Four Historians Tell Us a Ghost Story

There are ghosts in the archives. Floating nuns, joy-riding cyclists and things that go bump in the night. Four historical ghost stories and their meanings.

Amateurs playing a ghost scene by photographer W. S. Hobson, c. 1887. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Public Domain.

‘What the servant saw made him drop the tray with an almighty crash’

Francis Young, author of English Catholics and the Supernatural (Ashgate, 2013)

Late one evening in October 1807 a servant was carrying a tray of drinks through Coldham Hall in Suffolk, an Elizabethan house built for the Catholic Rookwood family, who were then renting it to a military man named Colonel Hammond. As the servant glanced back at the great hall from the stairs, what he saw made him drop the tray with an almighty crash. As usual, hanging high at the other end of the hall were portraits of two nuns, left there by the devout Rookwoods; but at that moment the figures of two women, ostensibly dressed in nuns’ habits, were advancing along the floor towards the servant in a straight line from each of the portraits. Colonel Hammond put the incident down to the servant’s drunkenness and a desperate attempt to excuse himself for the broken glassware, but it caught the imagination of the young owner of Coldham Hall, Sir Thomas Gage (then living in Lancashire), who commissioned an eerie mezzotint depicting the apparition.

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