Pitt place was built on a chalk pit by the banker and Member of Parliament Alderman William Belchier between 25 February 1755 (when his former house on Chalk Lane, Epsom, burned down) and August 1759. According to the following account that appeared in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897) by John Ingram, it was here in November 1779 that Thomas Lyttelton, 2nd Baron Lyttelton of Frankley (Born 30 January 1744 – Died 27 November 1779) encountered an apparition that foretold his death.
The story of Lord Lyttleton’s “warning,” as it is termed, has been frequently told, and almost as frequently attempts have been made to explain it away. Up to the present time, however, it must be confessed that all the evidence, circumstantial though it be, is in favour of the original tellers of the tale. Well known though the story be, it must not be omitted from this collection.
Thomas, the second Lord Lyttleton, had long led a life of dissipation. As he lay in bed one night at Pitt Place, Epsom, he was awakened out of his sleep, according to his own account, by a noise like the fluttering of a bird about the curtains. On opening his eyes he saw the apparition of a woman, who was, it is generally supposed, Mrs. Amphlett, the mother of a lady he had seduced, and who had just died of a broken heart. Dreadfully shocked, he called out, “What do you want?”
“I have come to warn you of your death” was the reply.
“Shall I not live two months?” he asked.
“No; you will die within three days,” was the response.
The following day Lord Lyttleton was observed to he much agitated in his mind, and when questioned as to the cause, informed several persons of the apparition. By the third day, which was a Saturday, he was observed to have grown very thoughtful, but he attempted to carry it off by saying to those about him, “Why do you look so grave? Are you thinking about the ghost? I am as well as ever I was in my life.”
He invited company to dinner, doubtless expecting in the midst of society to get rid of unwelcome thoughts. In the evening he said to his guests, “A few hours more and I shall jockey the ghost.” At eleven o’clock he retired to his bed-room, and after a time began to undress himself. Meanwhile his servant was preparing a rhubarb draught for him, according to custom; but, having nothing to mix it with, went out of the room for a spoon. By the time he returned Lord Lyttleton was getting into bed, but before the man could give him the draught, he reclined his head back on the pillow, fell into convulsions, and died. The servant’s cries aroused the household, they hastened to his assistance, but it was useless, for all was over.
The sequel to this story is as singular, but is less generally known, although quite as well testified to, as reference to the preface to Croker’s edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will show. Mr. Miles Peter Andrews, the intimate friend of Lord Lyttleton, lived at Dartford, about thirty miles off. Mr. Andrews was entertaining a large company at his place, and expected a visit from Lord Lyttleton, whom he had just left, apparently in good health. Disturbed, however, by the impressive message he had received from the apparition, the nobleman, without giving Mr. Andrews any intimation of his intention, had determined to postpone his visit.
On the evening of the Saturday, Mr. Andrews finding Lord Lyttleton did not arrive, and feeling somewhat indisposed, retired to bed somewhat early, leaving one of his guests to do the honours of the supper-table on his behalf. He went to bed in a somewhat feverish condition, but had not been lying down long when the curtains at the foot of his bed were drawn open, and he beheld his friend standing before him, in a large figured bed gown which was always kept in the house for Lord Lyttleton’s exclusive use. Mr. Andrews at once imagined that his friend had arrived alter he had retired to rest, as he had so positively promised to come that day, and knowing how fond the nobleman was of practical joking, cried out to him, “You are at some of your tricks; go to bed, or I will throw something at you.” The reply to which was “It’s all over with me Andrews.”
Still deeming it was Lord Lyttleton joking with him, Mr. Andrews stretched his arm out of the bed, and, seizing one of his slippers, the nearest thing he could get hold of, he flung it at the figure, which then retreated to the dressing-room, whence there was no mean of egress. Upon this Mr. Andrews jumped out of bed, intending to follow and punish his friend for startling him, hut could find nobody in that room, nor in his bed-room, the bolt of which was in its place. He rang his bell, and inquired of the servants where Lord Lyttleton was; but no one had seen him, and the nightgown, when sought for, was found in its usual place. Mr. Andrews, getting annoyed, and unable to solve the mystery, ordered that no bed was to be given to the nobleman, who might find one at the inn for serving him such a trick.
The next morning, Mrs. Pigou, the guest who had headed Mr. Andrew’s table when he retired, departed early for London, and on arriving there heard of Lord Lyttleton’s death; she sent an express to Dartford to inform Mr. Andrews, who, when he received the news, was so shocked that he swooned away, and, to use his own words, “was not his own man again, for three years.”
A gentleman gave the following account of Lord Littleton’s death, which confirmed he died at Pitt Place, though he mentions that they set out to Pitt Place after his premonition.
“I was at Pitt Place, Epsom, when Lord Littleton died; Lord Fortesque, Lady Flood, and the two Miss Amphletts, were also present. Lord Littleton had not been long returned from Ireland, and frequently had been seized with suffocating fits; he was attacked several times by them in the course at the preceding month while he was at his house in Hill Street, Berkeley-square. It happened that he dreamt, three days before his death, that he saw a fluttering bird, and afterwards that a woman appeared to him in white apparel, and said to him, ‘Prepare to die, you will not exist three days’ ; – his lordship was much alarmed, and called to his servant from a closet adjoining, who found him much agitated, and in a profuse perspiration; the circumstance had a visible effect all the next day on his lordship’s spirits. On the third day, while his lordship was at breakfast with the above personages, he said, ‘If I live over tonight, I shall have jockied the ghost, for this is the third day.’ The whole party presently set off for Pitt Place, where they had not long arrived, before his lordship was visited by one of his accustomed fits: after a short time he recovered. He dined at five o’clock that day, and went to bed at eleven, when his servant was about to give him rhubarb and mint water} but his lordship perceiving him stir it with a toothpick, called him a slovenly dog, and bid him go and fetch a tea-spoon; but on the man’s return, he found his master in a fit, and the pillow being high, his chin bore hard upon his neck, when the servant, instead of relieving his lordship on the instant, from his perilous situation, ran in his fright, and called out for help, but on his return, he found his lordship dead.”
Mrs Amphlett had lived near Lord Littletons home in Shropshire. He had seduced at least one of her daughters, maybe all three. One who was left in Ireland and the other two were with him at Pitt Place when he died. It has been suggested that their mother had appeared to Lord Littleton at the moment of her death.