Monday, 22 February 2010

Savernake Forest & Hotel

The Royal forest of Savernake lies close to the historic market town of Marlborough. It covers some 4500 acres and is one of England’s oldest woodlands; believed to be more than a 1000 years old. Earliest records of Savernake or Safernoc as it was referred to in the Saxon charter by King Athelstan; dates from AD934. Today, Savernake is privately owned (the only privately owned forest left in Britain) by the Earl of Cardigan and trustees. The upkeep of the forest is the responsibility of the Forestry Commission. A large proportion of the Savernake is still open to the public where one can enjoy peaceful woodland walks and take in Savernake’s abundance of wildlife, ancient trees and landscape.

Royal Connections
In the 16th century, a branch of the Seymour family living at Wulfhall, near Burbage, had as its ‘Warden of Savernake Forest’ - Sir John Seymour. Sir John’s daughter - Jane, was later to marry King Henry VIII, his third wife. It was not unusual for Henry to visit Savernake and indulge in his passion for deer hunting. It was during one of these visits with the Seymour family, that his attraction for Jane blossomed. She was to be the only one of Henry’s wives to bare him a son - Edward, later to become Edward VI. Soon after Edward’s birth, Jane became ill and died shortly after. It was well known by those close to Henry that he regarded Jane as his only true love. She was to be given a Queen’s funeral, the only one of Henry’s wives to receive such status. She shares his tomb at St. George’s Chapel, Winsor Castle, again, the only one of his wives to do so.

Haunted Savernake
Savernake has many ghosts sightings but probably the most common are those of a headless horsewoman. This terrifying apparition is sat astride a huge white horse which gallops at breakneck speed along The Grand Avenue which runs through the centre of the forest. The story behind this haunting is one of gruesome tragedy. During a hunt, the unfortunate woman’s horse took flight and bolted into think woodland whereupon horse and rider parted company at a point where a low forked branch interrupted their passage. A branch I may add, which took off her head with the greatest of ease. It is unlikely, as some have suggested, that this spectre is the ghost of Jane Seymour. As I recall, Jane Seymour was one of the lucky ones to have kept her head.

A family from Reading visiting in 1968 were enjoying a peaceful afternoons stroll, when suddenly they were startled by the sound of galloping horse. 'The sound of hooves seemed to be all around us,‘ one of the party later recalled. During this frightening encounter, another member of the party glimpsed a shadowy form of a horse and rider as it passed through the trees at terrific speed.

In 2002 a group of walkers were strolling along The Grand Avenue when they became aware of the sound of a horse approaching. 'The thunderous sound engulfed us then faded away into the distance.' On this occasion nothing was seen.

There have been many sightings of so called ‘woodland spirits.‘ These spectral wraiths are said to dart amongst the ancient trees, especially at dusk. Often described as shadowy, animated figures, some human in appearance but mainly animal. One such animal is said to be that of a magnificent white stag which will suddenly appear before a startled audience only to disappear as swiftly as it arrived. I am not surprised to hear that Savernake harbours so many animal ghosts, especially when you bear in mind its medieval hunting heritage.

The Savernake Hotel

Savernake Hotel 19th Century (Image credit

Savernake Hotel today, now privately owned

At the edge of the forest stands the Savernake hotel, built by the Marquis of Ailesbury c1864 as a catchment area for passengers disembarking at Savernake station - now abandoned. It is a little baffling why the Marquis should have decided to build his hotel some 8 miles from the station, not exactly on the door step. He must have recognized his error, for in 1868 he arranged for a road to be built that would reduce the commute to his property ensuring a more regular trade.

Many ghostly encounters have taken place over the years at the hotel, none more so than the frequent encounters reported of a large black dog which is reputed to haunt the grounds and occasionally the kitchen and bars. One visitor actually stepped over the animal when she approached the reception to check in. Her husband was heard to enquire of his wife what she was doing, “stepping over the dog, can‘t you see!”, she replied. “What dog?” countered her husband. Indeed, to her astonishment when she turned to look at the animal it was nowhere to be seen. It is not documented what happened next.

Another frequent ghostly visitor to the hotel is an elderly Victorian gentleman, who is often spotted sitting in the lounge bar smoking a pipe. Residents have also reported seeing the same gentleman upstairs. One such encounter befell a couple of residents who later described their experience.“Well, he just appeared from nowhere, then walked straight across our path directly through a locked door.”

Bar staff would often complain to the manager that the taps which supplied gas to the beer pumps were being turned off. This mystery deepened when the manager, keen to find an explanation, locked the cellar door with the only set of keys which he kept in his possession. He made good the taps, ensuring they were were fully open. You can imagine his surprise when told by staff the following morning the gas had been switched off during the night. Other disturbances included doors opening by themselves, keys going missing, lights switching on and off and the sound of footsteps in corridors.

Today the hotel has been converted into three apartments, whether the hauntings continue is unknown.


Mister Roy said...

The photos show that it is a beautiful building, and your account of its supernatural heritage brings it to life (or afterlife) as a fascinating one. I can't help but be a bit sorry that it isn't a hotel anymore.

Willow said...

Thank you Mister Roy. I agree, I to wish the Savernake were still a hotel, as I would be checking in for a snoop.

david walker said...

I used to live in ram ally a short walk from where the building is and some friends of mine used to own it back in the early 90s when it was still a hotel, I used to play around the grounds and in the building and remember many times seeing the dog and hearing strange sounds, the most memorable time was late one summers evening we were messing around in the back garden when we heard shouting along the side passage when we went to investigate and saw the shadow of a man running towards us, he was dressed as if going to work, well we were scared but stayed still and then all of a sudden we heard a loud growl next to us, that was it we legged it round the back of house and up the other side of the building, we told his parents but they didn't believe us they thought we were just kids messing around. I know what we saw and heard that evening it wasn't our imagination,

Willow said...

