BY CAROLINE COLTHURST
When I inherited Pitchford Hall in January 1972 from my stepfather Robin Grant, I had always kept an open mind with regard to ghosts. I knew that my Grandmother, Lady Evelyn Malcolm, had seen some and that my step-mother, Lady Mary Combe, had had an experience when she was a child staying with her mother, Cousin Esther in Scotland; also I had been told by one of my grandmother’s maids, Birdie, of an experience she had had of seeing some Cavaliers in a garden somewhere. Sadly I had never had an experience myself.
ROBIN GRANT, of whom many people have had a “Whiff”, when he was alive used to smoke specially imported cigarillos from South America. Over 100 people have had an experience of the “Whiff”. This can happen in any part of the Hall, at any time of the day or night. The first time was about a week after he had died and Hugh Rennison, the then Caretaker, noticed this smell in the Pantry; at the time there was no one in the Hall who smoked either cigars, cigarillos or cigarettes. When Robin was alive it was his wont to smoke these particularly pungent cigarillos in the Pantry whilst having long conversations with Rennison (who’d be polishing the silver at the time). Rennison was not the only one as his wife, Gladys, had the same experience. Also the Estate Staff, Mosey Painter, Bert Hodgkiss and Ralph Tolley all encountered a “Whiff”. A week after Oliver and I had had the North Lodge done up for the Rennisons and they had moved in, Mrs. Rennison actually ‘saw’ Robin; when Rennison got back after working down at the Hall one evening, he said to her:
“Gladys, you look as if you have just seen a ghost?” To which she replied
“Hugh, did the late Mr. Grant own a herringbone tweed coat with a furry lining?”
Robin did indeed own such a coat; it was a particularly striking black and white herringbone tweed coat with a fur lining. Mrs Rennison then described to her husband what she had seen and they both agreed that she had indeed seen Mr. Grant, even though she had not seen his features.
In March 1991 Mr and Mrs Vic and Vi Roberts went to live in the North Lodge. Vi went to the lavatory in the middle of the night and saw Robin (wearing the same herringbone tweed coat with the furry lining and there was a definite glow of a cigarillo). Neither Vic nor Vi had ever met Robin during his lifetime and I had not discussed ghosts with them; in fact they started to work at Pitchford two days before we came back from our holidays. In August 1990 when the Hall and Gardens were open to the general public for the first time, most of our Guides experienced “Whiffs”. Carla, an American Guide, was most put out as she had always before denied the existence of ghosts. Many members of the general public smelled the tobacco during the month of August, 1990. Some were amused that they had done so, some were not. When we had our heat pumps installed the engineer, Jeff Thomas, was staying at the Hall for three weeks (Monday-Thursday nights) and he was always getting “Whiffs” and once actually “saw” Robin Grant going up the staircase towards Room C. His description was exactly the same as the ones given by Gladys Rennison and Vi Roberts.
On the 9th June 1982, I was showing a Canadian called Mr. Russell Scharff, around the Hall. He was a self-confessed psychic who told fortunes for fun – but he did not do this on a commercial basis, and he described various ghosts both inside the Hall and outside. I’ll describe these ghosts later on. Well, we were in the Library, and he had already smelled the tobacco a few times, when we were walking about at 10.10 pm and I was walking towards the window on the Row Brook side of the room. I was about to expound on the possible old Anglo-Saxon site of Pitchford Village, with the traces of buildings (i.e. ‘terracing traces’ coupled with aerial photographs) and the old village pond, when Mr. Scharff said, quite out of the blue,
“You’ll smell it in a minute!”
“DARLING”, SHE’D SAY CROSSLY TO ME, “I’M ABOUT AS PSYCHIC AS A COAL-SCUTTLE”.
I did indeed. I got the sensation of being jabbed by a powerful hypodermic needle and the most pungent whiff of tobacco entered my nostrils. This sensation lasted but a split second. Sadly so far this is the only time I’ve been so fortunate. Romaine and Rowena, our daughters, have both smelled this tobacco; Rowena said that the first time she did, she rushed off to tell her friend to come back
with her to the Drawing Room. Of course when the two girls did go back the smell had gone. Romaine says the same thing has happened to her.
