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

The-Scarlett-Gospels-Main

The Scarlet Gospels BOOK REVIEW

Andrew Garvey28th August 2015
Spawn-of-the-Slime-Beast-MAIN

Spawn of the Slime Beast BOOK REVIEW

Paul Adams1st August 2015
James-Herbert

James Herbert Awards provide horror treats

Andrew Garvey16th July 2015
Spooky-Pic

Writers wanted for charity ghost book

Staff Writer13th June 2015
Christopher-Lee-The-Monkeys-Paw

Remembering Christopher Lee’s Fireside Tales

Ann O'Regan12th June 2015
Howard-Jackson

Howard Jackson talks about Nightmares Ahead

Staff Writer5th June 2015
Tim-Lebbon

Breaking the silence with Tim Lebbon

Simon Ball20th May 2015
The-Girl-With-All-the-Gifts

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey BOOK REVIEW

Andrew Garvey6th May 2015
The-Loney

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley BOOK REVIEW

Andrew Garvey4th May 2015
Winston-Churchill

Winston Churchill, Horror Writer

Michael S. Collins19th April 2015
Feral-Children

‘Gabriel-Ernest’ and feral children

Kaja Franck13th April 2015
The-Town-Halloween-Forgot

The horror behind The Town Halloween Forgot

Guest Writer13th April 2015