Lew House, Lewtrenchard
Lew House (now a luxury Hotel) is said to be haunted by a white lady, a ghost of a widow of one of the Squires of Lewtrenchard. According to ‘Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders by William Henderson (1879)’
Through the kindness of the Rev. S. Baring-Gould I am enabled to conclude my series of apparitions and haunted houses with the account of one which, though from another part of England, is of such exceeding interest that I am much gratified with the permission to record it in these pages as I received it from his pen:—
“Lew Trenchard House is haunted by a White Lady, who goes by the name of Madame Gould, and is supposed to be the spirit of a lady who died there—like Queen Elizabeth, seated in her chair—April 10, 1795. Her maiden name was Belfield; she was born in 1711, and she married William Drake Gould, son of Henry Gould, of Lew Trenchard, and Elizabeth, daughter of Philip Drake of Littleham.
“At Lew House there is a corridor extending the whole length of the upper story of the house; along this the lady is supposed to walk at night, and her step has been frequently heard.
“My mother has often told me how she has heard the step at night, as though proceeding from high-heeled shoes, walking slowly up the corridor, and thinking it might be my father coming to bed she has opened the door to admit him; but on looking out she has seen the moon streaming in through the windows on an empty passage, down which she still heard the measured tread. My sister often expressed her desire to hear the steps of the spectral lady, but was still disappointed, though she sat up on purpose.
“One summer night, however, she was sitting in her room, with window and door open, writing a letter, and thinking of anything but the old Madame, when she heard steps along the corridor. At the moment she thought it might be my father, and she rose, took up her candle, and went to the door to speak to him. To her surprise she saw no one, but the steps passed her, and went on into the lumber-room at the end of the passage. Being a resolute and courageous young lady she followed the sound into the room, but could see no one. She also opened the only other door beyond her own, and which gave admittance to one of the servants’ rooms, to ascertain whether the noise could have proceeded thence, but she found the two maids fast asleep.
“At the end of the house is a long oak-tree avenue; the White Lady is said to have been seen pacing up and down this, gleaming in and out among the gnarled tree-trunks, as she passed into the moonlight or disappeared in the shade.
“About three miles off is a quaint old granite mansion, half pulled down by my grandfather, and turned into a substantial farmhouse. This ancient house belonged originally to the Woods, and there was a standing feud between that family and my own, till they were ruined, and Madame Gould bought the land and house from them; after which she declared she should die happy.
“On the confines of this property, called Orchard, is a deep gloomy valley, through which trickles a rill of dark water, under the shadow of the thick fir plantations which clothe the sides of the glen. It goes by the name of the Black Valley, and the Bratton-Clovelly road plunges down into it, crosses a little bridge, and scrambles up the opposite side through the gloom of the over-hanging trees. On the side of the road is an old mine-shaft, long abandoned. It is confidently asserted by Lew and Bratton people that, on dark nights, Madame Gould is to be seen, dressed all in white, standing by the side of the stream, with a phosphorescent light streaming from her face and her clothes; and that she stoops and takes up handfuls of water, which she allows to trickle down in sparkling drops through her fingers. Sometimes she combs her long brown floating hair with a silver comb; and many a Bratton man, returning from market, has seen her and been nearly frightened out of his wits. Not many years ago a man of that village had his leg broken by falling over a hedge, in his attempt to escape from the apparition as it issued from the old mining-shaft and made towards him.
“A young man, named Symmonds, living at Galford, a farm in the parish, left home for America during the old Madame’s lifetime. After some years he returned, and hiring a horse at Tavistock he rode home, a distance of twelve miles. It was a clear moonlight night, and as he passed through the Lew Valley, with the white rime lying thick on the grass, he noticed a newly-ploughed field, in which the plough had been left. On this was seated a lady in white satin, with long brown hair floating down her shoulders. Her face was uplifted, and her eyes directed towards the moon, so that Mr. Symmonds had a full view of it. He recognised her at once, and taking off his hat he called out, ‘I wish you a very good night, Madame.’ She bowed in return, and waved her hand, the man noticing the sparkle of her diamond rings as she did so. On reaching home, after the first greetings and congratulations, he said to his aged parents, ‘What do you think now? I have seen that strange Madame Gould sitting on a plough, this time o’ night, and with frost on the ground, looking at the moon.’ All who heard him started, and a blank expression passed over their countenances. The young man, seeing that he had surprised them more than he anticipated, asked what was the matter. The reply was, ‘Madame was buried three days ago in Lew church.’
