Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Lady of the Lake
The West Steps
The picturesque 15th century village of Lacock has many ghostly tales but for this post, I will focus on just two locations; Lacock Abbey and The Sign of the Angel Inn.
Lacock abbey was founded in 1232 by Ela - Countess of Salisbury (d. 1261) who was also the first abbess. She came from a rich and powerful family. She inherited her father’s title when she was just six years old and became a ward of King Richard the Lionheart. She was later to marry William Longspree, the King’s illegitimate brother. Lacock Abbey was built in his memory.
Canonesses (nuns) occupied Lacock Abbey from 1232 - 1539. There would have been at least 15 women at any one time living at the Abbey. They would have lead a frugal life, each day spent in almost total silence, rising at 2:00am to take part in one of seven religious services. They would have had no contact with friends and family, devoting their entire lives in the service and worship of God.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 - 1541) by King Henry VIII, the Lacock estate was put up for sale and purchased by Sir William Sharington (1495 -1553) treasurer to the mint. He kept the magnificent 13th century cloisters (occasionally used for the Harry Potter movies) and the 15th century chapter house but decided to add an impressive 16th century mansion. It is this building which is reputedly haunted by a hideous deformed dwarf, who appears dressed entirely in black. It is said that many years ago two children were staying at the house when they saw an ‘ugly little man’ walk through their room. It is also said, that several years after this encounter the skeletal remains of a deformed dwarf were found buried in the wall of that particular room. The identity of this decidedly unpleasant little fellow remains a mystery but his spontaneous appearance over the years has caused those who have encountered him to flee in terror.
There is a little ornate lake in the grounds, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a beautiful young woman dressed in a flowing white gown, which appears to float behind her, caught one would assume, by the gentlest of breezes. She is most often seen strolling beside the lake, her features are described as ‘mournful’ or ‘melancholy‘. It is thought this beauty maybe the ghost of Rosamund Clifford, who was allegedly mistress to King Henry II during a time when he had lost favour with his wife - Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Rosamund Clifford’s death in 1176, was both untimely and somewhat mysterious and it was rumoured that she met her death on the command of a jealous Eleanor - though these accusations were never proved. Just why Rosamund Clifford should haunt the lake is unknown, other than the possibility that it may have been a favourite ’haunt’ of hers, no pun intended.
Lacock is probably best known for one of its former resident families - The Talbots’, who succeeded the Sharingtons’ ownership of Lacock in the mid 18th century. Years later, one family member in particular - William Fox Talbot (1800-1877) who was born and died at the abbey, was to become best known for his pioneering work in the field of photographic negative development. A museum dedicated to his work occupies part of the abbey. One of his first photographs which still survive, was taken at the Abbey in 1835. It shows a grainy picture of one of the abbey's oriel windows taken near the west steps using one of his tiny rudimentary box cameras.
Many years later, a photographer taking photographs at the west steps was to have a very strange encounter. Whilst framing one particular shot, he noticed the presence of a ‘most beautiful young woman’ who was standing close to the steps and looking up at the abbey. He made sure the figure was in the centre of his viewfinder and took just one photograph of her, as he was eager to make the young lady’s acquaintance. He started to walk towards her but when he was only a few yards away she abruptly disappeared. Somewhat stunned, he immediately made enquires in the abbey as to who he thought he had seen. He was surprised to find that he was not alone in witnessing the young lady, for in turned out that many similar sightings have been reported at the foot of the west steps. Later, when the photographer was developing the film, he discovered to his surprise that although the picture of the west steps were perfectly framed, the mysterious young lady was not evident on the negative. It is thought that this ghost may also be that of Rosamund Clifford.
The Sign of the Angel Inn
The Sign of the Angel Inn
Note the inclusion of the ghost mentioned on the pub noticeboard as you go in
The Sign of the Angel Inn
This 15th century inn, formerly a wool merchants house is located in the village and is a fine example of a Traditional English pub. Oak beams, log fires, polished wood floors, and antique furniture add to its cosy 'lived in' atmosphere. The name, ‘The Sign of the Angel’ derives from the gold ‘Angel’ coin that was current at the time.
The inn is said to be haunted by the ghost of an elderly woman, who has been frequently seen over the past 15 years or so. She is believed to be one of the previous owners who just refuses to leave. A friendly soul by all accounts, who has been spotted several times by staff and diners patiently sitting at one of the tables in the lounge bar. She has also been seen in one or two of the guest bedrooms. A friendly spirit to some maybe, but not to a certain carpet fitter who, in 1980 whilst laying stair carpet, experienced the ghost firsthand as she appeared right in front of him. Suffice-to-say, he left the premises in somewhat of a rush, vowing never to return.
I was amused when reading the noticeboard at the entrance to the Inn, where there is reference to its 'resident ghost'. Great stuff!