Ghosts of The Manor, Long Wittenham
23 May 2023 (Updated 25 May 2023)
The building once known as Willington's Farm and now called The Manor stands in a beautiful spot on the banks of the River Thames at Long Wittenham. The current building dates back to the 17th century, but is said to house a ghost who is much older than that!
Henry Joseph Hewitt has a ghostly encounter
In his book The Veiled Veil, Mike White relates the experience of a former owner named Henry Joseph Hewitt who was woken one September evening in 1919 to see a glowing female figure dressed in the clothes of the 14th or 15th century drifting through his bedroom. What stuck Henry most was the look of extreme sadness on the face of the woman, who clasped her hands in front of her in a state of apparent distress.
Any suspicion that this might be a flesh-and-blood visitor was dispelled when the figure walked past his bed and straight through the door, without stopping to open it first!
Uncovering the Identity of the Ghost: Beatrice de Braose?
Mike White suggests that Henry may have met the ghost of Beatrice de Braose who owned a building that stood on the site in the late 13th and early 14th century. Before Beatrice took ownership, the building had been used as a rest house by Abingdon Abbey, but was later gifted to Beatrice by her father who was a steward of the Abbey.
If Henry did encounter the ghost of Beatrice, what caused the look of intense sadness on her face?
Legends of Haunted Waters: Ghosts Laid to Rest in Ponds
Once possible explanation comes in the form of another haunting local to The Manor. The long fishponds that lie just to the northeast of The Manor are said to be haunted by a ghost that troubled the area at some unknown point in the past, and which was eventually 'laid' in the fishponds by a group of no less than eleven priests! Could the figure who visited Henry Joseph Hewitt's bedroom be the self-same spirit?
Tales of troublesome ghosts being laid in ponds and other bodies of water are quite common in Oxfordshire. Wilcote and Kirtlington both boast ghosts laid to rest in local ponds, and a Burford legend claims that the ghost of hated local aristocrat Lady Tanfield was captured in a bottle which then was thrown into the water beneath Burford bridge. A common factor in all these stories in the belief that if the body of water in question ever dries up, the ghost trapped there will return and begin bothering the living once more.
Henry Joseph Hewitt didn't mention what the weather was like on the September night when he encountered the ghost, but if it had been a particularly hot summer and the ponds had dried up, could the troubled spirit laid in the fishponds have been released?
Horse-Drawn Coach: A Harbinger of Death at The Manor, Long Wittenham
Another haunting at the Manor is a horse drawn coach that is said to race past the house at full speed, and act as an omen of death for anyone who hears it. Sadly there are scant details to point to an explanation for this nocturnal hell-ride.
There are a number of other ghostly coach stories elsewhere in Oxfordshire, and they tend to be associated with unpopular or debauched local aristocrats. If any in Long Wittenham fit this bill it is probably the Hayward family, many of whom occupied in The Manor at one point or another. William and George Hayward were two of the most wealthy landowners in the area during the early 19th century and had benefited considerably from the acts of Enclosure that allowed them to take control of formerly common land and prevent villagers from using it. This would surely have made them extremely unpopular with locals.
Another notorious Hayward was William Turner Hayward, a descendant of William and George. William Turner sounds like something of a hellraiser, and his favourite vice was gambling. He boasted of once having lost £3000 before breakfast, but said that it didn't spoil his appetite! Predictably, he burned through the family fortune quite quickly, going bankrupt in the early 1870's and dying not long after in 1874.
Finally, another Hayward who sounds like she may have had reason not to rest quietly in her grave is Old Madam Hayward, who died in 1874 at age 96. Old Madam Hayward had left a will in which she stated what she wished to be done with her property, but unfortunately her will ended up causing more problems than it solved! It turned out that many of those who were named as beneficiaries of her will were themselves already dead, and that some of the property that she attempted to leave in her will, she was mistaken in thinking she actually owned! Apparently discussions around her will raged in the law court for many years after. Could Henry Hewitt have witnessed the ghost of Old Madam Hayward, pacing around the property in distress at it having fallen into the hands of strangers?
- 'The Veiled Vale' by Mike White (Two Rivers Press, 2016, ISBN: 9781909747173)
- A Strange Apparition at Long Wittenham (www.berkshirehistory.com)
- The Parish of Long Wittenham - A Short History (pdf)