The Grey Lady Of Bush House: A Haunting In South Wales That Even Went To Court
Updated: Mar 23
In 1955 two workmen claimed to have witnessed a grey ghost wearing a crinoline gown meander around the old mansion they were trying to sleep in.
On an August night in 1955, two workmen in South Wales, being unable to find lodgings, entered a bare and derelict mansion, where they settled down in a room high in the west wing, away from the rats in the lower quarters. What followed was, in the words of a judge, a "ghostly and ghastly experience" for both men.
The mansion, 300-year-old Bush House, Pembroke, was without lighting; there were no locks on the doors, which groaned at a touch, and the oak-panelled staircase creaked to each tread. Bats flew in the upper rooms and passages.
The old mansion was due for conversion to quarters for students of a new school being built close by. The workmen, a father and son from Manchester, had come to lay flooring in the school. They had expected to be provided with lodgings, but as none were available they went to the lonely mansion to sleep, at the suggestion of the clerk of the works. What happened next was told later to Mr Justice Salmon at Glamorgan Assizes.
The workmen, Mr George Hesketh and his son, Roy, said that after bedding down in a room at the mansion they heard queer tapping noises on the walls, and the sound of someone walking about in a corridor. On looking out of a window, at an hour well after midnight, they were startled to see the apparition of a woman, attired in a crinoline gown, walking in the grounds. The son watched her for half an hour, as she walked elegantly up and down a path immediately opposite before disappearing through the built-in door of an old stable.
On their second night in the mansion, the paraffin lamp they had with them was mysteriously turned down four times, and both men had their mackintoshes plucked off their shoulders, as if by invisible hands. On the third night, bedded down in a room on the third floor, having barricaded the lockless door, they were kept awake by constant knocking noises and a tap, tap, tapping at the windows. About 12 o'clock in the morning they decided they had had enough and hurriedly quit the mansion and went back to the partly finished school to sleep.
Mr Hesketh and his son told their story at Glamorgan Assizes in March 1958, when the father claimed damages for the injuries he had received when he fell down some unlit steps at the school. Their frightened experience at Bush House had previously been reported at length in a local newspaper a week or two after the event.
Mr F. Elwyn Jones, Q.C. (later Sir Elwin Jones, the Attorney General), who appeared for the father, said that both men were certain they had seen a ghost at the mansion, which had a reputation locally as a haunted house. "A ghost in a crinoline - but a ghost she was, nevertheless," said Mr Jones. Later, when the clerk of the works, a man who had lived all his life in the district, learned what the Hesketh's had seen, he told them that he personally would not have slept in the mansion for a gold clock.
Mr Justice Salmon, in his summing up in the action for damages, commented on the Heskeths' "somewhat eerie experience" in the mansion. He said, "They heard or thought they heard supernatural noises, and saw or thought they saw a ghost. The house was unlit, extremely dirty, and infested with rats. Their experiences on each of the following nights were much the same as on the first night. They were ghostly and ghastly."
This appearance of the Lady of the Crinolines at Bush House was not an isolated incident. Eighteen months before, a night watchman on the Bush House site had reported seeing the strange appearance there of "a gentleman with three dogs, a gun under his arm". And only days after the Lady's appearance to the Hesketh's, there was a report of a locally stationed National Serviceman and his girlfriend, who, on going close to the house during an after-dark stroll, saw to their amazement what appeared to be an illuminated figure approaching. They hurriedly left the spot.
There is, however, no explanation for the ghost or ghosts of Bush House. The centuries-old building was rebuilt in 1905 after being destroyed by fire and remained the home of the Meyrick family for half a century. Neither the family nor any member of staff reported anything unusual during that time.
In recent years, residents at the newly converted mansion have heard nothing more disturbing at night than the noises of the bats. The "lovesick ghost" of Jarman, believed to haunt the Manor House at Little Gaddesden, a picturesque village in Hertfordshire, was described to an inspector of the Ministry of Housing in 1963, when he heard an appeal by a man who had been refused permission by Berkhamsted rural council to build a new house on land adjoining the 16th-century manor. The council's solicitor, who described the old manor as "a bit of a gem", told the inspector that it was reputed to have been haunted by the ghost of Jarman since the 18th-century. "He is still there today. That's the sort of place it is, and it should not be allowed to be jostled and huddled by houses of a suburban kind."
Jarman was a member of one of two generations of Jarmans who lived at the Manor House. Local tradition is that he hanged himself "for the love of the heiress of Ashridge", a nearby estate. Often afterwards Jarman was seen at night watering his white horses at the village pond.
Miss Dorothy Erhart, the occupant of the manor, said at the time of the inquiry that the previous owner had told her that at night, she and her child always ran past the village pond.
Once a year, Jarman is supposed to make his presence known by dimming the lamps and candles in the Manor House, though he has never actually been seen inside the building. Miss Erhart recalled two occasions when it was thought Jarman was to blame. "Both were some years ago - once when a standard lamp was switched off for no reason at all, and the other when the house was plunged into sudden darkness as guests arrived for a music concert."
In the village, one of the large chimneys of the Manor House, because of its shape is known as "Jarman's Coffin".
The Minister of Housing upheld the decision of Berkhamsted council not to allow the modern house to be built next door, the inspector in this report stating that the proposed building "would be a step towards depriving the adjoining Manor House of its proper setting".
Ghosts have also figured in rating appeals. In 1957 the spectre of the Manor House at Buriton, Hampshire, was put forward at a Petersfield valuation court as one of the reasons for Lieutenant Colonel A. L. Bonham-Carter's appeal for a reduction in the rates of his 15th-century home, the place where Gibbon wrote much of his The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.
There is a local belief in Buriton that a younger woman hanged herself from an oak beam in the manor. The colonel's agent told the court that there were four bedrooms on the first floor and one of the two main ones was reputed to be haunted. The colonel had told him that he had seen the ghost some years ago.
A member of the panel asked, "Does that bring up, or does it reduce the assessment?". "I suggest it would reduce it," said the agent. The colonel obtained a reduction in his rates.
In 1956 a valuation court at Upton-on-Severn was asked to consider, as one of the reasons for a rating appeal, the troublesome ghost of the Grey Lady of Priors Court, a 16th-century house in the Worcestershire hamlet of Callow End.
Mrs I. M. Hopkins, the occupier, told the rating panel that she could not keep staff because of the ghost. Some weeks before, she had been about to engage a very nice couple but unfortunately they went into the village, heard about the ghost, and would not stay. She added that the local people would not stay in the house after dark.
The chairman said he regretted no allowance could be made for ghosts. The rates were, however, reduced for other reasons which had been put forward.
Mrs Hopkins said afterwards that she understood one ghost at the house had been laid by a clergyman in 1906, but a second ghost had not. She had not only seen it but had felt its presence.
The tradition in Callow End is that Priors Court, once the home of the late Lord Monckton of Brenchley, is haunted not only by the Grey Lady but by monks from Malvern Priory church. The story goes back to the 17th-century, when two women, a mother and daughter, sought refuge in the Court, where a prior and some of the monks then lived. In the night monks murdered the women. Ever since, it is said, the daughter, in her long grey cloak, and her murderers, have returned to haunt the precincts of the house. Now you have read about the haunting of Bush House make sure you take a look at The True Ghost Stories That Have Plagued The Theatres Of The United Kingdom.