Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Ghosts in Bexley, Kent

“You have come to the right place for ghosties”, announced Annie of the Bexley Heritage Trust which now runs Hall Place. And she is right. Hall Place hosts three of them.

Hall Place is now open to the public, having spent many years as an educational establishment in the hands of the local council. The house has been renovated and restored and now offers both well-tended gardens and a fascinating house to delight visitors. There is also a gift shop and restaurant, for those who fancy staying awhile. The most famous of the ghosts is that of the Black Prince. So well known is this phantom that the pub just outside the grounds of Hall Place is named “The Black Prince”, though it does not go so far as to offer any stuffed boar’s heads or other medieval delicacies to welcome the long-dead warrior.

The Black Prince was more properly known as Prince Edward, eldest son of King Edward III and he was one of the greatest warriors of Christendom. In 1346 Edward stayed at Hall Place for some time in the spring of 1346 while the king and his advisors prepared the expeditionary force which would invade France that summer.

The campaign culminated on 26th August in the Battle of Crécy. The English army, some 9,000 strong, was caught by a French army of over 30,000 men. In the ensuing fighting the English proved that their longbows and halberds were superior to the French swords and inflicted enormous losses. It is thought that the French lost 11 royal princes, 1,200 knights and 10,000 men at arms killed or captured in the fighting. The English lost barely a thousand men. At one point in the battle young Prince Edward’s division looked likely to be overwhelmed by a French attack. Noblemen begged King Edward to send his son reinforcements, but the king refused saying merely “Suffer him to win his spurs this day”.

Prince Edward obviously liked Hall Place for he returned there more than once between his frequent campaigns and battles. Indeed he married a local noble lady, Joan, whose beauty was so famous that she known as “The Fair Maid of Kent”.

The need to fight wars to protect England kept Edward abroad for months on end and, at the age of just 40 he was struck down by a disease which kept him invalided and in pain for over 5 years until his death in 1376. It might be thought that it is to recapture the gentle, peaceful days of courtship that the phantom of the Black Prince returns to Hall Place. It would appear not, however, for when the Black Prince walks the gardens of Hall Place he does so in his armour.

And this warlike appearance matches his purpose. The ghost walks only when either the owners of Hall Place or England itself are in some danger. In the early 20th century the property was owned by Lady Limerick. In those years the ghost was seen four times, and on each occasion a family death occurred soon after. In 1940 he was seen just two days before the German panzer attack that led to the British retreat that ended at Dunkirk. Fortunately, perhaps, he has not been seen in recent years.

Rather more active is the sad phantom of Lady Constance Hall. Not that one should normally discuss a lady’s age, but this is one of the older ghosts of Kent - though not the oldest (see Dover). Lady Constance is a good century older than even the Black Prince. She lived here in the 13th century.

This sombre phantom originated on a bright summer’s afternoon when the lady’s husband in life, Sir Thomas Hall, was returning from a day’s hunting in the woodland that in those days surrounded this fine building. Sir Thomas had had a good day with his friends and bagged a variety of fine animals for the table, and the trophy wall. He was particularly proud of a large stag which boasted a magnificent spread of antlers. Unfortunately for Sir Thomas, the stag was unconscious but not dead. When he arrived home, he triumphantly threw the large stag from the pack horse on which it had travelled to lie on the stones. This awoke the stag which, enraged by its pain, turned on Sir Henry and gored him to death. All this in full sight of the horrified Lady Constance.

A few days later, driven mad by grief, Lady Constance hurled herself to her death from a tower. From that day to this the pale ghost of Lady Constance has wandered Hall Place wailing and weeping. It is a most upsetting ghost to encounter, as staff here will tell you.

The third ghost of Hall Place is, by comparison, of a rather less illustrious person. This is the helpful young woman who flits about one of the upstairs bedrooms. She is the ghost of a servant girl who died here over a century ago. There is, apparently, no real story attached to this ghost. She did not die after an unhappy love affair, nor did she achieve fame in her life. She is just an ordinary servant girl who returns to visit the rooms she once cared for.

Annie summed up the stories saying “The house is definitely haunted. According to various members of staff the white lady wears grey and has been seen through the corner of the eye and felt running past staff within the house at the bottom of the tower. The stairs of this tower were removed some time ago - the story goes that this was a former inhabitants attempt to stop the ghost from walking. It obviously didn't work. Other staff members have also felt strange vibrations in the Great Hall floor as if someone was walking around and no-one has been there.”

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Kent by Rupert Matthews

No comments:

Post a Comment