Tag Archives: headless ghosts

The Spectre Bride: 1863

The Spectre Bride

The attitude of to-day is so strongly sceptical towards stories of the supernatural that I scarcely expect to be credited when I make the assertion that there is, or was, a haunted house in Auckland. It stood not a hundred yards from the busiest part of the Manukau Road, in Parnell, and probably stands there still, for aught I know to the contrary. An old-fashioned, eerie-looking structure, which still boasted some pretension to architectural style, it had probably been built in the days when Auckland was the capital city of the colony, and Parnell the centre of local military and official and, consequently, fashionable society. Twenty years ago, when the existence of this house first came to my knowledge, I was a clerk in one of the principal land and estate agency offices in Auckland. The house was on our books “to be let furnished,” but, though there was a scarcity of better-class dwellings at that period, we could not secure a tenant for it. Again and again, cards to view were given to eligible tenants, but invariably the keys were returned with the excuse that the house would not suit, and occasionally something was said about queer stories told by the neighbours, or hints were quietly dropped about a mystery.

In those days, when life was young and the blood coursed vigorously through my veins, the suggestion of a mystery was as the breath to my nostrils. If there was a “mystery,” I was eager to be in it. But what was the mystery? The property was managed for absentee owners by a leading firm of solicitors, and one quiet afternoon towards Christmas, when I was indolently planning my holiday arrangements, Jack Morris, the managing clerk of that firm, dropped in to fix up some deeds with me. Here was an opportunity to pump him about the “mystery.” His merry countenance became grave at once when I mentioned the matter. Yes, he admitted, there was a mystery about the property, but they didn’t like stories concerning it to get about, because they depreciated the letting value.

“Letting value,” I repeated, scornfully. “Why, old man, the place has no letting value. It has been occupied six times in two years, and not a single tenant has remained for a full week.”

“Yes, and before we handed it over to your people, our experience was worse. The only man who lived in the house for any time was stone deaf, and he would probably have been there yet if he hadn’t died, worse luck.”

“But what is the matter with the house?”

“It’s haunted.”

“You don’t say!” I sprang at him in delight. “Do you mean to say there are ghosts there?”

“Armies of them.”

I lay back and laughed incredulously. “Well, Jack, I took you for a sensible man. Why, you shudder when you say ghosts as if you were a nervous school girl.” Jack rallied under my chaff, and when I proposed a midnight adventure in the furnished house, he reluctantly agreed to join me. But I could see he didn’t half like the proposal. However, after what I had heard, I was resolved upon the experience. Consequently, eleven o’clock that night found us indulging ourselves with a whisky at the Glass Barrel before we took possession of the haunted house. Though the month was December, and the season summer, the night was a wet and miserable one, and, as I jocularly remarked, just the occasion that a hair-raising ghost would choose for its extraordinary nocturnal wanderings. However, the weather was close and warm, so that we had no need of a fire to make us comfortable, but we carried along with us a bottle of whisky, and it is needless to say that we had our meerschaums in our pockets.

The house was easily found, an uncanny looking place surrounded by a high fence and evergreen hedge. Having lighted our candles, and as a preliminary to our ghostly experiences, if any were destined to happen to us, we made an exploration of the house. There was, however, nothing remarkable about it. Of some eight or nine rooms, its interior was arranged without much regard to systematic design, and the whole place was decidedly old-fashioned. The drawing-room and sitting-room, both of which were well and tastefully furnished, were separated from each other by folding doors. Evidently, the owners had been people of some musical taste, because there was a handsome parlour organ in the drawing-room, as well as a fine piano in the sitting-room. Taking up our quarters in the latter apartment, we disposed of ourselves in capacious easy chairs, and having lighted our pipes and uncorked our bottle, proceeded to make ourselves comfortable for the night. Bed was, of course, out of the question, because, even if we had been in the humour to sleep, the beds were not provided with linen or blankets.

For the first half-hour we were both fairly quiet, impressed as we were by the solemnity of the occasion. Say what you like, it is solemn work waiting for spirits, whether you expect them to materialize or not. Occasionally, the scuttle of a rat in the ceiling or a heavier rattle of water than usual in the spouting, would cause Jack to start nervously and glance apprehensively at the door. However, the hour of midnight struck, and there was no ghostly visitation. Then, under the influence of the whisky, our restraint vanished, and we proceeded to swap spicy yarn for spicy yarn, as men have a habit of doing when alone. Thus the time sped on pleasantly, minutes growing into hours, and the hands of the clock pointed to three. But still there were no ghosts. Truth to tell, I was not surprised, because I had discounted the haunted house story from the outset, and I do claim that at that stage of the adventure I was disappointed.

