Chavenage House in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, has an array of phantoms and spectres, says guest writer TAYLA McRAE
Chavenage House is an absolutely stunning Elizabethan manor house in the Cotswolds that is well worth a visit. It is still lived in, by the Lowsley-Williams family, the second family to inhabit the current building, constructed in 1576 by Edward Stephens. The story goes that all of its owners have seen a ghost.
Haunted Chavenage House linked to horrors of Civll War
Chavenage House is strongly linked to the English Civil War of 1642-51. Nathaniel Stephens, the owner of Chavenage at the time, was on the side of Oliver Cromwell. Chavenage was given the task of attacking the nearby Beverston Castle (a.k.a. Tetbury Castle), home to a royalist family.
The attack failed twice and it was discovered that a young maid working at Chavenage was secretly romantically involved with Commander James Ogglethrope from Beverston.
The maid would light a small candle and leave it in a window visible from Beverston to let her lover know that Chavenage would not be attacking that night, and the coast was clear. This meant that Beverston always knew when an attack was coming, causing each one to fail.
When this was discovered, the girl was locked in a room, and a candle was placed in the window. Beverston was attacked that night, and Ogglethrope was beaten and hung. When the maid found out, she committed suicide. It is said that the girl’s ghost, dressed in white and holding a candle, wanders between Chavenage and Beverston, trying to warn her beloved.
At Christmas 1648, Oliver Cromwell himself paid Nathaniel Stephens a visit, accompanied by Henry Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law. Their aim was to convince Stephens that executing the defeated Charles I was the right thing to do.
Stephens, although anti-royalty, was not quite convinced. After a long night’s discussion, he eventually agreed. In the New Year, Stephens’ daughter Abigail came home and was horrified to find out her father had shamed the family by agreeing to regicide. She cursed him, and he soon became ill and never rose from his bed. He died in 1660.
Headless man drives hearse at Chavenage funeral
At Stephens’ funeral, a hearse, driven by a headless man, appeared at the front door of Chavenage. The ghost of Nathaniel Stephens got up from his coffin, bowed to the driver, and got into the hearse. The driver then changed into the form of Charles I. Until the end of the Stephens line, this happened at every funeral of the head of the family.
It is said that there is an extremely unpleasant feeling in the room that Cromwell stayed in. Princess Marie Louise, granddaughter of Queen Victoria and author of My Memories of Six Reigns (1956) frequently stayed at Chavenage. She wrote the following of the house:
“To reach the staircase leading downstairs, I had to cross the landing outside Cromwell’s rooms. I am not a timid or nervous person by nature, but I am not ashamed to confess that I was honestly frightened to cross that landing – an odd feeling of something uncanny and horrid seemed to bar my way. Then I thought how I might protect myself and be rid of this terror. I made the Sign of the Cross, and after that I was no more frightened, and could run down the stairs happy and cheerful and free from that terrible feeling of oppression and evil.”
The princess also experienced her door opening, and then closing a few seconds later. She casually mentioned it to the family, and found that many others had had the same experience.
The princess’ maid saw a lady in a “grey old-world dress” walk past herself and up to the princess, lean over her, and then disappear. The princess did not notice her. The family commented that it must have been the Grey Lady, thought to be either the sister or daughter (Abigail) of Nathaniel Stephens.
People who stay in a particular bedroom describe the feeling of not being alone. Many have a dream of a man leaning over them in bed, and all describe him as having long, dark, greasy hair, a Mexican moustache, and gold epaulettes.
The current owner’s aunt slept in Nathaniel Stephen’s bedroom and frequently felt her bed being nudged. She eventually moved it. Upon doing so, she discovered that the bed had been covering a priest hole. The nudging stopped when the bed was in its new location. This makes sense as Chavenage was the location of a medieval monastery, dissolved by Henry VIII. There is also a monk that haunts the chapel. He has been seen by tourists, as well as RAF soldiers, as the chapel was used as a hospital following the Battle of Britain in 1940.
I would highly recommend visiting Chavenage House. It is a fantastic experience and you get a guided tour by a member of the family currently living there. It is very detailed and you get to see some fantastic items from the Civil War, including a copy of Charles I’s death warrant and a lock of his hair. It was the first place I visited on my trip to England in 2015 and I cannot think of a better way to have started my travels.
TAYLA McRAE is a history and classical studies teacher in New Zealand and runs www.facebook.com/ForQueenMaryI