Ghostly Tales at Ham House
The tour began on a mild and moonlit Halloween Night. The house was atmospherically lit by candlelight and a few energy saving bulbs which cast a dull yellowish glow over the rooms, leaving lots of shadows and dark corners: much I would imagine, as it looked on winter nights in the 17th Century.
Our guide informed us that the house steward, Victoria Bradley, who lives at Ham has seen footprints by the bed, facing the fireplace in the Duchess’ bedchamber. I have met Victoria and she doesn’t strike me as someone easily rattled – so one up for the ghosts of Ham?
Staff working in the house have also seen footprints on the staircase, accompanied by footfalls and the knocking of Duchess of Lauderdale’s stick in the corridors at night. Others have reported smelling pipe tobacco in the dining room, and to seeing the ghost of a dog – a King Charles’ cocker spaniel, in the grounds.
Elizabeth Murray was described by a contemporary as: 'restless in her ambition, profuse in her expense and of a most ravenous covetousness’. However despite this reputation, no accounts of ghosts are actually recorded until the 19th Century. Augustus Hare, who visited Ham in 1879 was the first. He wrote:
“There is a ghost at Ham. The old butler there had a little girl, she was then six years old. In the small hours of the morning, when dawn was making things clear, the child, waking up, saw a little old woman scratching with her finger against the wall close to the fireplace. She was not at all frightened at first but sat up to look at her. The noise she made in doing this caused the old woman to look round, and she came to the foot of the bed and, grasping the rail, stared at the child long and fixedly. So horrible was her stare, that the child was terrified and screamed and hid her face. People ran in and the child told what she had seen. The wall was examined where she had seen the figure scratching, and concealed in it were papers which proved that in that room, Elizabeth had murdered her first husband to marry the Duke of Lauderdale.”
This I doubt as Sir Lionel was in Paris when he died and had been there for six months-but why spoil a good story?
One theory is that Elizabeth may have administered a slow poison which gradually amounted to a fatal dose – or even poisoned him accidentally while trying to treat his stomach condition, perhaps with mercury or white lead, both lethal medicines at the time.
Two other ghosts I knew nothing about was one of a steward in the house in the 18th century who fell in love with a kitchen maid. The kitchen maid rejected him and despairing, he threw himself from his bedroom window on the second floor. His ghost is said to appear on the terrace where he fell.
Leon Tollemache, a nephew of the 9th Baronet Tollemache, who was killed in France in 1917, is often seen in the Duchess Lauderdale’s Cherry Garden on the west side of the house, a place he apparently loved and where he proposed to his fiancée. The story goes that a servant saw him in the garden a day or so before the telegram arrived to say he had been killed.
I would like to learn more about Leon, as I smell another romantic story there, but thus far he’s proved an elusive character.