Friday, March 24, 2006

The Old Woman of Delamere Forest (Part II)

Thus far the tale of the old woman, frequently repeated to my sister, goes. What follows is Mr. Wilbraham's account:
The old woman said she had had a violent fever; and had, in a vision, seen all that to my sister she afterwards described as an actual occurrence. Mr. Wilbraham, willing to humour her fancy, sent the overseer with a labourer to dig wherever she directed. This search proved wholly fruitless; but soon after, Mrs. Hollingsworth having heard that the body of a man had been found in a pond at Marbury, near Whitchurch, she went there immediately, and asserted that she knew the corpse to be that of her son, which after having been buried in the forest had been removed and carried for greater security to this distant pond.

She afterwards went to Liverpool, where she said she discovered that a young German exactly answering the description of her son had landed from a Hamburgh ship, and had enquired his way to Delamere Forest, on the very day on which she saw the traveller in conversation with the supposed murderer. Mr. Wilbraham, hearing this, thought further investigation necessary: he wrote to the chief of the police at Liverpool, stating the facts of the case, and requesting him to make every enquiry. In answer to this application, he heard that a young German had certainly landed on the day specified, but that all the rest of the tale was a fabrication.

Soon after, Mr. Wilbraham being in London called upon Mr. Grollermann, who had been employed as an Almoner to Queen Charlotte, to distribute her bounty to the distressed Germans in England. After having told the whole story, Mr. Wilbraham requested him to make some enquiry in Hanover about the young Hollingsworth. The result was, he was reported to be alive and well. Mr. Wilbraham, determined to leave nothing undone that would satisfy the mind of the mother and establish the innocence of him whom she had accused, wrote to the young man, strongly urging him to come over to tranquillise his mother. Some weeks afterwards, he and his sister came to Delamere House.

She fully recognised him, so did the mother, but she did not seem happy; she evidently could not bear that her story, which had made much noise, should be so totally disproved. Hollingsworth went to Manchester, and got employed in his trade of carpenter.

This is the substance of what Mr. Wilbraham wrote down for me. Strange to say, after all this, the old woman always persisted in saying to my sister and me, that, though appearances were so much against her that she could not maintain it, her own conviction must ever be that the young man was an impostor and no son of hers. The daughter more than joined in these assurances, and even went so far one day as to declare to us that the young man had made love to her and wanted to marry her.

I understand the supposed murderer (whose name I have never heard) is now living at Tarporley respectably. In the strange tale of the old woman, I cannot help believing there was much of self-delusion, and that, when that was removed, she had recourse to falsehood to bolster up her fallen credit: but it seems to me quite impossible to say exactly where delusion ended and deception began. I see that my sister and I should not fix the boundary at the same place: she has more faith in the old liar than I can have.

It was not till some time after this strange occurrence that I happened to see the woman for the first time: we went to her hut; she was then (1827-8) living quite alone: her daughter's education being finished, she sent her to London to be confirmed and to seek a service.

The mother's pride seemed highly gratified in reading to us a letter which she had received from her daughter. It was written partly in German, and partly in English; the former was translated to us, and very much was I astonished at the language, sentiments, and intelligence of the writer. She began by describing her wonder in first seeing London: a great deal of very proper feeling not unmixed with cant (as I thought), was expressed as, with respect to her confirmation, she spoke of the kindness with which she had been received by their friends, and of a play at Covent Garden, to which they had taken her, which she seemed to bewail as a sin, and assured her mother it should never be repeated. She then spoke of the family in whose service she had been placed by the clergyman of the Lutheran chapel.

Mrs. Hollingsworth gave me the idea of a very shrewd woman, who in good language, though her pronunciation was decidedly German, expressed strong religious feelings, mingled with such uncharitable opinions of all mankind, that I could not but term her religion cant. It was at this time that she gave my sister an MS. Of about twenty folio sheets, containing a history of her life. I read it aloud, and can only recollect that it did not even reach the period of her marriage; that, with much cant and more long-windedness, it afforded rather an interesting picture of primaeval manners and a long list of suitors whom she had refused.

I felt that, with much curtailment, this might have made an interesting beginning to her strange story. I lament now that I did not write this at the time. At a subsequent visit she told us that she began to find her absolute solitude very dreary, and that as age and infirmities increased she felt it not safe. She added that by the interest of the Lutheran clergyman and of other friends, she had obtained an admission to the Dutch Almshouses in London.

She had just been giving a leave-taking tea drink to two gossips, her neighbours, and had a letter from her daughter; and it was then that, speaking of the man calling himself her son, and some of the evidence against her statement being brought forward, she said,' I know that very well. I know what everybody says and believes, but if the whole world were to tell me that this piece of paper was black, I could not contradict them, but I never could be persuaded that it is not white.'

