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Creslow Manor House

The 14th century manor house at Creslow which has links to the Royal household is one of Buckinghamshire’s oldest continually inhabited buildings and during the Victorian era it gained a reputation of having a room haunted by a phantom, skirt rustling woman.

A description of the house circa 1925 appeared in House Description ‘A History of the County of Buckingham’ by William Page; ‘ The Manor House, the residence of Mr. Richard Rowland, who farms the surrounding lands, is an exceptionally interesting example of a 14th-century house, though it has unfortunately suffered a great deal from alteration and rearrangement. The original portions, which comprise the greater part of the present house, are of the first half of the 14th century, and were possibly built by John Stretley, lord of the manor at that time. The plan must have then consisted of a hall placed with its greatest length from north to south, and having a slight projection over the west side of the dais, a wing at the north end containing the offices and kitchen, which has now disappeared, and a chamber block on the south, with a vaulted crypt under its eastern end, and a large tower at the south-west with an octagonal stair turret at its north-west angle; a small wing projecting from the east end of the south wall of the solar block also seems to be of original date……. Adjoining the manor-house on the north-west is the nave of the old parish church. It is about 37 ft. by 19 ft., and has walls of stone rubble with ashlar dressings and a tiled roof. It dates probably from the latter part of the 12th century, but was altered in the 15th century. During Elizabeth's reign services ceased to be performed, and in 1786 it was used as a dovecot. Shortly afterwards it was adapted to serve its present purpose as a coach-house.'

In 1482 Creslow manor was given to the estate of the King by three of John Stretley’s (died 1346) great-great-granddaughters (Edith Darell, Elizabeth Cumberford and Anne Lee). This would have been King Richard III (born 2 October 1452 – died 22 August 1485) who died at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was replaced by Henry VII (born 28 January 1457 – died 21 April 1509) who on 8 March 1486 granted custody of Creslow manor to Sir William Stonor (1449-1494) for a twelve year period, making him the first Keeper of Croslowe.

Creslow Manor was then sometimes referred to as Creslow Pastures as it was here that the livestock used by the Royal household were pastured up until the English Civil War and the establishment of the Commonwealth. The position of Keeper and therefore tenancy of the Manor House itself was a Royal appointment.

Keepers and those responsible for Creslow Pastures during the 16th century included James Hurleston, Henry Webbe, James Quarles and Joseph Mayne. In 1635 Creslow was granted to the regicide Cornelius Holland.

The Regicide – Cornelius Holland (Born London 1599 – died 1671)
Cornelius Holland was the son of a debtor who died in Fleet Street Prison and spent his early years waiting upon Sir Henry Vane in court. Gaining the favour King Charles he was granted Creslow in 1635 and his term was renewed in 1645. Between 1646 and 1647, Holland spent a large amount of money rebuilding and making alterations to Creslow Manor House. Possibly through his connections with Henry Vane, Holland sided against his Royal patron during the English Civil War and although he was not one of the 59 signatories on the Kings death warrant, he was a Member of Council of State and involved in drawing up the charges against him.

In 1649 King Charles I was executed and in 1650 he bought the house and lands from the trustees for the sale of the king's property. In 1660 Charles II was restored to the throne and Holland’s life was in danger, because the Indemnity of Oblivion Act (the Royal pardon for those who committed treason against the crown) did not apply to those involved in the trial and execution of King Charles I. Facing a death sentence he fled to Switzerland and died in ‘universal contempt’ in Lausanne, whilst Creslow reverted to the crown.

Charles II granted Crewlow Pastures to Edward Backwell, then in 1671 to Sir Thomas Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (born 1 August 1630 – died 17 October 1673) and for services rendered it remained in the family of Lord Clifford.

Severall sources suggest one possible candidate for the ghost is Rosamund Clifford, wife of Sir Thomas. His wife was actually named Elizabeth Martin and none of his eight daughters were called Rosamund either. There was of course a famous Rosamund Clifford (born circa 1150 – died circa 1176) unconnected to Creslow and who was the mistress of King Henry II. I wonder if somehow there has been some confusion.

20th Century
Since World War II an MI6 station based at Creslow was used for the interception and analysis of signals intelligence. It closed in 1998.

Writing in 1902, Allan Fea describes a visit to the Manor House at Creslow in his book Picturesque Old Houses. ‘The gentleman farmer whose family has resided there for some generations kindly took me round, from the vaults up to the roof, where a glorious view may be obtained. The old crypt has a very graceful groined roof. From this crypt a subterranean passage is supposed to run I forget how far, but a couple of miles at least. A newel staircase leads from the crypt to an old room above, which has Early Gothic doors and windows. Formerly there were rumours current that this room was haunted, but the present resident puts but little faith in such stories, possibly from the fact that the ghost, as in the case of most spiritual séances, only works, or worked, in the dark. The last visitation is said to have happened quite fifty years ago, so the uneasy spirit probably has been successfully laid. By all accounts, the lady for the apparition was a lady made her entry from the crypt, and for some reason or other, as might be judged from the sound, put her silken gown into violent motion. This naturally suggests the idea of shaking off the beetles and spiders who might have gained a holding in the lower apartment indeed, I might go so far as to affirm that one courageous gentleman, who in the darkness endeavoured to clasp the noise in his arms, actually did get hold of a fat spider; so doubtless my inference is correct, that the lady had very good reasons for the vigorous rustling of her garments upon leaving the lower regions. I forgot to mention the human bones in the crypt. I casually picked up a thigh-bone, and, ruminating upon the possibilities of its past, like Hamlet over Yorick's skull, I was horrified in looking round to observe the dog who had followed us about the premises was actually begging for it!’

