Haunted Edwardian Manor Houses

Burton Agnes Hall

Burton Agnes Hall

It is not easy to say offhand which is the most famous of all the haunted houses of the kingdom, if one regards them strictly from the point of view of their reputation for ghostliness. But perhaps we should not be far wrong if we gave the pre-eminence for mystery to Glamis Castle, whose spectral traditions, on account of their very weird and hidden nature, have taken strong hold upon the public mind.

Most haunted houses have their ghostly story well known, but that of Glamis remains a secret. What is the nature of the spirit or spirits that one finds here connected with the old house? Only three people know; only three people may know at the same time. Of these the living Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, who is the representative of the family, is one; the next heir is the second, and the steward of the estate is supposed to be the third. According to popular belief, all these three persons are sworn never to divulge the secret of the haunted room, and so there only remain as solutions of the mystery the strange tales which have at times been whispered round to satisfy the public imagination.

The most generally received version is that the crypt, which is kept shut from ordinary observation, is the scene of the ghostly appearances. It is said that on a certain night each year the three gentlemen mentioned have to repair there at a stated hour, when they behold the extraordinary sight of Earl Beardie—one of the Crawfords of olden days—playing cards with ghostly companions, which penance he has to undergo till the Day of Judgment, on account of a foul crime he committed in this very room whilst having a game of cards.

Glamis Castle Crypt

Glamis Castle Crypt

Another version locates the haunted apartment in a wing of the tower, where there certainly is a small room whose entrance is only known to three persons, and which entrance has often been sought by inmates and visitors of the house, but hitherto always in vain. The story of Earl Beardie, however, is then repeated substantially of this room, practically the same in detail.
Many a time has the heir in the past declared that he would disclose the mystery on entering on the earldom, but at the critical time he has always drawn back, and the secret has remained a secret still.

However one regards the tale, there is without doubt something mysterious connected with Glamis, a secret that the three folks spoken of share between themselves, and which is jealously guarded from the outer world. Glamis Castle has many strange historic and gruesome tales belonging to it, but this one about the dead earl is the strangest and most weird.

Next to Glamis the most curious account of a ghostly appearance has perhaps its location in Windsor Castle. Outsiders laughed and pooh-poohed, even lately, when the story was told in several quarters; but those closely connected with Windsor know well whether it is regarded as “fancy” or not by those immediately concerned. There had been for many decades reports that at various periods the spirits both of Queen Elizabeth and of Charles I. frequented certain portions of the castle. But the present Royal Family, even more than most officials at Windsor, gave little credence to such stories.

It is said, however, that some few years back the late Empress Frederick was seated reading quietly, in broad daylight, in the library, which, as is well known, was one of her favourite haunts when at the castle. Suddenly she looked up, and was simply amazed to observe near the door the figure of a gentleman, dressed in the attire of the Cavaliers, standing as if meditating. When he raised his head and turned his face towards her, she recognised the figure at once as that of the Stuart King Charles I. She is reported to have neither spoken nor risen, but to have closely watched the strange apparition until it moved softly away and disappeared through the door, where, after following it, she could discern nothing more.

Queen Elizabeth’s spirit is said to frequent the Terrace on certain nights, and the Windsor folk tell you with bated breath that no less a person than Princess Beatrice has seen the Tudor Queen there more than once! Some say the first time was when the Princess was only a girl, and the last not many years ago. Whatever truth there may be in these reports, (and they have been made on very high authority before to-day,) one cannot but regard Windsor Castle as the beau-ideal spot for ghosts. Its wonderful history, its former inmates, its unique situation, all make it just the place where one might expect to meet the spirits of departed great personages, if anywhere at all in England.

There are surely few river-lovers who do not know Ham House, the grand old residence of the Earl of Dysart, at Petersham, on the banks of the Thames. The lovely slopes of the river, the fine trees between the house and the Thames, the mysterious groves and walks of this famous stately home of England,—how many tourists and fair rowers on the river have they not at one time or another allured and enticed to stay for an hour or two in contemplation and enjoyment of the beautiful scene around!

Ham House is reputed to be one of the very few places really tenanted by authentic ghosts. They are there to-day, and may be seen by the most sceptical,—say the good folk of Ham,—if only the Earl will give permission. They are not the ghosts of any particularly historic or interesting persons of old ; no one seems to know their identity at all, or why they appear. But that appearance is above suspicion, rumour says. They have been seen times and again by the family and visitors.