Before she went away she gave my sister a 'German Prayer-book, for the use of the Lutheran chapel at St. James's. In the first page is ' A. M. Hollingsworth ein geschend' van der Gravien van Munster, door middle van de goede vtow Goltermann. This book was given me by the Countess of Munster through the virtues of Mrs. Goltermann. I desire me Lady Delamere to take it in remembrance of me, Anna Maria Hollingsworth, July 11, 1829.'

At the same time she sent to Vale Royal as a tribute of her gratitude, the last of her family of goats, with the following rude lines:—
A lonesome stranger creves a boon,
To rove within the shade,
In your spacious park allone,
An hopes your frindly ade.
My friendly dame is going to leve,
The place ware I did dwell,
I humlily hegg do me resieve
An use a stranger well.
Then I will in return agien,
Cheer your lonesome walk;
In all my nature still remane,
In innocence with you talk.
In June 1832 we went to Bishopsgate Street, in search of the Dutch Almshouses, which are in a court near there. A low arch with a gate opened into a paved passage or alley. At a little shop next door we enquired whether Mrs. Hollingsworth was still in the Almshouses, and whether she could come and speak to us at the carriage door; a young woman told us that she was her daughter just come (from Pimlico, I think) to see her, and she would go in and fetch her if she was well enough.

The poor soul came coughing and so weak she could hardly reach the carriage, hut she seemed quite delighted when she saw my sister, whom her daughter had not recognised. We got out, found at the end of the alley seven or eight steps, down which we went to a court, round which were built about a dozen small houses. Our old woman had a room about twelve feet square, neat and tidy, full of old rude knick-knacks; amongst others a sort of model of the hut in Delamere

As far as one could judge during the short time we remained, the woman seemed contented, but sinking fast. The daughter, a decent-mannered person, with language very superior to her appearance, told us she was in service, and could seldom get leave to come and visit her mother. We enquired about the MS. We had seen, and asked whether she had ever concluded it, which we found she had not, and that she had given what we had seen to a bookseller at Manchester.

Both mother and daughter vehemently repeated their assertions that the traveller was not their relative; and at last the daughter asked how she could acknowledge or consider as a brother a man who had attempted to seduce her and wanted to marry her.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Old Woman of Delamere Forest

Vale Royal:* November 1832.—Since I have been here I have been collecting all the particulars respecting ' The old "Woman of the Forest.' Giving her credit for an inventive imagination, there is enough in the facts to interest one. In July 1815 a report had reached this house that a strange woman was come to live in the forest; many fables, reporting her a heroine in disguise, were already afloat among the servants, when, on the 17th of July, the woman came to this house bringing the following letter :—
My Lady Thumley,
' As I have heard that I am at the present at your property, namely the Oakmere; we are latly comen out of Germany ware I lost my husband; as I cam into England I vind rents so high that I do not know to do for myself without charity, as the same way as most of the people live abroad, so I am gone about to seek some waste ground, for there I can live and provide for myself, for I have a little to make a small beginning, but halas I find that all the commons are forbid now I am at hand this place I am able to live if I may be there but I do not mean to make myself a Paris, for I never intend to submit to Paris ceping, for I belong to a faring chappel in London, but I may yet do for myself if I am permitted, therefore I humbly beg my noble Lady you would not deny my this favour to stop here for a few weeks till I write up to London, for I cannot pay for lorging. I humbly beg that your honor may send some of your trusty servants to enquire and to see ware. We can we shall not trouble anybody for anything nor hurt nor destroy anything, rather protect the remanes of the Trees.
' Most Noble Lady, I humbly beg deny my not a little rest at this peaceable place.
' I your most obliging and humble stranger,
'maria hollingswobth.
' Oakmere, July 17,1816.'

The poor woman stated that she was the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman, born at Leuwardin, in West Friesland, in 1765; her appearance bespoke great poverty; but her rags did not conceal the faded remains of beauty, and her manners and language appeared very superior to her situation. She told her little tale with intelligence and simplicity. She said that she had married a British soldier: that she had followed his fate and shared his hardships through many campaigns, till he was killed at Bergen-op-zoom, leaving her with two infant children, a son and a daughter. She came over to England, and through some Hanoverian friends obtained a small pension from Queen Charlotte, and some inferior situation for her son in the Royal kitchen at St. James's. The motives to which she alludes in her letter
were more fully developed to account for her wild scheme of settling on the forest.

