Thursday, 14 April 2016

Original Source Examined: Lord Halifax's Ghost Book

Many things make the Ghost Book of Lord Halifax (published in 1937) fascinating as an original source for Glamis Castle legends.  The first is the reliability of the author:  unlike various 19th century scribes such as F. G. Lee and Augustus Hare, Lord Halifax wrote for his own entertainment and for a small circle of associates who knew about his compendious interest in true hauntings.  The writings were never published during his lifetime and therefore Lord Halifax gained nothing in ghastly reflected glory from recording his own versions of the legends.  As a well-connected recorder of tradition, Halifax was well placed to drawn upon strains of tradition which may otherwise had withered away, unrecorded.  The main part of his story is ascribed to outside parties:  Mrs Augusta Maclagan (1836-1915), wife of William Maclagan, Archbishop of York, and a popular singer and composer, Miss Virginia Gabriel (1826-1877).  These were people of standing in their time and their testimony adds to the integrity of Halifax’s account.  The Ghost Book also contains a greater variety of supernatural events than most other sources.

Lord Halifax, ghost collector.

   Mrs Maclagan met Virginia Gabriel in 1870, soon after the latter had come from Glamis Castle.  Miss Gabriel told her a series of rumours and stories which the bishop’s wife wrote down and later sent to Lord Halifax.  (The stories, according to Augusta, were confirmed as true by the Earl of Strathmore’s wife, Frances Dora Smith (1832-1922).)   St Michael’s Chapel at Glamis had recently been remodelled, and it seemed that this renovation had sparked rumours about ghosts and haunting.  It was said that the currently Earl of Strathmore, Claude Bowes-Lyon (13th earl, 1824-1904) was so harassed by the supernatural that he was having difficulty inhabiting the castle.

   The family secret is given immediate prominence in this version of the legends.  When the previous Earl of Strathmore died in 1865, the family lawyer and the ‘agent’ (presumably the estate factor), initiated the heir Claude into the dreadful truth.  This ‘inner circle’ who allegedly knew the facts about the Monster of Glamis varies its membership according to who records this part of the legend.

Virginia Gabriel:  singer, composer, castle visitor.

   Anyway, in this version, Mrs Maclagan has Claude going directly to his wife and solemnly saying, ‘My dearest, you know how often we have joked over the secret room and the family mystery. I have been into the room; I have heard the secret; and if you wish to please me you will never mention the subject to me again.’

   Andrew Ralson, the estate factor, is a central figure in the 19th century legendary Glamis cycle. Once he knew the terrible secret of the castle, he could never be persuaded to spend the night in the building. One winter night when he was snowed in at the castle he made the staff dig him a path out so he could go home rather than remain there.  He is alleged to have reinforced the aura of mystery by informing the over curious Lady Strathmore, ‘... it is fortunate that you do not know it and can never know it, for if you did you would not be a happy woman.' 

   But the countess apparently knew the value of a good tale when she heard it and ‘freely talked to other people’, among whom was her own mother, Mrs Henrietta Smith (1805-1901), who is credited as being the prime agent in propagating the spread of this legend.  The earl apparently diverted his mind from the mysteries of his ancestral home by making many alterations.  This building work laid the foundations (pardon the pun) for further inventions about the mysteries of Glamis Castle.  It was said that when the family was away in London a workman at the castle discovered a secret passageway leading off the chapel.  He explored a section of it, then became alarmed and went to tell the Clerk of Works.  All building work was haunted. Both the earl and the family solicitor in Edinburgh were immediately telegraphed.  They both came back to Glamis by the earliest available trains and the workman was subjected to a strong interrogation about what exactly he had seen.  To hush it up, he was given a large sum of money and induced to emigrate to Australia with his family.  (This tradition has certainly been disputed by various writers.)

Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore:  a haunted man?

   The Halifax account states that after the revelation of the secret, Claude was a changed man, ‘silent and moody, with an anxious scared look on his face.’  This depression was so terrible that his son and heir, Claude-George (1855-1944), who became the 14th earl, allegedly refused to be enlightened about the family secret when he reached the age of 21 in 1876.