And truly Ham House has several features that lend colour to such statements. It looks like a spirit-ridden place; it is a true Elizabethan mansion, with mystery written large upon its very face! Those big gates which make the front entrance of Ham House are said never to have been opened but once since the day when they closed upon Charles II. for the last time. That once was for a former Ix)rd Granville, whom the then earl specially desired to honour. There is some traditionary reason for their being always shut. What is that reason?

In Ham House Charles II. used to sit with the famous Cabal Ministry. Here are still the furniture and articles used by the great Lauderdale and his duchess ; by Buckingham, Ashley, Arlington, and Clifford. Are the ghosts of which one hears those of these celebrated characters? Ham House is a mysterious place in itself, and its ghostly inmates to-day make it more mysterious still.
To all Yorkshire is known the legend of the “Screaming Skull ” of the Boyntons. There is no make-up about this story; it has been told by members of the family themselves times without number, and the “Screaming Skull” exists to-day. The Boyntons live at Burton-Agnes, in the East Riding, and the present head of the family is Sir Henry Boynton, Bart.

The Hall itself is a fine Elizabethan mansion, containing many noted and curious carvings both in wood and stone. The “Skull ” which has played such strange parts in the career of the family is kept (or was) under a glass case in the entrance-hall, securely fastened. According to tradition, if the skull is removed from that place for any purpose whatever, bad luck will follow the family, and death pursue them far and wide. In addition to this, a succession of unearthly shrieks is said to be emitted periodically by the skull itself, which are calculated to cause fear in the stoutest breast; and the shrieks only cease when the skull is returned again to its resting-place.

That the legend is universally believed round the district, and that the Boyntons take extraordinary care to keep the relic just where it has so long reposed, do not admit of a doubt. That terrible fates have pursued those who, strong-minded and unbelieving, have dared to remove the skull, is also, if report can be credited, beyond question. The skull is said to be that of a former
female member of the family who, on account of some quarrel, declared that she would never be buried and forgotten until a wrong in her life had been avenged.

But as it is to-day impossible for the present generation of Boyntons to avenge such said wrong, even if they wished, the skull is likely to have to stay where it was first placed when, after the said lady’s burial, it turned up on her grave grinning diabolically at those who had buried it! In vain was it reburied; it always ” screamed ” and turned up again later, until at last it found rest and peace after being placed in the hall which had been the former apartment of its owner. Here, so we are told, it lies quiescent and harmless. “But surely the present generation does not believe such a tale, and could bury the skull?” says the sceptic. Well, the doubter had better ask the reigning head of the family if he is willing to do so.

Rosslyn Castle, the home of the Earls of Rosslyn, has some claim to our notice, seeing that its “White Lady” has obtained more than a passing importance. The “White Lady of Rosslyn” is supposed to be a bad omen for the reigning lord, as her appearance is said to presage his death soon after. It is a family tradition that has its counterpart in many other stately houses, both in this country and on the Continent, a similar “White Lady” being said always to herald any disaster or death in the family of the Hohenzollerns, of whom the head is the present German Emperor. Another message of death at Rosslyn is said to be conveyed to those who see it by the appearance of an unearthly light in the chapel. Indeed, this light is said to appear simultaneously, as a rule, with the ghostly “White Lady.” Whatever truth there may be, either in the legend or in its mystic surroundings, I do not pretend to say.

But all who are acquainted with the charming and talented family of St. Clair Erskine will hope that it may be a very long time indeed before the “White Lady” is seen by any of them. Marlow and Bisham Abbey—what glorious memories of boating on the Upper Thames do the names recall! When you stopped rowing to have tea near pretty Bisham Abbey, did you know that this fine old place was one of the noted haunted houses of England? Almost certainly not; yet such is the truth. If you can get a look into the house, and should see the portrait of Lady Hoby, Sir William’s wife of old, you will be at once struck by the deathly pallor of her face and hands. It is an awful, bloodcurdling story, the one that you will be told of this Lady Hoby. She is, like the Earl Beardie at Glamis, condemned to pay the penalty of a terrible deed till the Last Day. Her little son William was writing, so report says, and blotted his book.

The mother, who had a shocking temper and was most strict, beat him hard and long, until at length the poor child died from it. Then ensued an awful scene. Lady Hoby was filled with repentance and horror, and in vain tried to wash her son’s blood from her guilty hands. Her whole life was passed in fruitlessly trying to do this. And now, in our twentieth century, on the anniversary of that fatal duty, the spirit of a woman in widow’s weeds, with wild, horrified face, passes through the rooms of Bisham at midnight, appalling those who see it, because there is in front of the figure a ghostly basin of water, and in this the wretched mother keeps dipping her hands and looking at them, only to find that the marks of blood still remain unwashed away! Thus Bisham can boast of a fitting counterpart to the role of Lady Macbeth, and so takes its place amongst the haunted houses of our land.