She told us how she had procured a small cart, which afforded shelter to herself and her daughter; a donkey to draw it, and two goats, from whose milk they derived a chief part of their nourishment. In many places they had attempted to make some stay, but had always been driven away as vagabonds by parish officers. Beginning to despair of obtaining in England the object of her desire, a solitary abode rent free, she had determined to go to Liverpool, and get a passage to America. Delamere Forest lay on her road; it was at that time quite unenclosed; a dreary waste without any habitation for miles.

Here her hopes revived: she found a sheltered spot near the large pool called Oakmere, where she determined to stop to wash her clothes. Making some enquiries, she found the land adjoining to be extra-parochial, the property of Lord Delamere. Here the dreaded parish officer, dressed up in brief authority, could have no power if she once obtained the sanction of the proprietor. Lord Delamere allowed her to live there, and she soon set to work to make for herself a permanent abode. Upon a rising bank above the mere, sheltered by a few Scotch firs, stood two ribs of whales, which had been placed there by Philip Egerton, Esq., of Oulton, who had rented the land from the Cholmondeley family. Between these ribs Mrs. H. formed a rude kind of dwelling, by turning up her cart and making a wall of sods and a roof of boughs. Though barely sheltered from the storm, in a hut about eight feet by ten and little more than five feet high, did this poor woman and her daughter live many years.

She became an object of great curiosity in the neighbourhood. The most absurd fables were told: it was even said that Napoleon was living in this strange disguise. Visitors began to be attracted by curiosity, and charity induced them all to contribute in some shape or other towards relieving the wants of the poor recluse. As her means increased, she gradually improved her little dwelling. She added to her walls, put in a door and a small casement; and to make her roof a little more weather-proof, she extended over it the skin of her donkey, who had died, probably from starvation. She hired a labourer for a few days, made a fence, which enclosed her dwelling and a little bit of ground, in which she made a potato ground and a little garden, and a small shed to shelter her goats.

From the produce of that bit of garden, cultivated by herself, and from that of a few fowls, which in course of time she procured, she and her daughter contrived to live; the latter going occasionally to Tarporley market to sell eggs and vegetables. She added to her live- stock a dog, and provided further for her protection by the purchase of a pair of pistols.

One of her professed objects in wishing for a solitary abode was the leisure it would afford her to devote herself to the education of her daughter, without the dread of bad society and example to counteract her precepts. The girl was taught to read and write English, French, and German.

Thus passed some eventless years, during which the numbers of her visitors increased, and her means gradually improved; occasional supplies came from those who had formerly known her. The first winter was cheered by a welcome present of warm clothing from Lady Bulkeley. In process of time, Delainere Forest was enclosed; some two or three small cottages sprang up in the neighbourhood of Oakmere, at a distance from anv town or village. Mrs. Hollingsworth finding that the children of these cottagers had neither the means nor the opportunity of learning anything, offered to teach them to read gratuitously. Unfortunately differences arose, and at the end of three or four years she had quarrelled with all her neighbours.

In the year 18— she received a letter from her son, who had been bound as apprentice to a cabinet-maker at Hanover, informing her that he was on the point of embarking for Buenos Ayres. He added, that as the vessel by which he was going was to touch at Liverpool, he hoped to be able to see his mother before he left Europe. The mother was of course delighted with the thoughts of seeing her long-absent son, and continually watched from a neighbouring eminence every person who strayed towards her lonely dwelling.

After many disappointments, one summer evening she saw a man with a satchel of carpenter's tools on his back coming across the forest, evidently seeking some dwelling, and as he drew nearer both mother and daughter felt convinced that they saw him whose arrival they had so anxiously expected. They saw the man stop at a
neighbouring cottage, apparently to enquire the way, and dared not go there to meet him.

The owner of the cottage into which the traveller had entered was unfortunately one with whom Mrs. Hollingsworth was at variance, one of whom she had a very bad opinion she had, therefore, the misery of thinking that her son was in the house of one who was her enemy, of one capable of any atrocious action.

Night came on, the traveller did not appear again, and the poor woman returned to her hut, hoping she had been disappointed, and had again mistaken a stranger for her son. Anxiety prevented her from sleeping: in the dead of the night her watchful ear caught the sound of distant footsteps, which induced her to get up.

Creeping along, concealed by the low fence of her little garden, she saw her neighbour and his son coming towards the mere, bearing between them a heavy sack; the moon was shining bright. She saw them walk into the water, which was very shallow in this part: she heard a heavy splash. Still the men did not return: they seemed to consult, and fearing that there was not depth of water sufficient to conceal their dreadful burthen, they took it up again, and returned with it to their house. The mother, still more wretched, continued to watch; she saw the two men bearing the sack as before, and having provided themselves with spades, come out and walk across the forest. She followed them at a distance, but her strength would not allow her to keep up with them, and she soon lost sight of them. Still she watched, and in about half an hour saw the father and son return to their cottage, carrying the sack empty.