Our stories were eventually exhausted, and, seating himself at the piano, Jack sang in a fine baritone voice several stirring music hall ditties, just to relieve the creepy feeling, he said. Then, obeying a melancholy impulse, he struck a chord or two of the “Dead March in Saul.” Then an astounding thing happened. Before the sound of the final note had died away, the solemn and majestic strains of the same Dead March, on the organ, broke on our startled senses. We listened amazed. The music came in sonorous volume from the next room. I was not frightened. Neither had I any thought at that moment of ghosts. Surely there were other occupants in the house besides ourselves. We must have disturbed them, and they were repaying us in our own coin. Higher and higher the music rose, in all its wailing intensity and moving grandeur.

I glanced at Jack. His face was deathly white, his eyes were fairly starting out of his head, and he sat rigidly, holding the arms of his chair with tightly clenched hands, as if he feared he would be hurled from it. Then there was a pause. It seemed to me in the deadly stillness as if I could hear the beating of my own heart. Then the music rose again, still the majestic strains of the “Dead March,” swelling higher and higher in melancholy solemnity. What in the name of Heaven and Earth could it mean? Even then I was not frightened. Jack, however, had sunk back in his chair in a state of collapse. Suddenly, seizing the candle, I drew open the folding door leading into the drawing-room, and entered. However, I was the only occupant. There was no one, not even a spirit, seated at the organ, which was closed. Solemnly, sadly, however, the organ continued to peal forth the strains of the “Dead March.” For the first time my nerves began to fail me. I felt, my J knees trembling, and my flesh took on a strange, cold, creepy feeling.

Could this be some trick that Jack Morris had planned to perpetrate on me, in order to test my courage? Thoroughly mystified, and trembling in every limb, I returned to the sitting-room with the intention of taxing him with the gruesome joke. But any idea of this kind was dispelled by the spectacle of Jack lying unconscious in his chair, evidently in a dead faint. This roused me to action, and diverted my thoughts for the moment. Bathing his face with water from the jug on the table, and loosening his collar, I gradually brought him around. By this time, the music had ceased. Jack was trembling violently, and, when he found his voice, he ejaculated excitedly, “For God’s sake, old man, let us get out of this place. It is too much for me.” For my own part, if I must confess it, I had also been scared, but nevertheless I was loth to go before I had seen the adventure through. But we had no time to argue the matter.

Suddenly, the organ pealed forth again. This time, it was the strains of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Then the folding doors slowly opened, evidently of their own accord, and an extraordinary scene was revealed to my astounded and Jack’s unquestionably terrified gaze. The drawing-room was illumined by a strange, unearthly light, and, as if through a gauzy screen, we saw a wedding ceremony in progress at the further end of the room. The clergyman, in his surplice, stood with his back to us, and facing him was a beautiful girl in white costume and veil, whose features we could distinguish plainly. Lovely as her face was, it reflected no happiness, but, on the contrary, tragic sorrow. Beside the girl, was the terrifying spectacle of a headless man, in gay military uniform, and from the severed neck blood fairly spurted. I stood rooted to the spot, trembling like an aspen leaf, and powerless to speak or fly. To my dying day I shall never forget the terror of that moment. As for Jack Morris, he gave one low incoherent cry, and fell prostrate at my feet in a fit.

Not a word was spoken by the parties to this strange drama. From the organ close beside us, the strains of the Wedding March rose triumphantly, but otherwise the silence was not broken. And yet it seemed to me, and my eyes were fascinated by the scene, that the wedding was actually in progress, that the responses were made, and that the clergyman pronounced the winsome bride and the headless officer man and wife. Because, at what was evidently the end of the ceremony, she bowed her head and burst into tears. All this time I stood petrified with horror. When the ceremony ended, or appeared to end, the light with which the room was illumined seemed to die away, leaving it in darkness. My first terrified instinct was to revive Jack, who was still on the floor at my feet, and get him away from the accursed place. Before I could stoop, however, the room was again filled with the uncanny light, the organ pealed out the Dead March in Saul once more, and turning my eyes instinctively towards the spot where the bridal couple had so recently stood, I saw a sight that froze the blood in my veins.

