Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Lesser Stories - 19th Century Tales, Part One

The fame of Glamis Castle first arose in the Victorian era and stories about the resident ghosts - Earl Beardie, vampire servants, the Monster of Glamis, et al - proliferated as a collective of writers and possibly some liars added to the corpus of folklore about this place.  What follows is a brief-ish summary of some of those lesser known stories, easing us gently into the study.

   Night-time terrors, anonymous visitants - a common feature of one strand of Glamis Castle folklore.  A former Provost of Perth was disturbed during his stay at the castle by a tall, silent figure during the night.  The man particularly noticed that it wore a dark cloak fastened with a strange clasp. The figure materialised through a locked door and was also seen on a stairway.  This figure was said to have been witnessed on successive nights by the Dean and the Bishop of Brechin (clerics always make supposedly reputable witnesses).

   The writer Augustus Hare heard that the following event occurred at Glamis Castle.  A guest who peered from his window one night noticed a carriage driving slowly up and down.  After the vehicle eventually stopped the driver looked up at him with a 'marked and terrible face'.  Some time later the man was staying at a Paris hotel and was about to board the lift when he saw inside the same man who had been at Glamis.  All well and good.  Taking note of this more-than-coincidence he naturally refused to set foot into the elevator, which promptly plunged down the shaft, killing all the occupants.   This story is of course not peculiar to Glamis and seems to be an early urban myth, which even found its way into fiction via various writers. (Variations on the theme make the narrowly avoided accident happen on a crowded bus, etc.:  see the episode in the classic British supernatural film Dead of Night (1945).)  Nothing makes it peculiar to Glamis, not even the old worldly element of the phantom coach (which is more associated with the Earl of Southesk's seat at Kinnaird Castle, also in Angus).

   Another precognitive tale touches on the elusive 'family secret' of Glamis.  A man staying at the castle saw a strange face staring at him from a window across the courtyard.  It disappeared, then the air was full of dreadful screams.  Next he saw an old woman come out of the door beneath the window opposite, carrying a large, shapeless bundle which the witness thought was connected with the hideous cries.  Years later this man was travelling in Italy and happened to visit a monastery.  One of the brothers told him that a neighbouring nunnery housed a handless and tongue-less woman who had been deliberately mutilated to prevent her revealing a terrible family secret.  Though he did not meet this unfortunate female, he somehow connected her with the events he had seen at Glamis. This tale may be an elaboration or attempted explanation of the 'Weeping Woman', a familiar ghost at the castle.  She used to be frequently seen dashing across the lawns, waving her handless arms and indicating her bleeding mouth.  Her identity is not known.

   An anonymous account from 1882 - Ghostly Visitors - tells of a doctor who visited the building and possible had an unasked for glimpse of the future.  He was in his room one evening when a man burst in and said that a Miss Seymour had taken ill in the parlour.  He followed this messenger downstairs and found a young woman unconscious in an armchair.  The doctor succeeded in reviving her, but the man who had alerted him suddenly exclaimed, 'Is that the way in which you doctors treat your patients?  I will show you how I cure them.'  Then he swiftly drew out a knife and stabbed the woman in the chest.  A second later both murderer and victim vanished before him.
   The doctor was understandably shocked.  When he recovered he examined the chair and the floor for blood, but found none.  Later he asked his host if a Miss Seymour had come to stay.  He was told that she had, but when she was subsequently introduced to the doctor she showed no signs of recognition.  Thankfully, the man was not present.    Two years later the doctor was at a country house party in England and encountered Miss Seymour again.  She introduced him to the man she was going to marry:  the 'murderer' whom he had seen at Glamis Castle.  The doctor said nothing and the story ends here.  Such were the vignettes favoured by the middle classes in the decades before the Great War.

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