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  • Things that Go Baring-Gould in the Night July 3, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beach has been having a LOT of fun recently reading the autobiography of Sabine Baring-Gould, an eccentric and very capable Victorian/Edwardian clergyman who was once described on this blog in the company of a werewolf. Here, instead, is SBG’s collection of material relating to the Old Madam who haunted his family mansion, Lew Trenchard Manor in Devon. The lady in question was his great, great grandmother, though there is the suspicion that this is a more traditional ‘white lady’ grafted onto a family matriarch.

    I may now give some of the ghost stories relative to Old Madam picked up by me as a boy, and happily written down by me as received. There is a long corridor extending upstairs from the main staircase at the west end to the secondary flight at the east end. Along this a White Lady has been supposed to walk at night…

    My mother has often told me how she had heard the steps at night, as though proceeding from high-heeled shoes, walking slowly along the corridor; and, thinking it might be my father coming to bed, she has opened the door to admit him, but on looking out, she has seen the light through the windows illumining the gallery down which she heard the measured tread, but could discern no person. On one occasion she followed these steps. They led into a room at the western extremity, which is now the boudoir, but saw no one.

    My sister frequently expressed her desire to hear the steps of the spectral lady, and was disappointed though she sat up on purpose. One summer night, however, she was sitting in her room, with window and door open, writing a letter, and thinking of anything but the Old Madam, when she heard steps along the corridor. At the moment she thought it must be my father, and she rose, took up her candle and went to the door to speak to him, as she supposed he would scold her for sitting up so late. To her surprise she saw no one, but the steps passed her, and went on into the lumber-room, now boudoir. Being a resolute and courageous young lady, she followed the sound into the room, but could see no one. She also opened the only other door beyond her own and which gave admittance to one of the servants’ apartments, to ascertain whether the noise could have proceeded thence; but found the two maids fast asleep.

    RATS—that is my explanation of the tread along the gallery.

    SBG goes on to tell us about other family encounters with this Devonian Banshee including a heart-breaking death.

    Barbara, now Mrs. L. F. Burnard, used to say as a child that she often saw a lady in blue, who would visit the nursery, stoop over her, look at her, and sometimes sit beside her bed.

    When Diana, now Mrs. H. M. Batten, was dangerously ill, we had a trained nurse to attend her. One night the nurse had dozed off, when a tap came at the door, and a female voice said: ‘It is time for her to have her medicine.’ The nurse started up, ran to the door and opened it. No one was there, and my wife had not gone to warn the nurse. Another servant, doubtless.

    When little Beatrice was ill, cutting teeth and with whooping-cough, I did not think that the nurse-girl was sufficiently alert to attend to her, and so advised my wife to go into the bedroom, and sleep with Beatrice. I was then in the room in which Old Madam died, above the drawing-room. I was awoke about the middle of the night by my wife, who came in and said: ‘I cannot sleep. I hear people tramping, carrying something down the stairs.’ I sat up and argued with her. It was a windy night, and the noise might be caused by the gale. As I was speaking there sounded three heavy strokes as if made by a clenched fist against the partition between the bedroom and the dressing-room. ‘It is only the starting of the timber,’ said I, and I induced my wife to go back to her bed. Next day, so little did we think that Beatrice was in a serious condition, that we went off to make a call in Launceston. On our return I was sitting in the drawing-room, and my wife fetched the child, who was dressed, and took her down into the library. I heard a cry, and ran in, and found that the child had died on her mother’s knees. Her coffin was carried down the staircase, as my wife had heard on the night before her death.

    In 1918, the last year of the war, my youngest daughter, Mrs. Calmady-Hamlyn, with her two children and a couple of nurses came to live with me at Lew, as her husband was in Palestine and Syria. Both nurses gave notice. They had been frightened by seeing a female form at night walking in the nursery, and stooping over the beds of the children. After that she engaged a superior Swiss nurse, who saw nothing—not being able to hear the tales of the revenant told by the other domestics.

