Jane Austen’s Haunted Emma

The environs of Jane Austen’s Emma boast some spectral incidents. Set in Surrey “the most misunderstood English county,” the novel features picturesque Box Hill and surrounding villages serving as the backdrop for a subtle complexity of romantic misunderstanding.

All quotes are from the novel.

“Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what everyone found so well worth seeing..”

Box Hill itself contains the grave of a man buried upside down. Major Peter Labilliere, not surprisingly a somewhat eccentric man, was a particular friend of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. He spent a good deal of his time wandering the hill. His ghost has yet to quit the area, according to reports.

“Let everybody on the Hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell from Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other.”

The road from Box Hill to Dorking passes through the village of Westcott, the location of Stowe Maries, a Grade II listed sixteenth century timbered house once owned by the actor Leslie Howard. Reports of a ghostly horseman abound. One witness saw the roadside bushes part as if pushed aside, accompanied by the sound of a horse trotting by.

“I didn’t chase women, but I couldn’t always be bothered to run away.” — Leslie Howard

The ruins of old Betchworth Castle to the east make it difficult to imagine this medieval fortification had been renovated into a fine Regency-era house. It became part of the grounds of nearby Deepdene, acquired by colorful banker Thomas Hope. His well-developed craze for the Gothic style led him to turn a destructive eye toward old Betchworth. He had the house deliberately reduced to a picturesque ruin. Ironically, his Regency masterpiece Deepdene was destroyed to make an office building.

Betchworth Castle still remains, said to be haunted by a ‘Lord Hope.’ His ghost wanders in perpetual grief over the accidental killing of his son. A spectral black dog prowls the ruins at night as well.

Old Betchworth lies along the River Mole. Spooky, yeah? Photo by Ian Capper via geograph.org.uk

To the west of Dorking is Silent Pool, situated near the old estate of Henry Drummond, one of the wealthier men of Regency England and a rival banker to Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey. The body of water has a blue opalescent color. It is said to be haunted by a woodcutter’s daughter who drowned there to escape King John’s embrace.

Mystery writer Agatha Christie mysteriously disappeared near Silent Pool, where her car was found abandoned.

Jane Austen wrote Emma while staying with relatives in Great Bookham, on the outskirts of Dorking. Richard Sheridan, Regency-era playwright and one of Lady Bessborough’s lovers, lived in the neighborhood for a time at Polesdon Lacey, an old manor later remodeled into a villa and fine example of the era’s architecture. The grounds of this house and nearby Cotman Dean heath (Little Bookham Common) long had the reputation of being haunted by the spirit of an old woman.

“..ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! The proper sport of boys and girls..”

The villagers had almost forgotten their local ghost until some boarding school boys resurrected her. They used a dark lanthorn (lantern with sliding black lens) and carried it around the place at night. The villagers were not familiar with this relatively new device. Thus they grew convinced the light moving swiftly around the heath, point to point, could have only been carried thus by spectral means.

The fun ended when the boys were discovered and thrashed within an inch of their lives.

Bookham Commons via nationaltrust.org.uk

 

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