Ghosts at Langenhoe, Essex
This is the story of the Langenhoe Ghosts. Langenhoe is a small hamlet, in Essex, just to the south of the town of Colchester.
I’m taking this account from Peter Ackroyd’s book, The English Ghost.
The First Hauntings at Langenhoe Church
(The church was actually St Andrew’s not St Mary’s)
The vicar of St. Mary at Langenhoe, a village south of Colchester, kept a diary at the time of his appointment for the living in the autumn of 1937. The Reverend Earnest Merryweather was not previously interested in unusual phenomena but the
but theevents that happened outside and inside the church were so compelling that he wrote about them in his diary at the time they happened. The first entry is the following.
I visited the church on 20th September, 1937. It was a quiet, autumn day. I was standing alone in the church, and the big west door was wide open. Suddenly it crashed two with such force that the whole building seemed to. Doors don’t usually slam as if an express train had hit them when there is no palpable reason. This aroused my curiosity as to the cause.
This is a subsequent entry on fifth November after the 11 o’clock service.
I was about to leave the vestry and placed my robes in my valise, having forgotten to put something else inside, I tried to open the catches for some time, then gave it up as hopeless. They were fixed. When I reached the bottom of the church lane, I tried again. The influence had gone and the catches worked normally.
All was quiet for eight years. Then in 1945, the vicar reported another incident out of the ordinary. His housekeeper and her young daughter together with the Reverend Merryweather, were busy decorating the interior of the church.
In preparation for Easter, the housekeeper had just placed some flowers in a vase and had put it on a pew while she was dusting. The vicar and the young girl were not near her. Moments later, she turned around to discover that the flowers had been taken out of the vase and placed neatly on the pew itself.
Three years passed. In the summer of 1948, the vicar and several members of his congregation heard noises coming from behind the closed door with the vestry as if clods of earth were being thrown around. It was a dull thudding. Investigation. There was no obvious explanation for the noises that were heard on ten separate occasions throughout that year.
In the same year, in November, 1948, he had gone into the church to fetch some coal. He had an iron rod to loosen the coal and thrust it into the pile on an impulse. He put his biretta onto the rod. Much to his surprise, the biretta began to revolve slowly. In this same period, there was an outbreak of violence in the neighbourhood with the boys of a nearby village attacking local people.
The Reverend Merryweather remembered that his son had bought him a dagger as a souvenir of a holiday in Cyprus, so he wore it in his belt as a precaution. He was standing in the same month before the altar when he felt the dagger being taken from his belt. It fell to the ground. Then he heard a female voice somewhere behind him. ‘You are a cruel man’, she said There was no one visible in the church.
In the following month, there were inexplicable noises within the church. One was like that of a rifle shot. There was a sound of coughing. The Credence Bell rang of its own accord on several occasions.
On 21st August, 1949, the Reverend Merryweather was celebrating Holy Communion to his parishioners when he suddenly looked. He saw the figure of a woman standing against the north wall of the church. He estimated her age in the mid thirties. He noticed a scarf or some other kind of headdress that fell across her shoulders. She walked with a slight but noticeable stoop across the chancel and towards a corner of the southwest wall. At this point, she vanished. The Reverend Merryweather affirmed that she seemed to him to be as real as any living person.
It was later discovered that at the exact place she disappeared, there had once been a doorway into the internal tower wall. There was now a statue of St. George upon a table in front of what had once been the door. The Reverend Merryweather was not aware of the location of the old doorway at the time of the incident in January, 1950.
When the reverend was examining the south doorway. He twice heard the sound of a loud ‘ow!’ from a female. There was no one else in the church at the time.
In the summer of that year, a local brick layer, William Ware, was asked to repair some tiles on the roof of the church. He had been given the key to the vestry door, but despite repeated attempts, the door would not open. It was to all intents and purposes sealed. Mr. Ware went to a cottage close by to ask for assistance, but when he returned with the cottage, the door opened with ease. So he prepared for his work on the. He brought in his ladder and placed it so that he could ascend to the upper part of the church. He was surprised when he reached the top of the ladder by the sound of the church bell ringing, even though he knew that there was no one else in the church.
The Smell of Spring Flowers
On the morning of 14th September, the unmistakable scent of spring violets filled the church.
