The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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Ghosts 'R Us

Has Hampton Court cornered the market in Ghosts or is it just another bit of curtain waving? Did Vlad really see the ghosts of dinners past in the kitchens or was he long overdue for his blood fix? Who knows? Hampton Court's PR posse?
Henry Vlll - Hampton Court

The shade of Henry Vlll still hangs over Hampton Court

‘Ghosts ‘R’ Us’ looks handy for the new slogan to attract visitors to the Palace of Hampton Court. I suppose it couldn’t be faulted under the trades description act as they do seem to have more than their fair share of shrinking ethereals. If TV producer Ronny France can be believed the ghostly accommodation in the Palace has become so overcrowded that they are migrating to suitable nearby properties. She swears she has had more than one fright from ghostly apparitions appearing in her flat adjacent to the Royal grounds. But then TV producers are like that.

What has opened up the ghost business to greater scrutiny is the picture taken in early December 2003. The grainy film from a CCTV camera, more used to not revealing the features of wrong-doers than Ghosts, never-the-less performed to standard and did not reveal the features of what was claimed to be an unworldly apparition. From Hampton Court, Vikki Wood, keeping a respectfully straight face, claimed to be baffled. She also denied any suggestion that it was a gimmick for Christmas. The photograph pictured a hooded figure, a white face gleaming in the dark, stretching out a suspiciously tanned hand to close a door. Whatever the merits of the incident the news of the sighting of the latest product of history at the Palace certainly travelled. I had several emails from American friends who knew I lived near the Palace. None of them doubted what they had read. I didn’t like to disappoint them so I agreed that as the news had actually been disseminated by the PR office at the Palace it must be true. And kept my fingers crossed. A call I had from Vlad Licina of The Dark Theatre, Chicago, had a triumphant note to it. When Vlad was here for the Vampyre show at the Hippodrome a few years ago I took him to Hampton Court. It was a bright Summer’s day and we did the whole nine yards. Caught the boat at Richmond, toured the grounds, got lost in the maze, ate ice-cream on the terrace, toured the state rooms and ended up in the kitchen. Where Vlad claims he had his revelation. As he walked in through the door he saw the kitchen in full production. Swarms of cooks, under-cooks and scullery maids dashing about preparing a gargantuan feast. For a moment he though it was an act put on for the tourists. As we stepped into the kitchen the scene dissolved into a static exhibition and the swarming servants disappeared. He says! Being of a less sensitive disposition, I naturally saw nothing. Vlad’s publicity says he drinks a pint of human blood a day so I bow to his expertise in the field of desiccated bodies. Vlad was more than chuffed when the photograph of the latest addition to the ghostly staff appeared - a long dead doorman no less.

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife, can still be seen scuttling around the dark corridors.

Hampton Court Palace was distined to attract ghosts from the day it was built in 1525 on the north bank of the Thames a few miles up river from Richmond. The wealthy owner, Cardinal Wolsey, was THE power in the land. Unfortunately the clever Cardinal had not performed to the upper limits of his cleverness when Good King Hal the Eighth had wanted a divorce from his wife Catherine. To curry favour with the notoriously volatile Henry, Wolsey presented the monarch with the Palace. Henry graciously accepted. He had been miffed that his chancellor had a bigger house than he was able to afford, The grovelling didn’t do Wolsey much good and he only avoided impeachment by conveniently dying on his way to court. Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, is the first to check in for ghostly visitations. Which is a little peculiar as she crept between the still warm bed sheets recently quit by Anne Boleyn for her breakfast appointment with the executioner - which one might suppose gave her first dibs. Jane died giving birth to Edward Vl and has been seen wafting around the cobbled courtyards at the back of the stables carrying a candle. The significance of which is lost on me.

Another of Henry’s ill-used wives to upset the present day occupants of the Palace is Catherine Howard. She insists on making her protest dressed in a flowing white gown and zooming around the galleries screaming her head off. Which does seem justified as Henry had her beheaded at the Tower of London for distributing her favours among the idle rich in a distinctly un-Queenly manner.

Steffi Pitt, Vlad Licina and Ingrid Pitt

Steffi Pitt, Vlad Licina and Ingrid brave the sunlight.

