Category Archives: Ghost story

Magic in Jane Austen

This is the third of my series of blogs, Five things you might not know about Jane Austen.


Magic would seem to have no place in the world depicted by Jane Austen it is, after all, a very realistic depiction of the early nineteenth century. In fact that is one of the reason I enjoy the novels so much, they provide a wonderful window on the period. However, despite the apparently rationality of the age, magic did have a place in Britain at this time.

Medicine was remarkably ineffective, the way in which the body worked was only just beginning to be understood and many medical procedures were probably more dangerous than the condition they were attempting to treat. For this reason, even educated people, frequently resorted to magical charms to treat various ailments.

The Reverend James Woodforde, a former fellow of Oxford and rector of a Norfolk parish was, despite being highly intelligent and very well educated, a great believer in charms to cure medical conditions. He is also one of the greatest diarists of the period and records various charms he tried and the effect they had. In 1790 he suffered from a swelling on the eyelid.

‘Mar.11, Friday The Stiony on my right Eye-lid still swelled and inflamed very much. As it is commonly said that the Eye-lid being rubbed by the tail of a black Cat would do it much good if not entirely cure it, and having a black Cat, a little before dinner I made a trial of it, and very soon after dinner I found my Eye-lid much abated of the swelling and almost free from Pain.’


‘Mar. 15, Tuesday.. , My right Eye again, that is, its Eye-lid much inflamed again and rather painful. I put on a plaistor to it this morning, but in the Aft. took it of again, as I perceived no good from it.

Mar. 16,Wednesday …. My Eye-lid is I think rather better than it was, I bathed it with warm milk and Water last Night. My Eye-lid about Noon rather worse owing perhaps to the warm Milk and Water, therefore just before Dinner I washed it well with cold Water and in the Evening appeared much better for it.’

Fortunately he finally managed to do something sensible, there is no further mention of the eyelid so presumably simply washing it and keeping it clean worked.

In Mansfield Park the Bertrams and the Crawfords, accompanied by Fanny Price and Mrs Norris visit Sotherton, the home of Mr Rushworth. During this visit Mrs Norris;

‘Had been met by the gardener, with whom she had made a most satisfactory acquaintance, for she had set him right as to his grandson’s illness, convinced him that it was an ague, and promised him a charm for it.’


So there it is, the most unpleasant character in Jane Austen’s works is the one to offer magical help. An Ague was an intermittent fever, possibly a form of malaria. As the disease could naturally disappear it is one where charms would appear to work, so what might the charm have consisted of? It might have sounded vaguely medical, in The Compleat Housewife: or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion there are several recipes for the cure of ague which would have had no practical benefit and so to modern eyes look like charms. This is typical,


Or perhaps it was a magical one such as this, recorded in Devon in the nineteenth century;

‘To cure ague, when a sufferer feels that an attack is imminent, he should go to the nearest crossroads at midnight, on five nights, and there bury a new-laid egg.’

Though let’s hope it wasn’t the cure that Parson Woodforde tried on his servant;

‘May 22 1779 My Boy Jack had another touch of the Ague about noon. I gave him a dram of gin at the beginning of the fit and pushed him headlong into one of my Ponds and ordered him to bed immediately and he was better after it.’


A nineteenth century ghost, no relation to what I am saying, but I like the picture.

Mrs Norris is, of course, the only character from Jane Austen’s works referenced in the Harry Potter novels, depicted as a wicked cat. J K Rowling says she chose the name as she always disliked Mrs Norris (who doesn’t), though I suspect she also knew that Mrs Norris practiced magic.



Filed under Ghost story, Jane Austen, Regency

Wicked Ladies – Some Legendry Highwaywomen

In an earlier blog I mentioned what was possibly one of the few true stories of a Highwaywoman, now for some whose reality is much less certain.

I first came across the most famous of all legendry highwaywomen in Haunted England by Christina Hole (1941), a fascinating collection of traditional ghost stories, which includes the tale of the wicked Lady Ferrers.

Markyate Cell, near Dunstable, was long haunted, and perhaps still is, by the ghost of the “wicked” Lady Ferrers. She is said to have taken to highway robbery in the seventeenth century from sheer love of excitement and power. She used to leave the house by a secret way at night and ride about disguised as a man, robbing such belated travellers as were abroad on Watling Street and killing those who showed signs of resistance.

She had a secret room prepared against emergencies which was reached by a concealed staircase in the kitchen chimney. Here she fled one night, after being badly wounded in a fight, and died at the foot of the staircase. Her body was found there next morning, and after her funeral the staircase was bricked up. But if the family hoped the curious circumstances of her death would be forgotten, they were disappointed.

Her ghost haunted the neighbourhood, sometimes swinging on the branch of an old tree under which she was supposed to have buried the proceeds of her robberies, sometimes riding along the roads or over the tree-tops. She was also seen near the kitchen chimney and in various parts of the house. Like Peg O’Nell, she was regarded as the author of every local misfortune, and three serious fires in the house were ascribed to her.

Historians have pointed out that, for example, Lady Ferrers never lived in Markyate Cell, and though she had owned the property it had been sold years before she died. However folk tales have never allowed truth to get in the way of a good story and this is a good story. It was read by a, sadly almost forgotten but very fine, novelist Magdalen King-Hall. Inspired by the tale she wrote Life And Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton (1945), this novel was dramatized as The Wicked Lady a classic 1945 film starring Margaret Lockwood (and a very poor 1983 remake starring Faye Dunaway).

 Wicked Lady 1


This tale includes one detail that is to be found in most stories of Highwaywomen, and which I think almost guarantee’s its fictional nature, she is supposed to have dressed as a man and ridden a horse. Whilst cross dressing is, of course, perfectly possible, riding astride is more doubtful. If she had learnt to ride she would naturally have been taught to ride side saddle, riding astride is a very different skill. To learn this would have taken time, and would have to have been accomplished in secret.

This is just one of the reasons I find the following story doubtful.

Oxford Journal – Saturday 23 July 1763

 We find the following extraordinary Letter in the London Chronicle of this Day:

SIR,    July 19

You may depend on the Truth of the following Robbery. – Last Friday a Gentleman and his Lady were attacked on the Harrow Road by a supposed Highwayman, who demanded their Money with the usual Imprecations, making them dismount. The Gentleman, after delivering his Money, imagining all was over, was going to remount, when the Robber unbuttoning, shew’d herself to be Woman, and insisted he should go into yonder Lane to her a Favour; which being backed by his Lady, he withdrew with her. Being under a thick Hedge, the real Highwayman made his Appearance, and insisted that the Gentleman’s Spouse should retire with him for the fame Purpose, saying, One good Turn deserves another. All being reconciled, they were about part, when our former Highwayman whisper’d the Gentleman, that she heard the Ticking of a Watch when under the Hedge; and should be glad if he would make her a Present of it: which with some Reluctance he did. We hear these Blades are of the Hatters Gang; and that the Posse of a certain Magistrate is now in Pursuit of them. I am your constant Reader and humble Servant, R. C.

An extraordinary letter indeed.

I think I should return to the ghost of the wicked Lady Ferrers

The last record of her appearance being early in the present (20th) century, when she was seen by a number of people at a parish tea. One cannot help wondering whether this manifestation does not go to prove the survival of a sense of humour in ghosts; it is difficult to imagine Lady Ferrers taking an interest in anything so humdrum as a parish tea except from a desire to frighten the company.


Filed under Georgian, Ghost story, Village Fetes

The Ice House – A mystery for the New Year – part 3

Journal of David Markham,

January 1st

Bateson is alive but now has a fever. A servant was sitting with him, but Mrs Rogers had told Mary that he was saying things that she didn’t think a servant should hear. She has bravely volunteered to sit with him this morning, as Charles and I explore the area where the woman was seen yesterday.

My footprints are still clearly visible in the snow, but where the woman was standing there is no trace, I must admit I am not surprised. Later, when Bateson was asleep, Mary brought the notes she had made of what he had said.

