MJ STEEL COLLINS looks at Pearlin’ Jean a Scottish ghost legend, which has many versions, each as scary as the other!
The case of Pearlin’ Jean is a ghost story that may leave some feeling that the focus of the haunting got his just deserts. It centres on the old house of Allanbank and Sir Robert Steuart, who later became the first Baronet of Nova Scotia. Steuart, a Leith based merchant and son of a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, purchased Allanbank House, which was located on the north bank of Blackadder Water, near Edrom, Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders.
At some point in his youth, Steuart undertook a tour of France. During his travels, he met a young nun named Jean, who was in the order of The Sisters of Mercy. The charms of Sir Robert were such that Jean was persuaded to forego her vocation and the two began an affair. However, before long, he grew tired of her and left her to go back to Scotland. Jean was devastated, but determined to get her man, so she searched him out, eventually tracing him to Allanbank House, where she went to confront him. To add salt to the wound, she also discovered that Steuart was by now engaged to be married.
Jean finally caught up with Steuart, as he and his fiancée were leaving the gates of Allanbank House in a carriage. Angry, Jean leapt onto the wheel of the carriage, refusing to back down when Steuart rebuffed her. Steuart ordered the coachman to drive on, and Jean’s clothes caught in the carriage wheels. She was dragged beneath the carriage and was crushed to death beneath the horses’ hooves. Callously, Steuart and his fiancée continued on their way, as if nothing had happened.
That autumn, Jean’s ghost descended on Allanbank House, all grisly and gory from the injuries that caused her death. Sir Robert Steuart met her at the gates returning home one evening, after which he shut himself in his room. But Jean was there to stay, her spirit causing all kinds of phantasmagorical chaos, slamming Allanbank’s massive oak doors and rustling her silk dress up and down the corridors. Her apparition was seen wearing lace with a type of design known in Scotland as pearling, hence the nickname Pearlin’ Jean.
This Allanbank House was demolished in 1849, and its subsequent replacement met the same fate in 1969. Pearlin’ Jean wasn’t reported to haunt the second house, so presumably she must have found her peace. The above is how Elliot O’Donnell recounts the tale in his Scottish Ghost Stories. But like any self respecting folktale, this is just one version. There are probably enough variations on it to fill an anthology. That’s one of the joys in stories like these. At some point in history, an event happened that has such significance, it gets retold over and over, bits and pieces being added as time goes on, to make it that much more enthralling. Getting to the bottom of what actually happened usually involves a lot of sifting through archives, etc, and the older the tale, the less likely there are to be accurate records of what happened.
Another version has Pearlin’ Jean being killed trying to stop Steuart abandoning her when he sets off home from France, her head being run over by the carriage and her vengeful ghost follows Steuart back to Scotland. And yet another has Jean actually being brought back to live at Allanbank by Steuart as his mistress, but his tiring of her when he finds a woman suitable to be his wife. By this point Jean is pregnant, and paid off to return to France. After the wedding, Steuart and his wife are confronted by ragged woman, holding a baby. It turns out to be Jean and her child by Steuart. Again, Jean dies beneath the hooves of the horses pulling the Steuarts’ coach, but the baby survives and is raised by its father and stepmother. Both end with Allanbank House earning the reputation of being haunted.
Sometimes, the existence of a simple ghost story is less likely than the existence of ghosts!

MJ Steel Collins
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