by Frank E Earp
Whilst research for another article I came across some old notes and a newspaper cutting dated 1st October 1975. The notes and cutting refer to ghostly activity at one of Nottingham’s premier tourist spots, Wollaton Hall. The Hall is a grand Elizabethan Mansion designed by Robert Smythson to be the home of Sir Francis Willoughby. Building work on the prominent hill-top site began in 1580 and took 8 years to complete. After the death of Michael Guy Percival Willoughby, 11th Baron Middleton, the Hall passed into the hands of Nottingham Corporation (City Council) and is now Nottingham’s Natural History Museum.
The Hall has recently feature in a Batman movie and is recognised by fans throughout the World as Wayne Manor, home of millionaire Bruce Wayne, – Batman’s alter-ego. In the film, deep bellow the building, is the Bat Cave, the lair of Batman himself. In reality, 30ft bellow the Hall is the ‘wine cellar’ with access to sandstone caves one of which is a water reservoir known as the Admirals Bath. It is here that Admiral Sir Nesbit Josiah Willoughby (1777 – 1849) of Aspley Hall, was said to have taken his ablutions. Each of the Hall’s four corner towers have spiral stair-cases and there is one stair-case of 200 steps which leads out onto the ‘half roof’. On the south side of the Hall are formal gardens with statues and an ornamental pond. If the stories are to be believed, all of these locations are the haunt of paranormal activity.
The White Lady: I have frequently remarked that, – again if the stories are to be believed, – per square mile, Britain is the most haunted place on the planet. Along-side the phantom monk or hooded figure, by far the most common apparition is that of the ‘White Lady’. White Lady ghosts are not confined to Britain, but are found in many countries and cultures throughout the World, including; Germany, Holland, Portugal, the Slavic culture, the U.S.A. Brazil and the Philippines.
The history of White Lady type hauntings goes back into the mists of time. In Britain the earliest recorded W.L. ghost dates from the 14th century. Also known as the ‘Mulher de Branco’, W.L. ghosts appear to be mainly a rural phenomena most frequently attached to large country houses and prominent families. Stories behind the hauntings are of the more romantic kind dealing with unrequited love, suicides and other tragedies and most often associated with a specific female member of the family. In other cases the W.L. is seen as a harbinger of death, a fairy spirit akin to the Irish banshee.
Wollaton Hall, like Rufford Abbey and Newstead Abbey, has its own W.L. ghost that is said to haunt the ‘half-roof’ area of the building. The 1975 report calls the Hall’s W.L. “….the most persistent of the Wollaton ghosts”. However, it goes on to say that she had not been seen in recent times. In an interview with Mr. Cyril Halton, the then curator of the Hall, the report states that Halton, although he had held the post for many years, had not seen the ghost. Halton describe how, during W.W.II. those on fire-watch duty frequently had occasion to go out onto the half roof, but were always reluctant to do-so for fear of the ghost. He goes on to say that how, on moonlight nights “….the pieces of statuary and the balustrade cast weird shadows and lights, and you could imagine all sorts of figures moving about”.
Mysterious light of room 19: By far the most mysterious and frequently report paranormal activity at the Hall is the strange orange glow said to emanate from the window of room 19. Room 19 is purported to be the boudoir of Lady Jane Middleton and the room in which she died. Lady Middleton was confined to this room after becoming partly paralysed following a fall.
At the time of my reference newspaper article, there were a number of full-time staff living at the Hall. One of these, Donald (Don) Wyatt, had been an attendant at the hall for six years and lived with his wife in a flat in the Hall’s stable block. In the article Don recalls the first time he witnessed the mysterious light. In 1971 another resident at the Hall, gardener Richard (Dick) Barlow and his wife were retuning home from a shopping trip to Long Eaton. Walking through the park towards the Hall they saw a light in one of the windows. As it was long past public opening hours, Dick went straight to Don’s flat to report what he had seen. Both men looked out of the window of the flat to confirm the fact that there was indeed an orange glow coming form room 19. Thinking that someone had broken into the Hall they set off to investigate, but first they armed themselves with as Don says; “…. air rifles and pickaxes and anything we could lay our hands on….”. As the two men walk the short distance between the Hall and stable block, the light went out. On entering the Hall they found that, as was the case when the building was not in-use, the electricity was switched off at the mains. There was no one in the building the burglar alarm had not been activated and the door to room 19 was locked. Don claimed to have seen the strange light again around October 1974, but this time he didn’t investigate: “It was about a quarter past eight when I saw it again. Half an hour later it was still on. I called my wife and she saw it as well”. Is it a coincidence that room 19 is just bellow the half roof said to be the haunt of the White Lady?