Notes by Mary Bingham, pasted in David Markham’s Journal

She is there … Ice house …. No can’t be….

Shouldn’t have tried …. Foolish ….. tried to tell father only protecting him

She can’t be there ….. in Ice House ….. put her ….. should be angry

Foolish … why was he angry ….. shouldn’t have been …… didn’t mean to ….. with her

She can’t be here …. She can’t be here … She is HERE!

Journal of David Markham,

January 2nd

It is over, we have found George Williams and Miss Walgrave. As soon as possible after breakfast we all assembled by the Ice House. The snow had been swept away from the entrance and it only took half an hour to open it enough for Charles and I to enter. There had been a wooden door, but this had partly rotted and after only a few blows with an axe we were inside. There was a short passage, at the end of which was a second door. I had been in such buildings before so warned Charles about the drop, we looked through the door into the chamber, it seemed empty apart from branches on the bottom which had once supported the ice and kept the drain open. Then Charles lowered a lantern into the chamber and we saw, immediately below the entrance, a pile of what looked like old clothes.

We both guessed what it was, I called for a sack, then climbed down the ladder set in the wall. As soon as I reached the bottom, I saw that it was not one body but two. I carefully collected the bones and clothes in two sacks, and climbed back up. As soon as we were out there was a noise behind us, part of the entrance had fallen in. The workmen had seen what we had brought out, and were eager to complete the job and block the entrance to the ice house.

Later Mr Croft called, and identified the coat found on the man’s skeleton, as being one worn by Mr W. Then Mrs Rogers came to tell us that Bateson had disappeared. His clothes have also gone. A search has been instituted.

Courier and Telegraph January 14th

At an inquest held on remains lately found in an Ice House at Bramlingham. The remains were identified as those of Mr George Williams and Miss Dorothy Walgrave. Upon direction the jury presented that they died an accidental death, at a date unknown.

Undated note by Mary Bingham

I wonder if the White Lady will be seen again?

Ghosts and Legends of the Eastern Counties Rev P Parsons 1892


A White Lady is supposed to have appeared at Bramlingham Hall at some time in the last century. No definite account can be discovered and Major Markham, the current owner, tells me that there have been no reports of any apparitions in living memory.

Journal of David Markham, January 6th

A most important day, the Vicar and his wife came to dine and afterwards we discussed the case, the Vicar agrees with me that it is for the best that Bateson has disappeared, nothing could ever be proved against him. He suggested that the burial of Mr Williams and Miss Walgrave should take place as soon as possible after the inquest, he then added slyly that he thought I would be wanting another service from him very soon. Seeing my confusion he apologised profusely and explained that my servants as well as the entire parish consider that I am affianced to Miss B!

I was so startled at this I had to leave the room and walk on the terrace for a few little while, despite the cold. Returning, admittedly somewhat frozen, I was met by Miss B, who was struck by my appearance and immediately led me to the fire to warm. I suddenly realised that, in addition to the assistance that she had given with the discovery of Mr Williams, she had turned this large house into a home, and I couldn’t imagine living in it without her.

I looked at her directly and asked her if she could possibly consent to be my wife. At this she smiled and asked if I was aware that everybody was expecting her to marry me. I was surprised she knew, she replied that she had known for some time and, although first thinking it amusing had been wondering for several days when I would get around to asking for her hand.

At that we both laughed and walked into the great parlour to the congratulations of our friends.

From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, January 7th


So much has happened.

I must apologise for the definite statement I made in a letter to you a few weeks ago, you, the servants and the village were right. I must now beg your attendance here as I cannot imagine marriage, even to my dear Mr M, without you by my side.

The Buildings of England Nickolas Pevsner ed


Temple of Hope, 1780 200yds SSW of house. Small Doric summer house with cartouche in pediment including the entwined initials D and M and the date 1780, prob commemorating the marriage of Sir David Markham and Mary Bingham of that date.

Proceedings of the County Society.

Temple of Hope, Bramlingham. Interim report.

Following partial subsidence of the mound of the Temple of Hope, a grade II listed building, archaeological investigation took place prior to stabilisation work. Excavation work around the area of subsidence revealed the exterior of a brick dome, this was identified as part of the Old Ice House. An ‘Ice House’ is shown in approximately this location on an estate plan of 1772, whilst estate accounts for 1782 include the payment of £27 10s 9d for the ‘New Ice House’. It was clear that part of the main chamber roof had collapsed, it was impossible to enter the chamber safely so remote sensing and laser scanning were used to record the structure prior to it being infilled. During this a human skeleton was discovered lying on the bottom of the chamber, it appeared to be lying on demolition debris. The origin of this skeleton has excited much speculation.

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Filed under Georgian, Ghost story

The Ice House – A mystery for the New Year – part 2

From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, December 20th 1779

NO! I am not going to marry Mr. Markham. I don’t know how you might have got the impression from my previous letter, he is a friend of my brother’s that is all. Though I must admit that your misapprehension is apparently shared by most of the household here!

I discovered it this morning, I have taken to using a small room on the ground floor for writing letters, doing my sewing etc. It has a pleasant prospect of the park, looking beautiful in the freshly fallen snow, and a very good fireplace. I was about to go for a short walk on the terrace when I discovered I had left my gloves somewhere, Mrs Rogers was in the hall at the time and said to a maid. ‘I saw them in the Mistresses Parlour, go and fetch them.” Curious I said to the housekeeper, ‘I didn’t think this house had ever had a mistress?” at which she got flustered and admitted that there hadn’t been, but that most of the servants thought that I was going to marry Mr M. So – within a week of arrival in a house I have not only been married off but also acted as godparent to the very rooms, what could be more ridiculous.

But you will wish to hear of the progress of our, I was going to say my, investigations. I visited Mrs Croft the vicars wife and easily brought Mr W into the conversation. I discovered he was well liked during the short time he was here and there was no indication of any indiscretion with the local maidens. I mentioned this at dinner tonight, and found that not only were my brother and Mr M surprised that I was taking a part in the investigation but they had discovered the same from the tenants. However the result is that I am to be permitted to assist.

One other discovery is that Bramlingham has a ghost! Mrs Rogers told me with some embarrassment that two of the maids have claimed to see a lady in a white dress in the tower, and that they will not enter it unaccompanied. I laughed, and suggested that if they wished to be accompanied they must take another woman in and definitely not a manservant.

Journal of David Markham,

December 25th Christmas day

At church today I was surprised to find the entire parish lining the path to the church, this being the custom on special feast days. Mr & Mrs Croft to dinner, the matter of our ghost was mentioned by someone, Charles I believe, which shocked our worthy vicar. He stated that there has never been any mention of a spectre here before my arrival. From his disparaging comments on modern novels he seemed to imply that the idea of a ghost had been suggested to my servants by Miss Bingham, who had been talking to Mrs Croft about the lack of fiction in the library here.

December 26th

I have seen the ghost! I was walking down the corridor that links the house to the tower and distinctly saw a woman in a pale dress in front of me. I didn’t think it was a servant and thus assumed it to be Miss B, at the end of the corridor she turned into the steward’s room, which was my goal as well. I entered and to my surprise found the room empty. I climbed the tower but there was no one in any of the rooms. On returning to the main house I found Miss B serving tea to her brother, she had been there for the past hour.

On relating my story I described the room as I had found it, then Charles said in surprise. ‘You say there was an estate map spread on the table, but I was in the room but an hour ago and there was nothing on the table but an old book of accounts.’ We immediately returned to the room and found the map spread out, it was an old one showing the park, a crude circle had been drawn round a clump of trees. On looking closely Charles said, ‘Ice House’, at this Miss Bingham commented, ‘Oh I didn’t know you had an Ice House?’

The ghost was forgotten in this discovery and I had to admit that I had no idea there was an Ice House on the estate, then to promise I would see about its condition and arrange for it to be filled with snow and ice this winter. I must admit I am surprised at finding that Miss B is becoming such an admirable chatelaine.

