Haunting Of Denton Manor: A Mystery Phantom That Plagued An East Sussex Family

Updated: Nov 13

In 1933 Mr & Mrs King claimed that a ghostly phantom plagued their family home. According to their reports, failed exorcisms, terrifying sightings, and unexplained noises forced the family to leave the property.

In many villages the manor house stands next to the church; in more pious days with frequent obligatory services, this was probably for the convenience of the local lord. But many later squires whose lifestyle was the envy of the villagers, even in the bane of the vicar, must have found the proximity unsettling. The morning clangor of bells 20 yards from the bedroom window must have vibrated cords of conscience in the heart of many a gentleman bleary from a night of liquor or lechery.

The manor house at Denton, near Newhaven in Sussex is unusually close to the church - a footpath and just enough room for a double row of graves separates the out walls of the two buildings. It was built as a prosperous farmhouse of some fourteen rooms and a gloomy cellar in 1724, and whatever its past, today its proximity to the church is very much a matter of practical convenience because since 1973 it has been the rectory. Exactly forty years earlier, however, in a very different context, it achieved considerable notoriety.

In September 1933, Mr and Mrs King moved in with their 12-year-old daughter and Mrs King's elderly mother, Mrs Heasman, and until November relaxed in the rural peace. The ghostly campaign against the Kings opened, as so many do, with a single loud crash in an upper room, as if a piece of heavy furniture had fallen over. Of course nothing was found wrong, and the Kings dismissed the incident as strange but not alarming. Events of the following Sunday made them change their minds.

As Mrs King was walking along an upstairs corridor she claimed that she was suddenly faced with a phantom figure whose appearance was so vague that it was impossible to decide its sex. For all that, however, it was terrifying, and Mrs King's screams brought her husband running from a bedroom, waving a stick he had grabbed on the way.

He too recalled seeing the apparition, and hit out at it, but the blow passed through airy nothingness and gouged a groove in the plaster of the wall as the shadowy form faded from sight. As the figure vanished, four thunderous crashes reverberated through the house.

For the next four or five days, these were repeated with uncanny and frightening regularity, usually at twenty to, or twenty past the hour, at five hourly intervals, as if some psychic battery were charging up slowly then discharging itself in one horrible burst. The sounds seemed to come from somewhere near the centre of the building but could be heard all over the house, and even outside in the garden and lane: as the time for the next manifestation approached, tension grew unbearable, especially for Mrs King.

After three days of unremitting pressure, the rector, Reverand E Pinnix was called in, and after hearing the noises he said his prayers, the spirit which had brought Mrs king almost to the point of collapse, and the family to the point of leaving, was not going to be deterred by an unofficial exorcism, so that the quadruple bombardment went on unabated.

That night, however, the family went to sleep at a house a quarter of a mile away, leaving the manor under the watchful ears and eyes of a policeman and a crowd of local people. The vigil was not unrewarded: at 10:20pm came the vengeful knocks, and when the constable and several members of the crowd went inside nothing was found, although one of the searches claims to have heard, or sensed, someone rushing past him in the darkness.

The following day the King's began packing, and a reporter from the Brighton Evening Argus, standing amidst the crates and confusion reported: "I heard the noise myself. I was standing in one of the rooms talking to the rector when suddenly, from the direction of the scullery, there came the sound of four distinct knockings, followed by a shriek from Mrs King."

The reporter also commented on the cellar door which, bolted a few months earlier, was now wide open although no one had been near it. The King family left the house for good on Thursday: for the next few nights crowds estimated by some local people at hundreds arrived on foot, by car, and even by coach to wait in the darkened lane in hope of some manifestation.

There seems to have been no performance on the first two evenings, but those who braved the cold dampness of a late November Saturday night - were suddenly chilled by four sudden and loud bangs from inside the empty house. Many waited until well after midnight, but nothing but their own footsteps and whisperings, and the distant hiss of the sea broke the stillness: they had heard the last performance. The old manor house today, say's the rector's wife, despite its rambling inconvenience and lofty coldness, radiates only exceptional peace and happiness.

Local tradition, which always dislikes untidy ends and unresolved problems, tried to find a logical cause for the Denton haunting and decided that the apparition was that of Miss Catt of Bishopstone, a former owner of the house, who resented the fact that Mr King had felled two trees in the garden which she had planted.

But this solution seems too facile, and others believe it may be that the haunting was a poltergeist manifestation, centered on the King's daughter.

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