Now, firmly convinced that her murdered son had been buried, she returned to her hut to brood in silence over her misery; she felt that her suspicions rested solely on what she alone bad seen, and dreaded to make them known to anyone. However, she very soon saw that a cart was added to the stock of her neighbour, that he appeared in a good new suit of clothes, and thought these evident signs of wealth, which were not in any way accounted for, a strong confirmation of her suspicions.

She went by night and dug about that part of the forest where she had lost sight of the supposed murderers, but was always interrupted and prevented by other neighbours. She then went to Mr. Wilbraham,** who had before relieved her wants, and implored his assistance, as a magistrate, in her search for the body.

Editor's notes
* The seat of Lord Delamere in Cheshire.
** George Wilbraham, Esq, of Delamere House


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Countess Macnamara. The Bourbons.

Richmond: August 1832.—We have just had Countess Macnamara here: she is as usual full of her Bourbons, very literally "plus Catholique que le Pape, plus Royaliste que le Roi" for she complains of the relaxation of discipline in the former, and says that all the evils of France are to be ascribed to the republican spirit of its late sovereigns. Monsieur Dixhuit—she said to me with the peculiar emphasis which I thought reserved for Philippe, as Satan is not Monsieur- Monsieur Dixhuit was at heart a more thorough republican than any man in his dominions.

All his measures tended that way, and when Charles X. came, poor good man, who never meant anything but what was right, he was too indolent to change the ministry or the measures of his brother. It would have almost exceeded my belief to have been told that any Englishwoman could take up the cudgels for Miguel, but I heard her pitying him as an illused and calumniated man, maintaining to my brother Charles, who might have rather better means of information, that he was not privy to the murder, not cruel, &c. &c.

All this is only curious as furnishing a singular page in the history of human nature, showing how entirely the wise ultra-Bourbon party, whose echo she is, can over-look even the radical sin of illegitimate authority when redeemed by despotism and bigotry. In the midst of all this absurdity, she gave me a singular instance of devotion to her beloved Bourbons, which, being asserted on her personal knowledge, is I suppose in the main true.

A Miss W., who some fifty years ago was an admired singer on the English stage, made a conquest of a Mr. A., a man of large property, who married her. Whether the lady's character was not immaculate, or whether, the march of intellect not having begun, actresses of the best character were not yet reckoned fit society for ladies, does not appear; certain it is that, finding she could not get any society in England, the A.'s went to establish themselves at Versailles, where they took a fine house, gave fetes, &c. &c. His wealth gave splendour; her beauty, her singing, her dancing, gave charm.

The Polignacs came to her fetes, and afterwards introduced her to the little society, to the intimate reunions, of which Marie Antoinette was a constant member. When adversity befell this object of admiration, of almost idolatry, Mrs. A. devoted herself, her talents and (better than all) her purse to her service. It was chiefly during the Queen's melancholy abode in the Temple that Mrs. A. most exerted herself. In bribes, in various means employed for the relief of the poor Queen, she expended between 30,000 and 40,000 sterling.

This of course was taken under the name of a loan, and soon after the Restoration Mrs. A. made a demand upon Louis XVIII.: every item of her account was discussed and most allowed, till they came to a very large bribe given to the minister of police, one to the gaoler, and bribes to various persons, to manage the escape of the Dauphin and the substitution of a dying child in his place.

Louis XVIII. Would not agree to this article, and insisted upon its being erased from the account as the condition upon which he would order the gradual liquidation of the rest of the debt. To this condition Mrs. A. would not accede: Louis XVIII. died: the accounts were again brought forward. Charles X. was just going to give the order for
paying the debt by instalments when the revolution came, and Mrs. A. seems now further than ever from obtaining any part of her money.

It is to me very odd that Mac does not seem to feel that, admitting all her premises, her story tells very much against her beloved Bourbons. She always speaks of the reign of Charles as if it had lasted as many months as it did years, as if he had not had time to execute any of the good purposes that were in his heart. She concludes the history I have just written by saying, 'I had a message for Mrs. A. from Holyrood, which I was desired to deliver in person. I had great difficulty in tracing her; at last I found her a week ago,' (she told me where, but I have forgotten), She represents her as preserving remains of beauty at about seventy, coiffee, en cheveux, with a mask of paint.