    There is a lesson here for all of us. The descendants of Zwingli don’t give a damn about ghosts. Interestingly the Old Madam was not just happy to guard the family, she also enjoyed the squire’s prerogative of terrifying the locals.

    Mrs. Sperling, now of Coombe Trenchard, which was the old rectory, had her brother staying with her, Alister Grant, son of the Hon. A. Grant of Grant. He did much fishing in Lew water. We had then a very pretty governess, Miss Wilson, and Alister Grant was much smitten with her. One night he went to Lew Mill to see how the pheasants were getting on, that the keeper was rearing, and sat on chatting with the keeper till late. As he returned along the road at the rear of the Avenue, parallel with it, and the moon was full, he saw a figure of a woman in white or grey, he could not say which, walking in the Avenue. Thinking it might be Miss Wilson, he leaned over the low wall, and spoke to her: but the figure passed on between the boles of the trees. He spoke again, but there was no answer. Then it occurred to him that we were away at Bude, and that Miss Wilson was also away for her holiday. He became frightened, and ran as fast as his legs could carry him, till he had passed Lew House. He knew well enough that not one of our servants would venture to walk in the Avenue at night.

    In 1877, a friend of mine, Mr. Keeling, a solicitor at Colchester, was staying with me at Lew. He was sitting one evening in the settle, and I in the arm-chair opposite him, in the hall. It was night and late. All at once we heard a sound as of steps issuing from the door into what is now the ballroom, behind the settle, walking the length of the hall, with a dragging sound as of a trailing silk or satin dress. We both heard it. Keeling sprang to his feet and exclaimed: ‘Good God! what is that?’ I remained standing, for I also had risen, and thinking that possibly a drift of rain had swept the window, I ran to the door, opened it and looked out at the pavement before the window; it was perfectly dry.

    On the confines of Orchard is a gloomy valley, called the Deep Way, through which trickles a rill of water, under the shadow of a plantation and wood. The Bratton-Clovelly road plunges into it – it is the ancient Via Regia – crosses a little bridge, and scrambles up the opposite side through the gloom of the overhanging trees. The gradient recently has been reduced by cutting down the hill and raising the road over the stream. On the side of the highway is an old mine-shaft, formerly some seven feet above the road, now level with it, and filled up. It is, or rather was, confidently asserted by Lew and Bratton people that on dark nights Madam Gould was to be seen, dressed in white, standing by the side of the stream, and that she stooped and took up handfuls of water, which she allowed to trickle down in sparkling drops through her fingers. Sometimes she combed her long flowing hair with a silver comb; and many a Bratton man, returning from market, has seen her and has been nearly frightened out of his wits by her.

    In 1864, my wife and I drove over, by invitation, to have a high tea with the rector of Bratton, Rev. E. Seymour and his wife and family. There was some difficulty about the meal, and Mrs. Seymour had to apologize. Her cook had struck. She said that she would neither boil the kettle nor cook anything for us, as Old Madam had been the cause of her brother breaking his leg. As he was returning from Tavistock at night he had seen Old Madam at the mouth of the mine-shaft, all in white; and in his alarm, he had scrambled over the opposite hedge and had fallen and broken his leg. Nota bene.—There are two public-houses between Tavistock and Lew Down; till recently there were three.