The Lady’s Realm (1902)

An Edwardian Music Primer

Lily Elsie

Lily Elsie

A Twitter follower asked a great question about music in the Edwardian era, which alerted me to this gap on Edwardian Promenade. I’ve blogged a lot about ragtime and a little about the opera and musical theatre of the period, but have yet to draw them together–until now. I’m going try my best to stick with 1900s and 1910s England, but a large part of the Edwardian era’s change and growth in music devolved from the first wave of modern “globalization,” where peoples from all walks of life came in contact with one another through technology (ocean liners, telephones, cinema, etc).

Also, as with all things in this period, music consumption could be stratified by class. Opera and classical concerts were listened to by a variety of classes, but during the early 1900s, they both suddenly became “highbrow”–which is where they stand today. The rise of sheet music and a middle class finally uninterested in aping the upper classes created a “middlebrow” musical culture. The music hall became “respectable,” and lower and working-class denizens were exposed to masters of the music hall craft, who moved away from cobbling together old skits and revues.

Gramophone listener in a fictionalized view of the year 2000 By Villemard [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The biggest revolution in Edwardian music was the introduction of the gramophone (or phonograph, depending on country of origin). Of course this was limited to the middle-classes and up, but the wild success of recorded music launched a new–and lucrative–branch of the music industry virtually overnight. A public hungry for recordings of popular and traditional tunes, and opera and theatre stars, reached as far away as India, where they couldn’t get enough of comedic tunes from London’s music halls.

It’s very likely the increase in literacy and education post-1870s Education Act fostered the growth of music literacy, for this was also the epoch of the great orchestra groups like the Royal Philharmonic Society (earned the “Royal” upon its centenary in 1912), Halle Orchestra of Manchester, and the London Symphonic Orchestra. For the Edwardians, music could be heard in diverse places ranging from the Royal Albert Hall, Queen’s Hall, the Crystal Palace, all the way to bandstands in city parks and at seaside resorts, and regimental bands provided even more exposure to popular and patriotic tunes.

Gaiety Theatre. Aldwych, The Strand

Gaiety Theatre. Aldwych, The Strand

Advertisement and the popular press worked in tandem to create superstars of the brightest and most talented of the music world. Victorian-era standbys, like Adelina Patti retained their popularity well into the Edwardian era, but new luminaries tapped into the bombastic publicity emblazoned across newspapers, magazines, omnibuses, playbills, etc to build their reputations. Conductor Thomas Beecham, widely considered one of the most important musical geniuses of the 20th century, nevertheless used his family wealth to enter the opera world, and arrogantly reigned over the English music scene until his death in 1961.

In general, the Edwardian era is most associated with the frothy, glittering, magical music that wafted from the musical comedy–and the Gaiety Theatre and Daly’s under the “Guv’nor” George Edwardes in particular. These comedies usually had the word “Girl” in the title, featured light comic tunes sung by glamorous leading ladies and gentlemen, and anchored by a chorus line of beauties known as Gaiety Girls. Most songs written by Lionel Monckton and Ivan Caryll, whose compositions and lyrics made stars out of Lily Elsie, Gabrielle Ray, Gertie Millar, and other comic actresses.

The most enduring musical comedy was The Merry Widow, an adaptation of Die Lustige Witwe by Franz Lehar, which ultimately ran at Daly’s for a little over two years. Its famous waltz sold over 200,000 copies in sheet music, and it was seen by nearly two million people throughout its first run (King Edward VII was said to have viewed it four times!). The appetite for this kind of spectacle opened the door for American-style revues and American style music (ragtime, blues, and early jass [later jazz]). Book-ending the Edwardian period were the ragtime compositions of Scott Joplin and the rollicking blues & jass of Jelly Roll Morton, though the dominance of black music and black musicians did not emerge until after WWI.

