 'stunningly beautiful'.
The Ghostly Cat
If you should venture into the Stables Museum adjacent to the Manor, you will find amongst its exhibits, many of which have been discovered at Avebury henge, a rather grisly mummified cat. Now then, said cat was apparently discovered some years back whilst work was being carried out on one of the Manor's eternal walls. It is said that during medieval times, if you were to wall up a dead cat, then even in death the animal would prevent rodent infestation. How times have changed, thankfully.
On occasion, when staff have been locking up for the day, some claim to have heard the unmistakable sound of a cat crying as if locked in somewhere upstairs. When they have gone to investigate, nothing is ever found.
With the Manor's monastic roots, it is not surprising to learn that there have been numerous sightings of a phantom hooded monk. The identity of the monk is unknown but there may be a clue as to why he continues to haunt the Manor. It is well documented that in 1249 several of Avebury’s monks were being held at Marlborough assizes on suspicion of murder. Could the unfortunate victim of this heinous crime be said monk?
His ghost has been seen in the kitchen, the small parlour, the east garden and the churchyard of St. James which stands adjacent to the Manor. One of the earliest documented encounters of the monk was during the ownership of the Manor by William Dunch in 1557. The story goes, that one evening while the maid was busy organizing the dining room for the evening meal, she was briefly interrupted by Dunch who called to her from the kitchen. They spoke briefly in the kitchen regarding some matter or another, after which the maid returned to the dining room stopping just short of the threshold, for standing at the dining room table was a 'tall imposing hooded figure'. The maid looked over her shoulder towards the kitchen where she enquired of Dunch, “sir! - do we have guests for dinner?” “No!” came the reply from Dunch, at that, the maid looked back into the dinning room to find the intruder had disappeared.
Several times a shadowy figure has been seen crossing the passage that connects the kitchen to west garden door, a door long since bricked up. He has also been spotted standing motionless in the east garden.
St. James Church
One of the more recent sightings of the monk occurred one evening as the previous curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum was locking up for the night. As he turned from the door he noticed a hooded figure standing motionless amongst the gravestones in the adjacent church of St. James. Thinking it to be a young local lad who had been up to mischief on several occasions near to the Manor gates and in the churchyard, the curator decided to confront him. As he drew closer to the churchyard gate, the figure started towards him. Startled and a little concerned at this sudden advance, the curator backed away from the gate, at which point the figure began to fade until nothing was left except a fine amorphous mist which slowly dissipated.
Sightings of a mysterious female figure in the churchyard have been reported many times. Could these sightings be linked to the discovery of a female skeleton found in the churchyard in the mid 1950s. Her remains were exposed whilst a fresh grave was being prepared. She was identified as being in her early twenties and surrounded by shards of late Norman pottery. The skeleton was lying east to west within the churchyard boundary and it appeared to represent a Christian burial of the Norman period. Maybe by disturbing the grave has triggered her ghostly presence.
The Little Boy in the Churchyard
Another ghost which has been witnessed several times in the churchyard is that of a little boy dressed in Victorian garb. One recent story is both charming and has an unexpected, if not coincidental outcome.
The story goes that a local woman and her two year old daughter had just popped down to Avebury village to post some letters. On returning home, they decided to take a shortcut through the churchyard. It was midmorning on a clear day in March as they passed through the lychgate and into the churchyard. Starting down the pathway toward the church, her daughter suddenly pointed animatedly from her pushchair toward the church door. Her mother stopped and looked in the direction her daughter was pointing. There she saw a little boy of about eight years old hopping up and down on one of the table tombs by the church entrance. She later described him as 'solid in appearance and dressed in a short brown jacket with matching knickerbockers cropped at the knees where they met with white stockings. He wore a brown cap, from which poked out a tousled mass of mousy brown curly hair that framed the cutest of rosy-cheeks'. Intrigued by his appearance and thinking he was part of some local play or the like, they started to approach him. He paid them no heed as they covered the short distance between them, absorbed in his game of tomb-hopping and quite oblivious to their presence. They were little more than a few yards away from him when suddenly he looked up in mid-hop, smiled, then abruptly vanished.
The unexpected outcome to this story is that soon after her encounter with the little boy she fell pregnant, which was a surprise to her and her husband, as she was judged infertile after the birth of her daughter due to ovarian cysts. She still lives locally and has a lovely little boy who she adores. Coincidence, or something a little stranger I wonder.
I have a personal fondness for Avebury Manor, it is a wonderfully atmospheric building with a wealth of history. I still await my first ghostly encounter mind but I have a feeling it wont be too long in coming, sure hope so.