Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Ghosts of Athelampton Hall, Dorset

It was in 1485 that Sir William Martyn, Lord Mayor of London and fabulously wealthy merchant, decided that the time had come to find a rural retreat for himself and his family. He found Athelhampton and set about building himself a home of impressive design.

The Wars of the Roses had just come to a bloody end at Bosworth Field where King Richard III was killed fighting and the crown seized by Henry Tudor. Henry energetically imposed peace on England, crushing any nobleman who showed signs of causing trouble and keeping the country free of booty-hungry brigands. Thus it was that Martyn was able to abandon the fortifications that had been necessary on earlier houses. Instead of stout walls and tall towers, Martyn’s house boasted large windows and carved decorations. He included a few battlements for the sake of show, but they were just decoration.

Martyn’s family emblem was a monkey looking into a mirror, a motif that is repeated in stone and stained glass at several points around the house. He also had a pet monkey, and subsequent generations of the family continued the tradition. In 1595 the last male descendant of the family lay dying. His pet monkey came into the room as if to view its master on his deathbed. As the man breathed his last, the monkey let out a scream and bolted from the room. It was never seen again, but ever since the sound of scratching has been heard coming from behind the panelling in the Great Hall. It is generally reckoned to be the phantom sound of the monkey.

The scratching monkey is not the only ghost in the Great Hall. This chamber was built to impress, with its linenfold panelling, massive wooden ceiling and heraldic motifs. It was here that successive owners have welcomed guests and entertained in grand fashion. It was here, also, that a local gentleman of royalist persuasions got into an argument with a fellow who preferred the cause of Parliament in the tense months that led up to the English Civil War of the 1640s. The men drew their swords and fought a dramatic battle around the room. The duel ended in wounds, not death, but it has left is ghostly mark. The two men have been seen, though not often, thrusting and hacking with their swords around the room. The fight continues until one inflicts on the other a slashing wound down the right arm, at which point the duellists fade from view.

Seen almost as rarely is the ghostly cooper who works down in the cellars. Hammering away at a barrel with a mallet, the man is clearly intent on his task and pays no attention to the humans who wander into his domain.

A rather more active ghost frequents the State Bedroom. This impressive, yet rather cosy room is kept in splendid 16th century fashion. The ghost who strides through walking towards the Yellow Room must feel quite at home. Although nobody knows whose ghost this is, her clothes are clearly of 16th century date. Dressed in a dark grey gown, the lady moves with silent, but determined pace.

Once, some 80 years ago, a housemaid was doing some cleaning in the State Bedroom when she saw a figure enter the room from the corner of her eye. Thinking it to be a fellow servant, the maid called out “I am cleaning in here. You can make yourself useful elsewhere.” Imagine her surprise when the newcomer promptly vanished into thin air. Only then did she realise that she had been talking to the ghost.

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

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