    Beach loves that last, very SBG sentence. Anyway, we digress…

    A young man, named Symonds, living at Holdstrong, but who had kinsfolk at Galford, left home for America during Madam Gould’s life. After some years he returned, and hiring a horse at Tavistock he rode to Galford. It was a clear, moonlight night, and as he rode through the Lew valley he noticed to the left of the road a newly ploughed field, in which a plough was standing. On this was seated a lady in white satin, with long hair floating over her shoulders. Her face was uplifted and her eyes directed towards the moon, so that Mr. Symonds had a full view of it. He recognized her at once, and taking off his hat called out, ‘I wish you a very good night, Madam’. She bowed in return, and waved her hand. The man noticed the sparkle of her diamond rings as she did so. ‘She wears her years marvellously,’ thought Mr. Symonds. On reaching Galford, after the first greetings and congratulations, he said to his relatives: ‘What do you think? I have seen that strange Madam Gould sitting on a plough, this time of night, looking at the moon.’ All who heard him stared, and a blank expression passed over their countenances. ‘Madam’, said they, ‘was buried seven days ago in Lew Church.’I heard this story from Mr. Symonds of Holdstrong, and it was confirmed by those at Galford. Now the moon set about 2.44 a.m. on April 29th, and it was at its highest about half-past seven p.m. on April 28th, 1795, which was Tuesday after the 3rd Sunday after Easter.

    Mr. Symonds of Holdstrong was wont to affirm that the old Madam walked nightly between Galford and Warson over Galford Down, passing through Holdstrong farm, by the old Church path and beside a Dew pond on the down. Symonds said that he had never actually seen her, but that over and over again he had heard the rustle of her garments as she passed him. She had been seen by some of the men at Galford standing beside the Dew pond for a moment and then sweep on her way. Doubtless the fog that gathers over the water and replenishes the pool.

    An old woman who entered the orchard, seeing the trees laden with apples, shook some down and filled her pockets, keeping one in hand to eat. She turned to the gate into the road, but suddenly there flashed before her in the way the figure of Old Madam in white, pointing to the apple. The poor woman, in an agony of terror, cast it away and fled across the orchard to another exit, a gap, where a slate slab formed a bridge across the stream; but the moment she reached it, the figure of the White Lady appeared standing before the bridge, looking at her sternly and pointing to her pocket. It was not till the old goody—but she was a girl then—had emptied it of the stolen apples, that the spectre vanished. This woman I knew: her name was Patience Kite, and she often told me the story, and assured me of its truth.

    And this is Beach’s favourite because it is so damn frightening…

    A carpenter who was employed to effect the alteration of Lew Church in 1832 worked late; he was alone, and before leaving one evening, out of curiosity, opened the vault or grave in the church, in which had been laid William Drake Gould and his lady. Finding the lady’s coffin-lid loose, he proceeded to raise it that he might take a look at the redoubted Madam. Immediately she opened her eyes, sat up and rose to her feet. The carpenter, who was an elderly man, frightened out of his wits, ran from the church, which was filled with light from the risen lady. As the man darted down the churchyard avenue, he turned his head back, and over his shoulder saw her gleaming in the porch and preparing to sail down the path after him. He lived in the Dower House—or rather in part of it, at Lew Mill, and the road passes nearly all the way through woods. He ran as he had never run before, and as he ran, so he told me, his shadow went before him, cast by the light that shone from the spectral lady that followed him. On reaching his house, he burst the door open and dashed into the bed beside his wife, who was infirm and bedridden. Both of them saw the figure standing in the doorway, and the light from it was so intense that, to use the old woman’s words, she could have seen a pin lying on the floor.

    And finally back to the family:

    We gave a ball on the occasion of my second daughter, Margaret’s coming out. When callers came after the ball, several of them asked who was that strange lady in a dark dress with lace, and grey hair, whom they had seen, who spoke to no one, and was addressed by no one. One gentleman said that he saw her standing under the portrait of Margaret Belfield, and he was struck with the resemblance, though the strange lady was older. The likeness was so great that he thought the lady must be a relation. There was no old lady at the ball.

    A friend of mine, R. Twigge, was staying with me, and one evening he came down dressed for dinner, and opened the side door into the drawing-room, when he was surprised to see in the arm-chair with his back to him an old gentleman with either a white wig or with powdered hair, and opposite him an elderly lady in satin. He drew back surprised, and went round through the dining-room, and asked who those persons were in the drawing-room. I went at once in through the door into the hall, and found that the room was empty. The two figures were seen occupying the seats on opposite sides of the fire-place where once sat Parson Elford and Old Madam Gould on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

    SBG now offers his own theories of ghostly transference.

