Monthly Archives: December 2012

Ghost Stories for Christmas.

Christmas has traditionally been a time of family gatherings, story-telling and merry-making. The appeal of the ghost story at this time of year is symptomatic of these things; the requests for tales from a grandparent or the reading of M. R. James heightens our sense of ancestral ties and giddy celebrations. The country house has been synonymous with stories of ghosts and spooky happenings for centuries. Local tales of headless ghouls or floating grey women occur all over the world, and authors of such stories never seem to tire of some dark mansion or dilapidated house as their backdrop.

There are many tales from which I could have plucked something, but these are best read in full. Instead I draw your attention to a piece by George Cruikshank, British caricaturist and book illustrator, better known for his superb visual commentaries of the Prince Regent and high fashion during the first half of the nineteenth century. Second Edition of a Discovery Concerning Ghosts: with a Rap at the ‘Spirit Rappers’ appeared in 1864 and is a fantastic textual form of Cruikshank’s acerbic wit and joviality. In it he highlights specific texts like Catherine Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature (1848), and Robert Dale Owen’s Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1860) declaring them to be ‘cleverly written’ and ‘elaborately compiled’ respectively, but nonetheless ‘ghastly’ and misjudged (pp. 7 and 13). There is also mention of the Sampson Ghost which Cruikshank notes as a ‘spiritual farce’ (p. 22) and Dr. Hibbert’s Philosophy of Apparitions (1824) whereby Cruikshank really gets his hooks into the appearance of ghosts and provides the reader with true laugh-out-loud material, ‘… we should like to know if there are spiritual-outfitters shops for the clothing of ghosts who pay visits on earth, and if empty, haunted houses are used for this purpose… (p. 26). He even goes as far as illustrating this section with ‘ghosts of stockings’!

The following is excerpts from the full text, but show the lighter side of telling ghost stories, and no matter what your feelings are concerning the existence of ghosts, George Cruikshank (accompanied by a sherry or rum) certainly provides some much-needed respite from the cold, dark evenings!


[All original spelling and punctuation have been retained.]

ghost cover

A vast army, composed of ghost, goblin, and sprite!
With their eyes full of fire, all gleaming with spite!
All lurking about in the “dead of the night”
With their faces so pale and their shrouds all so white!
Or hiding about in dark holes and corners,
To fright grown-up folk, or little “Jack Horners.”
But though they all stand in this fierce grim array,
Armed with pen and with pencil, “I’ll drive them away.”

As the belief in ghosts has long been popular, and considered as an established fact, it may be quite allowable for an author to introduce a ghost into his romance; and it may be argued that authors have thus been enabled “to point a moral” as well as to “adorn a tale,” by using this poetical license, or spiritual medium; but in these cases the tales or poems were given out to the world as inventions of the author to amuse the public, or to convey a moral lesson, and were accepted by the public as such.

It will be observed that there are different classes of ghosts, as there are of living people—the princely, the aristocratic, the genteel, and the common. The vulgar classes delight to haunt in graveyards, dreary lanes, ruins, and all sorts of dirty dark holes and corners, and in cellars. Yes, dark cellars seem to be a favourite abode of these common ghosts. This fact raises the question whether the lower class of spirits are obliged to keep to the lower parts of the house—to the “lower regions “—and are not allowed to go into the parlours or the drawing rooms, and not allowed to mix with the higher order of ghosts! Can this be a law or regulation amongst the ghosts? If so, is it not most extraordinary that these spirits should not be allowed to choose their own place of residence, and take to the most comfortable apartments, instead of grovelling amongst the rats and mice, the slugs, the crickets, and the blackbeetles? “tis strange, ’tis passing strange; but so it appears to be. By the by, some few of these poor spirits of the humble class of ghosts do sometimes, it appears, mount up to the bed-rooms, in the hope, I suppose, of getting occasionally now and then a ” comfortable lodging” and a ” good night’s rest.”

