Chapman Haunting, Cheshunt
Protecting the names of witnesses and the identity of a haunted location is a good and ethical practice for investigators to adhere to, however, sometimes it does make identifying historic cases difficult. The following account is taken from ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ by John Ingram (1897). Ingram pieced the case together from two sources, William Howitt’s (Born 18 December 1792 – Died 3 March 1879) ‘The History of the Supernatural in All Ages and Nations and in all Churches, Christian and Pagan, demonstrating a Universal Faith’ (1863) and ‘The night side of nature, or, Ghosts and ghost seers’ (1848) by Catherine Crowe (Born 20 September 1790 – Died 14 June 1872). Some sources suggest the events took place in the 1850’s, which cannot be correct given the date that Crowe’s book was published.
‘In Mrs. Crowe’s Night Side of Nature is a remarkable account of a haunted dwelling, stated to be “in the neighbourhood of the metropolis.” Mrs. Crowe neither mentions the name of the locality, nor furnishes more than the initial of the “gentleman engaged in business in London,” whose family suffered from the “hauntings” at this residence; but in Howitt’s History of the Supernatural these omitted particulars are supplied. According to Mr. Howitt, the old-fashioned house referred to by Mrs. Crowe was at Cheshunt, and belonged to Sir Henry Meux; and the account given by the authoress was taken down from the recital of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean*, the well-known actors, who also furnished the same particulars to Mr. Howitt. A comparison of the statements given by Mrs. Crowe and Mr. Howitt enables us to give the following details:
Mr. Chapman**, the brother-in-law of Mr. Kean, and apparently the well-known publisher, had been induced, by the unusually low rental, to purchase the seven years’ lease of a large old-fashioned house at Cheshunt. The house was a good country residence, was furnished, and had a considerable quantity of land attached to it, including a garden and pleasure-ground. The family removed into the place, and Mr. Chapman joined them once or twice a week, as his business engagements permitted.
“They had been some considerable time in the house,” says Mrs. Crowe, “without the occurrence of anything remarkable, when one evening, towards dusk, Mrs. Chapman, on going into what was called the oak bedroom, saw a female figure near one of the windows; it was apparently a young woman with dark hair hanging over her shoulders, a silk petticoat, and a short white robe, and she appeared to be looking eagerly through the window, as if expecting somebody. Mrs. Chapman clapped her hands upon her eyes, ‘ as thinking she had seen something she ought not to have seen,’ and when she looked again the figure had disappeared.
“Shortly after this, a young girl, who filled the situation of under nursery-maid, came to her in great agitation, saying that she had had a terrible fright, from seeing a very ugly old woman looking in upon her as she passed the window in the lobby. The girl was trembling violently, and almost crying, so that Mrs. Chapman entertained no doubts of the reality of her alarm. She, however, thought it advisable to laugh her out of her fear, and went with her to the window, which looked into a closed court, but there was no one there, neither had any of the other servants seen such a person. Soon after this the family began to find themselves disturbed with strange and frequently very loud noises during the night. Among the rest, there was something like the beating of a crowbar upon the pump in the above-mentioned court, but, search as they would, they could discover no cause for the sound.
“One day, when Mr. Chapman had brought a friend from London to stay the night with him, Mrs. Chapman thought proper to go to the oak bedroom, where the stranger was to sleep, for the purpose of inspecting the arrangements for his comfort, when, to her great surprise, someone seemed to follow her up to the fireplace, though, on turning round, there was nobody to be seen. She said nothing about it, however, and returned below, where her husband and the stranger were sitting. Presently one of the servants (not the one mentioned above) tapped at the door, and requested to speak with her, and Mrs. Chapman going out, she told her, in great agitation, that in going up-stairs to the visitor’s room a footstep had followed her all the way to the fire-place, although she could see nobody. Mrs. Chapman said something soothing, and that matter passed, she herself being a good deal puzzled, but still unwilling to admit the idea that there was anything extra-natural in these occurrences. Repeatedly after this these footsteps were heard in different parts of the house, when nobody was to be seen; and often whilst she was lying in bed she heard them distinctly approach her door, when, being a very courageous woman, she would start out with a loaded pistol in her hand, but there was never anyone to be seen. At length it was impossible to conceal from herself and her servants that these occurrences were of an extraordinary nature, and the latter, as may be supposed, felt very uncomfortable. Amongst other unpleasant things, whilst sitting all together in the kitchen, they used to see the latch lifted, and the door open, though no one came in that they could see ; and when Mr. Chapman himself watched for these events, although they took place, and he was quite on the alert, he altogether failed in detecting any visible agent.