In a polished wood coffin lay the headless uniformed body of the officer, and beside the bier sat the bowed figure of the bride, attired in deep mourning, wringing her hands and sobbing out her grief. With a desperation that was superhuman in its strength, I seized Jack Morris and fairly dragged him from the house, to find, when I reached the open air, that day was breaking. This is the tale of our adventure, truthfully told. Of what happened subsequently, I have, little to say. Jack was in a high fever for a fortnight after that night, and for many months I never alluded to our experience. Eventually, however, he told me that the daughter of the former owner of the house was betrothed in the early sixties to an officer in one of the British regiments. On the very day that had been fixed for their marriage, he took part in the Rangiriri engagement, and was killed under terrible circumstances, his head having been blown from his body by a shot. The body lay for two days at the house of his betrothed, and the funeral took place from there. The poor girl, Jack added, gave way completely under her bereavement, and only survived her affianced by two months. So much for the story of my ghost adventure. I doubt not that it will be sceptically laughed at as the invention of a diseased imagination, or that some people will attribute our experiences to the particular brand of whisky we took with us for our comfort, but whether the story is credited or not, I know to my own terrible cost that the old house in Parnell I have spoken of was haunted the night we spent there.

Observer, 3 December 1904: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil finds Handel’s Dead March rather more relaxing than sinister, but, of course, hearing it played by invisible hands must have added a certain frisson of horror.

The Battle of Rangiriri was a major battle in the New Zealand land wars with the indigenous Maori. Parnell is the oldest suburb of Auckland. Manukau Road is now Parnell Road, a major thorough-fare. It is possible that the site of this shiversome tale still stands.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Some Christmas Ghosts of the British Isles: 1907

Some Christmas Ghosts

Queer Pranks of Uncanny Spirits That Make Their Appearance Each Yuletide.

Ghosts and other preternatural apparitions have always been recognized as among the essential factors of a good old-fashioned Christmas. Our forefathers loved to gather round their mighty fires in their ill-lit halls at Yuletide to listen to the histories and legends of their ancestors, whom, when their imaginations had been sufficiently inflamed, they would seem to see in the flesh once more, flitting across dark corridors and peeping from behind the wind-shaken arras.

So, in course of time, men grew to look for ghosts at Christmas as naturally as for mistletoe and holly berries. And the ghosts obligingly made a note of our requirements, more especially as they were surer of a sympathetic reception at that time of year than any other. A man may be cynical, if you like, on August bank holiday, on Christmas eve never! Christmas became the fashionable time for haunting. No self-respecting ghost could afford to be out of the swim at that season of the year. Thus we find that specters of old established reputations–ghosts who may almost be said to have retired from business–will put in an appearance at Christmas if on no other day in the year.


There is a wicked Jemmy Lowther, for instance, otherwise known as the “bad Lord Lonsdale” of whom indeed, history makes no record, but whose iniquities are still recounted with bated breath (or used to be) by the people of Westmoreland. For centuries this notorious spirit energetically haunted the Whole county frightening his descendants out of their wits, raising unearthly dins, scaring nurse girls and teasing cattle. Now in more dignified style he contents himself with riding as a phantom coach and six at full speed across the country, generally at Christmas-time. No one ever seems to have seen him or his equipage, but the sound of the wheels, the snorting of the steeds, and the objurgations hurled by his lordship at his invisible coachman serve to remind the country people at the festive season that he is not “laid” forever beneath Wallow Crag as they had the impudent assurance to suppose.

hearse from Boone County Recorder 1908


Queen Anne Boleyn and her less famous sire have also given up haunting for many years past; and if they are to be seen at all it is at Christmas they must be looked for. Like Lord Lonsdale, both these personages revisit the glimpses of the moon in coaches. The luckless Queen drives down the avenue at Blicking Hall, holding her head in her lap in a hearse-like conveyance drawn by four headless horses with headless coachmen and grooms to match. Poor, pretty, flighty Anne Boleyn! You little thought that yours would become a shape to frighten lovers in their evening rambles, and send the children screaming to their nurses! Her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn. is also a headless specter, driven by headless horses. He has to cross 40 bridges and drive through 40 gates till someone courageous enough can be found to open or to shut — we forget which — one or all of these before him. The headless driver in the coach-and-six is a frequent apparition in Ireland. On Christmas Eve, when a family is seated at the board expecting a belated guest, the noise of wheels will be heard. There will be a rush to the door, it will be flung open and in the darkness without the spectral coach will be seen driving away — sure harbinger of misfortune for host or guest.