From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, December 29th 1779


I have made a great discovery, perhaps the first clue as to the fate of Mr W. I mentioned in my previous letter of the lack of any lighter reading matter in the library here. Old Mr W seems to have considered that sermons, histories and geographies were all a library needed, not one poem or novel! After Mr M’s encounter with our ghost I decided to have a closer look at the stewards room, Nancy, my maid, insisted on accompanying me to protect me from the spectre. The room was as you will imagine, lined with shelves whilst in the middle was a large table where account books or maps could be spread out for examination. The only interesting feature was an ancient fireplace covered in heraldic carvings, on examining it I saw several books on a shelf, with their backs to the wall, turning them round I found they included two volumes of poetry. Delighted with this discovery I returned to my parlour, and made the discovery. The first volume seemed to have no endpaper, but on feeling the cover I realise that the endpaper had been stuck down to form a pocket. The glue was weak and easily opened with a bodkin, inside was a sheet of paper. Opening it I read it twice before I realised what it was, it was a special licence, to allow the marriage of Mr George Williams to a Miss Dorothy Walgrave, dated just before the disappearance of Mr W. Does that mean a runaway marriage? Is he living in matrimonial bliss with his new wife?

Journal of David Markham,

December 29th

Charles and I examined the mound shown on the map which had been labelled Ice House. Two of the groundsmen remembered the Ice House being used several years ago, then abandoned. The mound was covered by a clump of trees, on the northern side was evidence of a brick arch, but the door which presumably gives access to the underground chamber is covered with soil and snow. I set the men clearing it, though I doubt the job will be complete until late tomorrow at the earliest.

Miss B has made a remarkable discovery, a special licence between Mr George Williams and a Miss Dorothy Walgrave. She had already questioned the servants by the time we had returned, but none had ever heard of Miss Walgrave. Tomorrow I will question the tenants while Miss B has volunteered to visit Mrs Croft who seems to be a fount of knowledge about the women of the parish.

History of the County Thomas Scott first edition 1754


The current vicar is The Rev. Philip Walgrave A.M. Cantab, who was installed September 10th 1752

Journal of David Markham,

December 30th

A very cold day, however the snow kept off and we were able to visit the village. We made no progress, but later Miss B thought to look in a volume of the county history in the library. It was written about twenty years previously and says that the incumbent at that time was a Phillip Walgrave. She also recollected that Mrs Croft had said that there used to be a descendent of an earlier vicar, a widow, who had lived in the village until a few years ago. Perhaps Miss Walgrave was a relation of hers. She has volunteered to return tomorrow to see if she can discover more.

December 31st

The snow began overnight, and in the morning it was blowing a blizzard. Over breakfast Miss B suddenly said, ‘Why hide the licence?’ Charles and I looked at her in surprise. She continued, ‘Why did he hide the licence, the church was here, the vicar would have married them without question, long before his father knew, if that was the reason he wanted to be married in haste.’ This puzzled us, then it came to me – Bateson. I searched through the papers Jaggers had sent me, there it was, the steward was sending regular reports on his son’s conduct to his father. It was being kept from Bateson. Naturally we decided to search the tower again, whilst I decided to go and question Bateson as soon as possible, I was sure a few guineas would persuade him to talk. But it was impossible to leave the house, so we made a further search of the tower, but found nothing. The snow eased by midday then, as Miss B was directing the servants in drawing the curtains and lighting the candles in the great parlour, one of the servants screamed.

‘The White Lady!’ and dropped the spill she was carrying. Miss B told her to be silent and return to the kitchen if she had nothing useful to do, then beckoned me over to the window. Across the snow, just in front of the dark clump that marked the Ice House stood a woman, she was just standing there, in a white dress.

‘Is she real?’ I asked, ‘If she is, then she is very inappropriately dressed for the weather.’ Miss B replied with delightful practicality.

From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, January 1st 1780

From the window I watched as Mr M walked across the snow towards the woman, she remained still, not moving. Then he suddenly stumbled and fell forward, I gave a cry, at that point Charles entered and asked what was happening. I glanced towards him and when I looked back I saw that the woman had vanished and Mr M was pulling at something in the snow. Charles ran out to help him. I followed to the hall where I waited for the men who returned a few minutes later carrying a body between them.

I was naturally startled, but on examination, now they had light to see, Mr M was able to identify the man as Bateson, the former steward, and to declare that he still lived. Two menservants carried him upstairs and put him in a bed, Mrs Rogers supplied hot bricks to warm him. Later Mr M said the woman seemed to be beckoning him on, and that after he stumbled over the body she vanished.

To be continued…..

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Filed under Georgian, Ghost story

The Ice House – A mystery for the New Year

After posting the last episode of my previous tale, my brother challenged me to write another tale, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it.


Some Legal Byways J T McGovan1897

Many unusual conditions were attached to wills, particularly during the eighteenth century. Perhaps the strangest was a requirement for the legatee to investigate a murder.


From David Markham to Charles Bingham, September 3rd 1779

Dear Charles

I must thank you for your great kindness which you did me last year, it has completely changed my fortunes from an impoverished minor gentleman into a great landowner. You are doubtless wondering what you did last year that has had such an effect. You will recall that I sent you a letter describing the eruption of Etna, which you forwarded to the Gentleman’s Magazine where it was published as An Account of the recent eruptions of Mount Etna described in a letter from a Gentleman to his Friend. Well, never can a friend’s idle action have had such an effect.

It appears that the letter was seen by my late uncle (I call him that though he was a very distant relation) who then decided to make me his heir, as I was apparently ‘the only member of my family to show any interest in anything other than wasting money, gambling or whoreing’ which is pretty hard on my other uncle the Bishop!. The first intimation I had of my good fortune was a letter from his lawyer which reached me in Vienna. I am now the owner of Bramlingham, and much else beside. So we are now neighbours, as there is but forty miles between us. There is a curious condition in the will which I will show you when we next meet, which will hopefully be within a few weeks.


Extract from the will of Ebenezer Williams, dated December 1st 1778

Within one year of my decease, or of his arrival in England if he be abroad when I die, he shall discover or cause to be discovered, the fate of my poor son, of whom no word has been heard these past four years. If he succeeds the estate of Bramlingham will pass to him unconditionally and the rest of my property will be disposed of in the way indicated in the enclosed document A, if he fails he is to receive one hundred pounds for his trouble and nothing more.


Letter from Nathanial Jaggers to David Markham

You asked what was known about the disappearance of George Williams? Unfortunately many of the relevant documents seem to have been destroyed by your uncle and my predecessor. All I know is this.

George Williams seems to have been a young gentleman of considerable abilities, he left Cambridge in the autumn of 1773 and was sent by his father to Bramlingham in order to learn something of the management of the considerable property of which he was the heir. From letters from the steward my predecessor made the following notes. He was well regarded locally and as a result spent some time visiting neighbours over Christmas, returning home in early January he seemed very distressed and uneasy. The following day he was seen to leave the house late in the afternoon when the light was beginning to fade. A servant reported that he saw him from an upstairs window ride from the stables, which lie to the west of the house, across the park to the south, where he disappeared into the gloom.

His horse was found on the far side of the park the following day, extensive searches were made for Mr Williams then and subsequently when the snow had gone, but no trace has been found of him, then or later.

You also enquire what will happen if he be found alive, as he would be heir to the estate of Bramlingham. First the late Mr Williams was convinced that his son would never be found alive, but if he be alive suitable provision has been made for you both.


From David Markham to Charles Bingham, December 4th 1779


I have been at Bramlingham for just over a sennight and find myself overwhelmed with my duties, almost immediately I had to dismiss the steward. I was suspicious as to his probity from the lack of ready accounts for the estate, and then yesterday I found he had given orders to evict a woman and her family from her cottage, when I chided him for doing so, especially considering the present cold weather, he replied that he had been very compassionate in not evicting them whilst her husband still lived, he was sick of a fever, and had allowed her to bury him before ordering him from her home.

