This Spectred Isle - A Journey Through Haunted England
With its late Gothic Great Hall and magnificent high tower, Wingfield Manor seems a natural place to find supernatural phenomena. And there are many to find. Perhaps the most famous is the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots, one of the most active apparitions in the country, who haunts the ruins at certain times of the year. When she was alive, she couldn’t wait to leave the place where she had been imprisoned on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I, and complained bitterly about her dark and smelly accommodation.
Wingfield Manor was one of the largest courtyard palaces in England when it was built in the 15th century, and a testament to the wealth and power of its owner, Lord Cromwell, Treasurer to Henry VI. By the reign of Elizabeth I, the house was owned by the Earls of Shrewsbury, and it was the sixth Earl who was ordered by the queen to keep Mary under lock and key. Her imprisonment must have been quite lax because it is said that Sir Anthony Babington used to steal into the house under cover of dark to plot her escape and the downfall of Elizabeth. He blackened his face with walnut juice so that he could pass as a ‘common’ man, and carried a few nuts in his pocket for the purpose. Legend has it that one night a walnut fell from his pocket and grew into the magnificent tree in the courtyard. The present tree is nearly 300 years old and grows from the stump of a much earlier one. However, if another legend is to be believed, he had no need to resort to these tactics as he had had a tunnel built from the Babington family home at Dethwick to Wingfield Manor. This must have been some engineering feat as it had to drop through sandstone and under the river. There is no trace of it today. However, a tunnel has been discovered nearby at the Peacock at Oakerthorpe; but this may have had more to do with avoiding the excise men. The legend may gain some credence from the numerous sunken drovers’ roads that criss-cross this part of the country. When overgrown with trees, these green roads look very much like tunnels.
Many people have reported seeing strange blue lights flickering in the undercroft and there is also an intriguing murder mystery known as ‘The Curse of Wingfield Manor’. When some old papers were recently discovered in the manor, they told the tale of a local girl named Mary who went to work as a maid there in i666. Mary was in love with a young farmer, and she made the fatal mistake of revealing her passion to Fanny, another maid from the village. Mary had no idea that Fanny was in love with the same man and had hopes of becoming his wife. Mary arranged to go home to get consent from her family for the wedding but she never arrived. Her fate was not discovered until some years later when, on her deathbed, Fanny confessed that she had lured Mary into the dim recesses of the undercroft and locked her in. Sure enough, when this was investigated, Mary’s skeleton was discovered huddled at the top of the steps behind the locked door. Whatever the truth of the story, ghostly activity is meant to be the reason why the manor was left uninhabited and finally fell into ruins.