On the evening of 28th September, the Reverend Merryweather was working in the vestry when he heard the voice of a woman apparently singing plainchant. The music was then succeeded by the sound of a man’s footsteps, heavy ones proceeding along the nave. By the time the reverend had entered the body of the church, the noises had stopped.
One week later, the Reverend Merryweather was surprised to find two labourers crouched down, looking through the keyhole of the west door. When he walked over to them, they asked him to put his ear up to the door and listen. He could plainly hear the sound of plainchant, apparently in French, being sung in the empty church. One of the workers declared that it was odd that the singer should have locked the door, whereupon the vicar informed him that the church was empty. Both men professed disbelief, so the Reverend Merryweather took one of the men with him and entered the church through the smaller entrance. Then he opened the west door, and the three men searched the interior thoroughly. No one was found.
The two men had been working at the manor nearby and had heard the singing over the next few weeks.
The door of the cupboard in the vestry was commonly found open even though it had been securely locked the night before. On one occasion, the Reverend Merryweather found that his stole had been wrapped around his alb.
On Christmas Eve alone in the church, the vicar saw a form slowly walking in front of him along the nave. It disappeared into the pulpit. The Reverend Merryweather described it as a man in modern dress, wearing what might have been a tweed suit. Candles disappeared or went out unexpectedly
On the 23rd of June, 1951, there was another incident at the moment when the saint was named. The vicar and congregation were surprised by a loud noise. At the same moment, a candle on the credence table sputtered, hissed, and went out at the end of his sermon.
On 24th June, the congregation also witnessed a strange phenomenon.
On Sunday, eighth July, the Reverend Merryweather once more glimpsed the figure of the woman whom he had seen on the previous occasion.
On 5th August, 1952, the Reverend Merryweather was in the vestry when he heard voices within the church.
On Sunday 12th, October, 1952, he was conducting a service. He was singing Psalm 119 and had reached the passage...
Rivers of waters run down my eyes because they keep not thy law.
…when he was aware of a stranger watching him from the vicinity of the lectern, she had an oval face, blue eyes, and was wearing a cream dress.
On 2nd November, there was a sudden terrible noise from the tower end of the church. The Reverend Merryweather was convinced that the tower was falling, but on hasty inspection, there was nothing whatever the matter with the fabric of the building.
More strange incidents occurred throughout the 1950s. Doors rattled as if someone were attempting to get in. There were sounds of footsteps, and lamps exploded. The local press wrote a lot about the events, and people started telling and remembering stories about the old church. Many of them going back to the early years of the 20th century.
Of course, it soon became known as the most haunted church in England. The Reverend Merryweather retired in 1959 and the church fell out of use. It was left to decay until it was finally demolished in 1962.
That is the end of Peter Ackroyd’s account. As we shall see, his source was Peter Underwood’s book Nights In Haunted Houses. Ackroyd leaves out a few things from Underwood’s account.
The 1884 Essex Earthquake Damages St Andrew’s Church
St Andrew’s Church (not St Mary’s, as it is erroneously called sometimes) stood next to Langenhoe Hall.
The 1884 Essex Earthquake destroyed lots of buildings and basically made the old church there unsafe. So it was rebuilt again in 1886.
The hall is next door, and in the 1911 census, it is occupied by people describing themselves as famers. Mrs. Cutting lived there in the 1930s, but we don’t know what her social status was.
Langenhoe appears in the Domesday Book in 1086, when it is owned by Count Eustace of Bolougne, presumably since the Conquest of 1066. The manor dates back to at least 1284, and probably earlier. An interesting record from 1284, has John Dispenser and Margaret, his wife, obtaining two carucates of arable land and 60 acres of woods. Later, the land came into the possession of the Waldegrave family.
John Waldegrave of Essex in the 1500s was a loyal servant of Queen Mary, and a Catholic who refused to give up allegiance to the Pope. Mary, if you remember, was the Catholic Queen. by Edward VI. But then Mary came to the throne, and he got promoted. And then, when Mary went and Elizabeth I was crowned, he was arrested and put in the Tower of London, where he died
by Edward VI. But then Mary came to the throne, and he got promoted. And then, when Mary went and Elizabeth I was crowned, he was arrested and put in the Tower of London, where he died.
But the Waldegrave family remained connected with Langenhoe. They purchased Borley in Essex and made it their home, but they also purchased Langenhoe. Later the two places, twenty miles apart, were linked because they were investigated by the same ghost hunters
One of the theories about the identity of the female ghost is that she is one of the Waldegrave family. The story goes like this:
The rector of the parish had an affair with an Arabella Waldegrave, and when he tired of her, he murdered her and buried her either in the church or in the graveyard.
This rector is unnamed in Ackroyd’s account, which is derived from Peter Underwood’s. However Rev John Cramer Dening, a ghosthunter friend of Peter Underwood’s got a name from a seance.
Another theory exists as to who the ghostly lady was. She was apparently a maid to a local landowner, Robert Atwood, during the reign of James I. He is said to have killed her and buried her under the flags of the church or in the graveyard outside.
I was able to find out some things about Merryweather from Ancestry. Rev Ernest Eustace Merryweather was born in Worcestershire in 1884 where his father was a railway goods clerk. He lived in Canada and married his wife in 1914 in Montreal, but she died and he was a widower when he came to Langenhoe in 1937. He stayed there, though I’m not clear that he lived in the Rectory like his predecessor, until 1959 when he retired from the Church and he died in 1965 in Colchester, nearby.
After Merryweather left in 1959, it was never used again and pulled down in 1963 due to it being unsafe. The belief is that it had never been wholly safe since it was rebuilt after the Earthquake in 1886. But that’s 80 years. The structural state of the building might explain some of the phenomena, but it is also rumoured that seismic activity can stir up ghostly happenings.
There was no door in the rebuilt church at that point, but there had been in the old church. This is where the statue of St George was on the inside where Merryweather saw the ghosts disappearing
Peter Underwood Investigates in 1949
It seems the source that Peter Ackroyd has this from is, is a book by Peter Underwood.
Peter Underwood was a very famous and well-published ghost author. Born in 1923, died in 2004. He was president of the Ghost Club for 30 years. And so became a very well-known authority on these things and would do his own invest.
Underwood met the church’s rector, Reverend Augustus Merryweather in 1949.
This is Underwood’s version from his book Nights In A Haunted House. He first went to Langenhoe in 1949.
A lonely and isolated church standing like a sentinel on its mound overlooking the Essex marshes, and the scene of virtually the whole gamut of psychic activity drew me in like a magnet.
And I well remember when I resolved to spend a night in that haunted house. It all began when I received a letter from my good friend, James Turner, poet and author, then living at Borley and busy restoring the garden of the most haunted house in England to something of its former glory.
Part of the letter read:
I have just returned from a visit to Langenhoe.
I think the church there would repay some of your quiet and thorough investigation
How right he was! I lost little time in visiting the area, never dreaming that it would be the beginning of an investigation that would extend on and off for over 12 years.
During the course of my investigation.
A fascinating story emerged, but first, let us meet the Reverend Earnest, a Merryweather rector of Langenhoe.
Mr. Merryweather, author of a limited edition of some notes on the family of Merryweather of England and America, lived in a small but comfortable house in West Mersea, where he was looked after by his housekeeper, Mrs.
Gertrude Barnes, widow of the Reverend Herbert Barnes, and her daughter Irene.
Mr. Merryweather, on his return home from Canada in 1918, took charge of two parishes in West Derbyshire. In fact, he told me before coming to Langenhoe , most of his life had been spent in the North of England, and he had never experienced anything of a psychic nature before he arrived in Langenhoe
In fact, he had never been interested in the subject, nor had he come across anything of that kind until he found himself at the apparent centre of inexplicable happenings.
Ernest Merryweather was a large, easy-going, kindly man, a widower with a son who lived abroad. I found the puzzled rector had a very sensible approach to things he couldn’t understand.
He kept his feet firmly on the ground and was blessed with an infectious sense of humour. Because he was at the isolated and almost deserted church far more frequently than anyone else, he had personally experienced a wealth of alleged paranormal activity.
I was delighted to find that he had kept a diary of his life in events, including the curious activities he had encountered at Langenhoe Church.
Everything was entered down with dates, details, names of other witnesses present his immediate reaction and all sorts of other relevant inform. Some years later, he presented me with this diary. I noticed with interest that the first recorded incident door slamming and paranormal locking were typical Poltergeist manifestations, and yet nothing more worth recording in the diary.
Seems to have taken place for several years, but these two incidents intrigued the new rector.
Underwood’s account lists much the same things as Ackroyd’s above, so I won’t repeat them. However, Underwood gives more detail and some interesting incidents not mentioned by Ackroyd.
The first of these is when, one day, the Reverend Merryweather, thinking he had not seen the occupants of the former manor house (Langenhoe Hall) near the church for some time, called at the dark and forbidding house, and at first thought no one was at home. But then his knock was answered by Mrs. Cutting. She invited the rector inside. And when she learned that he had not been in the house before, she offered to show him around, .
After exploring the downstairs rooms, he was shown upstairs where Mrs. Cutting led the way into each room until she came to a charming front bedroom, which the rector duly admired, whereupon he was surprised to learn that the family did not use that particular room, and they all felt that there was something queer about it.
Mrs. Cutting preferred to sleep in a north-facing bedroom, where the view was no comparison, but at least she was assured of a good night’s sleep. Mrs Cutting then left, and told Rev Merryweather to take a look around, saying that she did not like to linger in that room.
The Rector walked across to the window and admired the view. After a moment, he turned back, and as he did so he told me he turned into the unmistakable embrace of a naked young woman. This lasted only seconds, one frantic embrace, and she was gone.
There was no auditory visual or olfactory accompaniment to this remarkable experience, but the rector was quite emphatic. It was not just his imagination, and it was the very last thing that he expected. This unusual experience was a very real and lasting memory for Mr.
The incident where Rev. Merryweather’s knife is pulled from his belt is expanded upon and Ackroyd seems to have left out the full words the female ghost whispered to him. She said:
It was you that killed her. You are a cruel man.
In the light of the later story of the lover murdered by a historic rector at St Andrew’s this comment by the ghost leads us to imagine that she has mistaken Rev. Merryweather for her clergyman murderer of years long past.
Another incident not mentioned by Ackroyd is the report that two strangers to the parish went to see the rector. They said they were intending to have a look around the church one sunny morning, but as they were approaching it, they heard the sound of singing coming from within the church.
As they stopped, still unsure of what to do, the singing seemed to fade and cease.
We know that separately, two workmen and Rev Merryweather had heard this singing and of course the gypsy girls —‚Mrs Booth as she later became — also heard singing and saw a female ghost walk through the wall.
And we know about. Two workmen who hear the singing as well. The church bell tolls on its own, and lots of local people have heard this
On another occasion, the farmer’s wife sent over a housemaid to the church to see why the bell was ringing.
Reverend Merryweather gave Peter Underwood permission to stay in the haunted church, along with two people he collaborated with: James Turner and John Denning.
I took with me that night various instruments from measuring temperature, humidity, magnetic fields and electric fields, both inside and outside the church. And I attempted to control a number of objects and we know this. And he rings with, we know all of these things.
Powdered chalk was spread along the route, taken by alleged apparitions, and where footsteps had been heard and sensitive recording apparatus was placed where voices had been reported.
Beads and wires are also strung across the church at strategic places. In fact, the whole range of psychical researchers investigating paraphernalia and simple common sense precautions were all brought into play in an effort to prove scientifically the presence of the paranormal.
Then of course, as we know, there was a huge thunderstorm that night, and he says that, however,
Once or twice between the sounds of the storm, we were alerted by sounds not of this world or so it seemed.
But we never did find a rational explanation for the loud thuds, the vibrating bangs, the strange sibilant whispering sounds, the apparent footsteps or the snatches of music. Certainly we had no recorded evidence, but those fragmentary and spontaneous flashes of momentary psychic. If that is what they were and they were his memories.
In fact, none of my instruments showed any abnormality.
I asked John Denning for his memories of that night. He said he remembered so well. All the trouble. I went to the instruments and. In theory, he said this should have been bait on a plate to a Poltergeist. So since all it would need to do to register its presence would be to move one of the objects, a fraction of an inch over a chalk line, it was not to be.
on one of my last visits to Mr. Merryweather, when I was accompanied by my wife and daughter, and Dr. Peter Hilton Rowe, the Rector presented me with his private notes on the case. And also a relic from Langenhoe Church, A beautiful little credence bell. I’m hoping it will ring for me one day without a human being anywhere near it, as he did at Haunted Langenhoe .
The church was closed as in 1959 and demolished three years later.
All that remains of what must have been the most haunted church in England during its heyday is a small field ringed with gravestones, eerily overgrown with weeds and brambles leaning at different angles towards the empty space in the center where a very haunted church once stood.
Seances at St Andrew’s, Langenhoe
We have mentioned Rev. John Cranmer Dening who had been in the Foreign Office and later became a priest. He had a long-standing interest in ghosts and had been part of the Borley investigation. He was also a friend of Peter Underwood’s and was present during the night of the storm when Underwood carried out an investigation into the church haunting.
Subsequently a series of seances, mainly organized by John Denning and held at Langenhoe and elsewhere appeared to shed some light on some of the strange happenings.
John Dening used Ouija boards, which revealed that a lord in the reign of James I, Robert Atwood, had an affair with a maid and then stabbed her in the church with a knife and buried her under the stones of the church or in the graveyard.
We now have two competing theories is to the female ghost. Unless there are two ghosts!
One is, that it’s a maid murdered by Robert Atwood. And the other one is that Arabella Waldegrave, the noble woman who was going to run away with the rector.
The seances produced the name of this rector as John Deeks. Many churches have a list of historical rectors, but I can’t find one for Langenhoe, so we don’t know if there was a John Deeks.
The name is interesting though.
When I was looking through the 1911 census, I discovered a Samuel Deeks, a road maker, living in Langenhoe, so the name is real and local. Although he was born in Hadleigh, Suffolk, which isn’t that far away, it’s not a very local.
Also in the investigations around Borley Rectory, a story was collected about a poltergeist in Liston Rectory in 1857, which is 22 miles northwest of Lagenhoe.
At Liston rectory there was a very similar outbreak to Borley. — unusual knockings, which were heard in various parts of the mansion, which sometimes appeared to come from the roof and sometimes from different rooms in the house.
This was investigated by the police constable of Foxearth, PC Edwards and found to be caused by a servant girl named Deeks, aged 14 years, who discovered the striking on hollow walls in different parts of the house would have remarkable buried sounds and effect.
It’s just the connection of the name Deeks. John Dening was involved in the Borley investigation and would probably know of the Deeks case at Liston, and then his mysterious rector is also called Deeks.
Dening wrote a book about the Langenhoe Haunting: Restless Spirits, which is now how to get hold of.
John Denning reported meeting a Mrs. Booth. She was a gypsy, and she told him that she and her sisters and their parents often camped on the lane leading to Langenhoe Church. This would likely be Rectory Lane.
Around midnight the church bells rang and one girl said she saw a female figure like a nun walking through the church wall and hearing singing. The sister did not see the nun, but heard the singing.
This was long before Rev. Merryweather arrived at Langenhoe, but it ties in with his female apparition which comes and goes by the wall where there used to be a door before the church was rebuilt.
The Paranormal Database and Langenhoe
When we look at the paranormal database, we see that there are three paranormal incidents listed at Langenhoe
The first is the series of hauntings at Langenhoe Church as described.
The second is an apparition not mentioned by Underwood or Ackroyd, where Langenhoe the same Reverend Ernest Augustus Merryweather, is said to have seen a French cavalryman at Langenhoe Rectory. The police were called to search for an intruder, but no one was found.
The third is a UFO story from mere yards away from the church site that happened a few years after the end of the Rev Merryweather’s time at the church and just after the church was knocked down.
The UFO at Lagenhoe in 1965
On September 14, a very interesting sighting occurred near Mersea Island, Essex. The incident took place at 1 a.m., and was witnessed by an intelligent engineer by the name of Paul Green, age 29. He was considerably shaken by his experience but had the sense to record the whole of his encounter.
This is an account by Dr Bernard Finch
Two weeks later, I interviewed, and cross-examined him, in the presence of two others. Without doubt, his story is true, and in addition, he described various subjective symptoms that can only be ascribed to the effects of a very powerful magnetic field on the human body. Apparently, the field is so large that it produces a type of light that science has yet to discover.
The following is a verbatim report of Paul Green’s experience.
“It was about I a.m. Sunday, September 14, that I first saw the ‘thing’. It was a bright clear night, the moon was up and I could see the stars twinkling overhead. I was returning to my home in West Mersea, having visited my fiancee in Colchester. I had had nothing to drink and was feeling very fit. I was travelling on a motor bike and averaging 40 miles per hour. Just before reaching Pete Tye common a few yards south of Langenhoe, I overtook a motor scooter. My ‘bike was purring along, the engine sounding a healthy note.
“As I approached the straight road south to Langenhoe Hall I heard a high-pitched humming over to my left (the east). This noise became louder and I looked up for sign of an approaching aircraft. I could see none but noticed a small pinpoint of blue light to the east over Brightlingsea (about 5 miles away). The light was winking and became rapidly larger, and I then realised that it was coming in my direction from over Langenhoe marsh. The humming then became very much louder and changed to a high-pitched buzz. It dawned on me that the light and the sound were connected.
The engine of my ‘bike then began to cough and splutter, it missed several times and then stopped dead and the lights went out. The blue flashing light was now about a mile away to the east. I could make out some sort of an outline and an enormous object spun into view, looming up large and uncanny out of the sky. It resembled the upper half of a large spinning top and was about the size of a gasometer. There appeared to be a dome on top, inside of which was flashing a strange blue light.
The object slowly descended, tilting as it did so, and I was able to catch a glimpse of its under-belly. This was rimmed by numerous round objects, the whole resembling a ‘ball-race’.
“I had dismounted and approached a few paces towards the object. I felt spellbound and was not able to move or speak, just as if I had become paralysed. The flashing blue light became so intense that it was painful, and it appeared to fluctuate in rhythm with my heartbeat and hit against my chest.
I felt myself tingling all over rather like the electric shock one gets when handling an electrified cattle fence for too long. The buzzing then became quieter, and the object descended in the area of Wick where there arc several farm houses
“Suddenly, the scooter that I had overtaken on the road, approached, its engine coughed and stopped, and the rider, a young lad in a leather jacket, dismounted and stood petrified staring at the blue light; lie neither spoke nor looked in my direction. My head began to throb, and I felt as if there was a tightening band round it. With a great effort I was able to move, and I grasped my bike and tried to start it. I pushed it along the road, and was gratified to hear the engine suddenly burst into life. I mounted and raced as fast as I could away from the dreadful and ‘painful’ blue light.
As I raced down the road the object was hidden by a tall line of hedges on the side of the road, but I could still see for some time a blue glow in the sky.
“I arrived home at nearly 2 a.m., and woke my invalid mother (a thing I had never done before), but so frightened was I by my experience that I had to tell someone about it.
“The following day I noticed that my hair and clothes were crackling in an unusual manner, and appeared to be charged with electricity.”
A few days later I was discussing my experience with a friend who lives at Shrub End, which is 5 miles NW. of Wick. He told me that at about the same time his dog commenced to bark, and as he opened the door to put it out, a large blue light passed by rapidly in the sky directly overhead. It passed towards the North West.”
Conclusions About The Ghosts at Langenhoe
Peter Underwood, who was a good judge of character, found Reverend Merryweather a credible witness. The incidents are spread across many years so he can hardly be accused of fanning the fires of sensationalism.
We see from an account not mentioned by Ackroyd or Underwood that he saw the figure of a French cavalryman in the Rectory, and he was embraced by a naked ghost in Langenhoe Hall. Perhaps he was sensitive to psychic phenomena.
But we have other witnesses: Mrs Booth from 1908 reporting the singing and the female figure and there were witnesses to the events while Merryweather was rector.
I am inclined to believe in this haunting.
The romatic tale of Arabella Waldegrave, lady of the manor, falling for Rector John Deeks and being murdered by him is an appealing one, though we can’t know whether it is true. The sound of the woman singing, the distressed conversation, the sigh, the heavy male tread all support this story.
The repeated sightings of a young woman in white (when she isn’t naked) and her singing unaccompanied in French make me wonder whether the incident shouldn’t be pushed back before the 15th Century, when French speaking amongst the nobility might be more common.
But who knows?
The UFO incident so close in time and space to these hauntings is also odd. The church is gone now and there are workshops around the old site. I would be intrigued to know whether there are any sightings or feelings there today.
Otherwise where did the ghost go?