I gravely asked whether she was still an enthusiast in the cause; to which she replied, ' No,' in what I fancied a hurried embarrassed manner, which impressed me with the idea that Mrs. A. is naturally enough rather exasperated at their conduct towards her. It seems that they are all convinced, and this Mrs. A. is ready to make any oath, that the Dauphin did not die as was supposed in the Temple. The Duchesse d'Angouleme has always said, ' I have no evidence of his death, and know that it did not take place in the Temple, but I have no evidence of his being alive at any subsequent period.'

The rancour of Mrs A. against Louis-Philippe sounds particularly ill here,: she believes him capable of every crime. In this neighbourhood where he lived so many years, not only there is nothing alleged against him, but everybody mentions him with respect. I hear he is now paying small pensions to some of the poor, whom he was in the habit of relieving. Miss Dundas spoke with tears in her eyes of his invariable kindness to her father, who attended his family as physician, and of the attention shown to her brother and her for his sake, when they were at Paris some years ago.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Insanity of George III - Sir Henry Halford and George IV

May 1832.—Sir Henry Halford gave us the other day some interesting particulars respecting the malady of George III. He says it is one of the characteristics of that species of insanity, that, about three months after the seizure, there is a great change for the better, which sometimes ends in recovery; in other cases, in a more violent return of malady. He says we shall probably hear of that change in poor Lord Dudley in about two months; whether it will be permanent or not, is more than any mortal can tell.

In the case of the King, this change took place in the month of February; it was not only that hopes were entertained, but many of the Council were of opinion that he was in full possession of his faculties. On one particular day they came out saying that he had spoken so collectedly — 1st, on the necessity of sending troops to America, of the persons to command, of the points to which the troops were to be sent; 2ndly, of the expediency of the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor, of the persons best fitted for the office,* &c. &c.—that they believed him quite restored and able to resume his power.

Lord Ellenborough used the words of Pilate: ' I find no fault at all in that just person.' Sir Henry said, this not being his own opinion, he felt his situation an extremely unpleasant one: well knowing the cunning of all mad persons, he was aware that nothing but extreme vigilance would enable them to detect the delusions if they still existed. One day when the King fancied himself surrounded by servants only, and when a medical attendant was watching unseen, he took a glass of wine and water and drank it to the health conjugis meae dilectissimce Elizabethae, meaning Lady Pembroke. Here was a delusion clearly established and noted down immediately: the use of Latin, which was not to be understood by those whom he supposed only to hear him, affording a singular proof of the odd cunning of insanity.

A few days after, Sir Henry was walking with him on the terrace; he began talking of the Lutheran religion, of its superiority to that of the Church of England, and ended with growing so vehement, that he really ranted forth its praises without mentioning that which Sir Henry believes to have been the real motive of this preference—the left-handed marriages allowed. He was very anxious to see whether traces of this delusion would appear again, and went to the Duke of York to ask for information as to the tenets, practices, &c. &c., of the Lutheran faith. The Duke said, ' Watch him in Passion-week; if he fancies himself a Lutheran, you will see an extraordinary degree of mortification and mourning,' &c. &c.

When Sir Henry returned to the assembled physicians he wrote down the substance of this conversation, and without communicating it to anybody, requested those present to seal the paper and keep it in a chest where their notes and other papers of importance are kept, under locks of which each had a separate key. When the Monday in Passion-week arrived, and Sir Henry had nearly forgotten this conversation, he went into the King's dressing-room while he was at his toilet, and found the attendants in amazement at his having called for and put on black stockings, black waistcoat and breeches, and a grey coat with black buttons.

It was curious to hear that his delusions assumed, like those of other madmen, the character of pride, and that a sovereign even fancied himself in a station more elevated than his own. He would sometimes fancy himself possessed of supernatural power, and when angry with any of the keepers stamp his foot, and say
he would send them down into hell.

It is always evident to me, that among all these royalties, among the three kings whom he has attended, Sir Henry's partiality is to the one who seems to me to deserve it least, to George IV. He gave us the following account of his first introduction to his intimacy. He had never attended the Prince, and barely knew him when the last malady of George III. Declared itself.

Sir Henry was aware that he was surrounded by spies from the Prince; that one whom ' we well knew and would little suspect,' was living at the Christopher, &c. &c. Anxious to stop this. Sir Henry went to the Prince and gave him the most detailed and most accurate statement of the situation of the King. The Prince expressed his gratitude, not unmixed with surprise at his candour. Sir Henry promised that henceforth he might depend upon always having from him the most accurate information, if he would only promise not to seek it from any other source.

