Sunday, 3 July 2011

Longleat House


Longleat House is probably best known for its safari park, which includes a troop of 100 or more mischievous, Rhesus Macaques, who’s sole intention seems to be the random destruction of your car. Amongst Longleat's many other attractions, is the worlds longest maze. I don’t know about it being the 'longest', but it certainly has to rate, in my opinion, as the longest time spent trying to escape from box hedging.

A Brief History
Longleat House lies near Warminster on the A362.  It must surely rate as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain. It stands prominently in 900 acres of beautiful parkland, much of which was landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the 1700s. The estate was originally the site of a medieval Augustine priory, until King Henry the VIII fell out with the Roman Catholics and had the monasteries and priories and anything else that hinted at having 'monkish' connections dissolved.

During the Reformation, the Longleat estate was purchased by Sir John Thynne in 1541 for the princely sum of £53. The first house was destroyed by fire in 1567. The second house, which remains largely unchanged to this day, was finished in 1580 shortly before his death, having taken thirteen years to complete. The Thynne dynasty have been the sole owners of Longleat House for 470 years. The current seat is occupied by Alexander Thynne - the 7th Marquess of Bath.  Longleat has become one of Britain’s most visited attractions and its safari park was a world’s first, outside of Africa when it opened in April 1966 and effectively rewrote the book on how animals should be kept in captivity.

The Grey Lady
Before I begin this story, I must make a point which hopefully will help clear up any confusion which may arise from you reading the internet and several other publications that refer to Longleat's “Green Lady” and the “Green Lady’s Walk.” I have it on good authority, having spoken to several of Longleat's house guides, that the apparition in question is actually referred to as the “Grey Lady” and the Grey Lady’s Walk,” respectively. "Why the confusion with colours I asked?" "Simple!" came the reply, "she dresses in grey." You can't argue with that. Right, on with the story.

The most famous of Longleat’s ghosts is that of Lady Louisa Carteret, who married the 2nd Viscount of Weymouth - Thomas Thynne in 1733. He agreed to allow her to bring her own serving staff to Longleat as part of their wedding arrangements. One of her entourage was a young footman who’s adoration to his Lady seemed to go beyond what was expected of his post, at least that is how it appeared to a few of Longleat's household staff. They grew jealous of what seemed to be favouritism by Lady Louisa towards this young man. Rumours and suspicions grew as to the likelihood of there being extramarital liaisons between the two. These rumours were quite untrue as it turned out but word got back to Thomas that his wife was having an affair. Thomas, well known for his quick temper confronted the fellow at his earliest opportunity in a passageway outside the old library on the first floor beside a spiral staircase. An altercation took place whereby Thomas accused the footman of indiscretions toward his wife, which he flatly denied. In a fit of rage, Thomas lost his temper and pushed the footman down the stairs breaking his neck in the fall.

Thomas, fearful of being implicated in his murder, quickly had the body buried in the cellar and made up a story for Lady Louisa that the footman had left without word. She did not believe him, fully aware of his distrust for her servant.  She suspected her husband had imprisoned him somewhere inside the enormous house. She spent many days and nights frantically searching every room, those that were locked she demanded be opened. Her search however proved fruitless, for she never found him. It was on one of her nightly searches in the bitter cold that she caught a chill which developed into pneumonia. Lady Louisa, much weakened and distressed by her husbands deceit succumbed to her illness during childbirth and died in 1736 at the age of 22. She had been married just three years.

Shortly after her death, reports from staff claimed they had seen Lady Louisa prowling the passageway where the incident had taken place, later to be called the “Grey Lady’s Walk.” Even today she is heard banging on doors in a desperate and endless search to locate the whereabouts of her footman. She was a beautiful young woman in life and it is said by those who claim to have seen her, that she retains her beauty in death. The Grey Lady is the most frequently seen of Longleat’s ghosts, even the Marquess of Bath claims to have seen her on occasion. Her portrait hangs in the Lower Dining Room.

After his wife’s death, Thomas moved from Longleat, to live in the village of Horningsham nearby. There were those who, at the time, spoke of his reasons for leaving; he lived in mortal dread of encountering Lady Louisa as she walked the passageway after nightfall.

Evidence to back up the death of the footman and subsequent ghost story are further endorsed when central heating was being installed in 1903. It had been necessary to lower the floors in the cellar to accommodated the boiler and pipes. Whilst digging up the flagstones, builders discovered the skeletal remains of a male wearing what appeared to be the remains of jackboots and fragments of a uniform of a footman of the period. To avoid any scandal, the bones were collected and quietly interred in the local churchyard.  Ironically, as it turned out, only a few feet away from where 2nd Viscount Thomas Thynne is buried.

The Red Library
Longleat has one of the largest private book collections in Europe. It has seven libraries containing some 40,000 books owned by the family since before the house was built.  Nearly half of the 85 volumes which appear in the booklist of 1577 are still to be found on the shelves. One library in particular - the Red Library, contains 5000 books and a rather distinguished ghost who is thought to be that of Thomas Ken - Bishop of Bath and Wells, who took refuge at Longleat when he lost his seat as punishment for refusing to switch his allegiance from King James to King William. He remained at Longleat for twenty years until his death in 1711. His ghost has been seen sitting quietly in the Red Library reading, when approached he vanishes.