“It must be noticed that a belief connected with the appearance of spirits, up to the third day after death or burial, is very ancient. S. Macarius the Younger, of Alexandria (A.D. 373), thus speaks: ‘On the third day, the oblation having been made in the church, the alleviation of its pain, which it underwent through separation from the body, the departed soul . . . . . receives good hope. For two days it was permitted to the soul to wander about on the earth at its will. Wherefore the soul, enthralled with love to its body, sometimes haunts the mansion wherein it had dwelt, sometimes the sepulchre in which its body is laid, and thus for two days it seeks, as it were, its part, in seeking its corpse.’
“But to return to the subject under consideration.
“An old woman once entered the orchard near Lew church, and seeing the trees laden with apples she shook some down and filled her pockets, keeping one in her hand to eat. She then turned to the gate into the road, but suddenly there flashed before her in the way the figure of the old Madame in white, pointing to the apple. The poor woman in an agony of terror cast it away, and fled across the orchard to a gap in the hedge on the opposite side; but at the moment she reached it the figure of the White Lady appeared standing in the gap, looking at her sternly, and pointing to her pocket. It was not till the old goody had emptied it of the stolen apples that the spectre vanished.
“Old Lew Trenchard church was handsomely furnished with a carved oak screen and bench-ends.
Some of these ends alone remain. They are of excellent workmanship: one representing St. Michael weighing souls, one a lady’s portrait in a medallion, with a jester in cap and bells in a niche beneath it, another a gentleman’s portrait with an old battlemented gateway beneath it. The other bench-ends bear shields with the emblems of the Passion upon them. The screen has wholly disappeared.
“The carpenter who was employed in 1832 to replace these old benches with neat deal pews, before leaving his work one evening, out of curiosity, opened the vault in which lay William Drake Gould and his lady. Finding the lady’s coffin-lid loose, he proceeded to raise it, that he might take a look at the redoubted Madame. Immediately she opened her eyes, sat up, and rose to her feet.
The carpenter, who was an elderly man, frightened out of his senses, rushed from the church, which was filled with light from the body of the risen lady. As the man dashed down the churchyard avenue he turned his head back, and saw her over his shoulder gleaming in the porch, and preparing to sail down the path after him.
“From the church to his house was a good mile and a quarter, and the road passes nearly all the way through woods. He ran as he never ran before, and as he ran his shadow went before him, cast by the light which shone from the spectral lady who followed him. On reaching his house he burst the door open, and dashed into bed beside his wife, who was infirm and bed-ridden. Both then saw the figure standing in the doorway, and the light from it was so intense that, to use the old woman’s words, she could see by it a pin lying on the floor.
“There is a stone shown on the ‘ramps’ of Lew Slate Quarry where seven parsons met to lay the old Madame. Opinions differ as to what took place—whether she was laid in part or not at all. Some say that the white owl, which nightly flits to and fro in front of Lew House, is the spirit of the lady conjured by the pardons into a bird; others doubt this; but I believe all agree that the parsons failed because one of the number was ‘a bit fresh’ when he came, and had forgotten the right words to be used.
“I have not the smallest doubt in my own mind that this history is in its essentials of very great antiquity; that the apparition is really an ancient white lady, who has suffered anthropomorphosis, and become Madame Gould; the same stories and the same superstitions having been rife ages before the birth of the lady to whom they have now been applied.
“In many points Madame Gould strongly resembles the German Dame Holle: such as her connection with water and her silver comb, as well as the appearance to the apple-picker. Holle or Holdar, in Germany, is a very beautiful white lady with long flowing hair of a golden hue; she haunts fountains and streams, and is often engaged in washing. She is well disposed, and rebukes bad children, punishing theft and other faults. Her dress is white with a golden girdle, and she is radiant with light. She is an ancient Teutonic goddess. Curiously enough, also, she lives in mountains, and issues luminous from the mouth of caves, just as Madame Gould appeared to the man from the old mine-shaft. In one account of the apparition which I obtained, Madame Gould was expressly said to have appeared with golden hair; whereas her portrait represents her as a very beautiful woman, with long brown hair floating down her back.
“I have given these stories of the old Madame with some fulness because I believe her to be unquestionably an ancient Saxon goddess, who has fallen from her pedestal, and undergone anthropomorphosis and localization; and such instances, though not uncommon in Norway or Germany, are rare in England.”
Directions: On the old A30, between Okehampton and Launceston.