There is also an account of a haunted cellar in a gentleman’s house, out of town, in which were heard ” loud knockings,” “a voice crying,” “heavy feet walking,” etc. The old butler, with his “acolytes,” descended to the cellar (wine cellar) armed with sword, blunderbuss, and other offensive weapons, but the ghosts put them all to flight, and they “turned tail “in a fright. Yes, they all ran up-stairs again, followed by the “sound of feet” and “a visible shadow .'” This, of course, is a fact; and it so happens that I know another fact about a haunted wine-cellar, which, however, had quite a different result to the foregoing.

cellar ghost

In a wine-cellar of a gentleman’s house, somewhere near Blackheath, it was found that strange noises were sometimes heard in the evenings and in the night time, in this “wine vault,” similar to those described above, such as knocking, groaning, footsteps, etc., so that the servants were afraid to go into the cellar, particularly at a late hour. The master at length determined to “lay ” this ghost, if possible, and one evening when these noises had been heard, arming himself with a sword, and the servants with a fowling-piece and a poker, they cautiously descended into the cellar (with lighted candles, of course). Nothing was to be seen there, and all was quiet except a strange, smothered kind of sound, like the hard breathing of an animal, something like snoring, that seemed to proceed out of the earth in one of the dark corners of the vault, when, lo and behold! in turning their lights in the direction from which the sounds came, and advancing carefully, they discovered—what do you think? Don’t be alarmed. Why, the ghost lying on the ground, dead—DRUNK! Yes, the ghost had laid himself, not with ” Bell, Book, and Candle,” but by swallowing the SPIRIT of ALCOHOL, the spirit of wine, beer, and brandy. Most disgraceful; in fact, this ghost had taken a “drop too much,”

Upon looking a little closer, they found that this ghost was one Tom Brown, an under-gardener; and it was discovered that he had tunnelled a hole from the “tool-house” through the wall into the cellar. This spirit was so over-charged with spirit, that he was unable to walk, so was doomed to be carried in a cart to the “cage;” and all the people living round about came next morning to look at the ghost that had been haunting the squire’s wine cellar. Oh! what & fortune it would be to any one who could catch a ghost —a real, right down, “‘arnest” ghost, and put him in a cage to show him round the country! I wish I had one.* It would cost little or nothing to keep such a thing; only the lodging, as he would require neither food, fire, clothing, nor washing!

In one of the tales brought forward by this author [R. D. Owen] is an account of the haunting of an old manor-house near Leigh, in Kent, called Ramhurst, where there was heard ” knockings and sounds of footsteps,” more especially voices which could not be accounted for, usually in an unoccupied room; “sometimes as if talking in a loud tone, sometimes as if reading aloud, occasionally screaming.” The servants never saw anything, but the cook told her mistress that on one occasion, in broad daylight, hearing the rustling of a silk dress behind her, and which seemed to touch her, she turned suddenly round, supposing it to be her mistress, but to her great surprise – and terror could not see anybody.

Mr. Owen is so thoroughly master of this spirit subject that he must be able to tell us all about this “rustling” of the “silk dresses” of ghosts, and surely every one will be curious to learn the secret of such a curious fact. The lady of the house, a Mrs. R , drove over one day to the railway station at Tunbridge to fetch a young lady friend who was coming to stay with her for some weeks. This was a Miss S , who “had been in the habit of seeing apparitions from early childhood,” and when, upon their return, they drove up to the entrance of the manor-house, Miss S perceived on the threshold the appearance of two figures, apparently an elderly couple, habited in the costume of the time of Queen Anne. They appeared as if standing on the ground. Miss S—— saw the same apparition several times after this, and held conversations with them, and they told her that they were husband and wife, and that their name was “Children;” and she informed the lady of the house, Mrs. R , of what she had seen and heard; and as Mrs. R was dressing hurriedly one day for dinner, “and not dreaming of anything spiritual, as she hastily turned to leave her bed-chamber, there, in the doorway, stood the same female figure Miss S had described! identical in appearance and costume—even to the old ‘point-lace’ on her ‘brocaded silk dress ‘—while beside her, on the left, but less distinctly visible, was the figure of the old squire, her husband; they uttered no sound, but above the figure of the lady, as if written in phosphoric light in the dusk atmosphere that surrounded her, were the words, ‘Dame Children,’ together with some other words intimating that having never aspired beyond the joys and sorrows of this world, she had remained ‘earth bound’ These last, however, Mrs. R scarcely paused to decipher, as her brother (who was very hungry) called out to know if they were ‘going to have any dinner that day?'” There was no time for hesitation; “she closed her eyes, rushed through the apparition and into the dining-room, throwing up her hands, and exclaiming to Miss S , ‘Oh, my dear, I’ve walked through Mrs. Children!'” Only think of that, “gentle reader!” Only think of Mrs. R walking right through “Dame Children “—” old point-lace, brocaded silk dress,” and all—and as old “Squire Children” was standing by the side of his “dame,” Mrs. R must either have upset the old ghost or have walked through him also.

