Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Ghosts of Temple Newsam

 Dubbed, 'The Hampton Court of the North', Temple Newsam House is a magnificent and intriguing Tudor-Jacobean mansion situated on the outskirts of Leeds. Set in 1500 acres of glorious parkland, the house has seen many tumultuous events in its 500 year history. To cite just one, Lord Darnley - ill fated husband of Mary, Queen of Scots - was born here. For 300 years, the house was owned by the Ingram family and eventually sold to Leeds City Council in 1922 by its then owner, Lord Halifax.

Over the years, it has known fires, many changes, renovations - and acquired an impressive collection of ghosts. I used to visit the house regularly when I lived in Leeds and, on descending the main staircase, never failed to feel a chill that raised goosebumps on my arms and the hairs on the back of my neck. A feeling of dread - of something evil - would penetrate me, quicken my step and disappear as soon as I reached the ground floor. Who or what was responsible? I have no idea, but the feeling was all too real.

Here are the stories of two of Temple Newsam's most popular ghosts:

Lady Mary Ingram
The Blue Lady of Temple Newsam

Tragic Mary Ingram, granddaughter of Sir Arthur, was just fourteen years old when, on returning by carriage from a party, she fell victim to an ambush by a gang of highwaymen, who tore her pearl necklace from her throat. In addition to being valuable, the necklace held great sentimental value as it had been a christening present from her grandfather.

Mary was taken home, sobbing and in a state of collapse. The next morning she had no recollection of the robbery and seemed convinced she had somehow lost them. She looked everywhere, saying, 'Where are my pearls? Where are my pearls?' She unpicked cushions and even tried to lift floorboards in search of them. She also refused to eat and sank into a terminal decline. Two weeks later, she died. Her unhappy spirit still searches the house for the missing necklace. Eyewitnesses have reported seeing carpets ripple, hearing unexplained creaking noises and feeling sudden blasts of cold air.
Photo - Wayne Ellis
The Ghost of Phoebe Gray

A great feast, celebrating Britain's victory at the Battle of Blenheim, was celebrated one hot, humid night in 1704. There was much merriment with roasting hogs, bonfires, music and dancing. Beer flowed freely. A little too freely in the case of servant William Collinson. He was a coarse fellow indeed. Foul mannered, foul mouthed, this ugly brutish man was a stranger to soap and water, even by the low personal hygiene standards of the day. He was, however, not averse to trying his luck with a pretty sixteen year old nursemaid called Phoebe Gray.

Phoebe had rather more discernment and rejected his advances, but William would not be dissuaded so easily. The night wore on. At midnight, fireworks exploded over the grounds and William, by now steaming drunk, remembered that it was Phoebe's routine to take Nanny Backhouse her hot drink last thing at night.

Phoebe found the upstairs corridors spooky at night. Her candle cast flickering shadows on the walls and made her nervous. Tonight she had good reason to be, for, in one of the darkest corners, William lurked and, as she passed, he pounced. Scared witless, she screamed and struggled. William fought to contain her and, in his stupor, he forgot his own strength. Her body suddenly went limp. Phoebe screamed no more and slipped to the floor. Dead.

William panicked, dragged her body down the back stairs to the damp cellars below. He opened the cover of the well down there and threw her in. Then he ran away. 

At first, people assumed he and Phoebe had eloped, but then, her body was discovered, and two servants went off in search of William. They found him, dead drunk again, in a nearby inn.

He was charged with her murder and sentenced to be hanged. 

Poor Phoebe is said to haunt the back stairs and passages where her muffled screams have been heard. People have also reported hearing a succession of bumps - as of someone's body being dragged down the stairs.
Temple Newsam in mid 18th century - Bridgeman Art Library

Find out more about Temple Newsam House HERE

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Don't You Just Love a Liebster?

I have Shehanne Moore and her trusty band of renegade (not to say, slightly scary) hamsters to thank for this latest award. And I do. Most sincerely.

As always, this award is not to be accepted lightly. No simple 'thank you to the world, the universe and everything' speech will do. No. Firstly, I'll link back to the fabulous Shehanne, because that's rule number one:


Actually, that was a real pleasure as I love her blog!

Now, I must answer her (or is it the hamsters'?) questions. Here goes:

1 Which fictional character would you most fancy having a fling with and why?
Probably Heathcliff - dark and dangerous...

2. You’ve been shipwrecked on a desert island, what book can’t you be without?

'28 Barbary Lane' by Armistead Maupin - a compendium of the first three books in the 'tales of the City' series

3 Do you have a favorite literary series?
I have two 'Tales of the City' by Armistead Maupin wins hands down. I love his wonderful quirky characters and I'm so sorry that, with his latest - The Days of Anna Madrigal - he has finally decided to bid farewell to Barbary Lane. I was lucky enough to see him in Liverpool recently, and to meet him. He is a wonderfully warm and witty guy with such talent for both characterisation and plot.