A legend of this kind must materially contribute to the enjoyment of the Irish Christmas dinner!

headless horseman

Then there is the spectral headless horseman of Wyecoller Hall, near Colne. This ruined mansion was the seat of the Cunliffes de Billington, a family which became extinct in 1819, in fulfillment of a curse laid upon it by the murdered wife of one of its members. Every Christmas a headless cavalier, in seventeenth century costume, gallops wildly up the road to the hall. He dismounts and enters, making his way with echoing footfall up the stairs. Fearful screams are heard, the tragedy is re-enacted and the horseman reappears to gallop frantically away over hill and dale, as if the devil were at his heels.

Watton Priory, photograph by JohnArmagh

Watton Priory, photograph by JohnArmagh

Yorkshire is infected by ghosts and these never fail to gratify the legitimate expectations of the Christmas holiday-maker. Between Driffield and Beverly is the old Gilbertine priory of Watton. There are several uncomfortable legends connected with this venerable pile, and it is not easy to identify the various spectral visitants who haunt the place. There was an erring nun, who was walled up according to the humane fashion of those days, and some declare they have seen her. The most authentic apparition, however, is that associated with a wainscoted bed room connected with the moat by a secret passage. In this room a Royalist lady took refuge with her child when the mansion was attacked by a marauding band of Roundheads. Her retreat was discovered and the Puritans, incensed by her haughty replies, dashed out her child’s brains and struck off her head. Now the poor lady comes once a year to sleep in the oak-paneled room and next morning the bedclothes are found-disturbed and bearing the impression of her fair form; and if any one occupies the bed she appears at the foot headless, in bloodstained garments with her child in her arms, standing motionless for a while, and then vanishes.

Calverley Hall, photo by Betty Longbottom

Calverley Hall, photo by Betty Longbottom

Another victim of the barbarous practice of the bad old times was Walter Calverley, who was pressed to death at York in 1604. There is a painful story of his begging his old servant to sit on the stones with which the life was being slowly crushed out of him. “A pound o’ more weight lay on, lay on!” The servant obliged his request, and was hanged for his good nature. Calverley seems to have nourished (and not unnatural) considerable ill-will against the human race. He used to gallop about on a headless horse, running down any luckless folk he met in his path. Then he was “laid.” But a clergyman who visited Calverley hall about Christmas time was unpleasantly reminded of the dead criminal’s post-mortem activity. The reverend gentleman felt something creep on to his chest as he lay in bed, pressing him very hard, and was then thrown three times on to the floor. Other pranks has Calverley played, such as tolling the bell toward the close of the year from midnight till dawn. The weight on the chest of which the clerical gentleman complained is a sensation not unknown about Christmas time, and is not always to be ascribed to supernatural causes.

The north of England has not a monopoly of ghosts. Once upon a time, at Bisham Abbey, on the Thames, lived a learned lady, the wife of Sir Thomas Hoby and afterwards of John Lord Russell. As ill-luck would have it, the eldest son of this Elizabethan blue stocking was an idle urchin, so averse to learning that he used deliberately to spill ink over his copy books. If much learning had not made Lady Russell mad it had made her extremely irascible, and she chastised the bad little boy so severely that he died. Dr. Lee, author of “Glimpses of the Supernatural” states that “in taking down an old oak window-shutter of the latter part of the sixteenth century a packet of antique copy books of that period was discovered pushed into the wall between the joints of the skirting, and several of these books on which young Hoby’s name was written were covered with blots, thus supporting the ordinary tradition.” The unnatural mother is now seen at Christmas gliding through a certain chamber, and washing bloodstains from her hands. Her little victim is never seen, and sleeps soundly, where tiresome masters and mistresses and copy books are not.

