Overwater Hall

Overwater Hall, Ireby, Cumbria, CA7 1HH 

Overwater Hall was built shortly before 1811 by a certain Mr Gaff. It was sold to a family called Gillbanks family by 1814. Joseph Gillbanks was born in 1780 and sailed off to make his fortune in Jamaica. In the Eighteenth Century the ports of West Cumberland, particularly Whitehaven had strong trading links with the West Indies. Joseph set himself up as a merchant in Jamaica and in due course became wealthy and married the niece of the Chief Justice of Jamaica. Whether he loved her or if it was a marriage brought about by the interests of trade and influence is hard to say, but legend has it that he started an affair with a poor black girl on the island. 

In 1814 Joseph returned to Cumberland with his wife and bought Overwater Hall. He put behind him any improprieties he may have been guilt of in Jamaica and had the Gillbanks family motto “Honore et Virtute” and crest emblazoned above the entrance, where it proudly stands till to this day. Joseph became a magistrate and quickly took on the role of a respectable country gentleman. 

But it was not long before his past came to haunt him. The young black girl, whose name is not known, followed him all the way to England. Though he had forgotten her, it seems she couldn’t forget him. Perhaps she loved him, perhaps she was pregnant. We will never know. But, it is easy to imagine the panic her appearance would have caused in the respectable 
Mr Joseph Gillbanks. 

The story tells how, still pretending to love her, Gillbanks took her out on Overwater Tarn in a rowing boat. He took her to the middle of the lake. Surely she must have started to suspect something and tried to protest, but Gillbanks overpowered her and threw her overboard. Overwater is a remote stretch of water today, in those days is seems unlikely anyone would have heard her screams. She tried to climb back into the boat but Gillbanks had come prepared for murder. He took out a concealed sword and chopped off her arms as she clung to the boat. 

Gillbanks then continued his career as a Magistrate and on his death at the age of 73, received a glowing obituary in the Carlisle newspaper of the day. 

After that, Gillbanks disappeared into history, but not so the unfortunate black girl. Ever since and right up the latest time, a few months ago, guests and staff have reported seeing the apparition of a black girl with no arms and a head-dress described as a bonnet, or something worn high up on her head. 

Traditionally she appears at New Year, and a tapping is reputedly heard against one of the windows to the outside. At other times of the year voices are heard in corridors but when a search is made, no one can be found there. 

She particularly favours Room 3, (perhaps because this is the only room in the house from which the Tarn can be seen) and has been seen walking through the door there as if it wasn’t there. One night a lady sleeping with her husband in that room woke to find a glowing apparition wearing a head-dress near her bed. She shook her husband but he slept on. 

A regular guest at Overwater is a lady who happens to be an undertaker by profession. One night she was booked into Room 3. The next morning she said that though she would be pleased to come back to Overwater, she never wanted to stay in Room 3 again. 

I mentioned that Overwater Tarn never freezes over. This is because, even in the coldest weather, a severed black hand pushes through the ice and breaks it open. Even in death, she will not surrender to her fate and be sealed in the cold dark waters of the lake. 

The black lady isn’t the only ghost to be seen at Overwater. For many years a grey terrier dog was often seen inside the house. The hotel accepts guests’ dogs, so most other guests treat it as belonging to someone else. Only the staff usually realise that the dog is seen again and again. The dog hasn’t been seen for a little while, but the mystery of who it might be was stumbled on by the present owner after he went for a walk in the grounds…… 

Overwater Hall is in one of the least known corners of the English Lake District National Park. Near Bassenthwaite Lake and close by the second highest mountain in the Lake District. Open all year. Nine double, three twin and four family rooms.

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