Although this story looks very much like as if it were intended as an additional chapter to “Joe Miller’s Jest-book,” the reader will please to observe that Mr. Owen does not relate this as a joke, but, on the contrary, expects that it will be received as a solemn serious fact; there was a cause for the haunting of this old manor-house, with the talking, screaming, and rustling of silk, and the appearance of the old-fashioned ghosts; there was a secret which these ghosts wished to impart to the persons in the house at that time, and if the gentleman reader will brace up his nerves, and the lady reader will get her “smelling-bottle” ready, I’ll let them into the secret. Now, pray, dear madam, don’t be terrified! Squire Children had formerly been proprietor of the mansion, and he and his “dame” had taken great delight and interest in the house—when alive—and they were very sorry to find that the property had gone out of the family, and he and his dame had come on purpose to let Mrs. R and her friend know all this! There now, there’s a secret for you—what do you think of that?


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Full link for Second Edition of a Discovery Concerning Ghosts: with a Rap at the ‘Spirit Rappers’ (1864)

Works by George Cruickshank

Selection of images by Cruickshank

The Davenport Brothers

The Ghost Club, to which Cruikshank dedicates this work (founded in 1862)

Joe Miller

The eeriness of the country

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Guest Post: Professor Terence Dooley and the Irish Historic House.

After attending the Attingham Trust 60th Anniversary Conference in October, I thought it only appropriate that I share some of the thoughts that were featured. In my last post I hinted at my own desire to obtain a greater understanding of the interpretation and presentation of the country house outside Britain. Several papers at the Conference opened my eyes to the architectural heritage of historic houses around the world. These also offered up a fascinating insight into how vastly different socio-economic and political backgrounds have provided contrasting approaches to modern-day heritage management.

One such paper was given by Professor Terence Dooley from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM). Dooley’s own specialisms are in Irish social and political history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with particular focus upon the Irish country house and the landed class. A quick read of his staff profile will tell you he is well-versed in ‘policy matters relating to heritage and restoration’. Moreover, he has placed a great deal of energy into creating fantastic links with fellow academics, researchers and those working directly in country house management at an international level. This has been a significant accomplishment, and one which stems from the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates (CSHIHE), of which Dooley is currently the Director.

The main aims of the CSHIHE are to secure and enhance public appreciation of historic properties by supporting education, research and scholarly publication. Its foundation was in large part due to Dooley’s report, A future for Irish historic houses? A study of fifty houses (2003) which was jointly commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Irish Georgian Society. This was crucial in informing government policy as well as leading to the establishment of the Irish Heritage Trust. Dooley’s conclusion to the report stated that,

An appreciation of historical and cultural heritage values should be promoted through exhibitions of historic house art, contents and archive collections and conferences to raise public awareness. Houses should be regarded as an educational asset, offering a unique insight into the country’s social, economic, cultural and political history as well as the architectural heritage which they represent.

It is with many thanks to Prof. Terence Dooley that I can now include the following overview of the activities and developments of the CSHIHE since the delivery of the report.



Prof. Terence Dooley

National University of Ireland

In 2004, the proposal for the establishment of a Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth was enthusiastically supported by the Office of Public Works (OPW). Its main strength was perceived to be that the central thrust of the Centre would be educational in the broadest sense: to support teaching and research on Ireland’s country house heritage at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels at NUI Maynooth; to initiate an outreach programme with local schools; and to collaborate with those involved in the heritage industry in Ireland. The CSHIHE is now a unique public-private venture with no equivalent elsewhere in Ireland or Britain.

As part of its educational brief and to provide a forum for debate and the dissemination of new heritage-related research findings, the CSHIHE embarked on a series of annual conferences at Maynooth. These conferences have attracted audiences from a broad cross section of Irish society and overseas including owners and managers of historic properties; heritage professionals; academics and students; specialists in architecture, landscape and conservation; secondary school teachers; and those with a general interest in the built heritage. The success of these occasions has been determined by the range of topics, the quality of speakers, and the mix of audiences. Moreover, overseas speakers have generously facilitated tours for groups from the Centre to Paris, Moscow and Sicily.

At university level, educational initiatives have included the development of modules at undergraduate level on the social, political, economic and cultural history of Irish country houses, their architectural evolution, their material culture and the creation (and destruction) of their surrounding landscapes. Teaching modules have also included visits to the UK which have enabled a comparative study of country houses in Ireland and Yorkshire in collaboration with the Yorkshire Country House Partnership.

