Books

Slaves, Ghosts and Bronte: The Dark History of Whernside Manor

Slaves, Ghosts and Bronte: The Dark History of Whernside Manor
Josie Palmer

JOSIE PALMER describes the dark history behind the real life inspiration for Wuthering Heights 


Whernside Manor, formerly known as High Rigg End, sits on the flank of Whernside, one of the mountains that forms part of the Howgills in Cumbria. It lies within Dentdale, a peaceful, picturesque dale. But local legends speak of a black coachman riding the roads and the sound of clanking chains. The house, now a bed and breakfast, boasts of having at least five resident ghosts. This old manor clearly has many dark and hidden stories.

High Rigg End was home to the Sill family for many years. Their fortune came not from farming but from the plantations they owned on Jamaica. Local folklore has it that the Sills brought slaves to Dentdale as their servants. Recent discoveries show that this was not just a local tale. An advertisement placed in a Liverpool newspaper in 1758, shows that Edmund Sill of Dent offered a ‘handsome reward’ for the return of an escaped slave. The slave was called Thomas Anson ‘a Negro man, about five feet six inches high, aged 20 years or upwards’.

In recent years, a connection between the Sill family and Wuthering Heights has also been uncovered. Heathcliff is described by Emily Bronte as having skin colour ‘as dark as though it came from the Devil’. It would seem that another local story relating to the Sill family may have influenced Emily, who stayed near to Dentdale for a period of time. The story tells of the adoption of an orphan boy called Richard Sutton, who was described as a “foundling” when brought to Dentdale. Rather than bringing the child up with the family’s three sons and one daughter, he was kept with the slaves.

Local historian Kim Lyon suggests that Emily Brontë combined another scandal from Dentdale to inspire the story of Catherine and Heathcliff’s doomed romance. She appears to have mixed the relationship between Richard Sutton and Ann Sill with local gossip that Ann fell in love with a black coachman. The coachman subsequently disappeared without trace, and it is said that Ann’s brothers had decided such a union would be inappropriate. A century later, a human skeleton was found beneath flagstones in the cellar. Were these perhaps the remains of Ann’s lover, the disappeared coachman?

The family home can still be seen in Dentdale, and folklore has it that there were iron rings on the cellar walls – rings for chaining the slaves. Questions about the slaves go unanswered and locals are often reluctant to talk about this dark chapter in their history. Others tell stories of how the River Dee that drains Dentdale, ran red with blood the night the slaves were all murdered.

The current owners have found no evidence of the rings in the walls, but the sound of chains is still heard to this day, mournfully echoing in the dale as the coachman rides.


Click to add a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Books
Josie Palmer
@picklepod

Josie Palmer has spent most of her life fascinated by vampires and the supernatural. When she isn't reading or writing about the undead (or just plain dead), she likes nothing better than to spend time on the beach. She lives in deepest darkest Norfolk with a growing taxidermy collection and a random assortment of living animals and other humans. Her blog www.thetivoligardens.com

More in Books

Arthur-Conan-Doyle-and-Sherlock-Holmes

5 historic Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle places to visit in Portsmouth VIDEO

Matt Wingett2nd May 2016
Bram-Stoker-Blue-Plaque

Top 10 Bram Stoker-Dracula sites to visit in London

Dacre Stoker29th April 2016
Vlad-the-Impaler

Dacre Stoker’s 10 must-see Dracula sites in Romania

Dacre Stoker27th April 2016
Bram-Stoker

What made Bram Stoker write Dracula, by Dacre Stoker

Dacre Stoker24th April 2016
James-Herbert

James Herbert, Master of Supernatural Fiction

Janet Quinlivan17th April 2016
Horror-of-the-Heights

Was Conan Doyle’s The Horror Of The Heights the first Lovecraft horror?

Michael S. Collins17th April 2016
Sherlock-Holmes-and-Dr-Watson

Sherlock Holmes for the Unitiated

MJ Steel Collins15th April 2016
A-S-Chambers

What lurks in the shadows of Lancaster?

Guest Writer12th April 2016
Draculas-Guest-Main

Was Dracula’s Guest really a prequel to Dracula?

Staff Writer6th April 2016
Morgan-Fairchild-with-Patrick-Macnee-and-Christopher-Lee-in-Sherlock-Holmes-and-the-Leading-Lady

The many faces of Sherlock’s ‘the woman’ Irene Adler

Nia Jones22nd March 2016
Sherlock-Homes-and-the-Liverpool-Demon-main

Sherlock Holmes: the Liverpool Demon

Andrew Garvey20th March 2016
Hellraiser-the-Bestiary-Main

Hellraiser Bestiary, a comic book series soaked in blood

Andrew Garvey6th March 2016