The Woman in Grey: a Hampton Court Ghost Story

Sybil Penne's apartment

Sybil Penne’s apartment

Near the River Wye, in the Chiltern Hills, sits a village called Penn.

It is, and has always been a beautiful spot, with rolling fields and quaint buildings, an a couple of decent pubs – the Crown and the Red Lion – which appeared some time in the sixteenth century and still sit there today.

When the plagues hit London Penn was one of the healthy retreats for the children of the wealthy.

I wonder if that is how Sybil Penne came to be viewed as someone who might be a fit nurse for a princess?

Of a good local Buckinghamshire family, Sybil made a decent marriage: she married David Penne and had three sons, John and William, and two daughters. But her life changed forever when the King begat a male heir.

Edward was long awaited, his mother long mourned. He was born in October and the following year Sybil was appointed as his dry nurse.

And thence began an extraordinary career.

She lookes after Edward, who gave her the manor of Beaumond and the rectory of Little Missenden in Buckinghamshire. And records show she was in the household of both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.

She had a house nearby, but she lived in some of the best rooms in Hampton Court. They are still there: right on the West Front, overlooking the drawbridge.

We none of us know when death is coming, and it can arrive swiftly and without mercy. Thus it was for Sybil. One mght be favoured by a king, but it is difficult to curry favour with Death.

The Reaper sent smallpox in 1562; it negotiated with Elizabeth I and she won, but her indomitable old nurse lost the battle and died in just a matter of days, on November 6, 1562.

Sybil’s marble effigy, a funerary monument, is there to this day, though her husband requested that her body be returned to Penn, where he is buried under the floor of the church.

She slept peacefully for a long time. Until 1829, to be exact.

My sources name a storm as the culprit: it damaged the church, and in its path was Sybil’s tomb. Though the church was rebuilt, residents of her apartments at Hampton Court began to experience strange disturbances.

The family at the time began to hear inexplicable voices, and a strange whirring sound, like a spinning wheel working. They would wake to find the room bathed in eerie light, the story goes; and one night a member of the family woke to find cold hands cradling his face.

In work on the building, workmen opened up the walls to find a hidden chamber containing an ancient spinning wheel.

This solved nothing and the apartment has never really recovered. A tall, gaunt grey-robed figure will often be seen walking across the West Front.

And there’s a very modern coda to her tale: it seems she has not yet found rest.

These days, that apartment is a set of offices. The earliest arrival one morning, not long ago, put down two shopping bags to enter the security number on the keypad which goes for security these days.

And staring at her through the glass was a woman’s face.

The lady was puzzled: who could be in the offices at this time? She opened the door and there stood a tall woman, dressed head to foot in grey, looking every bit flesh and blood; and for a short while the two women just stared at each other.

It was when the woman inside made to move that the new arrival realised there was something very wrong. She later described the woman gliding, as if on castors, past her, out of the door, and across the entrance to the palace, disappearing after a short while.

Who was she? The woman who worked in the office was in no doubt.

For she had seen the marble effigy in the church up river.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

Image via Wikipedia Commons


With thanks to former Hampton Court employee Sam Hearn, who supplied a number of important amendments to this story.


50 thoughts on “The Woman in Grey: a Hampton Court Ghost Story

    1. You may have something there, Sidey. A sort of ‘Lego’ solution to the whole thing. Just put her back together and she’ll go straight back to sleep and stop scaring the willies out of office workers at doors.

    1. Scarey, huh? I went downstrairs to make a cup of tea and was so wrapped up in the story I kept thinking I might see Sybil Penne through the window. Deeply over-active imagination 😀

  1. Oh my goodness! I’m glad it wasn’t I who encountered that long-dead woman on the other side of the glass and then gliding past – I’m shivering enough as it is!

  2. OK, Kate…you REALLY did give me goosebumps this time! I am a bit speechless…I’d say things like “unbelievable,” but I tend not to disbelieve things I cannot prove or understand. I love the mysteries that accompany others’ experiences. I’m not sure I want to share the experience, however!

    1. Lame, I stood there in the dark on Saturday night, looking at the very door with its strange wooden balcony. Just the first of a series of amazing ghost stories from Hampton Court.

      I managed a haunted house for three years, locking it up close to midnight each shift I worked. It is possible to live side by side with this stuff. Not always pleasant, but possible.

      1. You’re a more brave soul than me, Kate. I’d much rather be bored at work than scared shitless (if I am allowed to be bluntly scatalogical).

    1. Me too, Cameron. I’ve glimpsed things from the corner of my eye; I’ve seen what might be termed by some as ‘orbs’ and I’ve heard them loud and clear. But to stand staring at one? No, thanks!

  3. Oooo! The cold hands on his face made me shiver. Imagine waking up to that. You do tell a good story, Kate. I like especially that part about The Reaper negotiating with Elizabeth. Wonderful verb to use for this. Btw, how old was Sybil when she died (did I miss it)?

  4. Too scary. I’d rather read about ghosts than see them. I’m reading The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans right now. The eighth-century past of a Scottish island, complete with fleeting glimpses of monks, nuns, Vikings and Picts haunts the new inheritor of Findnar. Strange visions among archeological digs. Yow!

  5. A good story, indeed. I wonder, though, why the guide and some of the frequent visitors don’t have their own regular sightings? On the other hand, I have those first-hand stories from a former security officer there to go on …

  6. Really interesting. I am surprised how many of your readers were terrified by this. Maybe it is not so scary to me because i have a ghost (and have had many in the past) that haunt me currently (in fact, i wrote about it the other night…
    San Francisco has a LOAD of ghosts. I am not sure why because we are so young of a city… only a little over 150 years old…. but i guess you dont need age, just need drama in the town! Great story. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Interesting – I have just started working in an old mansion built circa 1839 and it has its own ghost already. It doesn’t take long, does it? Thanks for reading and commenting – I had a lovely time reading your tale!

      1. The house i am in right now was built in 1907. However, in the mid century, a senior couple died here. I believe that possibly one took care of the other and so when the capable one died, the un-capable one passed away too. It took them i believe 6 days before they were discovered. This was AFTER Mary had moved in downstairs. She said that the city closed up this floor for a few years after the discovery of the dead couple. I am not sure why though. Pretty creepy! I should tell you, that the first place in SF that i was haunted in, it was a brand new constructed building. I was the first person to live in it since it was built. But it was across the street from the Flower Market in SOMA so i know that something had been there for a LONG time (or maybe several different buildings). So, either it found me and followed me in or the ground itself is the thing that was haunted…. go figure! 😉

  7. Lady Penne was a 13th great grandmother of mine. I wish I had known this when I was in Hampton Court. I’d have organized a seance to have a chat with her. Family gossip always is fun.

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