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Cambridgeshire: The happy ghosts of Sawston Hall(long)

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Jun 27, 2001, 8:50:05 AM6/27/01
Especially for Duckie, to keep her mind off her big move.

Sorry its major long, theres a lot of detail, added for Sir Gordon to
satisfy his quench for history...heeheehee.

Throughout the four centuries or more during which the Roman Catholic and
Royalist families of Huddleston have occupied Sawston Hall, they have lived
with ghosts. This haunted, splendid Tudor mansion at Sawston, in
Cambridgeshire, came into their possession through an alliance with the
powerful house of Nevill.

The Huddlestons, originally a Cumberland family, came south during the Wars
of the Roses in the fifteenth century. Sawston Hall was then owned by John
Nevill, brother of the Earl of Warick, `The Kingmaker`. Isabel, John
Nevill`s fifth daughter, a young, beautiful and very rich woman, co-heiress
of the Duke of Bedford, married Sir William Huddleston. Their grandson, Sir
John, rebuilt the house after it had been destroyed by fire in 1553. The
house was burned down the night "Bloody" Mary Tudor had slept there whilst
hiding from her pursuers, the adherents of the cause of Lady Jane Grey
backed by the Duke of Northumberland.

Throughout the eventful and chequered history of the family, which more than
once threatened their extermination, the ghosts have fluttered about the
rooms and grounds, the proverbial Grey Lady amongst them. Music and
laughter have been heard in empty rooms, door latches have been heard
clicking up and down at night for no apparent reason. Only one of the
ghosts is malevolent, the rest are harmonious and harmless.

When a leading psychic expert visited the house some years ago, actually
sleeping in the same bed "Bloody" Mary occupied on that fateful night, he
found himself disturbed far more than any other visitor. He failed to give
any explanation of the mysterious person who kept clicking the door latch up
and down, other than defining the ghost as a "protective one".

Before the roof of the magnificent Great Hall collapsed a few years ago, the
house was open to the public, who could see the tapestries, the oak panels,
the historic Tapestry Room containing the bed where the Queen had slept, and
the one-hundred-foot Long Gallery.

About the time Major Anthony Eyre, nephew of Captain Huddleston, decided to
open his house to the public, a new mystery occurred. He was standing in
the Great Hall, waiting for the ladies he had engaged as guides to arrive.
Suddenly there came echoing down the staircase leading to the top floor the
joyous sounds of girlish laughter. As he was all alone in the house he
could not understand who it was. He at once went upstairs and began a
thorough search of the rooms, but he found no-one at all. As the guides
were beginning to arrive he had to go downstairs to meet them, the mystery
of that clear laughter unsolved.

The sound of music was first heard in 1930 by Captain Huddleston`s wife.
She heard the spinet being played in one of the upper rooms. At the time
she was standing in the hall at the foot of the stairs and the music was
clear and unmistakable. What puzzled her most was the fact that the only
instrument in the house was an old harpsichord. This was in an empty,
locked room and had not been played for a very long time. When she told her
husband, he simply said, `Nonsense!` He quickly changed his mind, some
little time later when a guest asked them both, `What is that tinkling music
I keep hearing?` After that the sound of a spinet being played upstairs was
often heard. Then it ceased and has not been heard since. `Which is a
pity, because it was so lovely,` said Mrs Huddleston. Did the playing and
the laughing come from the Long Gallery? Were they expressions of the
happiness of the members of the family at their freedom from the cruel
persecutions of the Catholics under Queen Elizabeth?

The most haunted room in the house is the Tapestry Room upstairs. At the
end of last century a retired housemaid recounted what she had experienced
there. She had always ignored the stories of the other maids who spoke of
the three loud warning knocks before the door opened. One day, when she was
kneeling down to attend to the fire, she saw "the grey thing", as she called
it, pass right by her. She was so terrified that she ran out of the room
and into the Little Gallery, falling down the stairs leading into it, and
hurting herself badly. Curiously enough the Grey Lady, whoever she was, has
never been seen since.

Not only is the Tapestry Room haunted but also the adjioning Panelled
Bedroom, neither of them having ever been used by the family. When there
were many guests, both rooms were occupied, though very naturally visitors
were never told the rooms were haunted. However, many of them soon
discovered the truth and declined to occupy them a second time when invited
to the house.

The ghost of "Bloody" Mary Tudor has been seen in the Tapestry Room and in
the grounds, "without a shadow of a doubt" according to one housekeeper.
Since the Queen`s portrait, attributed to Guillim Stretes, hangs in the hall
it is reasonable to suppose the housekeeper was right. Indeed, considering
the circumstances around the Queen`s brief and almost fatal stay in the
house, it is surprising that her ghost has not been seen there more often.

On 7 July 1553 a single event almost brought the end of Sawston Hall and the
family of Huddleston who gave "Bloody" Mary shelter here. Just before then,
the boy king Edward VI had died of consumption. This left Mary Tudor
rightful Queen of England. The powerful and ruthless Duke of
Northumberland, however, had another idea. This was to bypass the Tudor
line by marrying his son Lord Guildford Dudley to Lady Jane Grey and
proclaim her Queen of England. He first seized the Tower of London and its
armoury, then posted a double line of armed guards round Greenwich Palace to
prevent news of the king`s death becoming known. He then sent his other
son, Robert, at the head of the cavalry troop, to capture Mary as she
reached Hoddesdon on her way to London. Warned this plot by one of her
spies, Mary willingly accepted the offer of Sir John Huddleston to lodge for
the night at Sawston Hall. She slept that night in the Tapestry Room,
occupying the great four-poster bed which is still to be seen there, the
proudest possession of the family.