My late mother, Barbara Grant, was always furious that she had never been lucky enough to experience a “Whiff” nor had she ever caught a glimpse of her husband, Robin, or indeed any other ghost.
“Darling”, she’d say crossly to me, “I’m about as psychic as a coal-scuttle”.
After Mr. Scharff had gone I wrote down some notes on what he had said and filed them away under “Miscellaneous” in my filing cabinet. To go back to Jeff Thomas, the Heat Pump Engineer: one morning at breakfast he accused my husband, Oliver, via me, of smoking a powerful cigar in the early hours of the morning (i.e. 4.15 am). I pointed out that a) my husband had given up smoking and b) he was, in fact, in London. Jeff stayed here for three weeks, Mondays to Fridays, and he proceeded to see three more ghosts:
- A little Old Lady, wearing a sort of dressing-gown, who came out of the middle bathroom on the landing on the first floor and proceeded to potter into Room G (which is now my daughter, Romaine’s bedroom).
- He also saw a Man in a Black Cloak, with a large hat with a plume of feathers, and some sort of armour underneath going up the staircase from the Man-Trap alcove towards our bedroom – he thought he was a Cavalier.
- A Woman, tallish, who walked into the kitchen and on into the laundry room, via the ante-kitchen.
Again, I filed these sightings.
Jeff did not like working in the Library and he said there was a bad-tempered ghost in the corner part of the room (the South West side of the room, by the window which looks Southwards). He got the impression that this man resented the fact that he, Jeff, was working at the Hall and that the ghost wanted him to “go away”.
About seven years ago we had a Housekeeper called Madge. Madge was always getting “Whiffs”. She also had unpleasant feelings about a ghost in the Library (in the same part of the room where Jeff Thomas had felt its presence) and also in Room A. At the same time that Madge was working here, Kath Morris started to work here as a cleaning lady. Before she came, she had never believed in ghosts. However, these two ladies really stirred up the Pitchford Ghosts. Kath also hated working in the Library and Room A.
Both Madge and Kath said that the ghost in the Library was a bad-tempered man and furthermore they both got the impression that he was very unhappy that they were disturbing his peace and that he wanted them “to beggar off and to leave him in peace”. This was exactly the same impression that Jeff Thomas had got. (And Barry Garside, of whom more anon).
A RED-FACED TWEEDY, MAN WEARING BREECHES.
The ghost in Room A is obviously a woman who like the man in the Library, hates having to share the room or indeed, the Hall itself, with anyone. In fact my friend Lesley Lake claims that when she was sleeping there one night the bedclothes were suddenly whisked off her; however we had all had a very good and somewhat alcoholic evening the night before ……..
To go back to Mr. Scharff, (I’m not sure of the spelling and he is now dead so I cannot check it) who came here for a drink at approximately 8.20 pm with his wife Doreen. He said that the Hall is “protected by a shield, which won’t last for ever. A force is present around the whole structure which is beneficial and full of joy and kindness”. He mentioned a “cigar aura” in the Drawing Room, with its powerful whiff, and immediately he smelled cigarillo smoke in the Ante Kitchen, and said that it was particularly strong in the Passage by the Pantry and in the Pantry itself. We then walked up the steps near the Washing Green area by the kitchen and he talked about a female ghost, complete with the noise of footsteps. When we were looking down on the Hall by the Tree House, he said that he particularly wanted to go into the Nursery Bathroom – pointing out its window. He said that Robin Grant is “pleased and happy on his wavelength.
In Room B, the bedroom in which Queen Victoria slept, with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, in 1832 when she was thirteen years old, Mr. Scharff said that there were children playing around the oak chest by the window – sitting on it and inside it.
Room A. He had a feeling of a boy and girl; two very, very happy children who were playing up and down the Priest’s Hole.