The tradition of the haunted room must date back to the early 19th century as by the time of the experience mentioned to Fea above, its reputation was already developed. The incident, which was the last reported according to the occupiers circa 1902, took place in 1850 and appeared in several books on ghosts. The following account appeared in 1875 Glimpses of the Supernatural by Dr Frederick George Lee.

"About the year 1850, a gentleman, not many years ago High Sheriff of the county, who resides some few miles distance from Creslow, rode over to a dinner party; and, as the night became exceedingly dark and rainy, he was urged to stay over the night if he had no objection to sleep in the haunted chamber. The offer of a bed in such a room, so far from deterring him, induced him at once to accept the invitation. He was a strong-minded man of a powerful frame and undaunted courage, and, like so many others, entertained a sovereign contempt for all haunted chambers, ghosts and apparitions. The room was prepared for him. He would neither have a fire nor a night-light, but was provided with a box of lucifers that he might light a candle if he wished. Arming himself in jest with a cutlass and a brace of pistols, he took a serio-comic farewell of the family and entered his formidable dormitory.

"In due course morning dawned; the sun rose, and a most beautiful day succeeded a very wet and dismal night. The family and their guests assembled in the breakfast room, and every countenance seemed cheered and brightened by the loveliness of the morning.

They drew round the table, when the host remarked that Mr. S, the tenant of the haunted chamber, was absent. A servant was sent to summon him to breakfast, but he soon returned, saying he had knocked loudly at his door, but received no answer, and that a jug of hot water left there was still standing unused. On hearing this, two or three gentlemen ran up to the room, and, after knocking and receiving no answer, opened it and entered. It was empty. Inquiry was made of the servants; they had neither seen nor heard anything of him. As he was a county magistrate, some supposed that he had gone to attend the Board which met that morning at an early hour.

"But his horse was still in the stable, so that could not be. While they were at breakfast, however, he came in, and gave the following account of his last night's experiences: 'Having entered my room,' said he, 'I locked and bolted both the doors, carefully examined the whole room, and satisfied myself that there was no living creature in it but myself, nor any entrances but those which I had secured. I got into bed, and, with the conviction that I should sleep soundly as usual till six in the morning, was soon lost in a comfortable slumber. Suddenly I was awakened, and, on raising my head to listen, I certainly heard a sound resembling the light soft tread of a lady's footstep, accompanied with the rustling as of a silk gown. I sprang out of bed, and, having lighted a candle, found that there was nothing either to be seen or heard. I carefully examined the whole room. I looked under the bed, into the fireplace, up the chimney, and at both the doors, which were fastened just as I had left them. I then looked at my watch, and found it was a few minutes past twelve. As all was now perfectly quiet again, I put out the candle, got into bed, and soon fell asleep. I was again aroused. The noise was now louder than before. It appeared like the violent rustling of a stiff silk dress. A second time I sprang out of bed, darted to the spot where the noise was, and tried to grasp the intruder in my arms. My arms met together, but enclosed nothing. The noise passed to another part of the room, and I followed it, groping near the floor to prevent anything passing under my arms. It was in vain, I could do nothing. The sound died at the doorway to the crypt, and all again was still. I now left the candle burning, though I never sleep comfortably with a light in my room, and went to bed again, but certainly felt not a little perplexed at being unable to detect the cause of the noise, nor to account for its cessation when the candle was lighted."

[The above account was also repeated in Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram (1897)]

I found the following description of Creslow around the time of the experience in ‘A Topographical Dictionary of England’ by Samuel Lewis (1848) ’The church is desecrated, and the inhabitants attend divine service at Whitchurch. There are remains, chiefly consisting of an embattled tower, of the ancient mansion of Creslow House, in which there is a crypt: it was long in the possession of the Lords de Clifford, but all the records concerning it have been either lost or destroyed. Silver and copper Roman coins have been found here.’

Knights Hospitallers Connection
Some sources suggest that the Manor House was owned by the Knights Hospitallers (Knights of St John of Jerusalem) up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries and before them it was owned by the Knights Templars until their suppression. I thinkk there is some confusion here. The church at Creslow was listed in the possessions of the priory of St John of Jerusalem in the 13th century. It fell under the control of the the Commandery of Hogshaw, which, in addition to the Creslow Church was endowed with Hogshaw Manor and the churches at Ludgershall, Addington, Hogshaw, Cholesbury and Oving. The property of the Commandery of Hogshaw had not been passed to them by the Knights Templars and had always been owned by the Knights Hospitallers. They retained control of the advowson (the right to nominate a person to the church living or office) until the reign of King Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. According to A History of the County of Buckingham; ‘It escheated to the Crown at the Dissolution, and the last presentation to the church was made by Philip and Mary in 1554. Elizabeth suppressed the rectory on her accession, as owing to the decrease in population the church had become a sinecure. The building was eventually desecrated, and the inhabitants of the parish attend the church at Whitchurch.’

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