The Clopton Ghosts

I've got a bargain for you: two bedroom luxury flat in a country mansion, a snip at half a million quid and you get bardic inspiration, gunpowder plotters and four ghosts for free. What folklore fan wouldn't snap the place up?

I'm talking about Clopton House in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Built in the C13th, fell into disrepair a number of times, was rebuilt in the C17th and renovated as luxury flats in the 1980s. It was in the Clopton family for most of its history, notably passing through the female line.

Originally posted on Twitter on the Thursday 18th July 2019.
Images via @britishlibrary's Flickr collection.
Photo of modern day Clopton House by Philip Halling (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Clopton House now, rebuilt in the C17th and renovated  as luxury flats in the 1980s.

Margaret Clopton

It's 1585 and young Bill Wobblepole is stalking stags on other peoples' lands, in this case Clopton House.

This is a) one of the 101 places he's said to have poached and b) one of the 202 reasons he had to leave Stratford for the bright lights of London.

Anyway, being a local lad Bill is familiar with the terrible tales of the Clopton daughters and he's particularly taken with the death of Margaret. So taken that it inspires the tragic end of Ophelia in a little play what he will write in a few years time.

A first folio title page of Hamlet.

Poor Margaret was daft enough to fall in love with an unsuitable suitor and Daddy Dearest did not approve; the lad was poor. Sir William locked his increasingly frantic daughter in her bedroom to keep the lovers apart but that didn't work.

In the time honoured tradition of all lovelorn types, she stole down the back stairs and attempted an escape...

...not to find her beau but to drown herself in the estate's well.

Her body was found the next morning but her ghost remained in her bedroom.

Ophelia at death by John Everett Millais.

Charlotte

A year or so later Charlotte succumbed to the plague that had swept through the Midlands c/o soldiers returning from one campaign or another.

Though nursed by her Mother, she died and was interred in the family tomb.

Except she didn't.

Three weeks later her Mother died too and the tomb was opened once more. Only to find Charlotte's body propped up against the wall, fingers shredded from her efforts to escape the coffin and the tomb itself...

A crypt or vault of the type used as family tombs.

...and forearm eaten in an act of self-cannibalism. The terror and effort had been too much and Charlotte had died where she stood.

I'm assuming they checked the Mother a few times before laying them both to rest.

If this sounds familiar, some say it was an inspiration to Poe while writing The Fall Of The House Of Usher.

Not so sure about that but Mrs Gaskell was certainly affected by the tale when she visited in the 1820s and found Charlotte's ghost roaming about the place as well.

Alice

So that's two down and two to go in the ghostly stakes because another Clopton girl haunts the upstairs:

Alice Clopton fell in love too but she managed to pick a suitable chap for the purpose.

Unfortunately another man fell for her as well.

This one was less of a catch and more of a cad. He refused to take no for an answer (Alice's or her Father's) and abducted Alice on the morning of her wedding.

He rode off towards Birmingham (then a village) with a terrified and screaming Alice in a firm grip.

A rider (actually a skeleton) abducts a fainting young woman with other riders in pursuit.

Chased hard by the actual groom, the Cad gave up and decided to save himself...

...by throwing poor Alice over the first bridge they came to. She fell to another damp death, her almost-hubby unable to save her.

He was so distraught that he declared he would never marry and spent the rest of his life as a hermit/Wise One living on food exchanged for his advice.

Until the Cad showed up and mad with anger, not-Hubby attacked him plunging them both to their deaths in the river below.

The Cleric

Which just leaves Ghost No.4, the Gunpowder Plot and the essayist William Howitt.

After Clopton had fallen into disrepair in the mid-C19th due to "Warwickshire Casanova" Charles Warde's hard living, Howitt said the house "fermented tales of superstition".

A ghostly apparition scaring the willies out of a poor chap in a nightcap.

So now it's the early 1600s and George Carew (said Carey) owns the house via his wife Joyce Clopton.

Carew was Dean Of Windsor and away from home a lot. While away some squatters moved in, they being the plotters Rookwood and co.

Conveniently, Clopton had a priest hole (the Clopton's were Catholics) and the plotters often travelled with a priest. According to a later owner, the gloriously monikered Lady Utica Celestina Beecham[*], Clopton's ghostly cleric was involved in their plotting.

A low vaulted, rough hewn room with a single stool and a small barrel.

[*] Lady Utica was the estranged wife of Sir Thomas and lived at Clopton in the 1950/60s with her eldest son who was considered mentally unfit to inherit. Living in genteel poverty, Lady U took tours around the place and may have embellished things just a wee bit along the way.

She liked to point out the long blood stain that traced the path from hidey-hole to landing where the body had been dragged. It is said that the stain remained despite all attempts to remove it, hence the "Everlasting Bloodstain".

Clopton was one of the houses raided and the priest hole discovered. Full of relics, the walls covered in holy texts it became known as the Text Room. Carew did some hasty renovations but would never destroy the room itself.

A slightly ramshackle, originally Tudor house in ill-kempt grounds.

So there you have it: the long, convoluted and mostly made up history of Clopton House and its many unfortunate (and mostly prematurely dead) occupants.

Start saving your pennies/cents/etc now folklore fans!