He grew abusive and made veiled threats, but has removed to a small cottage, not unfortunately from the village. My removal of the steward has increased my popularity locally, it seems my uncle and his agent were not much liked in the village, but it has increased my labours as I am without any assistance.

So I am calling upon our ancient friendship, will you come to me in my hour of need? On the other matter I have made little advance, though here too you can help me. Upon your journey you will pass through Cambridge. Can you call on any of your college acquaintances and enquire as to George Williams, I am aware that they will have no knowledge of his whereabouts, but may be able to provide some information as to his character. If I am to hunt down Mr Williams I need to know more of my quarry.


From David Markham to Charles Bingham, December 9th 1779

I am delighted you will be able to accept my offer, and of course your sister will be most welcome. Had I realised she was at home I would naturally have included her in the invitation.


From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, December 15th 1779


I write for the first time from Bramlingham, the house is a curious mixture of old and new. To one side is a tall brick tower, built like a castle, then a modern house has been added on. So different it is almost like old and new houses in a street. The rooms in the tower are mostly large, cold and inconvenient and only used for storage, though one upon the lower floor was used by the departed steward for storing documents. The modern house is as comfortable as possible, apparently our hosts uncle had the house built and fitted out, then took a dislike to it and never lived in it! Also in conversation with the housekeeper I find I am the first gentlewoman who has stayed in the house for over thirty years, I feel like the new bride in Bluebeard’s castle, though anyone less like Bluebeard than our host cannot be imagined.

I had met him one before, when he visited our parents, but he left for the continent where he has been these last two years. He was charming but distant when I first met him, he is still charming but now has an air of constant harassment. I suppose it is the round of duties that have fallen upon him as he entered into an estate for which he was completely unprepared. Charles and I do what we can to help.

We are also trying to help with the other business, in my last I described the unusual conditions of his inheritance, if he cannot succeed he will lose the house. Charles has discovered that the appellation ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ may indeed have been an apt name for the house in the past. He called upon several friends in Cambridge when we stopped there, and has discovered that the mysterious George Williams was in fact sent down, as the saying is, for disreputable activities. The menfolk tried to keep the details from me but I have discovered, ask me not how, that he was caught with two women of no reputation in his rooms in college!

This of course throws a new light upon the missing cousin which I shall hope to elucidate tomorrow, I will go and visit several of the women in the village, beginning with the vicar’s wife. I suspect that no one asked the local women when they were searching for Mr W, and anyway they are unlikely to tell a man what they know anyway.


To be continued…..


Filed under Georgian, Ghost story

THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 5

Monday December 26th 1814

The morning was crisp and bright, the Squire and the Rector were watching as the tree was removed from the pond. The estate woodsmen had cut the stump clear and now three teams of horses had been chained to the tree and were in the process of dragging it clear of the water. Ice cracked as the horses strained, slowly it began to move.

The gentlemen were distracted as a post chaise stopped on the road behind them. A tall gentleman in a long brown coat stepped out, he walked over to see them.

“Excuse me gentlemen, can you direct me to two ladies of the name of Beddoes.”

Sir Thomas looked the brown man up and down and asked.

“Is this to do with Mr David Beddoes?”

The man looked surprised, “What do you know of Mr Beddoes?”

“Only what I have read in the newspapers, and that he is Miss Beddoes cousin.” He paused, then continued. “Allow me to introduce myself, I am Sir Thomas Scott and this is the Reverend Edward Grainger, we are the local magistrates and well acquainted with the Miss Beddoes.”

“Excellent, I am John Shallard, an officer from Bow Street, and I have come to enquire if the Miss Beddoes have any knowledge of their cousin, we believe he came here at the end of November.”

“I believe he did too.” Replied the Rector, “But do not stand out here in the cold, come into the Rectory and we will tell you all we know, then we can visit the Miss Beddoes in their cottage.”

They had just turned away from the pond when there was a shout, they turned to see a man running towards them.

“Rector,” he panted, “in the pond, I fear ‘tis a body.”

“I feared as much,” he replied, then turning to the Runner, “Come with us sir, I am afraid what we find may be of use to you in your enquiries.”

Down by the pond there was a mass of clothing bobbing in the water.

“Go and get the thatch hook from the church, that should reach. I don’t want any of you going in this water.” ordered the Rector. Shortly afterwards two men came running back carrying the long wooden pole with a hook at one end, used for pulling burning thatch from a building. It took three tries before the hook caught on the bundle and it was dragged to shore.

“It’s not one body, it’s two!” shouted one of the men.

The Rector murmured a quiet prayer as Mr Shallard bent and looked at the bodies. They seemed to be wrapped together, he stood up.

“Gentlemen, this is the strangest thing I have ever seen. These bodies are tightly wrapped together, as though one was holding onto the other. However that cannot be as one body has been dead for some time, the other but a little while.”

The Rector and Sir Thomas looked down, at the same time they said, “Michael Scott!”

“Michael Scott,” said the Bow Street Runner, “I know him as Mr Frank Gifford, he had rooms in the same building as Beddoes and Smyth. Do you know who the other man is?”

The face was horribly distorted, both the gentlemen shook their heads, then Dr Gardiner said.

“The buttons on his coat, they are missing.”

“Does that mean something?” Asked the Runner, he eased the coat open and pulled out a watch. Sir Thomas held his hand out, and looked at it closely. He showed it to the Rector, then said.

“This watch bears the monogram of David Beddoes. I suspect the body is his.”

“But why should the body of David Beddoes, who has been dead for at least a month, be grasping the body of Frank Gifford or Michael Scott, who is only recently dead?”

Summer 1815

Sir Thomas and Dr Grainger sat on a bench in his garden, looking across the village green. A flock of geese and three goats grazed peacefully.

“Where has Lady Scott taken my wife?” Asked the Rector , “She seemed so agitated, as though there was no time to lose.”

“She and Charlotte have taken your wife to Stanton House, apparently there is some problem with the colour of the cloth for the curtains in the great parlour. They are meeting the linen draper there.”

“Poor man, I pity him.” Dr Grainger paused, “The house will be ready well before the wedding.”

“I never thought it would be James that wanted to postpone the wedding, though I admire him for it. Wanting to be ordained and the Rector of Stanton before they marry.”

They looked across towards the pond again, it was covered with little white flowers.

“As though it was covered in snow,” said Sir Thomas, he paused, “do you ever wonder what happened that night?”

The Rector was silent for a moment, then he leant forward and spoke quietly, “When the door opened, I was the only one who could see clearly. For a moment I saw Michael Scott, I will never forget the terror in his eyes, then he was pulled backwards, and the door slammed.”

“Pulled, who by?” said his friend quietly.

“All I could see were arms round his body – they seemed to be made of snow.”

It suddenly seemed very cold.



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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 4

Sunday December 25th 1814

The Rev Edward Grainger scraped the ice off the parlour window to see that snowflakes were already falling from a leaden sky, the snowman was back where it had been. As on all communion Sundays he walked over to the church well before the rest of his family, though this time he was accompanied by James. As they placed the vessels on the end of the communion table James said.

“It does seem a pity not to use them more often.”

“True, but the rubric says that communion should be offered four times a year.”

“But could it not be offered more often?”

“That I do not know, perhaps at Oxford they could tell you, but now pass me the wine.”

They completed the preparations, as the villagers began to gather outside the church. Seeing them waiting for the squire the Rector walked to the door.

“Come in, Come in. Sir Thomas will not want you to freeze outside.”

The villagers looked uncertain, then the carriage from the manor arrived, as Sir Thomas got out he shook his head.

“For goodness sake, why didn’t you wait in the church, it is much too cold out here.” He took his wife’s arm as she stepped down from the carriage. As Charlotte stepped down, James stepped forward and offered his arm. The villagers cheered, Caleb led Sir Thomas and his family to their pew, as he took his place in the lower desk of the pulpit he said.

