Friday Five: inspiration for Greystones

There’s no such place as Greystones Hall, of course. The house, a rambling and terrifically haunted manor which features in my latest book Got Ghosts?, is a product of my own fevered imagination. The library, the chapel, the minstrels’ gallery, the attics, even the cellar, are purely fictional.

And yet… are they? Mostly the answer is still yes, but I did draw on my love of old English homes for inspiration. In particular, a group of ancient, fascinating, and sometimes haunted houses and castles that I’ve visited over the years, which include the following:

Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire

This wonderful old Cotswolds house gave me the idea of somewhere that’s been added to, piecemeal, over many centuries. It has two distinct ‘wings’ in very different styles, and looks either Jacobean or Georgian depending on which direction you’re viewing it from. In the early 20th century its owner, the eccentric Charles Paget Wade, filled it to bursting with his own collections of antiques, models, and historical costumes including an entire army of Samurai armour! Now owned by the National Trust, and worth a visit to poke around.

Muncaster Castle, Cumbria

P1000984Based around a fourteenth century pele tower, this atmospheric castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. Ghosts include the invisible Tom Fool, and a little girl heard crying, who is believed to be Margaret Pennington. The castle’s most haunted room (allegedly) is a bedroom which is rather stage-set these days: painted in cold dark colours and with noticeably less heating and lighting than the other rooms. However, during a visit a few years ago I noticed a very odd atmosphere in a downstairs room, so perhaps the rumours are true…

Sizergh Castle, Cumbria

P1020492Another wonderfully romantic and atmospheric castle dating back to medieval times, this home has been continuously occupied by the same family, the Stricklands, since 1239. It provided some of the inspiration for the feeling of Greystones Hall having been lived in ‘for ever’. It also has a couple of “secret” rooms and a chapel, built into the thickness of the pele tower walls.

Harvington Hall, Worcestershire

harvington_frontHarvington is an incredible survivor of the religious turmoil of Tudor and Elizabethan times, which housed a Catholic family during the reign of Elizabeth I, and was rebuilt to include an incredible set of hiding places for their priests, known as priest holes. At the last count I believe there were about ten – two for church vessels and the rest for the priests themselves. In Got Ghosts? I simplified this quite a bit, but the idea of having one priest hole leading into another came from Harvington. It’s still owned by the Catholic church and well worth a visit.

Greystones Hall?

greystones1

Bits of all these houses, and probably others too, came together in my mind as the whole of Greystones. However, individually they’re probably all too large and grand for what I had in mind, which was a low-built, rambling family home rather than something stately. For this reason, this photo (borrowed from the internet!) is probably closer to the “real” Greystones Hall. Sadly, in spite of researching extensively, I don’t know much about it, except that it’s probably set in the Cotswolds. If anyone recognises it and can tell me more, I’ll be delighted.

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Castles and ghosts, oh my

I see from the Westmorland Gazette that Appleby Castle has just re-opened to the public after a ten-year break.  The castle, which dates back to the 12th century and has been lived in continuously ever since, still retains a Norman keep, as well as a medieval manor house, walls, and what look like some very beautiful gardens.  And better still, it’s haunted!  Well, apparently.  You can visit one of the supposedly haunted rooms on the main guided tour, or organise a full-scale ghost tour of the place as a separate attraction.  I feel a visit coming on!

This isn’t the only stately home/castle in Cumbria with ghostly goings-on.  Both Levens Hall and Muncaster Castle boast their own ghosts.  It’s a good few years since I last visited Levens and I don’t remember anything particularly out of the ordinary (although I do have vague memories of a priest hole in one of the bedrooms, which the staff there now hotly deny).  However, on our last trip to Muncaster I did notice a very odd atmosphere in one of the downstairs rooms, which lifted all the hairs on the back of my neck.

Ghosts?  Electro-magnetic pulse?  Damp and draughts?  I’m never sure, but it adds a thrill to any visit, and both Muncaster and Levens are fascinating destinations in any case.  I suspect Appleby will be every bit as interesting, from both a historical and supernatural point of view.  You can find out more about the castle, including its history and information about visiting, at its very nice website.