“One night, the same servant who had heard the footsteps following her to the bed-room fire-place, happening to be asleep in Mrs. Chapman’s chamber, she became much disturbed, and was heard to murmur, ‘ Wake me! Wake me!’ as if in great mental anguish. Being aroused, she told her mistress a dream she had had, which seemed to throw some light upon these mysteries. She thought she was in the oak bed-room, and at one end of it she saw a young female in an old-fashioned dress, with long dark hair; whilst in another part of the room was a very ugly old woman, also in old-fashioned attire. The latter, addressing the former, said, ‘What have you done with the child, Emily? What have you done with the child?’ To which the younger figure answered, ‘ Oh, I did not kill it. He was preserved, and grew up, and joined the Regiment, and went to India.’ Then, addressing the sleeper, the young lady continued, ‘I have never spoken to mortal before, but I will tell you all. My name is Miss Black, and this old woman is nurse Black. Black is not her name, but we call her so because she has been so long in the family.’ Here the old woman interrupted the speaker by coming up and laying her hand on the dreaming girl’s shoulder, whilst she said something; but she could not remember what ; for, feeling an excruciating pain from the touch, she had been so far aroused as to be sensible she was asleep, and to beg to be wholly awakened.
“As the old woman seemed to resemble the figure that one of the other servants had seen looking into the window, and the young one resembled that she had herself seen in the oak chamber, Mrs. Chapman naturally concluded that there was something extraordinary about this dream; and she consequently took an early opportunity of inquiring in the neighbourhood what was known as to the names or circumstances of the former inhabitants of this house; and after much investigation she learnt that, about seventy or eighty years before, it had been in the possession of a Mrs. Ravenhall, who had a niece named Miss Black living with her. This niece, Mrs. Chapman supposed, might be the younger of the two persons who had been seen. Subsequently she saw her again in the same room, wringing her hands, and looking with a mournful significance to one corner. They had the boards taken up on that spot, but nothing was found.
“One of the most curious incidents connected with this story remains to be told. After occupying the house three years, they were preparing to quit it not on account of its being haunted, but for other reasons when, on awaking one morning, a short time before their departure, Mrs. Chapman saw, standing at the foot of her bed, a dark-complexioned man, in a working dress, a fustian jacket, and red comforter round his neck, who, however, suddenly disappeared. Mr. Chapman was lying beside her at the time, but asleep. This was the last apparition that was seen; but the strange thing is, that a few days after this, it being necessary to order in a small quantity of coals, to serve till their removal, Mr. Chapman undertook to perform the commission on his way to London. Accordingly, the next day she mentioned to him that the coals had arrived; which he said was very fortunate, since he had entirely forgotten to order them. Wondering whence they had come, Mrs. Chapman hereupon inquired of the servants, who none of them knew anything about the matter; but, on interrogating a person in the village by whom they had frequently been provided with this article, he answered, that they had been ordered by a dark man, in a fustian jacket and a red comforter, who had called for the purpose!”
After this last event Mr. Chapman quitted the house, and when he had given up possession found that several previous tenants had been under the necessity of doing so, on account of annoyances similar to those his household had suffered from. However, he kept the cause of his removal quiet, and managed to sell his lease to a clergyman who kept a school, but be, in his turn, was compelled to give up the house for the same cause, and for years it stood empty. Ultimately, it was partly pulled down and re-built: and it would seem as if this alteration had broken the spell, for it has been inhabited since, and reported, said Mr. Howitt, in 1863, free from hauntings.
So where did this experience take place? I have come across three different choices. According to Howitt the house is old-fashioned, in Cheshunt and belonged to Sir Henry Meux (pronounced ‘myooks’ or ‘mews’). The Meux Baronetage was created on 30 September 1831 for the brewer Sir Henry Meux (1770–1841). In 1820 a Georgian Mansion in Cheshunt called Theobalds Park passed to the Henry Meux from the Prescott family and became his seat. The house, Theobalds Park was named after the estate in which it is situated. There was an earlier house on the estate called Theobalds House or Theobalds Palace which dated from between 1564 and 1585. It was mostly destroyed in 1650. In 1763, the estate was bought by the Member of Parliament George Prescott from William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (Born 14 April 1738 – Died 30 October 1809). Prescott built Park Place roughly a mile from the original house. Park Place is now a De Vere Hotel. Given what Howitt suggests, it would make sense then that the experience took place in Park Place or, perhaps more likely another building belonging to the Meux estate.
The Luton Paranormal website suggests the building that the Chapman’s rented was Cecil House, which was on the Park Place estate. Around 1765 four small country houses were built in an area called Theobalds Square, which was close to the the site of the original Theobalds House. These were called The Cedars, Jackson’s School, Old Palace House and Cecil House. None of these buildings still exist to this day though I am unsure when Cecil House was demolished.
Tony Broughall and Paul Adams in ‘Two Haunted Counties – A Ghost Hunter’s Companion to Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire’ identify the building as a 17th century house off Goff Lane called ‘The Great House’. This building was severely damaged by fire in the 1960’s and demolished in 1970.
*Charles John Kean (18 January 1811 – 22 January 1868). He was married to Ellen Tree (1805-1880).
**John Kemble Chapman was the editor the Sunday London Times 1834 -1852. He was married to Anne Tree. They had twelve children. At least one of these was born in Cheshunt, Nancy Chapman 1843.