“It is good to have a proper service on Christmas day, it is a long time since it last happened.”

“I hope you see many more.” Replied the Rector sitting down at the middle desk. Then he opened his prayer book and the service commenced.

As serving communion to the village, and this time it seemed that everybody was there, took a long time, his sermon was very short, little more than half an hour. Despite this it was well after noon that they left the church. The wind had risen and it was blowing a blizzard, Caleb was organising the men to make sure everybody, especially the women and children, got home safely. Sir Thomas’s coachman came up.

“I am sorry sir, but a branch has come down at the entrance to the park, it will be some time before we can get it clear.”

“Then come across to the Rectory, you can shelter there.”

They struggled across the green, as they passed the snowman Frances stopped for a moment.

“I think he is watching, like a cat.”

“I don’t like him, come away.” Said Mary, pulling on her sister’s arm.

“Oh, he’s not dangerous, at least not to us.” She replied, following her sister into the warmth of the Rectory.

The entire party were settled in the parlour, drinking mulled wine, when the housekeeper came in.

“Pardon sir, but it is time to carve the beef.”

“Oh, I had forgotten, the dinner for the poor men and women, they will be waiting for me in the kitchen.” He made to rise, when his wife stopped him.

“Why not let James do it this year.” She said with a smile, her husband nodded. James rose and followed the housekeeper. As the door shut Lady Scott looked to her daughter.

“Why don’t you go and help him.” Smiling Charlotte sprang to her feet and ran after James, as she reached the door Lady Scott called after her, “Parson’s wife in training.” Everybody laughed, Charlotte turned and curtsied to her mother, her face full of humour.

In the kitchen the twelve old people ate heartily, as Charlotte served one old gentlemen with plum pudding he asked.

“Pardon me miss, but is it true that you are betrothed to Master James?”

Charlotte blushed and nodded, the man raised his tankard and said.

“Good luck to you both, when I was a boy I saw your grandfather marry, when I was a man I danced at your father’s wedding, and now, if I am spared, I will see your wedding.”

“I pray that I can serve you with bride cake on our wedding day.” Said Charlotte with a gentle smile.

Back in the parlour, Sir Thomas watched his daughter leave and turned to Dr Grainger.

“Have you realised that over the past few days we seemed to have been following two stories?”

His friend nodded, “the love affair between our children,” He looked out of the window, though it was just after two it was already quiet dark. “And the other matter.”

“Yes.” Replied the squire, “I can see where one will end, a wedding and a new family in Stanton Lacy. But the other one, of David Beddoes and Michael Scott, I cannot see where that will end.”

“Not happily I think, and there is also the matter of the snowman.” Finally he told Sir Thomas of what he had seen, his friend was silent. The reverie was ended by a distant, muffled bell, Dr Grainger rose.

“Caleb is ringing for evening prayers, you need not come, on a night like this I cannot expect it of anyone.”

Surprisingly it was Frances who said.

“I will come, I think it would be best if we all went, I am not sure what will be about tonight and I think I would prefer to be in the church.”

Lady Scott rose, “Then we shall all go.” Charlotte and James came up from the kitchen, and shortly after the entire party were struggling across the green. Halfway across Charlotte suddenly gasped.

“Where is the snowman?”

They looked around, it had gone. Remembering what the Rector had said, Sir Thomas refused to stop, but hurried his party towards the church. They had almost got there when there was a screaming neigh and a horse galloped out of the driving snow, almost knocking James and Charlotte to the ground. Frances screamed and fell, she was picked up by her father and hurried into the church.

“Who was that?” gasped Lady Scott and Mrs Grainger together, “I think it was Mr Scott,” replied Charlotte.”

Lady Scott took Frances from her husband and stroked the girl’s hair, her bonnet had fallen off in the rush.

“It’s all right, he can’t hurt you here.” She said soothingly. Frances looked at her with wide, dark eyes.

“Oh, it wasn’t him, it was what was after him.”

“What was it?” her mother asked concerned, but Frances wouldn’t answer.

The church was full, in spite of the terrible weather most of the village seemed to have felt as Frances had, that it was best, or perhaps safest, to be in church. The service began, following its traditional course. The Rector had climbed into the high pulpit, the clearer to be heard over the storm outside. Below him old Caleb led the responses with a shout, the congregation did their best to follow him as they cowered in the high pews, lit by the guttering candles on their iron frames.

“Lord, have mercy upon us.” intoned the Rector.

“Christ, have mercy upon us.” Said the clerk, and waited for the congregation to follow him.

At that moment the west door burst open and for a second a figure could be seen standing there.

“Christ, have mercy upon ME!” it screamed, then most of the candles were blown out and the door slammed shut.

“Lord, have mercy upon him.” Said the Rector quietly.

There were screams and shouts in the church, and it was several minutes before there was calm. The churchwardens walked down the aisle lighting the candles. No one touched the door, no one wanted to go outside to see what had happened to the man who had screamed. With the church lit again the service resumed, the storm continued to beat on at the windows, the congregation sat in nervous silence until Caleb announced

“The Third Collect, for Aid against all Perils.”

“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord” said the Rector , and paused as, outside, the clouds parted and bright moonlight poured into the church. Shaken he continued, “by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” And the wind dropped outside and there was silence.

The service came to its conclusion, the congregation rose politely as the Rector and his family, and Sir Thomas and his, walked down the aisle. There were smiling nods and winks as Charlotte held tight to James’s arm. Outside Sir Thomas stopped and gasped, the tree beside the pond had fallen, the top branches had smashed thorough the ice into the water. Beside it there was no trace of the snowman. As they walked back to the Rectory, the squires younger daughters laughed, almost skipped, as they slid on the frozen ground, the tension that had gripped the village for the past few days, seemed to have faded. The coachman was waiting for them.

“The drive is open now sir,” he said.

“Then we will go,” Turning back to the Rector he said, “I will return tomorrow, I feel there might be something to see at the pond. And tomorrow afternoon I would like you all to come and dine with us, we have something to celebrate.”

He looked to his daughter, then turned away with a smile, as she was being gently kissed by James.


To be continued



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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 3

Saturday December 24th 1814

Sir Thomas was as good as his word and arrived at the Rectory early the next morning. He was shown into the Rector’s study where he found Dr Grainger and his son polishing the church plate.

“So was any of it damaged?”

“The chalice was bent sir, but I have been able to straighten it out enough to use tomorrow, though it will need to be sent to a silversmith. The worse damage was to the flagon, the lid has come off.”

Sir Thomas patted his future son-in-law on the shoulder.

“My great grandmother gave the plate to the church nearly a hundred years ago, and I will happily pay for the repairs, after all the damage was caused in a very good cause.” He patted James again, “in fact the best of causes.” He then sat down in one of the chairs by the fire and turned to the Rector.

“Is there any news of that blaggard Scott?”

“No, Sir Thomas, I had the constable carry out a search in the village but nothing was found, thought in this weather there are several barns and outbuildings it was difficult to get to last night, they will search again today.”

“Well he made no attempt to return to the Manor to fetch his things, and I have got the groundsmen searching the park. Do you think he is still here?”

“He hasn’t left on the turnpike either, neither of the toll keepers saw a single rider yesterday.” He picked up a newspaper, “This was the paper you gave me the other day. There is an item in it which may be significant, a robbery in London, did you notice it?”

“Only vaguely, what is it?”

The Rector put on his glasses and began to read.

‘Mysterious Robbery. A most strange occurrence has been reported at the house of Beddoes and Smyth, East India Merchants, Henrietta Street. Mr John Smyth, junior partner, returned to the house on the 15th inst having been the previous month in Paris, visiting several merchant houses in that city which is now open following the much longed for peace. He was much surprised to find his partner, Mr David Beddoes absent, and his clerk unaware of his current location. According to the clerk Mr Beddoes had left the office at the end of November, intending to visit relations in the country, and had not returned, not having the address of these relations he had been unable to contact him. Mr Smyth now entered their joint office, which was locked and to which he and Mr Beddoes had the only keys. All seemed in order, but on opening the strongbox, banknotes to the value of £110 were found to be missing. Whilst Mr Beddoes could have taken them, Mr Smyth was concerned and, on communicating with his bank, discovered that one of the notes had been cashed in Bristol at the beginning of this month. As the firm has no business in that city, Mr Smyth communicated the facts as he knew them to the Magistrates at Bow Street. A search is now under way for Mr David Beddoes.’