Bathroom C. A man of a pompous and overbearing character who had been very, very sceptical of ghosts during his lifetime and he had in fact, denied their existence. Again Mr. Scharff mentioned the “Aura/shield around the house with its very, very, kind atmosphere which would not last for ever”.
Room D. A woman who sat in the chaise-longue and in the armchair on the left.
Bathroom D. A woman who hated the bath, the same woman who was in Bedroom D.
Room E. A very, very, happy elderly woman.
Nursery Bathroom. An extremely unhappy young woman in bed (obviously before the bathroom had been installed) who had died in childbirth.
General’s Flat (bedroom). A red-faced tweedy, man wearing breeches.
Library: In the Porter’s Chair, Mr. Scharff said that there was a serf sitting there who was calm, docile; he was bearing blue breeches and a bright yellow coat with silver buttons.
Thinkery: A man who had committed suicide. Apparently a gamekeeper called Mr. Whitterick had done this earlier on this century, by walking into the top Fishpond (Lake).
“MY DEAR, THE PLACE IS STUFFED WITH THEM. THEY ARE ALL SO CHARMING”.
Before Mr. Scharff came here we had employed a young man called Horvat, (I can’t remember his Christian name) to do some painting on the outside of the Hall. He saw a woman walking up the staircase by the Washing Green. He also saw a different woman walking into the kitchen and another who walked out of the nursery bathroom into Room G. (Romaine’s bedroom).
When Romaine was about 13 she woke up one night to see a woman looking at her whilst she was in bed. I had never discussed ghosts with Romaine or Rowena lest I frightened them or gave them unpleasant ideas. Once Rowena, at the time she was going through puberty, heard the sound of the piano playing in the Library, but when she went inside there was no one there.
A friend of my sister, Georgina, one Ivor Powell, who told fortunes for his living, was staying here and when I asked him at breakfast if he thought the Hall was haunted, replied with flapping, limp wrists:
“My dear, the place is stuffed with them. They are all so charming”.
Kath Morris, who bicycles to work, has described a man in a black cloak on the drive. She has seen a man in the Churchyard (a different man, she thinks). She has seen the woman who comes out of the Nursery Bathroom and goes on into Room G. The first time, she thought it was me – it wasn’t, as I was not in Pitchford at the time. The second time she though it was Romaine, who was ill in bed but on asking me I told her that Romaine was in Shrewsbury. Another time Kath said:
“While I were ironing in the Kitchen and I felt a tap on me shoulder”.
Thinking it was me she apparently said: “You made me jump”.
It was not me, as I was nowhere near the Kitchen at the time. She said that at the same time she felt: “A cold whoosh past me”.
She has also seen Robin Grant in the Hall and the ‘Cavalier’. Both her descriptions of these two ghosts tally with those of the other people I have already mentioned. She has seen the ‘Cavalier’ in the General’s flat, complete with black cloak, feathered hat and armour (greenish) underneath his cloak.
A few years ago to keep Madge and Kath happy about working in the Library and Room A, I went to see the then new Rector, Andrew Williams, to ask him to come and bless these rooms. He thought that I was quite mad, but I pointed out that it was quite a natural thing to have one’s house blessed in say, Italy, and that this tended to be an annual event. He did indeed bless these two rooms again the following day. He read an extract from the Bible and we then said the Lord’s Prayer together. He came again the following year for another Blessing. I do not however, think that it made much difference because when Barry Garside, an Australian living in the Orangery, started to describe the ghosts whose presence and auras he felt, Barry told of us of the bad-tempered ones in both the Library and Room A. In fact he told them both to go away. Barry says that on his last few visits to these rooms they appear to have gone away, (the last time being in 1991).
“MY WIFE’S BEEN HARASSING ME ALL DAY, AND NOW THE MASTER EXPECTS ME TO GO WITH HIM ON THE COACH TO LONDON”.
Barry has had many “Whiffs” and he is emphatic that the ghost in Room A is in fact one of Lady Louisa Jenkinson’s sisters – either Selina or Catherine. When the 3rd Earl of Liverpool died, each daughter inherited a house, Louisa getting Pitchford. He is emphatic that whichever sister it was, she was pea-green with jealousy as she wanted Pitchford and not the house she did in fact, inherit. Barry told her not to be silly and to go away. He also told the grumpy man in the Library “to move on”.