Glamis Castle in the Snow, Morris's Country Seats, 1880

Glamis Castle in the Snow, Morris’s Country Seats, 1880

Glamis Castle, in Forfarshire, has a whole staff of ghosts and we are not sure that their visitations are confined to any particular season of the year. That wicked person, Earl Patie, [sic] may be relied upon to return to his ancestral hall at Christmas time. For was it not on a dark and stormy winter night — possibly Christmas eve — that he announced his intention of playing cards, although it was the Sabbath? The righteous Scots properly recoiled with horror from such a proposal, and Earl Patie retired grumbling to his room, declaring that he would welcome the devil himself as a partner. The invitation was responded to with alacrity. A tall, dark stranger appeared, and the reckless thane offered, if he were the loser, to sign a bond for whatsoever his mysterious guest might ask. They played with a zest. A butler who incautiously peeped through the keyhole, had his eye blinded by a sudden streak of flame; and Patie having lost the game, the stranger vanished with a bond for what the carl did not precisely know. Five years later he died and as his spirit continued to return to play cards with the dark stranger in the old chamber this was bricked up and remains the “Secret Room of Glamis Castle.”

No wandering, troubled spirit has more claim upon our credulity and our sympathy than the hapless Lady Bothwell, who returns every year to Woodhouselee, upon the Esk. Her husband, James Hamilton, or Bothwellhaugh, lost his lands as a result of his devotion to the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots. His wife retired with her infant child to her own personal estate of Woodhouselee, not knowing that this had been given by the Regent Murray to a creature of his, the Lord Justice Clerk Bellenden. This man came to Woodhouselee while the household was asleep and had the brutality to turn the lady and her infant out in the woods in their nightclothes. Next morning Lady Hamilton was found wandering a raving lunatic, the child dead in her arms. She died herself a few days later. Her husband swore to be avenged, and laying his plans carefully, shot Murray, Mary’s traitor brother, in the streets of Linlithgow. Men bore the wrongs done by process of law to those they loved less patiently than they do now. But still poor Lady Bothwell walks in piteous guise the park of Woodhouselee.

Prince Rupert at Edgehill

Prince Rupert at Edgehill

If supernatural apparitions are to be considered as they undoubtedly are, indispensable features of Christmas entertainment then the good people of Edge Hill, near Keinton, in Northampshire, had good reason to think themselves highly favored at Christmas, 1641. A battle between Cavaliers and Roundheads had taken place at this spot a month or two previously and to the amazement and horror of the villagers the action was fought over again almost every evening during Christmas week by spectral warriors. First the sound of drums, as afar off, would be heard, then the tramping of armed men, the trampling and neighing of horses, the firing of guns; then the rival hosts would appear in the air and the battle would be repeated in all its details. King Charles I. sent some of his officers to investigate the phenomenon, and they declared that they recognized among the ghostly warriors several of their old comrades who had fallen in the engagement.

In the same county of Northampton (says Mr. Thistleton Dyer) there still lingers the belief that the ghosts of suicides and of unfortunates buried at cross-roads with “stakes in their insides” have a particular license to wander about on Christmas eve, and to wreak their vengeance on defenceless persons.

Ghosts are generally believed by the country folk to be more spiteful at this season than at any other. In Ireland, however, the banshee who is usually more a friend of the family than otherwise, selects this time for a visitation.

Yes, most of us see ghosts at Christmas time. They do not all come to us in dreadful guise, clanking their chains and showing ghastly wounds. Most of us see ghosts of a different kind ; by the Christmas fireside and at the Christmas board, we seem to see dim, dear faces of husbands, wives, parents, children, old sweethearts and old friends whom we shall never greet in the flesh again. We are perhaps too busy to give them a thought during the rest of the year; but then they come back to haunt us. We would not be without them. And most of us, I suspect, are prone to unlock the haunted chambers in our hearts and hold sweet, sad converse with the inmates at the merry Christmastide.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 December 1907: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Quite the embarrassment of ghostly riches! Of course, this was written as pleasant holiday entertainment. Several distasteful details are omitted, such as the grewsome fate of the Nun of Watton’s lover and the fact that Walter Calverley, far from being the “victim of the barbarous practice of the bad old times,” murdered his two children, nearly murdered his wife, and was riding hell-for-leather to murder a third child when he was captured. Any punishment was richly deserved.

Mrs Daffodil, who visited Glamis in her earlier career as lady’s maid, is clucking her tongue over the mangling of the name of the notorious 15th-century “Earl Beardie.” To be fair, several of the Lords Glamis were named Patrick; perhaps the journalist, in that over-familiar American way, thought “Patie” was an appropriate nickname.  Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers bright Yuletide spirits and the happiest of New Years to come.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.