Nouveau Wraiths


I think I have confessed before to being a temporal snob.

“How did you like Polesden Lacey?” asked a work colleague, and I replied, oh, it’s really lovely, but it’s only really as old as this place.

“This Place’ is a 19th century Victorian mansion, impressively furnished in powerful blokish style with dark wood, Egyptian accents and a staircase to reckon with. It has a stained glass window intoning the ancestry of the house’s creator way, way back into the past; and plush red carpet.

But when it was built in 1839, the moated hunting lodge where Catherine of Aragon met Henry VIII was demolished. The mansion which now stands is a spring chicken of just 174 years or so.

Here, where many places boast several centuries to their CV, the replacement is just a young pretender.

However, ghosts and ghost stories do not seem to need long to get their feet under the table, so to speak.

The stories began almost as soon as I arrived. I thought the place had its own ghostly governess, but the truth is a little more grisly, I fear.

I could not help but notice that Christie’s, our esteemed auctioneers, were recently selling off a rather splendid collection of Victorian state-of-the-art metal riveted washing vats. They were the very thing  in all the most fashionable houses in the second half of the 19th century. Much more modern than those wooden tubs which had dogged launderers back to mediaeval times and before.

The biggest one I could find here was 22.5 inches across – about 1.8 feet. But they made them bigger, if the story I have heard tell is anywhere near the truth.

The great house had very big laundry vats indeed. So big, indeed, that one day a maid was helping with the washing in the great kitchen, and in some dire conjunction of the fates, fell in.

She was mortally scalded, and dismayingly she did not die immediately. Instead she was taken into a neighbouring room on a makeshift stretcher and laid out on the bed in agony. And a short time later, she died there.

I do not know what has happened in the ensuing century or so. The building has been many things, I believe: a teacher training college, a nuclear bunker, a comprehensive school. But ghosts have their trails, do they not? They just do their thing, no matter what is going on around them.

I take up her trail when my colleague saw her, briefly, with a rustle of Victorian skirts and a cold, clammy drop in temperature. My friend told me she would not care to repeat the experience.

It seems the place has a haunted room. Just one room which is – shall we say – troublesome. One guest left in the early hours of the morning because, despite her cast iron attempts to close and lock all the windows, she would wake to find them all open once more. Again and again.

And upon enquiry, staff will tell you that this is the room where the laundry maid was laid out after her accident.

I have heard and collected the stories of much older wraiths than she. I can yarn of ghosts from before Christ.

But I’ll wager these more modern ones are by far the most unsettling.


29 thoughts on “Nouveau Wraiths

  1. It would be easier to deal with some of your ghosts than the French bureaucrats that I encounter regularly. The experience is often seasoned with a cold, clammy feeling and a drop in temperature brought on by an icy stare.

  2. What a horrible way to die; of course she remains a presence there in that room. You really could do a book, Kate, of the ancient, and not so, ghosts on your island. You continue to fascinate me with your stories.

  3. How terrible for the poor maid! I think I’d be troubled knowingly entering the room where she died such a horrible death even without the spectral experience! I agree with Penny…what an extraordinary book it would be! I’m not sure I want the experience, but I enjoying knowing ABOUT the experience. 🙂

    1. I know: it’s the sort of tale that makes a good yarn. Im terrible for telling these stories with wide eyes and great animation, and then being petrified when I have to stay late to lock up!!

  4. Love the photo. The road beckons and yet there’s that very stern structure observing your approach, seemingly blocking the way …

    Heartbreaking story about the maid. What a terrible way to die.

    1. I know. i always think that, apart from all the rest of a sudden death- the teror, the pain – there is another emotion: a surprise. A feeling that one was not ready. And if there were any truth in these tales I love so much to tell, then the strength of an apparition must come from the baffled surprise, the incredulity that life should end without its proper conclusion.

  5. “She was mortally scalded, and dismayingly she did not die immediately. Instead she was taken into a neighbouring room on a makeshift stretcher and laid out on the bed in agony. And a short time later, she died there.” What a ghastly death.
    Do you know Postman’s Park in the City with its vignettes of heroes and heroines who lost their lives trying to save others?

  6. Sounds like a very unpleasant experience for your colleague and for the guest. Whilst many ghosts are related to very sad events I wonder if there are also those souls that stay because they were happy and did not want to move on? Our resident seems to be one of those – not that she’s made her presence felt particularly recently..

  7. That poor maid. What a nasty way to go. I’m a bit of a temporal snob too, especially about buildings (ironic, since in the US, most buildings are babies in comparison to anything in Europe or elsewhere). “Oh, it’s a Victorian? That’s sweet.” I love the old old old stuff, but any time period can yield juicy stories, as you know so well. I’d love to visit where you work to see if I can get a peek at your ghost, I can’t resist things like that.

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