Ghosts of Mapledurham House
8 May 2021 (Updated 14 February 2023)
The beautiful Elizabethan manor house at Mapledurham is believed to be haunted by a former owner who murdered one of his servants in a fit of anger and then attempted to hide the body.
Murder at Mapledurham
Mapledurham House has a number of priest holes (secret hiding places where persecuted Catholics could hide) dating back to before the Catholic emancipation, so there would have been no shortage of places where the murderous owner could have hidden the body.
It's not known whether the man got away with this crime during his lifetime, but if his ghost is anything to go by, he may have been tortured with guilt. His ghost has reportedly been seen dragging the body of the poor servant along the floor, presumably re-enacting his attempts to hide the body!
A phantom coach at New Years Eve
In Curious Oxfordshire, Roger Long reports that a phantom coach is said to be heard pulling away from the house at midnight on New Years Eve, including the sounds of hooves and metal-rimmed wheels rushing across the cobblestones.
The lane to the east of Mapledurham House known as The Warren is said to have a possibly related haunting. As in the above story, the sound of a stampeding horse (or horses) is heard in this lane. People hearing it have been known to fling themselves out of the way to avoid a collision with the unseen horse, only to have the sound pass by without any visible trace.
Old Palm and secret passages at Mapledurham
A rather enigmatic statue on a brick plinth can be found buried in woodland on the grounds of Mapledurham park. The statue is universally known as 'Old Palm', though there seems to be little consensus about who the figure on the plinth is, why he is called Old Palm or why the plinth is so deeply buried in woodland. Local legend states that Old Palm climbs down from his plinth on Christmas Eve and goes for a walkabout in the nearby village to spread Christmas cheer!
The other legends about Mapledurham House concern secret passages supposedly leading from the house to various locations nearby, including from the cellar of the house to a vault under the church. According to some, Old Palm hides the entrance to one of these secret passages, which were used to allow Catholics to enter or escape Mapledurham House unseen. An even more outlandish story mentioned by Roger Long in Curious Oxfordshire is that Old Palm was used as a meeting place for Sir Francis Dashwood's notorious Hellfire Club!
Mapledurham House is said to have been one of the inspirations for Toad Hall in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. Like Mapledurham, Toad Hall was said to have its own secret passage leading from the house down to the banks of the river.
The suspicious death of Louisa Parsons
The village of Mapledurham was the scene of another suspected murder in 1854 when Louisa Parsons, the maid at the Vicarage in the village, died suddenly after complaining of severe stomach pains.
The previous day she had attended a party at nearby Playhatch with Ann Varndell, the sister of Louisa's lover Henry. The local doctor suspected arsenic poisoning, and many, including Louisa's parents, expressed the suspicion that Ann Varndell was responsible for poisoning Louisa.
However, the inquest did not uncover enough proof to conclusively link Ann Varndell to the death, so Louisa was recorded as having died of 'natural causes'. Louisa's parents were unsatisfied by this and, after consulting a local witch (!), had the following verse engraved on Louisa's tombstone:
All you young people as you pass by,
Pray on my grave now, cast an eye,
Beware of false lovers and their friends,
I died from poison you may depend.
These lines were later removed by a future rector who objected to the fact that the lines were composed by a supposed witch.
- 'Oxfordshire Ghost Stories' by Richard Holland (Bradwell Books, 2013, ISBN: 9781902674735)
- How picturesque Mapledurham was a murder scene in 1854 (www.getreading.co.uk)
- 'Curious Oxfordshire' by Roger Long (Sutton Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 0780750949576)