Thanks for you comment David; sounds like you had quite a scare.

Anonymous said...

I stayed at Savernake forrest hotel in 1984 in the buildings adjoining main hotel and facing the side road.
A young sad eyed girl of about 10-12 years old came through the wall.
Apparently this was known to staff working there as they did not wish to be ones responsible for making up the room
I moved rather swifty to a hotel in Swindon after that emotion draining experience

Willow said...

Thanks for your comment 'FR'. Did the staff give you anymore information?

Anonymous said...

I lived at the severable hotel for many many years and never saw anything that had been said here.

Willow said...

Not sure where the 'severable hotel' is 'Anonymous' could enlighten us?

Anonymous said...

Hello Willow,
In response to your question of 8 FEBRUARY 2012 21:18 - (I Not been back to this website since then - but am checking up on any further information on this hotel and Sandbach OLD HALL (now no longer hotel) in Cheshire, where I had my only other ghostly encounter in my 31 years of living in hotels most weeks)

The Manager of the Savernake hotel( not owner as I think an actor owned at the time?) informed me that two of his relations from Wales ( females) had come screaming from same room at 2am one weekend and refused to stay at hotel on a visit ;as they had had same apparition.
He told me of the old man and dog apparitions being the one that most people saw and I think also a Monk ( though my memory on the latter is not 100%)
The Manager was quite calm and factual about the presence of the spirits in Savernake Forest Hotel

( FYI: the room I refer to was on first floor and approached up external stone steps from rear of hotel. Facing the hotel from the front, The room on the left hand side behind main building. although joined to main hotel it cannot be accessed from within the main hotel.
The young girl apparition therefore came through wall from main hotel)

I have often wondered what experinces the new residents have in that room, since the conversion to private dwellings !!


leemorris said...

The comments that I have are quite long so will be in parts so as to comply with the blogs limits on characters.

Part 1

In 1972 my parents, Peggy and Kingsley Morris bought the Lease of the Hotel and I and my first wife and our two daughters joined them to run the Hotel. The Hotel at that time was in the possession of The Crown Estates and Carter Jonas acted as the Agents.

The Hotel had suffered through a lack of investment and marketing and was in a fairly grim condition and I can remember the Health Inspector arriving on the third day to see what they could do to help and advise as they were very close to shutting it down. At that time we were unaware of any Ghostly encounters except to say that when my Father and I first visited the Hotel to view I was very aware of opening the Front door and experiencing what I can only describe as a welcoming atmosphere.

My Mother then accompanied my Father on the second visit and on opening the same door apparently bent down to what she descibed as an impression of a black dog running to greet her but there was no Dog. My Father, a true sceptic of such things, saw only my Mother bending down and like the previous case above denied all sightings of a Dog.

So that was the first encounter. During the time that followed whilst we redecorated and refurbished, no further sitings were seen until one day during Lunch service in the Kitchen, I asked one of the staff helping me to take a dish and place it in the hot cupboard and saw her step over a Black Dog that ran out of the wall behind me and through the hot cuboard. She immediately turned and asked, “Did I just step over a dog?” So an occasion when the Dog was seen by two people at the same time. Seemingly emboldened by this reappearance the Dog appeared more often, twice I saw it jump through the Kitchen window and one of the Chambermaids appeared to form a relationship as she swore it would follow her around from room to room!

Conversations with guests who had stayed prior to our arrival also reported sightings and one gentleman swore blind that whilst staying in Room 8 he was woken by the Dog pulling the bed clothes off! There was only one sighting of the elderly Gentleman and that was by Marjorie our Head Waitress who one morning was clearing tables after breakfast and through the archway to the Resident's/Coffee lounge saw a n elderly Gentleman dressed in a dar suit with a wing collar and reading The Times, the old edition where the front page had just adverts, and went to ask him if he wanted anything only for him to vanish! I say there was only one sighting as it wasn't until after we had sold the Hotel and left that my “sceptical” Father, whoo had poohpoohed all the sightings of Dogs etc admitted that during the first year when they occupied Room 9 he had come out of the room heading for the top of the stairs and saw the figure of a man in the corridor pass in front of him and go into Room 5. Knowing that there was no one booked in that room he went in to see who this man was but there was no one there. His only experience and he kept it to himslf!

Willow said...

Thanks for your stories 'leemorris' most interesting.

Anonymous said...

My father (who is dead now) was in the army during the Second World War. Prior to his regiment leaving for France at the start of the war, they were on exercises in Savernake Forest & one night he was ordered to go on sentry duty. The night was quiet until at one point he heard a horse being ridden towards him. The sound got louder & louder until he was at last forced to stand behind a nearby tree for his own safety. Nothing however appeared as the sound went past him & disappeared again into the forest. He never forgot the experience & his story made me search the internet to see whether there were any other similar stories.

Willow said...

Many thanks for your comment 'Anonymous.' The spectral horse would appear to be one of Savernake's more frequently encountered 'shades.' Your father was well advised to take cover behind a tree.

Anonymous said...

We now live in what used to be the old hotel in the left hand side (the four bedroom house).

Yet to experience anything, but I don't rule out that there is something here. Will keep you updated!

Willow said...

Thank you for your comment 'anonymous.' Yes, do let us know should anything unusual occur.