The Prince gave the promise and (wonderful to say) kept it. Sir Henry then went to the Queen, and told her what he had done. She, with a tremendous frown, expressed great astonishment. Sir Henry stated the obvious reasons for the step he had taken ; she paused, her brow cleared : ' You are quite right. Sir; it is proper that the Prince of Wales should be informed.' From that moment, as he says, confidence and intimacy were renewed between mother and son.

At the period before mentioned, during the lucid intervals. Sir Henry describes himself as having had a very awkward subject to discuss with the King. The death of Princess Amelia was known to him.* Every day the attendants expected and dreaded questions as to her property, her will, &c.; the bequest of everything to General Fitzroy was a subject so very delicate to touch upon. The Queen dared not: Perceval and the Chancellor successively undertook the disclosure and shrunk from it, imposing it on Sir Henry.

Never, he says, can he forget the feelings with which, having requested some private conversation with the King after the other physicians were gone, he was called into a window with the light falling so full on his countenance that even the poor nearly blind King could see it. He asked whether it would be agreeable to him to hear now how Princess Amelia had disposed of her little property.

'Certainly, certainly, I want to know,' with great eagerness. Sir Henry reminded him at the beginning of his illness he had appointed Fitzroy to ride with her; how he had left him with her at Weymouth; how it was natural and proper that she should leave him some token for these services; that excepting jewels she had nothing to leave, and had bequeathed them all to him; that the Prince of Wales, thinking jewels a very inappropriate bequest for a man, had given Fitzroy a pecuniary compensation for them (his family, by-the-bye, always said it was very inadequate), and had distributed slight tokens to all the attendants and friends of the Princess, giving the bulk of the jewels to Princess Mary, her most constant and kindest of nurses. Upon this the poor King exclaimed, ' Quite right, just like the Prince of Wales;' and no more was said.

Sir Henry is apt to be the hero of his own stories, and to boast a degree of intimacy and confidence which I am sometimes inclined to doubt. The history of the change on the subject of the Catholic question is very curious, but I own I feel it rather difficult to believe that Sir Henry was admitted into a secret so closely kept. Be that as it may, his story is that, at the close of the session, the Duke of Wellington wrote to the King a letter, which he showed to Sir Henry, stating that he felt the time to be now arrived when the boon of emancipation could no longer be refused to Ireland; telling him that, if his objections remained insurmountable, he must abandon the stronghold of his faith. The Coronation Oath, which had been proved not to hold water as an argument, must not be brought forward again.

This letter, Sir Henry says, produced much and very painful cogitation, and agitation enough to have roused the King from his state of indolence to very deep thought. A second letter Sir Henry saw when the King was more inclined to concession, in which the Duke requested leave to impart his intentions to two cabinet ministers and to one or two of the bishops.

* This fixes the date. The first vice-chancellor was appointed early in 1813.
** She died on November 3, 1810. Her illness was the proximate cause of the return of the king's malady.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Ricketts Ghost Story

November l5th, 1830.—Mrs. Hughes told me the other day that she was writing the particulars of the Ricketts ghost story, as she had heard it related in her infancy by Mrs. Gwyn,* who had been an eye, or rather ear, witness. The story was alluded to; her aunt stopped the speaker, and begged she would wait till the child was gone to bed. She was not to be so put off, and when the orders for bed were issued she contrived to conceal herself behind the curtain: there she remained undiscovered till the tale had advanced to the hoarse voice, when her terror was so highly excited that it totally overcame her dread of punishment, and she rushed from her place of concealment, falling flat on her face. These circumstances of course strongly impressed all the incidents on her ardent mind, and thus she related them to Sir Walter Scott,** premising that Mr. Strong, who was chaplain to Shipley, Bishop of Saint Asaph, had, when at Twyfbrd and in its neighbourhood, frequently heard the legend told in the same manner.

She likewise says she has heard the story, exactly the same, from the Duchess of Buckingham. The house alluded to is situated between Alton and Alresford. My story says*** that Mr. Legge, related to Lord Stawell, was a very atrocious libertine. He was aided and abetted in all his evil practices by an old butler named Robin, who was distinguished by a remarkably deep-toned hoarse voice. Mrs. Legge was known to be very unhappy and very ill-used, and was seldom seen by the neighbourhood, who were deterred from visiting at that house by the character of its master; but it became known that a younger sister of Mrs. Legge came to visit her, and in process of time a criminal intercourse was suspected between her and her brother-in-law; a child was said to have been born, and destroyed by the agency of the butler.****

So far I am correct in my remembrances, but I am not clear as to the death and dispersion of the guilty trio. I think, however, that old Robin came to an untimely end, and that. Mr. Legge grew disgusted with the house and left it. Be that as it may, the house was to be let, and was hired by Captain Ricketts for the reception of his family during his long absence from England, either on the East or West India Station.