“Beddoes, do you think it is anything to do with our Miss Beddoes?”

“Well they did say their cousin was called David. Why don’t we ask them?”

“Good idea.” Sir Thomas paused and then said, “Where did you say the banknote was passed?” Dr Grainger, picked up the paper, “Bristol”, he said.

“That’s strange.” Replied Sir Thomas, “I am sure I saw something from Bristol in Mr Scott’s bags when he arrived.” He thought for a moment, then said.

“James, will you ride to the Manor and bring back Mr Scott’s bags, whilst your father and I go and see Miss Beddoes and her sister.”

James had just set off, Sir Thomas smiling to see him go.

“I think he will be looking for excuses to ride to the Manor all the time now.”

Dr Grainger bent to pick up the newspaper then said suddenly “DB”

“DB?” said Sir Thomas puzzled.

“Yes the buttons, the buttons that appeared on the snowman, they had a monogram on them. I cleaned one, it’s here somewhere.”

He turned over various papers on his table, eventually pulling out one.

“I cannot see it now, but here is a tracing I did of the button. Look at the pattern doesn’t it look like an interlaced D & B.”

“I see, we had better bring that too, see if the Miss Beddoes can identify it.”

Wrapped up in their coats they walked across the green, they stopped by the snowman.

“Those are the buttons I was talking about.” Dr Grainger pointed, then gasped.

“What is it?” asked Sir Thomas.

“The buttons, there were eight and I removed one. There are eight now, where did the other one come from.”

Sir Thomas bent and looked at the buttons, then he gasped.

“Look at the bottom one, it is clean. It is as though the one you took and cleaned has come back.”

“Magic, just like Miss Fanny said.” The Rector paused, then said, “Good Lord. Michael Scott, I wonder.”

“What is it?”

“Your daughter said she had read the name Michael Scott in a story by Sir Walter Scott, I wonder if your guest had read the same book.”

“You mean it was an alias?”

“Perhaps, but no more now.”

They had arrived at the cottage where the Miss Beddoes lived, they were welcomed effusively and shown into the tiny, warm parlour. They had to wait until the maid had brought tea before they were able to ask them about their cousin. When they read the article they were shocked.

“What can have happened to cousin David? He is always so careful”

“Have you ever met his partner, Mr Smyth?” asked Sir Thomas.

“Yes, David brought him here last summer. They had been going somewhere on business. Mr Smyth is a delightful young man, he is Scotch and he read Marmion so beautifully. He said we should hear it in a Scottish accent as that is how Sir Walter had written it.”

Miss Henrietta handed the Rector a second cup of tea, he looked at the cup and said.

“This is very fine china.”

“Oh yes,” Miss Henrietta replied. “Cousin David gave it to us.”

“He had it specially made. He sent all the way to China.” Added her sister.

“And two years later the set arrived.”

“It has a special mark, made of his initials.”

Both Sir Thomas and the Rector recognised the design, it was the one on the buttons, now decorating the snowman. It was as they walked back across the green that Sir Thomas suddenly said.

“The hat! You said that Mr Scott was very upset about the hat?”

“Yes, he seemed to think that Miss Frances had done something devious.”

“Well do you remember what Miss Beddoes said at the party, when she said she had thought she had seen her cousin with Mr Scott. She said he was wearing an old hat trimmed with white lace.”

He pointed at the snowman’s head, crowned with the old tricorn.

“An old hat trimmed with white lace.” Said the Rector, he turned to look at the pond.

“I think it ought to be dragged when it thaws.” Said Sir Thomas quietly.

“Until then I don’t think we should say anything of our suspicions.”

Sir Thomas nodded.

As they returned to the Rectory, James was at the Manor house. Charlotte met him with a broad smile.

“James, mama has just told me the most amazing thing. It is about Stanton Lacy.”

“Yes my love, will you like living in the Rectory there.”

“I would live anywhere with you, but it is not the Rectory where I think we will be living but at Stanton House.”

“Stanton House?”

“Yes, Stanton House, you see it is mine, all of Stanton Lacy is mine, or will be when we marry.”

James sat down on a hall chair shocked.

“You see it belonged to my grandmother, she left it to me, to come to me, on my marriage.”

James suddenly smiled.

“You realise that our parents have been planning everything, the living for me, the manor for you.”

It was some time before they went to find Lady Scott.

Michael Scott’s bags were already packed, but the sky was getting dark as James prepared to return to his father. Before he did so the head gamekeeper arrived with news that someone had been seen in the far coverts.

“Do you think it is that villain?” Lady Scott asked.

“Well it is certainly not poachers,” he grinned, “The best poachers in the village are helping us search.”

Charlotte suddenly clutched James’s arm.

“Will you be safe getting back to the village, and will father be safe coming back here?”

“Well, he certainly will have a grudge against the young master.” The gamekeeper smiled approvingly at James. “Can I suggest that Bob Smith rides with him when he returns.”

“Bob Smith?” said Charlotte.

“Head groom, also used to be Corporal in the Militia and went ten rounds with Black William.”

“An old soldier and a prizefighter, a perfect companion in the circumstances.” Said Lady Scott.

The sun was getting low in the sky as they rode into the village, all was peaceful, they had seen no sign of Michael Scott. When Sir Thomas and the Rector looked through his belongings there was no further clue, though a bill clearly indicated that he, or someone called Frank Gifford, had been in Bristol in early December.

“I don’t think there is anything more we can do.” Said the Rector, “We will keep a watch out for Michael Scott, and on Monday write to Bow Street.”

Sir Thomas rode home, accompanied by Bob Smith, and the Rectory family settled down for the evening. Later the singers came round, and they stood in the window to listen to them, after they finished ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’ the Rector sent them round to the kitchen where they were well filled with spiced ale before heading home.

They were still singing the same carol as they left the Rectory, the Rector watched as they walked along the road and around the green, clearly the villagers also feared the snowman. He suddenly realised they were repeating the same verse.

Fear not, then said the Angel,

Let nothing you affright,

This day is born a Saviour,

Of virtue, power, and might,

So frequently to vanquish all

The friends of Satan quite.


At that point the moon came out from behind the cloud, it was nearly full and very bright. The snowman had gone, looking around he saw it, on the far end of the green, standing at the end of the drive that led to the manor. That night he checked the locks on the doors twice.


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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 2

Friday December 23rd 1814

The Rev Edward Grainger was eating a boiled egg and sipping tea, the Squire’s copy of the Morning Chronicle was open on the table.

“How curious,” he said, lifting his head he realised that all his family had finished breakfast and left the table. He rapidly finished his tea, discovering that it was now ice cold. He knew his wife, would probably be involved in planning the dinner for Sunday, he followed the old traditions of the village and gave dinner to six poor men and six poor women at Christmas.

He guessed his children had already left the house so he put on his coat and walked towards the green, as he left his gate he saw that there were several people standing around the snowman. As he approached Charles, his younger son ran across to him.

“Come and look father, the snowman, it must be magic.”

He walked up, the snowman stood there as it had done yesterday. He saw his elder son with the girls from the manor, all sensibly wrapped up in thick cloaks with fur muffs, accompanied by Miss Grey their governess.

“James, what is this about a magic snowman then?”

“It’s not magic, it is just very strange. Yesterday the head was facing towards the Rectory, now it is looking across the green towards the park.”

“Perhaps the men knocked it when they moved the tree branches,” The Rector looked around at the disturbed snow, showing traces of where the branches had been moved and cut up the day before.