Barry says that in the little alcove between the Snuggery and the staircases which go up to the Attics and down to the Cellar, there is a Footman, who at about mid-night is thoroughly fed up:
“My wife’s been harassing me all day, and now the Master expects me to go with him on the coach to London”.
(Footmen would have to travel on the coach outside). Barry also said that in the Passage (the one which my mother always called Flagellation Corner, owing to the various riding whips there) that he felt the aura of a Butler/Major Domo type who is giving a hard time to some young boys. Furthermore he says that in the bedrooms up in the attics above the Service Flat that there are some wildly excited maids, who are celebrating the fact that the young master of the house is coming home from the War in time for Christmas. (James Cotes, did indeed, serve in the Boer War). The maids were dressed up in their most formal uniforms.
On the small staircase above the General’s Flat, Barry saw a House-keeper wearily trudging up the stairs after a full day of activity. She was very depressed inwardly as she’d never been able to come to terms with the death of a beloved brother. Barry says that there is a yellow Labrador in our bedroom (C); when Mr. Scharff was here our Siamese cat “Uncle” was seen to follow a ghost all the way through the Great Hall – as if someone was walking through, and his ears twitched. Cats and dogs do this when a human walks through a room.
The other day, Vi was polishing some brass in the Great Hall and a woman walked past her on the way to the Drawing Room. She spoke to her, thinking she was me, but got no reply. Two minutes later I happened to go into the Great hall toward the Thinkery. Vi said:
“How did you get here?”
A little bewildered, I told her where I’d been for the last half hour; then Vi explained what had actually happened. Then it all came out into the open about the experiences she and Vic had had since they started working for us at the beginning of March, 1991.
Barry does not see the ghosts but can see them in his mind and also he is capable of picking up their thoughts.
MARCH 6TH, 1991 – BARRY
In the company of Romaine’s beau, Jamie Stewart, Barry and I started off in the General’s Sitting Room. Barry’s impressions in this room were of an all male environment, complete with cigars and cigarettes (but not Robin Grant’s) cards being played; late nights; NO WOMEN.
“My God! Definitely no women are allowed in here!”
Sir Charles Grant, the husband of Lady Sibyl and father and mother of Robin, lived in the General’s Wing when he was at Pitchford – his wife living in the Orangery. Charlie, an army, huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ man was definitely known to prefer the company of his male cronies; he thought that the purpose of women was for keeping the house and reproduction only. He did not like the rest of the Hall, in particular the Great Hall, as he considered it was far too female orientated. He disliked having women in his quarters, i.e. the General’s Wing, as he felt they were invading his “private place”. He liked to isolate himself from everything, including his wife, but he had a social rapport with the males he liked. In the Morning Room, Barry got the impression of meals being served to men only.
Then we moved on to Room J in the General’s Wing, the room I used to use for the children’s trunks for school. He got a very strong impression that this was the room Robin Grant used to sleep in when he was staying with his Grandmother, Lady Robert Grant, accompanied by his nanny. Barry got a very strong impression that Robin did not want to talk about this room, and that the only person he liked to go in there nowadays was Romaine; apparently he tolerates my presence but Romaine is the “only one he likes to use it”. A strong impression of a furry toy lion in the room and when we were in there, of the fact that Robin considered this room to be so special that he demanded us all to “move out”.
In the West Wing Passage, Barry again said that there was the Butler/Major Domo who was chivvying lots of young boys, cuffing their ears and ticking them off for “mucking about,” and “to get back to work immediately”. We then went up into the General’s Flat and on the way up the staircase Barry saw the tweedy jacketed man. Nothing seemed to be present in the General’s Flat.