As dawn broke, one of the guards posted on the roof gave the alarm. A band
of cavalry were rapidly approaching the house. Mary was immediately
aroused. Sir John suggested his women should be allowed to disguise her as
a milkmaid, and thus arrayed she was hustled out of the house and into the
courtroom, from which she rode pillion behind one of Sir John`s grooms, Sir
John himself escorted her.

At a short distance from the house, on a hilltop, the little party looked
back anxiously to see if they were being pursued. Not only had
Northumberland`s men surrounded the house, but, thwarted by the escape of
Mary had set fire to it and it was soon blazing fiercely. "Let it blaze",
said Mary with calm dignity. "When I am Queen I will build the Huddleston`s
a better house."

Northumberland was defeated and executed. Queen Jane, who had reigned only
nine days, was also beheaded. During her reign Queen Mary fulfilled her
promise to the Huddleston family, ordering Sawston Hall to be rebuilt from
stone brought from the nearby Bambridge Castle. After her marriage to
Phillip of Spain she honoured Sir John with a knighthood and appointed him a
Privy Counsellor, Vice-Chamberlain and Captain of His Majesty`s bodyguard.

But the Huddleston`s paid dearly for that single night of hospitality, for
when Elizabeth came to the throne her persecution of the Catholics was
almost worse than her sister`s had been of the Protestants. Sawston Hall,
like all other lyal Catholic households, had its priest-hole built by
Nicholas Owen, the greatest of all Catholic craftsmen of his time. Hidden
in the thick walls, its trapdoor was cunningly concealed within the
floorboards covering the entrance to it.

From the very beginning of Elizabeth`s long reign, Jane Huddleston refused
to attend the enforced Protestant church services. She was imprisoned and
condemned to be "pressed" to death. This was a particularly savage and slow
form of death, at one time meted out to pirates. The victim, shackles hand
and foot unable to move, had one heavy weight upon another placed on his or
her stomach until suffocation caused a slow and painful death, prolonged in
its agony by lifting a weight and then lowering it again. Fortunately Jane
escaped this barbourous torture for her sentence was commuted to life
imprisonment, from which she was not released until the death of Elizabeth.
John Rigby, her faithful steward, was less fortunate, for he was hanged,
drawn and quartered for the same offence. It is all the more surprising
therefore, that his ghost does not move about Sawston Hall.

The leading claivoyant, Harry Price, who once came there, slept in the very
bed in the haunted Tapestry Room which "Bloody" Mary had occupied. He had a
very disturbed night, but was absolutley certain that the spirit was a
"protective" one, anxious for the safety of all who slept both there and in
the adjoining Panelled Room. Such a verdict must be of a great comfort to
the Huddleston family, for throughout their history they have had a great
need for protection. The expert added that the spirit might be that og a
night walchman or a guard.

The cailrvoyant`s dicision toi sleep that night not only in the room but
also in the actual four poster bed with its rich hangings which fortunately
escaped the fire on that fatal day, required no little courage. He
confidently set his alarm for seven o`clock, greatly puzzled and disturbed
when it went off at four o`clock. At the very same moment he heard someone
moving the bedroom door latch up and down, as if about to enter. At five
o`clock the alarm clock went off again, and once more he heard the sound of
the latch being lifted. At that moment he clearly heard someone moving
about in the empty locked Panelled Bedroom behind the Tapestry Room. The
alarm went off again at six o`clock and finally at the set time of seven,
each time accompanied by the rattling of the door latch.

Just before this event, and unknown to the clairvoyant, a similar
disturbance had been experienced by a young under-graduate. As the house
was full out the time of his visit he had been put into the Tapestry Room
without being told it was haunted. He had gone to bed with a heavy cold,
but suitably dosed for it. In the morning, when he came down for breafast,
he surprised his hostess by thanking her for looking in on him during the
night. His hostess had assured him she had done no such thing. "Oh, but I
know you did," he answered, then he told her how he had been awakened by
someone`s footsteps outside his room following by three loud clear knocks on
the door. Believing it to be his hostes he had cried out for her to come
in, but no-one had entered. There was an uneasy silence, then the latch was
rattled again. Once more he had called "come in", but still no-one entered,
and the same uneasy silence. By now he was thoroughly frightened and spent
the rest of the night with his head buried under the covers, waiting
anxiously for daylight and the moment when he could get up and go

Shortly after these incidents Father Martindale, a well known priest, came
to stay at Sawston Hall and was put in the Panelled Bedroom. He too said at
breakfast the next morning that he had had a terribly disturbed night.
"Someone kept fiddling with the door latch, but no-one came in," he said.
He was quite positive it was a ghost and was not anxious to sleep in the
room again.

The strangest part of all these stories is that it was the Lady Grey who was
supposed to haunt the room. It does not seem likely that the "grey thing"
which so terrified the housemaid was in any way protective. So who was the
protective spirit? Could it be perhaps, one of the guards appointed to
watch over Mary that night when she slept there?? This seems as reasonable
theory as any other.

Yet there was one very unpleasant ghost in the house. In about the year
1800, another Jane Huddleston wrote a letter to her nephew Richard, at that
time in command of the Cambridgeshire Regiment. In it she minutely
described something she had heard about the wife of the village tanner.
This woman, when entering one of the upstairs rooms at Sawston Hall - Jane
does not say which one - was suddenly seized by unseen hands which ripped
off most of her clothes, leaving her ashamed, shocked and speechless with
terror. Though vigorous searches were made throughout the whole house no
clue was ever discovered of what but have been a particularly ferocious
poltergeist. Years later another woman was similarly attacked, both these
acts of violence being totally unaccountable to a family already familiar
with a variety of ghosts.

Well if you`ve reached this far, your proibably as glad as I am its


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