Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Mysterious Lady of Madeley Hall, Shropshire

Shropshire can be a daunting county for those unfamiliar with it. There are the towering heights of the Long Mynd and the Wrekin, where bleak moorlands are whipped by gales and drifted by snows in winter or baked dry under a windy sun in summer. It was in this remote area that Edric the Wild kept alive resistance to William the Conqueror for a full decade after the Norman Conquest and here that he is said to ride still in spectral form.

From the heights, the lowlands of Shropshire can appear flat and featureless, but once the viewer is down on the plain it becomes a succession of rolling hills and wooded slopes. For generations these rich lowlands formed the fortified outpost of England, facing the wilds of Wales. Nobody was ever certain when the Welsh would come raiding over the border, so every man had to keep a weapon within reach to be ready to protect hearth and home.

In these more peaceful days the major threat to the fertile farmlands of Shropshire comes in the form of urban sprawl tipping over the county border from Birmingham and Wolverhampton. In 1968 town planners staring through rose-tinted glasses decided to turn over much Shropshire countryside to the bulldozers and build what they saw as “an exciting concept city”. The final conglomeration of sweeping bypasses, concrete shopping centres and bland housing estates has as much to do with Shropshire as does the Scottish engineer after which the city was named: Telford.

Embraced within the modern city is one of the most historic estates of Shropshire. Fortunately, the old manor house was turned into an hotel and much of the surrounding parkland kept free of late 20th century concrete. The imposing Tudor mansion of Madeley Court even has a small lake.

Perhaps it is because the building retains its rural setting, that the ghost of Madeley Hall remains as active as she does. The current house and gatehouse were built in 1553 on the site of a priory grange belonging to the Much Wenlock monastery. The house has had a chequered history, being at times the centre of an iron ore mining and smelting business, a farm and council offices. It is now a luxurious hotel which welcomes visitors.

Although it is not certain to which date the ghost belongs, it is generally thought that she must be at least 200 years old. The phantom form of the elderly lady has a degree of gentility and elegance that would indicate that she lived here before 1828 when the Brooke family sold up the estate for commercial use. She wears a long dress that sweeps with the distinctive rustle of heavy silk as she walks.

She is seen most often in the main house and has a particular affinity with the lower ground floor area, which is now used as a bar, and to the main hall, now a restaurant. She has been seen more than once walking up or down the spiral staircase that links the two rooms. Strangely, her head is usually turned away from the witness so that a clear view of her is impossible.

While the old lady causes no trouble upstairs in the restaurant, she is rather more bother downstairs. The glasses are often found pushed to one side of the bar when no human has been around to move them. More spectacularly a table set by an old blocked up window is often found cleared of its cutlery or even upended. Changing the table for some other item of furniture did nothing to solve the problems. Whatever is placed by this old window seems to come in for unwanted phantom attentions. Why the ghost should behave in such a fashion is unknown, though several members of staff will testify that they suddenly feel uneasy when in the bar alone seeming to confirm that the ghost is in there up to no good.

This is an extract from The Ghosthunter's Guide to England by Rupert Matthews

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