An important recent development has been the introduction in September 2010 of an MA in Historic Houses Studies, offering modules on historical context, architectural design, material culture, heritage and tourism, restoration and conservation.

stairwell at fota

Stairwell at Fota House, County Cork (Irish Heritage Trust)

The work of the Centre is also focused upon linking the fruits of academic study with contemporary heritage issues at historic properties, and collaboration has been at the heart of these activities. The Historic Houses Association of Ireland (founded in 2009) has been a welcome partner, keen to show how many of their properties have educational assets that could be deployed in a number of ways. There is the acknowledgement that countless projects could be fashioned in relation to specific houses that would allow students and owners to work closely to the mutual benefit of both parties; the ‘Music in the Irish Country House Project’ and ‘Famine and the Country House and Estate’ being cases in point.

In 2008 the establishment of the Archive and Research Centre at Castletown, under the joint auspices of the OPW and NUIM, has presented further opportunities for those working in architecture, the decorative and fine arts, landscape, and conservation. Launched by President Mary McAleese, the Centreaims to facilitate the care and study of archives that deal with the history of Irish estates, their houses and inhabitants. The transfer of the Strokestown Park archive signalled a pioneering collaboration between a house in public ownership, a privately owned house that incorporates the National Famine Museum, and a third level institute. Dr Ciaran Reilly was appointed Post-doctoral Research Fellow to investigate the archive and organise a series of public outcomes relating to his research.

The CSHIHE, in association with the OPW, has also organised a very successful series of seminars at Castletown, addressing key issues relating to the management and understanding of the historic house in Ireland. These gatherings are aimed at those working across the historic house sector – managers, curators, academics, administrators, guides, education officers, marketing personnel, house staff and other heritage professionals.


The 1841 Irish Testimonial to Lord Morpeth (collaborative research between YCHP and CSHIHE and others)

Since 2004 the Yorkshire Country House Partnership (YCHP) based at the University of York, England, and the CSHIHE have held a highly successful series of seminars, conferences and exhibitions in Yorkshire and in Ireland. Like the CSHIHE, the YCHP is committed to re-evaluating the role and meaning of the historic house in its broadest understanding, encompassing architecture, families, collections, landscapes and archives. It has been widely acknowledged within the heritage sector that these events have been instrumental in refashioning the interpretation of the historic house in the UK, Ireland, and Europe.

In 2007, the YCHP and CSHIHE launched a joint scoping exercise aimed at exploring and recording the connections which existed between landed estates in Yorkshire and Ireland, and the respective families connected to these estates. This exercise was carried through by Desmond Konopka, a PhD student of Dr Dooley’s, and David Ghent, a PhD student of the History Department at the University of York. Their findings have yielded a great deal of material that is already supporting new post-graduate research at the University of York, and post-doctoral research at Maynooth on the Lord Morpeth Testimonial of 1841 under Dr Patrick Cosgrove. These projects have opened up an additional dimension to the collaboration between Maynooth and Yorkshire.

Borris House County Carlow (Irish Historic Houses Association)

Borris House County Carlow (Irish Historic Houses Association)

Such is the extent of its activities in the eight years since its inception that the Centre can fairly be said to be leading and determining the debate with regard to historic houses in Ireland, and, indeed, much further afield, both in academic terms (through research, teaching and publication), and in a more general political sense. In September 2005 the internationally renowned Arts journal, Apollo, described the CSHIHE as ‘an academic endeavour that has no parallel in England’ and generously praised its educational efforts particularly the outstanding success of its annual Historic Houses of Ireland Conferences.

The range of organisations, departments and individuals linked with the Centre through these diverse activities is testimony to the central tenet that those working across the entire spectrum of the built heritage sector cannot do things in isolation. Academic research needs to demonstrate a public outcome in addition to its own intrinsic requirements; equally for those who work in the heritage sector their knowledge and understanding is best enhanced by taking advantage of such research. Moreover as the historic house grows in significance so too does its appeal as a visitor attraction. Consequently the collaborative efforts of scholars, owners, managers and other professionals can also translate into economic activity with a defined public value.


Staff profile for Dr. Terence Dooley and the homepage for the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates

Full links for Irish Historic Houses Association and the Irish Heritage Trust

Archive and Research Centre Castletown

Yorkshire Country House Partnership

The 1841 Irish Testimonial  to Lord Morpeth (George Howard, later 7th Earl of Carlisle)

Strokestown Park: Irish National Famine Museum


Filed under Architecture and Design, Collections, Non-British country houses, The Destruction of the Country House