    My own impression is that there has been a transfer of the White Lady from Susanna Gould to Madam Gould. On 19th March, 1729, Peter Truscott, Gent., of Lew Trenchard, son of the rector, John Truscott, married Susanna, daughter of Henry Gould of Lew Trenchard and Elizabeth his wife. There had been differences between the squire and the rector, political, I believe, as Henry was a strong Jacobite and Truscott was a Whig. Henry Gould strongly disliked the idea of this marriage, and it was probably due to trouble consequent on this that Susanna on her way back from the church to the house dropped down dead – in her bridal white – and was buried on March 23rd. She had been forgotten, and the spectral form was transferred to Old Madam, who had no real claim to be seen in white.

    It would be interesting to see if there were any ghost stories in the locality before the death of Madam Gould. Of course, documentation will defeat usSigh. Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    5/7/2012: Invisible has come up with a brilliant few lines here: ‘Unfortunately I can’t give you documentation of earlier White Ladies in the Lewtrenchard area, but William Henderson, in his Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and Their Border, quotes the story of Old Madame from his correspondence with Dr Baring-Gould. It concluded with this bit, which may have not been in your source: [again, quoting Dr Baring-Gould] ” There is a stone shown on the ‘ ramps ‘ of Lew Slate Quarry where seven parsons met to lay the old Madame. Opinions differ as to what took place whether she was laid in part or not at all. Some say that the white owl, which nightly flits to and fro in front of Lew House, is the spirit of the lady conjured by the pardons into a bird ; others doubt this ; but I believe all agree that the parsons failed because one of the number was ‘ a bit fresh ‘ when he came, and had forgotten the right words to be used. ” I have not the smallest doubt in my own mind that this history is in its essentials of very great antiquity ; that the apparition is really an ancient white lady, who has suffered anthropomorphosis, and become Madame Gould ; the same stories and the same superstitions having been rife ages before the birth of  the lady to whom they have now been applied. ” In many points Madame Gould strongly resembles the German Dame Holle: such as her connection with water and her silver comb, as well as the appearance to the apple-picker. Holle or Holdar, in Germany, is a very beautiful white lady with long flowing hair of a golden hue ; she haunts fountains and streams, and is often engaged in washing. She is well disposed, and rebukes bad children, punishing theft and other faults. Her dress is white with a golden girdle, and she is radiant with light. She is an ancient Teutonic goddess. Curiously enough, also, she lives in mountains, and issues luminous from the mouth of caves, just as Madame Gould appeared to the man from the old mine-shaft. In one account of the apparition which I obtained, Madame Gould was expressly said to have appeared with golden hair; whereas her portrait represents her as a very beautiful woman, with long brown hair floating down her back. ” I have given these stories of the old Madame with some fulness because I believe her to be unquestionably an ancient Saxon goddess, who has fallen from her pedestal, and undergone anthropomorphosis and localization; and such instances, though not uncommon in Norway or Germany, are rare in England.” Invisible writes: Google Books is being fussy this morning so I could not cut and paste from it as I’d like, but you can read on p. 274 of Henderson’s book about the spectral “two white sows yoked together with a silver chain which ran down the church lane” at Lew Trenchard church. There is also a passage about a painting (described by Baring-Gould as hanging in his house at Lew Trenchard) of the merry-making of pixies and elves “dressed in the costume of  the period of William of Orange”, which sounds like a Victorian fairy painting although Henderson says the painting is from the period of W of O. I wonder if the painting is still there? The website for the luxury Lewtrenchard Manor Hotel mentions “historic paintings”. Henderson’s book also says that there is a “gallitrap” in the parish of Lew Trenchard. A gallitrap is a field or piece of ground where a person becomes trapped—pixie-led—and cannot be extracted without clerical intervention.  So some fairy traditions (often associated with White Ladies) around the parish of Lew Trenchard as well as ghostly pigs (remnants of a foundation sacrifice? Celtic Boar deities?)’ Thanks Invisible!