Sissieretta Jones

Sissieretta Jones

Early globalization led to an increasing diversity of musical acts. Minstrel and racial stereotypes still persisted, but Britons (and Americans) of color took control of their own representation and productions in the Edwardian era. England’s own Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, born to an Englishwoman and a Sierra Leonean doctor, gained fame as a composer of modern classical tunes, the most famous being his The Song of Hiawatha, which caused an immediate sensation upon its premiere in 1898. Coleridge-Taylor soon became a point of contact within Britain and America’s black musical circles, who ranged from fellow composers like Will Marion Cook, to choir groups (very popular with all social classes and ethnicities) like the Kingston Choral Union from Jamaica. In India, the gramophone spread English music, but it also spread knowledge of traditional songs of the country’s various ethnic groups. Surprisingly, it was Indian women who led the way, and the first two decades of the 20th century created superstars of Gauhar Jaan, Malka Jaan, Zohra Bai Agrewali, among others.

Ballet Russes Oriental 1913 Costume Design Leon Bakst.

Ballet Russes Oriental 1913 Costume Design Leon Bakst.

The Ballet Russes brought avant garde music–composed by Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy–into the mainstream. Stravinsky, Debussy, and Maurice Ravel, were some of the titans of the new movement in music, which mirrored the growing avant garde art movements like Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Symbolism–all under the umbrella of “Modernism”–and changed the way 20th century listened to classical music.

If I could sum up the topic of music in the Edwardian era in one word, it would be “variety.” The early 1900s didn’t see a complete break with Victorian traditions, but its breadth and depth was indicative of a society that had begun to find its individual footing.

Further Reading:

Black Edwardians by Jeffrey Green
Edwardian Popular Music by Ronald Pearsall
“Music” by Frank Howes in Edwardian England, 1900-1914 ed Simon Nowell-Smith
Gaiety Years: George Edwardes and His Times by Alan Hyman

Other Edwardian Promenade posts

Category: Music
Tagged: Popular Music
Tagged: Music

REVIEW: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

Helen Rappaport pierces the romantic veiling swaddled around the daughters of Nicholas II to present a pleasing, if sobering look at the four lives brutally ended one night in the summer of 1918. I’m not a Romanov buff by any means, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the Imperial Family and their lost world (Fox’s Anastasia (1997) is one of my favorite movies). When I downloaded this book to my Kindle, I didn’t know what to expect–the discovery of Anastasia’s remains in 2007 closed the case on the many imposters, and Rappaport certainly wasn’t going to mine rumors about Rasputin, was she?

Thankfully, Rappaport didn’t dwell on either. Instead, she drew a balanced, yet sometimes frustrating portrait of four young women raised at the highest echelons of society by warm, kind-hearted parents who were horrible rulers. The sentimental portrait of Nicholas and Alexandra’s great, abiding love is brought to earth to a startling degree, and the reality of their characters played out amongst their five children. The family of Nicholas II was very close and tight-knit, and the love between them all was intriguing to read in light of the stereotypical image of the stern, emotionally distant Victorian/Edwardian paterfamilias. But in the context of their time–which Rappaport paints very well–their extreme insularity brought their downfall.

There were times when I wanted to reach through the text and shake Empress Alexandra for her neglect and sheltering of her daughters, her obsession with her son and the throne, and her devotion to autocracy. There were times when I wanted to shake Olga, whom Rappaport claims was the most sensitive and astute of the four daughters, especially as Russia drifted towards the Revolution. My frustration was especially piqued when the Grand Duchesses kept getting sick at moments of crisis! I suppose illness was a constant presence in the days before vaccinations, but I couldn’t help but feel that the Romanov sisters were subconsciously susceptible to debilitating illnesses when beneath emotional strain (and it possibly was the only time their mother got out of bed and paid attention to them).

However, there are lots of charming, cheeky moments in this book. Rappaport draws from reminisces and letters they sent to friends over the years to paint as deep a portrait of Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia as one can without lots of primary resources (I was arrg! when reading passages of the sisters burning their diaries and letters in 1917-18). There is some repetition of their characters traits Rappaport presumes from extant sources, but it kept the sisters at the center of the tale even when chapters detailed the obsessive, fearful motherly love Empress Alexandra had for her only son. It was also intriguing to read about Rasputin through their eyes: I still can’t get a bead on him, but their grief when he is murdered in 1916 is palpable nearly one hundred years later.

Rappaport ends The Romanov Sisters as they are heading downstairs to the cellar of the Ipatiev House, for which I am thankful–it would have been difficult to read the gory details after being in their heads for 500+ pages (Rappaport has written about the fortnight leading up to murder in The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg). The mark of a great biography is one that effortlessly weaves the historical, cultural, and socio-political context into the subject’s life, and in The Romanov Sisters, Rappaport does just that.

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