“But the branches had all been removed by the time we had finished.”

“And what about the buttons?” added Charles. The Rector looked closer at the snowman, down the front were a row of large brass buttons. “They were pebbles yesterday.”

“And they won’t come out.” Added Frances, the youngest of the three girls, “I think it is our cousin, perhaps he really is a wizard.”

The Rector touched the buttons, they were covered with a layer of ice. Only the bottom one could be prised loose, he looked at it, it was very muddy and discoloured but he thought he could make out a monogram.

“I am afraid there is no magic here my dear.” He smiled at Miss Grey. “They are covered in ice and frozen onto the snowman. Also look how dirty they are, I think they must have been on an old coat or something similar that had been lost in the pond. They were probably dragged out yesterday by the branches, someone found them last night and thought they would look good on the snowman. They have got initials on them, I will take this and get it cleaned, my wife may well recognise it.” He paused and looked at Frances. “But what was that about Mr Scott.”

The girl blushed bright red and buried her face in her muff, her elder sister replied for her.

“Fanny thinks Mr Scott is a wizard because there is a wizard called Michael Scot in one of Sir Walter Scott’s stories.”

“I don’t think so my dear.” Said the Rector kindly, “there may have been wizards in Scotland hundreds of years ago, but not in Berkshire today.”

“But he is still a horrid man.” Said Frances defiantly. Eager to change the subject the Rector turned to Charlotte.

“You young ladies must be feeling very cold, why don’t you go to the Rectory and get warm.”

“But isn’t mama getting ready for the dinner on Sunday, the one for the poor people?” Said Charles.

“Then we can help.” Said Charlotte, turning towards the Rectory.

“Parson’s wife in training.” Said Mary to Frances, as they followed their sister. Dr Grainger could see that both Charlotte and James were blushing. As the young men turned to follow the girls he said.

“James, will you come with me to the church, I want you to help me see that everything is ready for Sunday.”

An early nineteenth century decorated church

Slightly reluctantly he followed his father across the frozen green. The church door was open and inside Caleb Smith was standing by a ladder, holding up a branch of holly to his son, who was putting the greenery along the ledge that ran along the bottom of the gallery.

“Still putting up the greenery then.” Said the Rector with a smile.

“T’is the old way sir. I know you don’t care for it but I hope you won’t be stopping it.”

“Oh no, Caleb, I have no wish to stop it. You can keep putting up the decorations as long as you are sexton.” Then, as he turned to walk up towards the communion table, he said quietly to his son, “Though, when he is gone, I doubt there will be anybody who will wish to continue with the tradition. In a few years there will be no more Christmas decorations in the parish.”

“I don’t know.” Replied his son, “I rather like it, and I know Charlotte – Miss Scott likes it as well.”

“Then when you have your own parish, you can decorate your own church.” Said his father with a smile.

“But that will be many years in the future, I know how hard it is to get a living, to get to the point where I can support myself.” He followed his father into the small vestry, where they took the communion plate from a strongbox.

“This will need polishing before tomorrow, we will take it back to the Rectory.” James said, stepping back towards the door. His father stopped him.

“You will be ordained next year, and as soon as you feel that you are capable of taking over a parish then the living of Stanton Lacy is yours.”

“But isn’t that one of your livings, father.”

“No, I am nominally the Rector, but have been holding it for you for the past seven years. The living is in the gift of Sir Thomas and this has been done with his full consent. Both he and I want you to be the Rector of Stanton Lacy.”

“But,” James sat on the tiny wooden chair, his father smiled down at him. He looked stunned, before he could recover himself his father launched another broadside.

“And of course there is Miss Scott.”

“Charlotte, what do you mean?”

“Well, you will shock the entire parish if you tell me you don’t love and want to marry her.”

“The entire parish thinks I want to marry her, everybody, her parents?”

“Of course, especially her parents.”

James was now so pale his father thought he might faint.

“Well, do you love her, do you want to marry her?”

“Of course I do, but I never thought I could, she is a baronet’s daughter. What will her father say if I asked for her?”

“He will probably say yes, but ask you not to get married for a few years, not until you are settled.”

“Oh,” James paused, “What should I do then?”

“Go and talk to Miss Scott now, tell her all I have told you, then I suggest you return to the Manor House with her and talk to her father. I am sure you will find it easier than you think.”

They left the church by the side door and had reached the churchyard gate when they heard a scream. Across the green they saw several people around the snowman, their bright red cloaks showing that some of the girls from the Manor were there, as was a man on horseback. James ran fast across the frozen ground, his father following as fast as he could.

As he approached James could see that the man on horseback was Michael Scott, he was threatening Mary and Frances with his crop, there was no sign of Charlotte. Charles was standing in front of the girls, trying to protect them.

“I will ask again, where did you get the damn hat?” he pointed at the snowman, the Rector saw that it now boasted a battered tricorn hat, the colour had probably once been blue, with light coloured lace along the top edges.

“I just found it by the pond,” sobbed Frances, “And Charles put it on the snowman.”

“Don’t lie, you knew what you are doing, he gave it to you, didn’t he? Tell the truth?” Scott lashed down at the two girls.

“Stop that.” Shouted James, and swung at him with the bag he was carrying. The heavy communion plate hit his arm and he swung sideways, dropping his riding crop. His horse stepped a few paces to one side, Charles bent down and picked up his fallen crop and struck the side of his horse. It neighed and cantered a few paces away from the group. As Mr Scott regained control he turned the horse back to see Dr Grainger and James standing in front of the children.

“Leave here and never return.” The Rector shouted, then he turned his back on the rider and looked at the two girls.

“Are either of you hurt?”

“No sir.” Replied Mary, who was still holding her sister. “He struck at us and missed, then Fanny screamed and James came running.” She smiled at him. He was looking at the bag, aghast.

“Father, I think I have dented the cup. I am afraid I have damaged the communion plate.”

“Don’t worry, everyone even the archbishop would praise you for what you did. But now, let’s get into the Rectory. The girls mustn’t stand outside any longer.”

As they walked up the path the door opened and Mrs Grainger and Charlotte ran out, Miss Grey a few paces behind them. Charlotte wrapped her arms round her sisters and Mrs Grainger wrapped hers round her sons. From the look Charlotte gave James, it was clear that she would have much preferred wrapping her arms round him.

A few minutes later, sitting in the warm parlour, the girls sipping hot drinks Dr Grainger looked at his sons and said.

“The girls cannot walk back across the park now, it is not only getting dark but they are too shocked to do so. James, will you ride to the manor and let Sir Thomas know what has happened and ask him to send the carriage.”

The boys went to harness the horse and, a few minutes later James was riding as fast as he dare on the frozen ground. It wasn’t long before he strode through the front door of the Manor House, only to be greeted by a frightened Lady Scott.

“What has happened? My girls, are they all right?”

“Everybody is all right, they are all at the Rectory.”

At that point Sir Thomas entered, asking exactly the same questions. Now James was able to tell his story, only to be interrupted twice, first by Sir Thomas shouting an order to his servants to bar the house to Michael Scott, then to order the carriage. After James had finished his story he was embraced by Lady Scott whilst Sir Thomas shook him firmly by the hand.

There was no possibility of the carriage going to collect the girls without Lady Scott so Sir Thomas and James waited in the hall whilst she got her cloak and bonnet. Sir Thomas smiled at James.

“I must thank you again for protecting my daughters.”

“I was happy I was able to do so.” He paused, took a deep breath and added. “I would like to continue to protect them, particularly Charlotte.”

Sir Thomas tried to look stern, and failed. “I suppose I should ask you what your prospects are, but I suppose I know that better than you.”

“You mean Stanton Lacy?”

“Yes, when did you learn about it? I know your father hadn’t told you yesterday.”

“He told me this afternoon, just before he told me that everybody knew that Charlotte and I were in love, and suggested that I should talk to you”

“What did you say to that?”

“Nothing, because that was when we heard Fanny scream so I left my father and ran to protect them.”