   The supposed haunted expression of Earl Claude is certainly open to question, as will be made clear from evidence considered in posts in the near future, but we’ll let it pass for now...

   Halifax and his sources then relate the occurrences following a dance at the castle in November 1869.  Three couples occupied sets of rooms on the Clock Landing:  the Streatfields (Mrs Stretfield was Lady Stratmore’s sister), the Trevanions (Lady Trevanion was Lord Strathmore’s sister), and Mr and Mrs Monro, guests from nearby Lindertis House in Angus.  Mrs Monro woke during the night with the uncomfortable sensation of someone bending over her and felt her face brushed by a beard.  She dimly saw a figure pass into the dressing-room and, thinking it was her husband, said something.  But he responded from the bed next to her.  Immediately afterwards their young son screamed and said he had seen a giant and while they were pacifying him there was a huge crash nearby, as if something like furniture had fallen down.  Then the clock on the landing struck four.
   The Trevanions were also disturbed that night, though less dramatically.  Her little dog started howling on her bed, then she heard the crash and the clock striking the same hour.  The three couples discussed the matter and were watchful the following night.  (One wonders why Lord and Lady Strathmore were not quizzed.)  This time the crash occurred again and everyone rushed out onto the landing.  Again the clock struck four, but nothing else occurred.
   Next, in the Halifax book, comes a series of strange dream incidents.  The narrator (Mrs Maclagan?) dreamt she was staying at the Blue Room at Glamis and when she returned there from outside she saw a housemaid coming out with bits of rusty metal, found in a hollow space beneath the grate.  The dreamer entered the room and saw a huge figure of a man with a very long beard and a huge stomach.  He was breathing but she knew he was a dead man.  When she showed him the metal she had taken from the maid, the ghost sighed and said:
    'Yes, you have lifted a great weight off me. Those irons have been weighing me down ever since....1486.’
   She heard a knock at the door and woke up in real life, far away from Glamis Castle.  The funny thing about her dream, she maintained, was that the grate in the Blue Room was on the wrong side of the room in her dream.  Much later she heard about an experience which a Mrs Wingfield had about Glamis Castle.  She too slept in the Blue Room, ignorant of the legends of the castle.  When she woke during the night she too had the sensation that someone was leaning over her.  She opened her eyes and saw, sitting beside the still glowing fire, an enormous old man with a beard.  When he turned to face her, she saw that he was not a living man.

   So much for the dreams, but if the figure was supposed to be Earl Beardie – properly Alexander Lindsay, 4th Earl of Crawford – then something is seriously wrong.  Crawford died in 1453 and was still a young man, even by Middle Age standards.

   The White Lady features next in the book, but only in a vignette in which the castle’s occupants rush to the windows for a glimpse of her, which contradicts the usual tradition of her solely haunting the chapel.
   Moving on, there is a section in the Ghost Book which deals with the experiences of two local – and presumably unimpeachably honest clerics.  Dr Nicholson, Dean of Brechin, once encountered a tall robed figure enter his locked room on a winding stair.  It was draped in a long, dark coat, fastened at the throat with a clasp. Neither spoke and the figure disappeared in the wall.  Dr  Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin, was a guest at the same time and professed not to believe his friend.  He joked that the Dean would surely have whipped out his subscription book and asked the spirit for a subscription for church funds.  But next night the newly arrived Provost of Perth admitted he had been supernaturally assailed last time he visited the castle.

   Mrs Maclagan says that she visited the castle many years later, in 1912, when the 14th earl, Claude George – who had refused to know the family secret – professed interest in the stories of the dreams.
Lady Strathmore said she had stayed in the Blue Room the first time she visited the castle and, like the other, sensed someone leaning over her.  But her visitation was tall and thin, not tall and massive.  Her children, Rose and David, did not like to stay in that room, but elsewhere in the castle they saw odd shadows flickering around.

No comments:

Post a Comment