My second is a series of books by the amazingly talented Scottish author Martin Millar, all based around an extremely badly behaved werewolf called Kalix. The characters in all Martin Millar's books are not the sort you would want to take home to meet your spinster great aunt. They're wickedly funny, irreverent, exciting and at times poignant and sad. For all her heinous faults, I love Kalix. Her self-harming, insane lust for battle, pursuit by werewolf hunters and total disregard for the mayhem she causes to anyone unfortunate enough to come within a mile of her, should make her unlovable. But she isn't. The plots are riveting and the author's talent is that he can make the unlikable, lovable.

Even though these authors write in totally different genres from each other and from me, I have learned so much from them. I'm really grateful for that and eagerly await their next novels.

4 What are you working on right now?

Some short stories for a number of competitions that are coming up, plus a dark novella which is in its early stages. I can say little about it at this stage beyond it's theme. Revenge.

5 Who is your favourite author and why?

Armistead Maupin is obviously right up there, along with Stephen King. Both of them are such great and versatile storytellers who keep me locked in until I finish the last page. Then I'm hungry for more. One of my earliest influences was the ghost short story writer, M.R. James. I love curling up on a winter's day, wind howling, rain beating against the windows, cat on my lap and losing myself in his world.

6 Favourite colour?
Red - teamed with black preferably

7 Are you a plotter or a pantser

Pantser with slight plotting tendencies, mostly conducted on my daily walks down by the river.

8 Have you been known to ‘torture’ a character and if so why?

My characters are tortured all the time. They're in a horror story!

9 Do you prefer sweet or angsty?

Angsty. Sweet has no place in horror!

10 Which part of the craft have you found hardest to learn?

OK, Now I need to present this award to some of my favourite authors. Step forward:

Julia Kavan

Steve Emmett

Ute Carbone

Brinda Berry

Keith Pyeatt

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Byron, Polidori, and The Vampyre

There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there: -- upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein: -- to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, "A Vampyre! a Vampyre!" 

Dr John Polidori
Think vampires originated with Bram Stoker? Then you'd be out by at least 78 years - and counting. The author of Dracula was heavily influenced by a short (8200 words) story by an English physician and writer called John William Polidori who wrote his classic, The Vampyre, as a direct result of a challenge thrown down by his employer, the 'mad, bad and dangerous to know', Lord Byron. Among others who responded to this same challenge, was the poet Shelley's soon to be wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who wrote the precursor to her seminal work, Frankenstein as her entry.

Both The Vampyre and Frankenstein began life on the shores of Lake Geneva, where, in 1816, Byron rented a house called the Villa Diodati as part of a trip across Europe. Polidori and Byron were joined by Shelley and his fiancee, along with her stepsister, Claire Clairmont, with whom Byron had been conducting an affair.

After dinner, one night in June, the assembled group read from a collection of horror stories called, Tales of the Dead. Byron then suggested each of them write a ghost story. He soon abandoned his own effort - Fragment of a Novel - although his main character, Augustus Darvell, became the model for Polidori's own Lord Ruthven in The Vampyre. Shelley wrote, A Fragment of a Ghost Story.

Lord Byron
Although the proven creative talent within that group comprised two of them - Shelley and Byron - it is ironic that their offerings paled into the shadows, eclipsed by those of two 'unknowns', namely Polidori and Mary.

Soon after this momentous night, the mercurial temper of Byron flared and he sacked Polidori. The two men went their separate ways, but future events would ensure they could never fully extricate themselves from each other.

Polidori returned to England and practiced medicine again. he also studied for the Bar. Then, in April 1819, The New Monthly Magazine published The Vampyre without his knowledge. Worse than that - they attributed it as a new work by Lord Byron.

Byron was quick to disown it, and Polidori issued a statement to the magazine:

"I beg leave to state that your correspondent has been mistaken in attributing that tale in its present form to Lord Byron. The fact is that though the groundwork is certainly Lord Byron's, its development is mine."

 The story became an instant hit. there had simply never been anything like it. By the time of Polidori's untimely death two years later, it had been translated into French, German, Spanish and Swedish and had also been adapted into a stage play. Now, it is generally regarded as one of the first - if not, the first - vampire story in the English language. Certainly it is the first to feature an aristocratic, sexually charged vampire. Its legacy lives on through Dracula, Anne Rice's vampire Lestat, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga and a host of others.

Polidori - who was the uncle of Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti - suffered a tragic fate. He died on August 24th 1821, Depression and gambling debts led to much well founded speculation that he had committed suicide, Not that he, a doctor, chose an easy way out, if this was true. It was said he took his own life by cyanide poisoning. Perhaps to preserve a fellow physician reputation, the coroner issued a verdict of death by natural causes.

Byron died three years after Polidori. While preparing to launch a heroic attack on the Ottomans at their fortress at Lepanto, he contracted sepsis and a violent fever. His then physician was unable to save him and he died on April 19th 1824.
Byron's memorial has been in Westminster Abbey since the early twentieth century, once his notoriety died down and he became more acceptable to the establishment. Finally, after many years of lobbying, a plaque commemorating Dr John Polidori was placed on the wall of his former home at Great Pulteney Street in London in 1998.

The father of the modern vampire story was finally recognised.