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Lady Frances Page's tomb, Steeple Aston church.

Lady Frances Page's tomb, Steeple Aston church.

John Salmon / St Peter, Steeple Aston, Oxon - Monument / 

CC BY-SA 2.0

The Haunting Legacy of Sir Francis Page, Hanging Judge

30 May 2023

Oxfordshire's answer to the notorious Judge Jeffreys, Sir Francis Page struck fear into the hearts of any criminal unlucky enough to stand before him in court. His ghost is said to haunt the grounds of his former home in Middle Aston, although the appearance of said ghost is somewhat less terrifying than his fearsome reputation might suggest!

Francis Page: Oxfordshire's notorious 'hanging judge'

Middle Aston House's most notorious former resident was Sir Francis Page. Page and his first wife Isabella moved into Middle Aston Manor House, which stood close to the site of the modern day house, around the year 1690.

Page came from fairly humble beginnings, being the son of the vicar of Bloxham, but embarked on a high-flying legal career that saw him holding a number of prominent positions. He held the post of King's Serjeant, Baron of the Exchequer and MP for Huntingdon before being promoted to Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and the King's Bench in the 1720s.

Sir Francis Page

A line engraving of Sir Francis Page by George Vertue, after Jonathan Richardson, 1733. Credit: Image © National Portrait Gallery, London.

It was in this role that he, like the notorious Judge Jeffreys before him, earned a reputation as a 'hanging judge', noted for his coarseness, cruelty and lack of pity for the criminals brought before him. It is said that in his career he sentenced over 100 people to hang, and revelled in his fearsome reputation.

Curious ghosts of Middle Aston House

According to an article published on steepleastonarchive.org.uk, there is a local legend that the ghost of Sir Francis Page has been seen about the lake at Middle Aston House. The format of this haunting is extremely strange. The legend states that at midnight the ghosts of the widows of the men that Page condemned to hang return in the form of owls, and Page himself can be seen floating on a beer barrel in the lake at Middle Aston House while the ghostly owls harange him!

Map of Middle Aston Hall circa 1919

A map of Middle Aston House, 1919. Credit: Re-use: CC-BY (NLS).

This is all very imaginative, but does raise a number of questions! Why owls? Why the wives of the men he hanged and not the men themselves? And why is Francis Pope bobbing up and down on a beer barrel? I suspect all these these strange aspects of the legends are in-jokes, the reasons for which have been long forgotten!

Oxfordshire's most crass tomb?

Anyone wishing to know what Sir Francis Page looked like needs only to visit Steeple Aston church and examine the monster of a tomb that Page had built for his late wife. Page insisted on large-scale alterations to the church to accommodate the tomb, which features not only a large statue of his wife reclining on a couch, but also an even larger statue of himself looming behind her.

Tomb of Frances Page, Steeple Aston

The tomb of Lady Frances Page in St. Peter's Church, Steeple Aston. Credit: Photo: John Salmon / St Peter, Steeple Aston, Oxon - Monument / CC BY-SA 2.0

It certainly says something about the ego of Sir Francis Page that he would not only insert himself into his own wife's tomb, but have the whole thing erected a full 11 years before his own death! It seems the monument was unpopular locally, not least because Page insisted on the removal of a number of pre-existing tombs to make room for this vanity project.

According to one legend, Sir Francis refused to pay the sculptor the full sum they had agreed and as revenge the sculptor neglected to carve the wedding ring on his wife's finger!