Haunted House

26th October 2020

A terrible accident. A spectral apparition. Like all great country houses, Goodwood has its very own Victorian ghost story. Read on… if you dare.

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Words by James Collard
Illustration by Graham Robson

The surprising thing about The Goodwood Ghost Story is that the scary apparitions it describes don’t occur at Goodwood House at all. In the story, which can be found in a Victorian anthology called The Haunters and the Haunted, there’s no moping shade of a long-dead housemaid lurking in the scullery, no headless lady in the ballroom. There are two apparitions: one in Bognor, the other at “a lonely piece of road, long and dreary” in the nearby Sussex countryside. She was called Harriet, or “Mr M”, this ghost, and Goodwood is where she met her grisly end — on August 23, 1831 — as related by Mrs M’s brother-in-law.

Not the scariest of ghost stories, the yarn, which is “doubtfully attributed to Charles Dickens” — very doubtfully — is perhaps more cautionary tale than spine-chiller. The moral? Ladies, don’t let a handsome face distract you from your duty. And never, ever, put up your hair with a heavy metal comb.

Mrs M was a fine-looking widow with a draper’s business in Bognor, and “several suitors for her hand”. But the suitor she liked was the rather unsuitable Mr Barton — “a man in poor circumstances, he had no other motive in his proposal of marriage, so my wife thought, than to better himself”. But when the Duke of Richmond opened the park at Goodwood for the day, Mrs M opted to join Barton on a picnic party there. Needless to say, it ended badly for her.

“My wife told her she had much better remain at home to look after her children.” But Mrs M was “bent on going”, and set off driving a four-wheel phaeton. What Mrs M didn’t know was that one of the ponies borrowed for the expedition hadn’t been broken in. The next her sister saw of the errant Mrs M was when she found her “standing in the darkest corner” of the empty stables at 6pm that evening, dressed in her “best black suit”. She chided Mrs M about the unsuitability of her outfit for a picnic, and on hearing no reply, assumed that Mrs M was being sulky and left her to herself. Which is why she refused to believe the servant who told her the picnic party had still not returned… Until at 11 o’clock, one of the party rushed in to say: “If you wish to see your sister alive, you must come with me directly to Goodwood.”

For having arrived at Goodwood, the ladies of the party decided to take a turn around the park with Mrs M at the reins. But almost immediately the ponies shield, then charged towards a closed gate. “The other ladies jumped… But Mrs M still held on to the reins, seeking to control her ponies.” Too late she jumped — then “the heavy, old-fashioned comb of the period, with which her hair was looped up, was driven into her skull by the force of the fall…” The Duke of Richmond, a witness to the accident, ran to her aid, at which point she uttered her last words: “Good God, my children.”

The Duke sent for medical help, but nothing could be done for Mrs M, and when her sister sighted the apparition of her in the stables back home at Bognor, in reality she lay dying in an inn at Goodwood. She appeared one more time, several years later — to her brother-in-law — on the road to Worthing. “Walking at my horse’s head, dressed in a sweeping robe, so white it shone dazzling against the white snow, I saw a lady… The figure turned, and I saw Harriet’s face — white and calm — placid, as idealised and beautified by death…” He asked her what troubled her. The ghost of Mrs M kept looking at him, mute. “I felt in my mind it was her children [who troubled her].” He told the apparition he would take in the orphans and raise them as his own. Then Mrs M vanished.

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