Going up the stone staircase towards the Staff Flat there was a strong evidence of young housemaids in a state of high excitement as it was Christmas Day and the young master of the house was expected home any moment as he had just come back from the War. They kept looking out of the window to see whether or not he had arrived. The young maids, running up and down, would have to flatten themselves against the wall when a senior member of the staff was going up or down the staircase, in order to let them go by; there was a feeling of the girls being “desperate to do the right thing”.
The “Red Room” (up the stone staircase and to the right, above the Staff Flat). This was where the ‘best’ young maids lived but it was not necessarily used as a sleeping room – although the one on the left at the top of the staircase was. All the maids were aged between thirteen and eighteen and were good friends, like sisters, in fact; an atmosphere of harmony, gossip and working together; loyalty, obligation, pride in their work and respect for their employers, with a feeling that they were very fortunate to be working for this household. (“Am I working hard and well enough?”). These unmarried maids were honest and were very well behaved and very self-disciplined.
The room in the attics of the Staff Flat above the Kitchen: a quieter Maid’s Room, with the impression of a maid who had died of a heart attack in the bottom of a type of bunk bed; she was fairly thin and Barry thinks that maybe she had been suffering from consumption.
Room above Staff Sitting Room. Before the 19th Century it had been a room for women but in the 19th Century it had been a men’s bedroom which was less frivolous than when it had been a women’s one.
Stairs by Sitting Room end of the Staff Flat. An old man with gnarled hands, struggling up and down; he was better on the flat than on the stairs. Obviously he was beginning to be crippled with arthritis. His ‘test’ for himself at the end of the day, with his bad right leg, was whether or not he could climb upstairs. He knew that when “the day came” and he was unable to do this, that “his life was nearly finished”. In the morning on the way down he would lean against the banister for support.
Staff Sitting Room: Sleeping quarters, but had had many changes over the period. At one time it had been a storage room, full of junk but no food. In the 18th Century there is one man who resents the presence of other people.
Staff Kitchen: Outside the window; lots of trees and bushes; yew bushes in the Churchyard, but not yet trees; completely changed from what it is today. Impression of bare boards; also it had been a storage room with big bags of flour etc., a place of solitude and quiet. A vibration of complete calm. A housekeeper, very wise, who lived here when it was first built (18th Century); (not a nanny) but a person of a very good character with a clear thinking mind. A place which nowadays will give us quiet and solitude.
Staff Flat Spare Room: Very feminine. A woman who was no beauty to look at, but more important she had the most beautiful character, a favourite of all the Staff, charismatic. She lived in the 19th Century – everyone adored her, a good person who controlled everyone by her goodness. Her one regret was that she had never had any children; she was an excellent indirect influence on other people’s children. Her personality was so marvellous that as an ‘old soul’ (as opposed to one of the ‘new souls’ upstairs) her wish is to “keep the Hall going”, as though she cannot “keep it going for much longer”, as she wants to move onto the next stage of her spiritual life. She has been one of the ‘souls’ who has kept Pitchford going. Aged in her early 30s. An incredible person of a special character.
To the astonishment of Jamie and myself, Barry started to cry and he had to keep going out into the corridor. Later I asked him why, and he told us that he had felt that the influence of this woman was so strong that he had become very emotional. He admitted that normally he found it very difficult to show any emotion and was astonished at his reaction and he could not help himself. Knowing Barry as I do I was astonished by his reaction too.
Main Staff Flat Bedroom: A widow, who had had an illegitimate son owing to a love affair when she was a young girl, who had been brought up by someone in Pitchford Village. She did not meet her son again until he was eighteen years old. No one in the Hall knew of this child’s existence. This old woman, with grey hair, died here very happy and with the feeling the she had fulfilled her ‘duty’. She did not “get on” with the Butler but she did forgive him before she died. The Butler was a difficult man at times and she had spurned his advances, which had not helped their working relationship. She had grey, longish hair, and lived in the 19th Century.
The Staff preferred to walk in the area of the Pitchwell and did not like to walk up by the two Fishponds (Lakes).
All these thoughts were written down by me when Barry, Jamie and I were walking about the part of the Hall I have mentioned above. At no time, sadly, did I get any of these impressions; however, Jamie did.