Thursday, 30 September 2010
Ghost Tours at Ham House
Built in 1610, and occupied by the Murrays from the 1620's until handed to the National Trust in 1948 by the Tollemache family, William Murray, Gentleman of the Bedchamber and reputed 'whipping boy' to Charles I received the house and grounds as a gift from his Royal master. His wife, Catherine Bruce Murray fought off several attempts by the Sequestration Committee during the Civil War to seize the estate while her husband was in Oxford with the King. The Murrays put Ham in trust for their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Sir Lionel Tollemache.
Despite this clever manoeuvrings, Lionel and Elizabeth still had to compound the estate - i.e. pay Parliament its full value of £1,300 pounds in the early 1650's.
Elizabeth was a renowned as a political schemer during the Commonwealth, and made herself into a friend of Oliver Cromwell, with whom she is reputed to have used her influence to save the life of John Maitland, the future Duke of Lauderdale after his capture at the Battle of Worcester. She married Lauderdale in 1672, six weeks after his wife's death which scandalised London at the time, and apparently Ham became a centre for The Sealed Knot, and the Masons, of which her father and second husband were members. A favourite of Charles II, eventually Lauderdale fell out with him and the famous South Front gates, constructed for his royal master were locked forever against him.
John Evelyn, the 17th Century diarist described Ham as, 'Sweet Ham' and it being furnished like ‘a great prince’s’ and is the only house in the country that has its original silk wall hanging, some of which glitter in the candlelight from the silver thread woven into the fabric. After Lauderdale's death, the Duchess was forced to take out mortgages, and sell her jewellery, court dresses and garden statuary. Crippled by gout and embittered by years of legal wrangling with the Duke’s relatives, she died in 1698 at the age of seventy two.
One of my favourite parts of Ham is Elizabeth Murray's private closet where she kept her Bible, books and tea-making paraphernalia. On Halloween, they are conducting candlelit night tours of the house, and if Elizabeth's ghost really does walk the hallways, this is the night she will appear. How can I resist?