“Now how can I refuse my consent to the man who left his own father in those circumstances to help my daughters.” He smiled, “I would prefer if you had a long engagement, as Charlotte is very young, but with three women involved I don’t think you and I will have any choice in the matter.”

James looked dazed, he hadn’t expected it to be so easy.

“Three women?”

“Your mother and my wife, they have been planning Charlotte’s and your wedding for years, and I am sure that Charlotte will want to have her say as well. All you should do is sit back and say, ‘Yes Dear’, I have found that is always the best idea.”

“What’s a good idea?” Asked his wife who had just returned to the hall. Sir Thomas handed his wife into the carriage before replying.

“Oh, James had just asked permission to marry Charlotte.”

James, sitting opposite, was amazed at her reaction, she sprang to her feet, just as the carriage bumped on a frozen rut, and fell half across her husband. He burst out laughing.

“There’s no need to react so violently. It’s all right, I refused of course.”

“Refused, how could you,” she burst out, “when that is what Elizabeth and I have been planning for years.” Then she saw her husband’s laughing face and sat back, smiling at James.

As soon as they arrived Lady Scott ran into the Rectory and went straight into the parlour. Mary, Frances and Charles were seated at a table by the fire, playing spillikins. Miss Grey was quietly reading.

“Where is Charlotte?” she demanded.

“She is with Mrs Grainger, they are looking at the clothing that will be going to the Alms House for Christmas.”

“Parson’s wife in training.” Said Mary, her mother smiled and said, “Quite right.”

Mary looked stunned as Charlotte entered to be embraced by her mother, then everybody entered and there were explanations, congratulations, mulled wine and happiness, in the midst of all this everybody seemed to have forgotten the reason that the carriage had been sent to pick up the girls.

Sir Thomas remembered as all his womenfolk were climbing into the carriage. He bent down to the Rector and said.

“I want to talk about this, I will come tomorrow, will that be all right?”

“Of course,” his friend replied.

As the carriage drove away he looked across the green. He was certain now, the snowman had moved, it was half way across the green. He felt very cold, and it was not from the hard frost.


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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 1

Last year I was challenged to write a Regency ghost story, and this is the result. My brother kindly posted it on his blog (I wasn’t blogging then) and has just re-blogged it here. I have decided to publish it here as well, so read on.

The Snowman (Robert Johnson circa 1790)  later engraved by Thomas Bewick


Thursday December 22nd 1814

That morning the Rev Edward Grainger scraped the ice off his study window and looked across his garden towards the village. His garden, in which he spent a great deal of time in more clement weather, dipped down towards the road, on the other side of which was the wide village green, and beyond that the church. This morning however something was different, he looked closer and realised that the tree beside the pond, which had been frozen since late November, had split in two, one half still stood, the other had fallen into the pond and smashed the ice.

Pulling on his coat, he walked down the path and across the green to where several men were standing around the fallen tree.

“Morning Sir.” Caleb Smith, the sexton, touched his hat. “T’would be the cold did it, I suppose.”

“I am sure you are right.” The Rector replied, “The squire told me the other day that several trees in the new plantation had lost branches in the past few weeks.”

“It would be easy enough to get the wood out of the pond, two pair of horses could do it. But what would become of the timber.”

“Well, it would be no good for anything other than firewood. The tree belongs to the parish, so I suggest that the wood goes to the alms house.” He smiled at the old sexton. “I am sure that you can find the men to cut the wood, the parish will pay.” Adding, “As it will be cold work, send the men to the Rectory kitchen afterwards, there will be hot ale for all.”

Smiling the sexton began rounding up the men. As the Rector turned back towards his house his two sons, just returned from school and university for the holidays, came running out towards him. They looked at the smashed ice on the pond.

“Sorry lads,” the sexton said, “There is no way you can skate today, t’will be a day or two before the ice is thick enough to skate on again.”

“That’s all right.” said James, the eldest, “We were going to build a snowman anyway.”

An hour later he saw that his sons had organised the rest of the village boys, to build a large snowman beside the path that crossed the green, as the dusk came on it looked very realistic, just like a large man in a greatcoat looking towards the Rectory.

That evening the Rector, accompanied by his wife and elder son, drove across the park to the Manor House. Sir Thomas had sent his carriage to bring the Rectory family, together with the Misses Beddoes, the daughters of the previous Rector, who lived in a cottage beside the church. The Rev. Grainger often joked that their home was more convenient for the church than the Rectory, which always made them giggle.

Lights from the manor house shone across the frozen snow of the park as they approached, the cold was bitter, the hot bricks that they had been given as they began their short journey were now ice cold. Their welcome was warm enough to disperse the cold, Lady Scott loved entertaining and was always looking for a reason to hold a party, and Christmas gave her the perfect excuse for bringing together all the neighbouring families. Most of the people gathered in the great hall they knew, but there was one gentleman there they had never seen before, he was introduced as Michael Scott, a distant cousin of Sir Thomas.

“In fact I know nothing about him,” the baronet said to the Rector later in the evening, “I was introduced to him at my club in London, as a distant relative, and Jane insisted on inviting him down. I thought he might be interested in one of my daughter’s but he makes no efforts there.” He looked across to where James was dancing with Charlotte, the oldest of his three girls. Lady Scott broke in.

“Yes, they make a lovely couple. It would be delightful if they did marry.” “But not for some time, they are much too young.” The Squire replied, but his tone expressed approbation of the idea.

This pleasant conversation was suddenly interrupted by a commotion on the other side of the large room.

“You are mistaken, I doubt you have the wit to recognise your own cat if it stuck its claws into your skinny legs in the dark.”

Mr Scott stormed out of the room, leaving the two misses Beddoes sobbing, Lady Scott and Mrs Grainger ran across to calm them. A few moments later Sir Thomas and the Rector joined the ladies in the small room where they had taken the shocked spinsters, curious to know what had caused the commotion. The women were all sipping tea, and were talking quietly over what had happened.

“It is so strange,” Mrs Grainger began, “It was about nothing. Miss Beddoes mentioned that she thought she had seen Mr Scott in the village before and he got very cross about it.”

“Yes” interrupted Miss Henrietta, the younger of the two sisters. “It was nothing, It was about a month ago, the night was very cold but the moon was bright and I had seen a ring round it.”

“So she called me to the window.” Interrupted Miss Beddoes. “And on the green we saw two men, one looked just like our cousin David, he was wearing that old hat he always did, the one trimmed with white lace.”

“And the other looked like Mr Scott.” Continued her sister, and then they walked into the shadow of the tree by the pond.”

“But it couldn’t have been Mr. Scott. Because Mr Scott said it wasn’t him.”

“And it couldn’t have been David as he would have called to see us, however late it was.” Henrietta finished triumphantly.

Curious, but concerned for his neighbours, the Rector said. “But you are still shocked, I will send for the carriage and we will take you home straight away.”

“Oh No.” said the Miss Beddoes simultaneously, “We don’t want to spoil anything, and the young people are having so much fun.” She looked across to where James and another young man were serving slices of cake to several young ladies, including the squire’s daughters.

The Rectory party were amongst the last to leave. As they were putting on their coats and cloaks, the Rector was reminded of the events of the morning. Charlotte bent towards his son and said softly.

“If I can I will come and see your snowman tomorrow.”

“Well take your sisters and Miss Grey, and wrap up warm, my dear.” said her mother, who had overheard the conversation.

“Take this Reverend.” Said her husband, handing the Rector a newspaper, ‘I have finished with it.” Sir Thomas took the Morning Chronicle whilst the Rector took The Times, the papers were very expensive and were published weekly, so the two gentlemen took one each and exchanged them regularly.

As they walked up the path to their front door the Rector looked back across the village green. On the far side lights showed where the Misses Beddoes were getting out of Sir Thomas’s carriage. He stopped, puzzled until his wife called him inside. He was certain the snowman had been to the left of the path, but it was now clearly on the right.

To be continued

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