Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Brambridge Mystery

There is a mystery at Brambridge, northeast of Southampton on the B3335, where the road runs past what was once the main entrance to Brambridge House. The gateway is now closed off by barbed wire and tangled undergrowth blocks the way. However the towering lime trees that form a magnificent double avenue leading from the main road to the house still stand as impressive as ever. They were planted in around 1805 when pollarded limes were in great demand to provide timber for musket stocks. When the Napoleonic Wars ended at Waterloo in 1815 the limes were not by then mature, so they were never harvested. They stand today as tall and impressive as any trees in Hampshire and are a well-known local landmark.

The ghosts, and the mystery, belong to the wide grassy field to the north of the magnificent avenue.

The field is used to graze horses and other livestock, though it is sometimes empty. It is a generally peaceful and rural scene. But it was very far from peaceful late one evening not so very long ago.

A lady living in Winchester was driving home with her husband from visiting friends for dinner in Eastleigh. As she passed the avenue of trees heading north, her husband said “Look. There in that field. Something is going on.”

The lady looked and was surprised to view a scene of confusion and mayhem. In the bright moonlight bathing the field she saw men riding horses, while other men were running around on foot. The men on horseback had on long jackets that fell down over their hips and the horses’s flanks. The men on foot also wore coats. This was odd as it was a warm summer’s evening. Within seconds the car was past the field. She came to a halt.

“We had better go back,” she told her husband. “It might be vandals chasing the horses or poachers.” He agreed and she backed her car up.

The field was completely empty and peaceful. There was nothing in sight.

She and her husband compared notes. They had both clearly seen men on foot running around and horses rearing and careering around as if frightened. Her husband had seen a man on a horse with his arm raised and wearing a long coat that came down over the horses flanks. He thought perhaps he had his arm raised to hit somebody and may have been holding something in it. He thought the men were fighting, but she was not sure about this. And now there was nothing there except the wind and the trees.

Responding to the lady’s request for information, I came to Brambridge one chill winter’s afternoon. There was the field and the avenue of trees, but no ghosts. A man pulled up in a landrover and started unloading horsefeed to take to the horses in the field. Did he know anything about the strange apparition?

“Can’t say I do,” he replied. He looked around the field. “Mind you the big house has been used for all sorts of things. Back in the Napoleonic Wars it was used to house French prisoners of war. And it has had plenty of famous people stay there. That might have something to do with it.”

I decided to undertake some research. It transpired that Brambridge had, indeed, had some famous residents. Chief among these was young Maria Smythe, daughter of the owner Walter Smythe. Maria is far better known by her widowed name of Mrs Fitzherbert. She married King George IV when he was Prince of Wales, albeit illegally. And records confirm that the house was rented out during the Napoleonic Wars.

If it had been a camp for prisoners, it would have been surrounded by wooden huts housing the prisoners. The open field now grazed by horses would have been an ideal setting. Any trouble here, and there was certainly trouble at other such camps, would have been put down by the local yeomanry or by soldiers stationed nearby. The costumes described as being worn by the horsemen of the apparition were similar to those worn by dragoons and yeomanry at the time.

Was the mysterious ghostly scene glimpsed by moonlight a recreation of a riot or uprising by the French prisoners of war, or was it something quite different? We shall probably never know.

This is an extract from Haunted Hampshire by Rupert Matthews

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