Middletons’ Bucklebury Manor

Will the Middletons witness the ghosts of Bucklebury House?

With reports of Kate Middleton’s family moving to a new home – Bucklebury Manor in Berkshire, there have also been misconceptions that the home was haunted, when in fact the Middletons will be moving next to one of the most haunted houses in Berkshire.

In May earlier this year many of the tabloid newspapers were full of stories of future queen Kate Middleton’s parents moving to a new £4 million pound mansion in Berkshire. A Georgian building and Grade II listed, this slightly modern looking home sits next to Bucklebury House, once known as Bucklebury Old Manor.

Originally the Bucklebury Estate (and village) was owned by Reading Abbey however like many monasteries by 1538 the estate was confiscated and sold to John Winchcombe, the son of a wealthy woollen merchant, Jack O’Newbury. The original abbey building (on the site of Bucklebury House) was restructured by John and became the family seat of the Winchcombe family.

Our interest in Bucklebury Old Manor begins when the Winchcombes ran out of male heirs and the Estate passed to Lady Frances Winchcombe who married Henry St.John, Lord Bolingbroke, Secretary of State to Queen Anne.

Lady Frances was regarded as one of the most beautiful women of her age and indeed Henry St John was known for his handsome looks. Sadly it was an ill marriage, and within two years Henry was no longer living with Lady Frances. At the young age of thirty she retired to Bucklebury and set about rebuilding the kitchens and stables at Bucklebury Old Manor. Although practically living apart, the Bolingbrokes entertained Dean Swift, John Gay, Robert Harley and John Arbuthnot.

On 25th October 1718, Frances died at the tender age of 37, many claiming that she had died of a broken heart and/or her shock at her husband’s actions. Since their marriage Henry St John became heavily involved in the politics of the country and wrongly for the time supported the Jacobite Rebellion. His actions (and words) forced him into exile in Paris, joining the Young Pretender. In 1716 he had lost his titles and estates and it was only in 1723 he was able to return and claim them back.

In 1832 Bucklebury Old Manor burnt down leaving a wing that was habitable but not at the standard of the Winchcombe family who moved to Lyegrove, the principal seat of their Sodbury Estates, some 12 miles north of Bath.

In the early 1900s, relations to the Winchcombes, the Webley-Parry family returned to Bucklebury village, and moved into a Georgian mansion called “The Cottages”, they renamed the house “Bucklebury Manor” – this being the house that the Middleton’s have recently purchased. The Webley-Parry’s set about restoring the Old Manor and on completion called it “Bucklebury House”. This may have caused confusion in the many reports of the Middleton’s new home.

However the Middleton’s have not only moved next to one of the most haunted houses in the village, but the village itself has a fair share of hauntings!

Just a little more than a hundred years after her death, locals believed that Lady Frances had began to walk the earth once again. Aside from being haunted by the Black Monks of the old abbey, the village of Bucklebury had gained a ghost. By 1898, another terrifying haunting was reported and this made several headlines in regional newspapers, this was in stark contrast to the usual media coverage of the political rallies, garden parties and horticultural meetings that took place at the Bucklebury Manor.

A Haunted House

News of the Old Manor’s hauntings had reached the Falkirk Herald and on 20th August 1898 it printed an article titled “A Haunted House”, after discussing the house’s history the newspaper claimed:

“Of course, the place is haunted and with two apparitions at least. A white lady walks the park and flits around the quiet pond; but a more terrible sight is the chariot drawn by six black horses mounted by headless positilions which at midnight issues from the portals of the ancient mansion, its ghostly wheels rattling on the uneven stones, and drives swiftly away to some fearsome destination. The stables, as they now stand, would seem to be indeed a fitting abode for the black steeds and the phantom coach, and it is not so long since that the family at the dwelling-house left hurriedly, scared away, so it is said by the ghostly tenants of the ruins.”

Although correct in describing the Old Manor’s alleged hauntings, I have yet to find evidence that any of the Webley-Parry family left the house in a hurry due to the phantom coach and horses.

Two years later the Reading Mercury mentioned the Old Manor and its hauntings in an article dated 18th August 1900, “The place is said to be haunted by Bolingbroke’s wife who is supposed to walk here, and in some parts of the village towards the Common. Some of the villagers actually testify to having seen her.”

However two years later at a time when the house was appearing in the news as a venue for various meetings and parties, The Reading Mercury published “The Story of Jack O’Newbury and the Winchcombes”, a rollicking story of Lady Frances’ relatives and its terrible hauntings.

”Nothing now remains of the house at Bucklebury but the great kitchen with its wide open fireplace, the laundries, a small portion of the back of the house and part of the stables. The curious atmosphere of silence which hangs about the forsaken habitants of men pervades the place.”

And then the Reading Mercury takes a leap that would change the manor’s alleged hauntings seemingly forever.

”Bucklebury must have been the scene of many searchings of the heart. One can imagine Lady Bolingbroke walking up and down the grass paths, and in the walled garden sad and solitary in her unhappy married life. Her ghost is said to haunt the place, a white lady in a chariot with black horses, driven by headless postilions. The old people of the village still tell the tale though they say that the chariot is never seen now.”

With one printed article, the white lady is now seated in the chariot (which is apparently invisible as well) but still uses the same terms from the original Falkirk article, maybe it was misread by the journalist?

Modern interpretations built on the references from previous writers continue to misinform, for example this from the Berkshire History website:

“Lady Bolingbroke’s unhappy ghost is said to drive through the village in a coach drawn by the four black horses, often seen near the old fishponds, and on one night of the year she sits in the drawing-room of the Old Vicarage.”

This statement shows a mixing of the “white lady wandering the ponds” story and now includes the coach and horses which is now transported to driving round ponds?!

Reference after reference claims that the white lady is seen in the carriage and wanders either the Old Manor’s grounds or even the centre of  Bucklebury village – and yet neither is reported in the original references.

Even in this day of multiple references via wikipedia and online archives, errors in history are far too easy to make for the journalist and budding writer. Only by exploring the parish archives and library of Bucklebury was I able to decipher the confusion between “The Cottages” and “Bucklebury Manor”.

The Middletons may not be moving into a well known haunted house (however the house is over two hundred years old so who knows?) but we know that the village of Bucklebury, a picturesque village of over a thousand years of history has some incredible hauntings and even more fascinating history.

References:

Falkirk Herald – Saturday 20 August 1898

Reading Mercury – Saturday 18 August 1900

Reading Mercury – Saturday 19 July 1902

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