The ghosts of Hinton Ampner
Plodding footsteps, slamming doors, dismal groans and the apparition of a man in dark clothing are just some of the disturbances that have been recorded at Hinton Ampner. The best account comes from Mary Ricketts who, perhaps fearing for her sanity, kept a record of her experiences.
The Ricketts family moved in to the Tudor manor at Hinton Ampner in January 1765, having rented the property from Lady Stawell. Almost immediately, they heard the sound of doors slamming at night, which Mr Ricketts feared was caused by 'irregular' behaviour of the servants. After an inspection revealed all was in order, he ordered the locks be changed in case some unwelcome prowler had gained entry. Despite this, the noises continued.
At least twice servants reported seeing a figure in a drab-coloured coat, while servants sitting in the kitchen saw a tall woman in a dark silk dress rush through the room - yet a man coming in at the same time saw nothing.
In 1769 Mr Ricketts had to leave his family at Hinton while he attended to his property in Jamaica. Not long after, Mrs Ricketts "plainly heard the footsteps of a man, with plodding step, walking towards the foot of my bed." She leapt out of bed and ran into the adjoining nursery, returning with the nursemaid and a light - a thorough search revealed nothing. The noises occurred in other rooms, too, with her maid reporting "dismal groans and fluttering" around her bed during the night.
Hinton's occupants often heard a "hollow murmuring that seemed to possess the whole house" and occurred "independent of wind, being equally heard on the calmest nights." One night the front door was heard to be slammed so violently that it shook Mary's room above, yet the door was found to be locked and bolted as usual.
Over time the disturbances became intolerable. She recounted:
" They began before I went to bed, and... were heard till after broad day in the morning. A shrill female voice would begin, and then two others with... manlike tone seemed to join in the discourse... though this conversation sounded as if close to me, I never could distinguish words."
Mary described how she heard "the most loud, deep, tremendous noise, which seemed to rush and fall with infinite velocity and force on the lobby floor," followed by a "shrill and dreadful shriek" repeated three or four times, before the sound grew fainter as if descending "into earth."
Although she'd been reluctant to mention her experiences, their effect on her health and the absence of her husband persuaded her to confide in her brother, Admiral Jervis. Together with Captain Luttrell, a family friend, he decided to keep watch at night. Scarcely had his vigil begun before the sounds of slamming doors, footsteps, and "dreadful groans" were heard, yet a search - with pistols in hand - yielded nothing.
One night, Mary heard the sound of a gunshot followed by "groans as of a person in agonies, or expiring," while her brother reported hearing "an immense weight [that] seemed to fall through the ceiling to the floor."
Captain Luttrell declared the house "an unfit residence for any human being" while Admiral Jervis pleaded with his sister to leave. By 1772 the Ricketts had moved out, but the disturbances at Hinton Ampner continued.
What caused these disturbances?
Despite a £100 reward, no earthly explanation was ever found. However, Mary recounted the tale of a carpenter sent for by Sir Hugh Stewkeley to lift the floor boards in the dining room, beneath which Sir Hugh concealed a box the carpenter supposed contained treasure.
When the house was demolished in 1793 to make way for the Georgian manor, workmen discovered a box containing a small skull. The find was taken as proof of a story that the ghosts were of Lord Stawell and his sister-in-law, Honoria, whose illicit relationship had produced a child they had buried beneath the floor.