Ravenscrag Manor is one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen. It was built at the beginning of the 18th century and its history is a mixed one. Its first owner, a Lord Russell seemed from the history books to have been a nice man. His tenants spoke highly of him and records record that he was an all round gentleman until his wife died giving birth to his only child, a daughter. He named her Isabella in honour of his late wife’s family, who were Italian. From the moment she was born, he doted upon her and it was his love for her that saved him from the loneliness of his terrible loss. As the years passed Isabella grew into a beautiful woman. Though much admired and with many suitors, her father kept a very tight rein on her movements and deemed who she could and could not see. Despite his best attention, Isabella fell in love with the son of a local landowner and aware of her father’s temper, they agreed they should elope. On the night of their flight, word from a cunning servant, gave them away and her father challenged her lover to a duel. The young man was not taught in the art of the sabre and within seconds was lying dead on the lawn at the front of the manor, Isabella, out of her mind with grief, was taken back to her bedchamber. If any action was taken against her father, there is no record of it and things went on as before, with one exception. Isabella was to be confined to her bedchamber forever. Imagine the horror of knowing this one room was now your prison cell. None of the servants would help her escape and even if they did, where would she go? She was well provided for with food and drink, but what she needed most, the company of another human being was denied. Even those who served her were ordered to do so in silence and her father never again spoke to his daughter. She remained like that for over six years and died, they say, a lunatic. This is a little of its sad history and the story of the haunting I learned from a previous owner.
Susan first saw the house two years after the premature death of her husband. With three young children still to rear, she was searching for somewhere safe and not too remote. Ravenscrag is just six miles from the city, on an erratic bus route, but close enough for the children to attend school and have a good social life. She was enchanted by the house the moment she set eyes on it. She does admit to a feeling of unease as she was being shown the corridor leading from the library to the dining room.
“Are there any ghost here?” She asked.
The old lady selling the property was taken aback at the question.
“You’ll have no trouble of that sort,” she assured Susan.
She moved in the Ravenscrag a few months later with her children, James twelve, Rose ten and Jenny 6. Their housekeeper Mrs Power would also be sharing the house with them.
Susan recalls how on the first night; she was sitting up in bed reading, when her eyes kept straying to one corner of the room. She was suddenly terrified, but of what she had no idea and pulled the blankets up to her chin.
“It was a fear I haven’t know since childhood,” she says, with a shake of her head. “But that night I didn’t dare turn off the light. I sat watching the corner of the room until dawn.”
When she asked the children how they had slept next door, they seemed guilty.
“We all slept in my room, Mummy,” Rose finally offered.
“Did something frighten you?” Susan asked.
“Not really,” James shrugged and tried to make light of it. “It’s just the new house.”
After they left for school, Susan got on with the unpacking. Mrs Power was her usual chipper self and showed no sign of tiredness, so Susan put it all down to the stress of the move and tried to put it out of her mind. Over the next few weeks there was the odd knocking sounds that Mrs Power explained away as the old house yawning and settling. With no experience of old buildings Susan and the children accepted this explanation, though at night, it sounded like someone was dragging a heavy trunk across the attic floor. One weekend, when the weather kept the children indoors, they came running to their mother breathless with news. After sliding back one of the panels in the library they had found a secret place. It was a flight of steps just behind the wall and after fetching some flashlights, Susan went down, followed closely by the children. There were ten stone, steps in all and the girls squealed in horror as their mother brushed aside the dusty cobwebs that clouded their vision. A tunnel appeared; high enough for the children to stand up in, but Susan had to crouch as they followed it to its conclusion. It came out on the edge of the forest. The children were sure it was an old smugglers cave, but the house is miles from the sea. It was, Susan learned, an old priest’s hole, from the days when people were persecuted because of their religion. Their hiding hole was a more advanced effort, which allowed the victim a chance of escape, unlike most houses when the hole was nothing more than a space behind a panel in the wall. The strange thing Susan noticed, was that as her fears about the house increased, the children’s faded, until they made no further remarks about feeling scared.
At night, when Mrs Power retired to her own wing and the children were asleep, the footsteps started in the hallway. It felt as though whoever it was knew that everyone, but Susan was asleep and she was easy prey. She lay in bed terrified as the came closer and closer. Those few minutes of terror are never far from her mind, as she heard them stop outside her door. Her heart beat painfully against her chest as she watched the handle on the door. Sometimes she called out, “who is it?” but there was never any reply and she knew no human agency was standing there listening to her. One night, she pushed a heavy chest of drawers up against her bedroom door. She blushes to admit that she felt the need for self preservation so strongly, she didn’t think about the children, but as she says, whatever it was that stalked her, was not interested in the children. That night the footsteps began as usual, but this time when they stopped outside, the handle turned. She watched in horror as the door opened and the heavy chest was pushed back as though it weighted nothing. There was no one there, when she finally got the courage to check the hall and she spent another night waiting for the dawn.
The final straw came one morning when Mrs Power asked for a quiet word.
“I would like to be informed if you’re entertaining a guest,” she sniffed and assumed her haughty stance.
“What do you mean?” Susan asked.
“Well, last night,” the woman continued. “The footsteps woke me.”
“You heard them?” Susan was relieved that someone else had and she wasn’t losing her mind.
“Yes, as I said they woke me. I came out to see who it was.”
“And?” Susan felt her heartbeat speed up.
“He informed me that everything was all right and to go back to bed.”
“Who was he?”
“Why, your guest of course,” Mrs Power crossed her arms and waited for an apology.
“Listen to me very carefully,” Susan tried to hide the terror she felt. “I didn’t have anyone staying over last night.”
“But I saw him,” the woman protested.
“I don’t know who you say, but he wasn’t my guest,” Susan voice rose in hysteria. “Didn’t you think to ring the police?”
“But he sounded so cultured,” the woman protested.
“What did he look like?” Susan throat choked with repressed tears.
“I couldn’t see him very well. He was at the end of the hall and hidden by the shadows, but he went into your room.”
They left Ravenscrag that very day and put the house on the market. Susan felt obliged to tell prospective buyers about the haunting and she was relived when a retired couple brushed aside her story. Ted, a former American military officer and his wife Janet, had dreams of owning a house such as Ravenscrag and they jumped at the chance to buy it. When Susan met them some months later, she asked how they were settling in and they seemed very happy. When she approached the subject of the footsteps, Janet answered for both of them.
“Haven’t heard a thing, honey,” she said. “We both sleep like the dead and I have to admit,” she leaned closer and whispered. “We’re both a little heard of hearing.”
copyright © 2011 Gemma Mawdsley
Until next week, my friends, I’ll be researching another story for you. Let me know if you liked this one. Sleep tight.