Dec. 18, 2020

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

"These are the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!" Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

As the nights draw in and the year comes to its close - when the veil between the living and the dead is gossamer thin- come and explore the ghostly traditions of the past and the tales of some spirits best kept for the winter. Light some candles, dim the lights and let your mind fill with the visions of something other than sugar plumbs dancing ..... maybe gather together and share some of your ghostly stories or two.

🎄 Thank you for listening and Merry Christmas 🎄 

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The Ghosts of Christmas Past


 Introduction (0.49)

Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of Haunted History Chronicles. Ebeneza Scrooge wasn’t the first fictional character to see ghosts around Christmas time. The tradition of holiday ghost stories goes much, much further back. Further perhaps than Christmas itself. Originally connected to the Winter solstice of Paganism there was a  belief that the end of the year brought the best chance for souls to cross into the realm of the living. When the night grows long and the year is drawing to a close it is only natural that people feel an instinct to gather together. At the edge of the year it also makes sense to think about people and places that are no longer with us. The ghost story tradition at Christmas is one we have seen for centuries particularly in England. It’s one that has even made its way into modern times preserved in places like the lyrics to the Christmas classic, ‘Its the most wonderful time of the year’ which talks about scary ghost stories. Possibly the most famous account about telling stories in all of English literature begins on Lake Geneva in Switzerland in June 1816. During the historically wet, cold and gloomy summer of 1816, known as the year without a summer because of a volcanic eruption at Mount Tambora in Indonesia throwing millions of metric tonnes of ash up into the air. Two of the leading poets of the age Lord Byron and Percy Shelley were vacationing near each other. Shelley with is then future wife Mary and her step-sister Claire Clairmont, who was in fact pregnant with Byron’s child at the time and Byron with his friend and physician John Polidori who would go onto to write what is now often referred to as the world’s first vampire novel. There were no excursions in the woods or on the lake, no romps through fields. The days were cold and dreary and spent indoors and Byron inspired by a volume of German ghost stories he had received from a friend decided that each of his companions should write a ghost story. Polidori struggled with one about an old woman who peeks through keyholes, there is no record of Claire Clairmont even trying. Percy Shelley was never really one for narrative and he too quickly gave up the ghost so to speak. Byron came up with a partial tale about a vampire that would eventually serve as the basis for Polidori’s novel. Only Mary Shelley succeeded with a tale that began, ‘It was on a dreary night of November.’ When the story later became the novel Frankenstein the author changed the stories opening to December the 11th. Clearly, in spite of the inspiration coming in summer, the frigid weather had a dramatic effect on her,  transporting her  and her tale to the depths of winter. And so the novel begins in the Arctic with stiff gales and floating sheets of ice and ends with Frankenstein’s monster doomed to a slow death receding into the distance on an ice floe. Frankenstein is in essence a winter’s tale. Charles Dicken’s himself wrote that the ghosts of Christmas are really the past, present and future swirling around us in the dead of the year. They are a reminder that we are all haunted all the time by good ghosts and bad and that they all have something to tell us. It is that, that we are going to explore today in a special Christmas episode- stories and locations that surround Christmas itself.


Hever Castle (5.41)

Throughout history one name has continually resurfaced with reports of alleged sightings. This has happened so often and at so many well known locations that this person has earnt the title of the most well travelled ghost in England.

The soul in question is that of King Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn. She is notorious as the second of King Henry VIIIs ill fated wives. To marry Anne Henry spent years seeking a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon and went onto sever England’s relationship with the Catholic Church in Rome forever changing the course of British history. Despite the lengths he went to ensnare her, Henry soon grew tired of Anne and choosing to believe the idle gossip surrounding her had her beheaded in 1536. The former Queen, who was also the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, was accused of adultery and beheaded at the Tower of London on the 19th May 1536. She is said to be buried at the church of St Peter ad Vincula within the tower’s walls. Every year on the 19th May flowers are delivered to the Tower of London to mark the day of her execution. The flowers have been arriving for 40 years. No one  knows who sends them.  They are put on the floor of the small chapel of St Peter ad Vincula  beneath which Anne’s body and head were buried in a wooden chest  without a plaque or stone. All traces of her when then obliterated with a Stalinist ruthlessness. All of the pictures but perhaps for one, all of the images of her crest of arms. Henry had his H and her A carved entwined into panels and embossments throughout Hampton Court. They were all removed- though a couple would be missed-and they can be seen in the great hall high up to the right on the wooden screen and also in Anne Boleyn’s walkway. Since her death almost 500  years ago, there have been countless reports of ghostly activity at several homes and palaces associated with Anne Boleyn many of which have been attributed to reappearances of the former Queen. A number of reports exist of the ghost of Anne Boleyn, but perhaps the most effecting is the version said to haunt her childhood home Hever Castle in Kent. Some say that every Christmas Eve a spectral figure of Anne Boleyn manifests beneath a great oak tree where she and Henry courted before slowly gliding across the bridge over the River Eden on the castle grounds towards her family home where she was at her happiest. One version of the story has Anne tossing a sprig of holly into the river before quietly disappearing. Anne Boleyn was the first English Queen to be publicly executed. 500 years after her death her tragic tale is still the subject of ghost sightings and historians and the inspiration for films. Anne was an indelible Queen in life and in death. It’s no surprise that she would also leave her mark at Christmas time her most favourite season and time of year . Our next story also features a woman named Anne who would also meet a rather tragic end. An end at what should have been the beginning of her new future but would be cut short at the closing of the year.