There is also the strange case of the Spinning Jenny. Jane Seymour’s son, Edward, was brought up by Sibell Penn. Sibell was a strict disciplinarian and drove the ailing Prince on, dedicated to making him a worthy inheritor of the physical and amatory powers of his father, Henry Vlll. As Edward was suffering from tuberculosis and was only ten years old when the old man died he didn’t have much chance of wrestling bears or founding a harem. After his death only six years after being anointed, his nanny finally succumbed to the vinegar in her veins and was buried in the Palace grounds. Two hundred and fifty odd years later workman doing building work on the site disturbed her grave. A few days later a strange whirring sound was heard. It seemed to be coming from behind an old wall. The workman broke down the wall and found, interred behind it - Sibell Penn’s Spinning Wheel. Some say it was still spinning.

Ghosts on film have been around since Melies. For some reason this under exploited genre has never notched up the success that vampires, werewolf, DIY bodies and their kin have enjoyed. Which is strange as it is rare that a ghost film fails to click at the box office. One of my favourite films is THE UNINVITED (1944). starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. I saw it at the Manchester Film Festival a few years ago and it stands the test of time. THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947) has never been bettered - and even spawned a TV series An interesting series of films, based on Thomas Smith’s novel TOPPER in the 1930’s, had the louche ghost returning from beyond the celestial arras to plague the friends and enemies he had so abruptly left behind when his car hit something immovable. WONDER MAN (1945) had a schizoid Danny Kay being the earthly arm of his brother, killed by the MOB, exacting revenge. More recently Bruce Willis didn’t know he was a ghost in SIXTH SENSE (1999). And then there’s the Johnny Depp comic epic PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN which just abut scrapes into the Ghost folder. And what about GHOST (1990), the hilarious film starring gorgeous Whoopi Goldberg, Demi Moore and the outclassed Patrick Swayze? These are only a chicken pick of great ghost films that have hit the screens in the past. Now Oscar winner Halle Berry has brought her talents to GOTHIKA, which is described as a Ghost story, who knows what is in store? . And need I mention multiple CHRISTMAS CAROL’s?

The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion For Ghosthunters

Thought it couldn't do any harm to slide this in.

Reality tends to be more restrained. But twice as grisly. Ask Tommy Holt if you come across his wraith playing in the sewer which empties the royal effluent from Hampton Court into the River Thames. Or did in 1844 when Tommy was playing there. He fished out a hand from just beyond the outlet. His screams brought others running and before long the sewer was being investigated by the newly formed Metropolitan police. After some intrepid officers ventured into the sewer and were nearly rendered unconscious by the stench and eaten alive by the millions of rats that resented being disturbed, a better method of investigation was proposed. A sluice gate was opened and the contents of the sewer, living and dead, were washed out into a hastily constructed sieve. Most of the remains of the badly gnawed body of a four year old boy were recovered and Dr. Roots of Kingston pronounced him dead - murdered. And he went to medical school for that? Anyway, a couple of inquests were undertaken and all they were able to do was confirm the doctors findings so the slain child went unavenged. Which is why several people have attested to the fact that if you go to where the outfall of the sewer used to be and the wind is in the right direction you can hear ghostly moaning. It is thought that it is the unquiet soul of the murdered boy. I’m more inclined to think it is Tommy Holt’s ghost. He did have an impressionable moment when he pulled the severed hand from the river.

Another Royal incumbent of the 16th. Century pile beside the Thames was Charles l. Disputing the pecking order between himself and the one true God put him on a collision course with Parliament. Oliver Cromwell, a staunch Parliamentarian and Calvinist, resented the King’s claimed divinity and in the civil war which followed Charles putting up ‘Closed’ notices on the doors of Parliament, ousted him. The King’s arrogance was not dented by coming a Royal cropper and, in spite of Cromwell pleading with him to climb gracefully off his perch, persisted unto death. Beheading is a petty traumatic experience so it is little wonder that he can be found on occasions wandering the corridors with his head tucked under his arm, looking for his crown.

With all these well founded ghosts already established, in residence and routine, does that mean that the recently discovered phantom door opener will find it hard to find a niche? Or will he bring door opening to a fine art? Will future tourists gather at a certain time, like they used to in Tyburn to watch a popular hanging, in the hope of seeing the Doorman bring finesse to his rudimentary art?

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt