Ghostly Events At Hinton Manor
Events At Hinton Manor
This story is from a book by Peter Ackroyd, the novelist. He wrote The Biography of London. He’s very famous for that, but one of his best books and the one that brought him fame was Hawksmoor from 1985, which was about occult murders in London. It’s good, just up my street.
Anyway, this is a book that he collected called The English Ghost :Spectres Through Time, and I picked this up in a secondhand bookshop in Penrith ages ago, along with a book of vampires — both actually very pristine. I haven’t read that one.
That’s the trouble when you buy so many books, you can’t read them all.
This is a story called The Events in Hinton Manor. In January, 1765, Mr. and Mrs. Ricketts assumed the tenancy of Hinton Manor in Hampshire.
The owner and previous occupant had been Henry Bilson-Legge, who, on his death in 1764, was hailed on his tombstone as:
“enlivened with a peculiar vein of the most striking wit.”
His daughter, who on her marriage had become Lady Stawell, did not care to live in the house, and was delighted to procure tenants for it. The Ricketts were first happy in their residence, but they soon became alarmed by the frequent opening and shutting of doors during the night. Mrs. Rickett’s fear was that there were irregularities by the servants.
Then her husband, fearing that a stranger had got the keys to the house, arranged that they should change all the locks.
But the noise of closing or slamming doors continued as before. There were other unusual events. Two visitors to the house on separate occasions declared they had seen a figure in a snuff-colored coat. They had glimpsed the figure both inside and outside the house.
In addition, the servants assembled in the kitchen for a meal, observed a woman in a dark dress of silk, rushing past them and going out into the yard. A handyman coming through the door at the same time had seen nothing. Then the manifestation ceased.
For two or three years there were no more abnormal or inexplicable events in Hinton Manor, and in 1769, Mr. Ricketts sailed to Jamaica in order to administer the land and property he owned there. He left behind his wife and three children, together with a retinue of eight servants. Soon after his departure, however, the noises began again.
Mrs. Ricketts was so convinced of the reality of these sounds that she kept a record of them.
“In the summer of 1770 when lying in the yellow bed chamber, I plainly heard the footsteps of a man with plodding step walking towards the foot of my bed.”
She sprang out of bed, thoroughly alarmed by the sound, and took refuge in the adjoining nursery.
She returned to her room with the nurse and a light, but they could see nothing. Lady Stawell subsequently heard plodding footsteps in her room on more than one occasion. Her maid’s room was similarly affected. Another abnormal sound also seemed to emanate from within the house, described by Mrs. Ricketts as a hollow murmuring that seemed to possess the entire house. It was independent of wind being equally heard on the calmest night. On a subsequent night, Mrs. Ricketts heard the front door being slammed with such force that the walls of her bedroom above the hall shook perceptibly.
On investigation, the front door was locked and bolted as usual. The unusual episodes increased in strength and frequency throughout that summer.
“ The sounds began before I went to bed, and with intermissions were heard till after broad day in the morning.”
The noise now included that of human voices.
“A shrill female voice would begin,” Mrs. Ricketts wrote, “and then two others with deeper and manlike tone seemed to join in the discourse.”
She was lying in bed one night,
“when I heard the most loud, deep, tremendous noise, which seemed to rush and fall with infinite velocity on the lobby floor, this was followed by a shrill and dreadful shriek repeated three or four times.”
Mrs. Ricketts now felt that the situation had become dangerous to the health of the whole family and its servants. Her husband was still detained in Jamaica, but by great, good fortune, her brother, Admiral Jervis, had just sailed into Portsmouth and had determined to visit Hinton Manor.
On being told the story, he harbored doubts about any supernatural agency with a friend, Mr. Lutteral, he stayed up for several nights with a pistol. They stationed themselves in different rooms and waited.
The noises of shrieks and the footsteps began as before. Both men rushed out of their rooms, pistols at the ready, but there was nothing visible. Convinced now of the truth of his sister’s story, Admiral Jervis advised her to leave the house as soon as possible. She never returned.
A slight note was added to the transcript of this story. A later resident of Hinton Manor wrote that
“my mother-in-law, Lady Sherborn remembers when, about six years old, about 1786, while staying at Hinton, being awoke in the night and carried down to the rectory as the noise were so great Lady Stawell could not remain in their house.”
My Thoughts On The Story
So there we are. That’s the story. It’s obviously true.
My first thought was these were musical hallucinations. And I remember occasionally I would see older patients who had hallucinations, who would hear music and voices, and usually they had problems with their hearing.
It was like a musical or an auditory Charles Bonnet syndrome.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome is where people see things, but they’re not actually psychotic. It is a perceptual disturbance, but it happens because as in when we have this habit of looking at the clouds and we see shapes in them that aren’t there, but that make stories.
Or, verbally, with confabulation, we’re given a few facts and we construct a story about them.
We put the together; we can’t help it. And if you think of Dylan Thomas’s poetry,
“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, drives my green age.”
This actually means nothing. The words are English sure enough and are grammatical but don’t make any formal sense.
Yet we try to make sense of them. And so we think there’s a force — well, what is that force?
It’s some kind of sap, is it?
Through the green fuse?
Flowers don’t have fuses…
But I suppose the flowers may be green — the stem of the flower, at least…
“Drives my green age.”
What might that mean? In what way is that? Is it a life force?
We make a story from meaningless fragments and so with Charles Bonnet Syndrome, which is visual, when don’t see very well, the bits that we do see — our brain patches together into figures — and so we see hallucinations that aren’t there. And with musical hallucinations, from the meaningless sound of tinnitus, we construct voices and music.
It’s as if we have a compulsion to make meaning from fragments that are in themselves meaningless.
We know the world we see is constructed a little from incoming sensory images, but a lot from matching patterns and memories, and thus we create the world we see.
And so I thought what was happening was maybe the old lady, Lady Sawell was deaf, and she was having musical hallucinations and making sense of tinnitus or noises firing off in her ear.
But then when other people heard it, I thought that explanation wouldn’t wash
The only conclusion therefore (without going to extensive research obviously) was that it was a true haunting.
I don’t know if you believe in ghosts. I think I do. Well, I would, wouldn’t I?
There is a series called Uncanny on BBC Sounds presented by Danny Robbins. It is fantastic. He is such a brilliant presenter. His enthusiasm is wonderful.
In an Uncanny episode, somebody reports a story like this, of their own experiences, just like the one we’ve heard from Hinton Manor and then Danny gets the Skeptic and the Believer to discuss it.
The Believer comes in and says, “It’s the astral power; it’s this, that, and the other.”
And then the skeptic says, “No, no, no. It’s infra sound caused by a lift four miles away.” Or “It’s because when they were four, they got bitten by a poodle that was the same colour as the door where they claim to have seen the ghost.”
And they set out really convoluted explanations that are so unlikely that by Occam’s Razor we have to dismiss them and say, “You know what? It’s actually more likely it’s a ghost.”
But skeptics just won’t accept that possibility that there may be forces that we don’t understand at the moment that we may call supernatural.
These forces are probably completely natural, but we don’t understand them yet.
Thousands of people have experiences like this and always have had, for at least documented history, going back three thousand years. And it’s all over the world. They’re rare, but so is winning the Lottery. I still believe that people do win the lottery, though.
But the skeptics wrap themselves up in knots, and give themselves lots of problems until their explanations are hardly believable.
It’s much easier, like me and Danny, on Uncanny, to believe there really are ghosts.