When he sailed, Mrs. Ricketts, with three young children and a very small establishment, removed to her new residence. I do not precisely remember how long it was before her quiet was disturbed; but I think it was only a few days after her arrival that, sitting alone in the evening about nine o'clock, she was startled by the singular terror expressed by her cat; the animal started from her slumbers on the hearth, made a piteous cry, and after running about the room as if wishing to escape, darted to its mistress, and rolling itself up in the train of her gown, lay there panting and exhausted.

Mrs. Ricketts was rising to summon a servant when her ear was struck by a tremendous noise in the room overhead; it had the sound of tearing up the boards of the floor with the utmost violence, and throwing them about. In a moment the servants, alarmed, rushed into the room. Mrs. Ricketts, who was a woman of a resolute spirit, headed the party to explore the room from which the sound appeared to proceed, but on entering nothing was seen, and the operations seemed to have been shifted to another apartment. The whole house was searched without effect, and the noise continued a considerable time, varying its apparent station as it was approached.

The next night the annoyance was renewed, and after the floor-breaking ceased, three voices were heard distinctly—that of a female and two males; one of these so remarkably hoarse and dissonant, that one of the servants, who was from the neighbourhood, exclaimed, ' That is like the voice of wicked old Robin.' The female seemed to plead in agony for some boon; one of the men seemed to answer in a mournful grave tone, and the deep hoarse voice sounded angrily and positively. No distinct words could be made. out, but now and then the voices seemed so close that, as old Mrs. Gwyn described it, 'you would have thought that by putting out your hand you would have touched the speakers;' to this succeeded a strain of soft aerial music, and the whole ended by a series of dreadful piercing shrieks, altogether not occupying less than half an hour.

Next day the whole establishment gave warning, and were reluctantly dismissed by Mrs Ricketts, who took the precaution of making them sign their names as witnesses to a short account which she noted in a book, in which she afterwards kept a regular journal of the transactions of each night, continuing the practice of making every servant she dismissed (and she seldom prevailed on one to remain long with her), as well as the few guests whom compassion for her forlorn state induced to come to her, sign their names for a testimony of what they heard—for nothing was ever seen.

I am not sure whether these horrors were repeated every night, but certainly so frequently as to leave Mrs. Ricketts neither peace nor quiet, and to produce agitation which affected her health. She had been in this state more than a twelvemonth when Mrs. Gwyn came to pay her a visit. She was much shocked at the altered appearance of Mrs. Ricketts. She had flattered herself that the accounts which she had received from her friend were exaggerated. However, when the usual period arrived, the whole routine went on, and Mrs. Gwyn was terrified to a degree which left her only in astonishment that Mrs. Ricketts could have endured so much and so long.

I remember her saying that the first burst of noise was as loud as if three or four carpenters had been employed: the whispering conversation often seemed to be close to her ear; and the soft music she compared to the tones produced by a then celebrated player on the musical glasses (Cartwright); the shrieks which closed the whole so sharp as to rend the ear. I remember the comparison the more distinctly, because I had been taken a few days before to hear the performance of Cartwright on the musical glasses.

Indeed every particular of Mrs. Gwyn's narration is as vividly present to my imagination as if I had only heard it an hour ago; and the frequent repetitions I have since heard of it from my two aunts, who were also her auditors, have engraved every iota on my mind.

Mrs. Gwyn, though very sufficiently scared, would have remained with her friend the few days she had promised, if her maid, a valuable faithful servant, had not been made so ill by terror that she could not in common charity oblige her to remain after the second night, when a repetition ensued. She therefore pursued her journey, after having added her signature to the book, which she described as then containing many pages. I remember that my aunt asked her whether Mrs. Ricketts would publish this book, and she replied that, should her friend survive Sir John Jervis (afterwards Lord St. Vincent) and Colonel Luttrell (afterwards Lord Carhampton), she believed it was her intention to do so. Mrs. Ricketts died some years ago at a very advanced age.

Mrs. Gwyn then went on to relate the substance of a correspondence which she kept up with Mrs. Ricketts, recording a circumstance, which took place not long after she left her. The bedroom which Mrs. Ricketts occupied was separated from the nursery by a wide passage, the doors of the two rooms being exactly opposite. Mrs. Ricketts slept alone, and had a light burning on the hearth. One night, soon after she was in bed, she heard a heavy foot leap (as it seemed to her) from the window seat and walk slowly to the side of her bed, where it stopped.

