Way back in my distant past, I used to be a tour guide at Old Moseley Hall, near Wolverhampton. As with anyone in that position, I had to be ready to answer any question put to me from a member of the public. While this was usually about the property, the English Civil War, King Charles II or the 17th century in general, there was another constant.
"Are there any ghosts at Old Moseley Hall?"
Unlike many National Trust properties, there wasn't much in the way of paranormal activity at Old Moseley Hall. Which isn't to say that there weren't stories.
First you need the background. After the Battle of Worcester, in 1651, King Charles II had to flee for his life. The Parliamentarians had won and they were after adding his head beside that of his executed father. During the celebrated pursuit which followed, Charles hid at the hall for a short while. From its windows, he could see his wounded soldiers limping back to Scotland along what used to be the main road through Wolverhampton to the north. It ran right outside.
Story number one is that some people, driving late at night down that lane, have sensed those civil war soldiers still passing by. But that's a rare tale and only ever heard from a friend of a friend of a friend. It may have even been inspired by the more famous, and much more attested, similar ghostly occurrences from the battlefields of Culloden or Marston Moor.
The second Old Moseley Hall ghost story has much more going for it. That involves the top floor attic area; and it's the place where I really gave myself the chills.
Back in the 17th century being Catholic was quite dangerous. The Whitgreave family of Old Moseley Hall were Catholic. This was always the most interesting part of my tour, as I revealed the hidden chapel and told what happened to the pewter candlesticks and vessels for the altar. (Pewter melts in fire. There was always a fire blazing in an antechamber hearth during a service, just in case.) A priest hole was concealed in the floorboards on a lower level. The Whitgreave family knew the risks to life and limb, yet they smuggled in priests and took the sacrament anyway.
It's in this area where the presence has been so widely felt. Various visitors shiver there, or feel slightly unwell, and there are those who have seen the Lady herself. A fellow tour guide in period costume? No. There should have been no-one there at all. But nevertheless she's occasionally seen, just standing before the altar, or moving towards the antechamber; always on the top floor.
On this particular day, I was living the historian's dream. For the first (and last) time ever on my watch, no tourists had turned up at all. I'd done an earlier tour, and I did one later, but for this slot I was free to just wander around the property completely on my own. There was no-one else there at all. Even the store and cafe were in different buildings.
You're waiting for me to say that I saw her, aren't you? I went there. I stood alone in the Catholic Chapel and soaked in the atmosphere. I remembered the Lady and asked aloud if she wanted to chat. No response. I reached out in spirit, seeing if I could somehow sense her. She was not there; or if she was, then she didn't want to speak with the likes of me.
After a while, I left my pew and wandered out. But my mind was full of her and her times. I wondered who she was (nobody knows) and what terrible times she must have lived through (if indeed she was as 17th century as reports on her outfit would have it). And my memory threw up the nursery rhyme.
So many nursery rhymes are mnemonics. They recall a moment in history or a useful tip, to be passed on in a way even toddlers could remember. Goosey, Goosey, Gander is no exception; and it was very relevant to Old Moseley Hall, with its hidden chapel and recusant worshippers.
As for anyone admitting to being Catholic, or merely getting in the way, then think long and hard on that last line: 'took him by his left leg and threw him down the stairs'.
I knew the nursery rhyme and I knew the history. But until I stepped out of that chapel and stood at the top of the staircase at Old Moseley Hall, I didn't know a thing. Suddenly the mental imagery had a real world setting upon which to hook itself. I could see quite clearly the actual terror and the horrific violence that such a sweet and familiar nursery rhyme evoked.
So I spoke it. Slowly, half in a whisper, I told the nursery rhyme to the air, as I descended that 17th century staircase. I felt it, heard it, saw it, in my mind's eye, how it could have happened. And by the time I reached the ground floor, the goosebumps were raised on my arms and my hair was standing on end.
Had I finally drawn an unseen audience in the Lady ghost? Or simply scared myself? I suspect the latter, but it all seemed so very real.
| || |
| || |