Sunday, 9 June 2013

Haunted Worcestershire

With the interest shown in the excerpts from my other ghostly books I decided to pull this story from my Haunted Worcestershire. This was a particular favourite of mine and, even if you are unconvinced, it still makes for a good tale.

Hagley Hall is one of the loveliest stately homes in the land. Set in a varied and rolling landscape, new wonders are revealed at every turn. A delightful mix of flowerbeds, winding paths, woodland and water provided artists with inspirational views. Within the house itself more delights are found in every room. Architecture and decoration are among the finest in the land, the thousands of visitors each and every year are adequate testimony to the work done by the inhabitants since the Lyttelton's built the first house and laid out the original gardens.

The Lyttelton's have been around Worcestershire since the twelfth century and possibly longer. However our story starts on 30th January 1744 and the birth of Thomas, destined to be the second Lord Lyttelton. He was only in his third year when his mother died, his childhood overseen by a succession of tutors and distant family members. Reaching his adulthood he was a source of great displeasure to his father. He lived a wild life, given over to questionable conduct which, while not illegal, was not that befitting a man of his birth. However it was common among the young men of his age and he was by no means the worst of his generation. On the death of his father in 1773 the title passed to him, although his erratic behaviour in his early life led to him being more commonly referred to as 'The Bad Lyttelton' or even 'The Wicked Lyttelton'.

On his return from office in Ireland he was already suffering ill health, fits, headaches, and chronic indigestion which was more likely heart disease. His life was made bearable through medicines and regular bed rest, particularly following an attack. It was on one such occasion in 1779 that he retired early to bed on the night of November 24th. A servant brought him the medicine and left him when ordered to do so. Thomas was not alone for long when he was disturbed by the fluttering of wings within the room. He listened and heard footsteps approaching his bed whereupon he sat up and was stunned to see the loveliest woman he had ever seen alongside his bed. Clad all in white she had a small bird perched on her hand and she spoke to him. He was speechless as he heard her tell he was to prepare himself for death. When he enquired how long he had she replied by midnight on the third day.

Next morning his discomfort was evident and, over breakfast, he told his guests of the events of the previous night. He dismissed it as a dream, saying of how he had forgotten to release a robin trapped in the greenhouse a few days before which was clearly still playing on his mind. Any chance of convincing everyone else the matter was but a trivial one was made impossible by his evident stress and low spirits. Reports of two quite superb speeches in the House of Lords later that day suggested his mood was much improved. The second and third days also saw him in fine spirits, both in mind and body. Yet by the time they were seated for dinner the gloom was again descending.

His friends and colleagues, concerned that the woman in white's prophecy may lead to tragedy, contrived to get every clock and watch in the place put forward by thirty minutes. Thus when Lord Lyttelton retired at half past eleven, feeling drawn and exhausted, it was only eleven o'clock. As the appointed hour approached Lyttelton repeatedly checked watches to ensure they were still working. Eventually both watches read fifteen minutes after midnight and, confident that he was now safe, summoned his valet to bring him his medicine. From the next room the servant heard the unmistakeable sounds of laboured breathing, he returned to find the life ebbing from his master. Summoning help Lyttelton's cousins, including Lord Fortescue, ran to the bedside. They arrived just in time to see the death of Thomas Lyttelton at the moment the clocks all said half past twelve, in reality midnight - exactly as foretold by the ghost in white.

Meanwhile at that very same moment of his death Lyttelton appeared at the side of the bed of a Mr Andrews, one of his closest friends. Andrews thought it some sort of prank and rang for a servant to prepare a room immediately. By the time the servant arrived Andrews was alone. He dressed and organised a thorough search. However the only news of Thomas Lyttelton came in the form of a messenger, telling of the passing of the peer at the age of thirty-five.

It has been suggested that the woman in white was Lyttelton's mother. Yet although he could not have had any recollection of her as she died when he was very young, he would certainly have seen her portrait hanging around his home. Since that time there has not been any similar reports of hauntings at Hagley, so her identity remains a mystery.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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