The curtain was drawn on that side, and she instantly threw herself out of the opposite side next the door, and standing in the doorway to prevent anyone from escaping, called for the nurse. The alarm was instantly given. While the nurse remained with her mistress upon guard, the nursery-maid summoned the rest of the servants; a strict search was then made, but nothing could be found to account for the sound which had roused Mrs. Ricketts.

Next day an old carpenter of the neighbourhood desired to speak to her, and to mention a circumstance which had occurred during the residence of Mrs. Legge. He said he had been employed and well paid by old Robin, the butler, for a job which was done in his presence and after every other person in the house was asleep. It was to take up a plank in one of the bedrooms, and saw away a joist so as to give room for a small deal box about two feet long, which the old butler deposited under the floor, and then the carpenter restored the plank and joined it as well as he could.

He said he had been sworn to secrecy, but as the parties were dead and gone, he thought he might safely mention a circumstance which he could not help believe might have some concern with the disturbances.

Mrs. Ricketts made him lead the way, and he went to her apartment, and lifting up the carpet at the very spot where it appeared to her the heavy step paused, he showed her the joining of the plank: by her desire it was taken up, and the joist, according to his account, was found removed, and an empty space remained sufficient to contain such a box as he had described. If it had been there, it had been removed ; no trace of it remained. You may suppose what the box was suspected to contain.

The only other event I recollect was the return of Sir J. Jervis to England, his visit to his sister Mrs. Ricketts, his grief at finding her in such a state of health and nerves, and his determination to remove her from a place where he was convinced there was some foul play. He took upon himself the risk of the displeasure of Captain Ricketts, who had expended a large sum in settling his family, and whose apprehended censure had deterred his wife from quitting the residence where he had placed her.

Sir John would not even suffer his sister to sleep another night under the roof, but removed her and her children to a farm-house in the neighbourhood, with every servant belonging to them. He determined, with his friend Colonel Luttrell, to watch through the night, and detect the imposture which be was convinced had been carried on.

The ground-floor consisted of a large hall and two parlours, one on either side: in these parlours the friends, well armed and lighted, established themselves, and at the usual hour the noises began. They both rushed into the hall, each angrily accusing the other of an attempt to play a foolish trick; but as soon as they met they were aware the noise proceeded from other quarters; the plank-tearing, the whispering, the soft music, the shrieks went on in the usual succession, and after an active search all over the house they were obliged to acknowledge themselves baffled.

Mrs. Ricketts never returned to the house except for a few mornings, which were devoted to packing, &c. &c. One of these mornings she sat down to rest in the housekeeper's room; her brother sat with her, leaning against a large press which had just been emptied of its contents. They were both startled by a noise close to their ears, which she compared to that of dry bones rattling in a box. Sir John threw open the door of the press, exclaiming,' The Devil is here, and we shall have him:' however, nothing appeared, and this forms the last link of my chain.

A young friend, who saw much of Lord St. Vincent in his latter days, told me he was extremely angry whenever the subject was alluded to; and Mrs. Gwyn said Mrs. Ricketts was ever averse to the discussion, though she never refused to answer any question that was put to her.

And now having told my tale, I must protest my utter disbelief of any supernatural agency. Had I written this during the first fifteen, nay, perhaps twenty, years of my life, I could not have made any such declaration; for this story was the nightmare of my existence, from the age of eleven to that of discretion— if I ever have attained that happy period. I consider it as one of the best planned and executed deceptions I ever heard of, for whatever purpose it might have been wrought. I do not believe the plot has ever been discovered, though the general idea is, I think, that it was to further the purposes of a gang of smugglers.

Editor’s notes
* One of the beautiful Misses Horneck, Goldsmith's friends. She married Colonel Gwyn, and died at a very advanced age in 1840. She was a strong-minded and clear-headed, woman.
** The story is slightingly mentioned as wanting evidence in
Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, p. 348. In writing these Letters, Sir Walter evidently laboured under the apprehension of being suspected of undue credulity; and the book has consequently been pretty generally set down as a failure.
*** The speaker is Mrs. Hughes throughout.
**** This imputation is not confirmed by the family annals. The lady died in 1763.

The daughter of Mrs. Ricketts married the seventh Earl of Northesk ; and I learn from her grandson, Vice-Admiral the Honourable Swynfen Carnegie, that the foregoing narrative substantially corresponds with the traditional impressions of the family ; except that a box containing the bones of a child was found in the spot indicated by the carpenter, and that it was Captain Luttrell, R.N., who watched with Lord St. Vincent. Admiral Carnegie says that neither of them would state what passed in their presence or hearing, but that Lord St. Vincent insisted on his sister's quitting the house immediately. The mystery has never been cleared up, and the site of the house is now a cultivated field.