Bramshill House (9.16)

Bramshill House in Hampshire in England is near where my sister and her family live. It has a hauntingly tragic Christmas story to share. This residence is known for having 14 ghosts and described as one of the most haunted houses in England. Many of its apparitions feature in a memoire by Sir William Cope’s great-granddaughter Joan Penelope Cope. They include a Lady in Grey usually seen at about 3am. This lady allegedly haunts the terrace, the library and the chapel. Sightings of her suggest that she has a young and beautiful appearance with a sad tear stained face and that she wears a sleeveless grey dress and smells of the lilies of the valley. They Grey Lady’s husband has been reported to haunt the stables and the chapel drawing room. A green man dressed as the name suggests reportedly manifests near the lake as does the ghost supposed to be that of a gardener who also drowned there. The spirit of a young child allegedly haunts the library and the fleurs- de-lis room. The child has supposedly been heard crying and attempts to hold visitor’s hands. Folklore holds that the Grey Lady was the child’s mother. As well as these visual manifestations heavily spurred boots have been heard echoing on the stairs on many occasions. Of these tales, one became particularly well known that of a young woman dressed in white seen in the long gallery and the fleurs- de-lis room. The story went that many years ago at a Christmas wedding the young bride Anne had insisted on playing a game of hide and seek only to find herself locked in the chest in which she has hidden. People understandably assumed that the bride had made her escape and wandered somewhere far away. Despite the desperate searches of the wedding party, she could not be found. Lord Lovell her husband was left searching for his wife. Days, weeks months and even years passed and Lord Lovell never stopped looking for his bride. One day, some 50 years after her disappearance, Lord Lovell was up in the huge attic of the sprawling mansion where he began tapping on the oak panelling. As he knocked a long hidden secret door sprang open and inside he found an ornate wooden chest. He pried open the heavy wooden lid. Enclosed in the wooden chest in this attic would be his young bride, still in her wedding dress, clutching a sprig of mistletoe in her skeletal hand with scratch marks on the ceiling of her spring-locked resting place. The ghost of the Lady In White as she is known and referred to, as mentioned before, is said to haunt the fleurs-de-lis room. Michael I of Romania, the last King, supposedly had to ask to stay in another room during his visit so as to not be disturbed by the woman in white who passed through his bedroom every night. The mistletoe chest itself is displayed in the entrance hall and a man with a grey beard is often seen staring though the window of it. Many believe this to be either her father or husband. Anne had laid for years in her husband’s attic in this chest- a lonely prisoner awaiting release. Our next Christmas story also features a prison of a different kind.


Alcatraz (13.09)

The island of Alcatraz, off the coast of San Francisco, has a long and spooky history but maybe not one everyone associates with at Christmas time. In its earlier days Native Americans allegedly used to banish miscreants to the island as punishment where they were reportedly plagued by the local spirits. Alcatraz of course became a notorious federal prison in 1934 housing criminals such as Al Capone before it was shut down in 1963. Today visitors to the island report hearing screams, the clanging of metal doors and the sound of voices within the walls. One of the more famous tales of associated with the island supposedly occurred in the 1940s when Warden James Johnston held a Christmas Day party at his residence for the staff at the prison. The good cheer that night is said to have been brought to a swift halt when an apparition sporting mutton chop whiskers and a grey suit appeared. As the startled guards stared at the apparition the temperature in the room plummeted and the fire in the Ben Franklin stove blew out. It would return to normal and the spirit would disappear about a minute later. The rattled guards were too scared to stay in the residence and the rest of the Christmas celebration ended rather abruptly. Our final Christmas story takes place in Roos Hall or Rose Hall as it is sometimes known.


Roos Hall 14.47

Roos Hall is a Grade I listed building in Suffolk dating back to the 16th century. It is a building with many sinister connections capable of sending many a shiver down your spine including a gruesome hanging tree also known as Nelson’s Tree. This oak tree was planted at the sight of the old gibbet where numerous criminals would end their days and were hung. At night a white lady may be seen walking around the base of the oak tree six times in order to conjure the Devil himself. To make things even spookier inside one of the building’s cupboards the mark of a Devil’s cloven hoof is said to be imprinted. But perhaps the most dramatic haunting is supposed to happen every Christmas Eve. Legend has it that a headless horseman clatters down the driveway with his four black horses pulling a phantom coach terrifying anyone who witnesses him. And why does this headless spirit restlessly travel the grounds every Christmas Eve? Nobody knows. But after all, what would Christmas be without a little fear.


Conclusion (17.06)

Montague Rhodes James was the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University and an English author best remembered for his ghost stories. A century ago it was James’s habit to read one aloud by candlelight every Christmas Eve to a select group of students in his study in Kings College, Cambridge. You can listen to the horror legend Christopher Lee retell some of these chilling tales such as The Stalls of Barchester, The Ash Tree, Number 13 and A Warning to the Curious. Why not start your own Christmas tradition this year and revisit some of these ghostly stories of the past. You can find the audiobook on Spotify and other platforms - I’ll make sure to share a link to these in the description to the episode. Why not light a candle and reflect on the stories of those no longer with us. Now, having studied at Cambridge myself, this podcast is my nod to that tradition. I’m sharing these stories with you by candlelight and reminiscing on some of the stories from the past at this time of year. Merry Christmas everyone. Thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you next time. Bye.


Ways to help (19.34)

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