BARRY McCANN reveals how the tale of two starr-crossed lovers lead to the haunting of Salmesbury Hall in Lancashire
The Lancashire village of Salmesbury stands on the A59 between Preston and Blackburn, and boasts a magnificent Tudor Hall standing in its own grounds. It was built in 1325 by Gilbert de Southworth and remained home of the Southworth family until the early 17th century. Now used for wedding receptions and housing an antiques emporium, the hall is open to the public, though there is one visitor usually seen at night. A woman in white who wanders alone.
This tragic figure is thought to be the 16th century Lady Dorothy (Dorothea) Southworth. Her zealously catholic and defiantly remained so despite the reformation and the hardship this brought to “Papists.”
Lady Dorothy fell in love with a young man from the de Hoghton family who were strongly Protestant and neither house approved of the union with the other. With permission to marry refused, the pair continued to meet in secret along the River Ribble’s banks or in the nearby woods, and conceived a plan to elope and marry. Unfortunately, intelligence of their intention was relayed to Samlesbury Hall.
On the night of elopement, Dorothy’s brother, Christopher, and other conspirators waited in ambush at the planned rendezvous. When de Hoghton arrived, they killed him, along with his two accompanying retainers. The bodies were buried under the cover of darkness within the grounds of the Hall’s chapel.
Dorothy was said to have witnessed her lover’s violent death and remained inconsolable. She was sent to a convent abroad and remained there for the rest of her life, descending into grief-fuelled madness. It is said her dying words were a whisper of her murdered lover’s name.
Later in 1826, the remains of de Houghton and his two companions were unearthed during the digging of a road near the Hall, which at least verified their fate and brought some closure to their story.
However, it seems this is not enough for Dorothy’s troubled spirit. She has been seen many times in the corridors and grounds of Salmesbury Hall, apparently moaning and searching for her missing lover. But her search is not just confined to the Hall itself.
Over the years, bus drivers have reported pulling up to the stop just in front of the Hall on the main road to pick up a waiting passenger. However, when the doors open there is no one there. On each occasion this mysterious figure has been described as a woman who, dressed in period costume, the drivers have assumed to be a member of the hall’s staff waiting to go home at the end of her shift.
Given her lover’s body had been hidden in the very ground the road now runs over perhaps she senses the trail of his final hours ends there and waits in vain for him to return. So should anyone witness the White Lady don’t be afraid. Just be sympathetic.