I can highly recommend a visit to Longleat, there‘s something here for everyone. We arrived at 10:00am and by 17:45 (it closes at 18:00) we had still not seen all that Longleat has to offer. I strongly advise the online booking option, you’ll save a packet on the day by not having to keep forking out for the many attractions.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Me and my mother went to Longleat house, we got a picture of three orbs and the Grey Lady's footman in the dining room, no word of a lie! Very creepy.

Willow said...

Thanks for your comment 'anonymous.' I would like to see your photograph of the footman. My views on orbs can be accessed via the sidebar.

Anonymous said...

There is also the ghost of lady Alice in the Saloon which has been seen by many guides and visitors. She was the sister of the 4th marquess who redecorated the House at the end of the 19th century. She died in 1847 of Polio at 11 and comes back to play in her favourite room. From what I hear she was last seen December 2013 by a little boy who saw her appear from feet to head sitting on a chair. He then ran to tell his story to a guide. He was quite shaken. A lot of paranormal activities happen at Longleat but we do not know who they are. Most of the staff can tell you some incredible stories though.

Willow said...

Thank you 'anonymous, ' I was not aware of that haunting.

Gabriel said...

Hello! I write you from Spain. I want to ask a question: Have you ever heard this story about Longleat Manor? In 1974, the TV channel  NC TV decided to produce a series on haunted houses in the UK. They filmed scenes at Longleat Manor but always appeared in the film a yellow-green mist that marred all films and always had technical problems. Finally the problems ended when the director and the team asked the green lady that would allow them to film in the house.

Willow said...

Hi Gabriel.
I am unaware of that story, but it does sound intriguing. Do you have any more information?

Gabriel Wüldenmar said...

Yes, sir. I have got this (sorry: spanish text traduced by Google Translator):
In 1974, the NC chain decided to produce a series on haunted houses in the UK. They filmed scenes in several of them without grasping an anomaly until they reached the palace. As he reached the crew, things began to unravel inexplicably: the lights melted, the phone ran out of line and more than one camera, no one knew why it crashed to the ground or scattered parts the ladder. When they finally managed to overcome failure after failure and time of positivar what had filmed the first day of work, found the ubiquitous image of a green fog and thick arrived. The next day, fearing a human or technical error, a new camera was used and all the material was checked beforehand. But, specifically, the annoying phenomenon repeated itself and constantly caught again the yellow-green fog.
That was when the team learned, by the locals, the existence of "green lady"; neighbors advised him to seek the assistance of a medium to contact her. Given the economic losses and surpassing their disbelief, followed the advice. The medium, after contacting the spirit, recommended them to shoot properly had to ask permission to "green lady" who was very upset by his lack of consideration and reproached them for their bad manners at home. The reactions were mixed team: cynicism, anger over the absurd, rational attitudes sufficiency, teasing, etc. So, ignoring the wishes of the ghost, the next day they filmed what they had planned. The result could be no other: was there again greenish fog that replaced the beautiful shots that were filmed.
The television could not afford this waste, so the program director volunteered to officially request the "green lady" permission for filming. The formal request was made in the palace library, in the presence of all equipment and 12 at night. Simultaneously with this request, a camera was mounted on the third floor, traditional area of appearance of the lady in green. This camera was prepared for one will meet at regular intervals throughout the night. The next morning, everyone could watch the result. With great surprise they found as a bubble of light, leaving a door, disappeared for another, after stopping at the target. The timer on the camera marked the one in the morning, one hour after formal request in the library. From that time did not have any problems again.

Willow said...

Anoymous writes...

My wife and I have just spent a very pleasant two nights at Littlecote House in which we occupied the Henry V111 suite. Nothing spooky happened during this holiday but on a previous visit, something did happen to my wife.

We were not staying in the house on that occasion, but in the holiday complex built by Warner's adjacent to the historic building. We attended a medieval banquet in the Great Hall and were seated in front of a huge, blazing log fire. In spite of this, my wife felt cold, and the lady sitting next to her apologized for moving, and said she felt inexplicably uncomfortable sitting where she was.

Several times during the evening, my wife looked over her shoulder in response to someone tapping her on the shoulder, expecting to see the 'court jester', who was hosting the event, mucking about. But, on every occasion, there was no one there.
Spooky, you might think, but there was more to come!

We returned to our room in the holiday complex and settled down in a bed with a large wooden headboard. At some time during the night, my wife was woken by a loud banging on the headboard. Upon opening her eyes, she saw a red mosaic hallow surrounding the face of a man. My wife was fully awake and is positive she was not dreaming. She closed her eyes, hoping the apparition would disappear, but the knocking started again. This happened several times whenever she closed her eyes. My wife was not afraid, but she was very angry to have had sleep disturbed and eventually, said, "Oh, go away!" Which it did.

My wife is normally sceptical about ghost stories and supernatural claims, and is not fooled easily. Neither is she an attention seeker, and she has no mental issues. She is intelligent, sensible and level-headed, but she knows what she saw, and always feels that Littlecote House does not like her for some reason.

We stayed in the house because Warner's gave us an up-grade on the room we booked, for reasons that are not relevant to this post. Needless to say, my wife was very apprehensive about sleeping in the house, and we kept a bedside lamp on all night, so that we were not in total darkness.

kate crabb said...

I'm desperate to find out information on the fire that destroyed longleat house in 1567. Does anybody know if anyone died in this fire please?