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The Haunting Of Bisham Abbey And The Ghost Of Dame Elizabeth Hoby

The true story behind the terrifying hauntings of Bisham Abbey and the sightings of the grey lady of Dame Elizabeth Hoby.


The ghosts of Bisham Abbey
The terrifying story of the grey lady of Bisham Abbey

A short distance over the bridge from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, UK, stands an old stone Abbey with pointed gables that face the River Thames. This is the renowned Bisham Abbey that was built back in 1337, it used to be known as Bisham Priory at the time monks resided in it, however, when King Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries the Monks are said to have been so angry that they cursed any future owners of the Abbey.


Bisham Abbey is home to mountains of history dating back centuries, it is impossible to deny the eerie atmosphere that surrounds you when you visit it, the reports of it being haunted come as no surprise, the Abbey has been host to Anne of Cleves, Oliver Cromwell and Elizabeth I, just to name a few.


The most well known and frequently sighted ghost is that of the grey lady. Over the years many people have reported seeing this apparition within the grounds of Bisham Abbey, a famous report came from a woman who served in the W.A.A.Fs in the Second World War as a sergeant and a telephone operator.


She was working what she referred to as the "graveyard shift," and she would have to walk through the Abbey to get to her station. At the time the windows didn't have curtains and from her position she could see out over the grounds. One night she said that out of the corner of her eye she saw a mist coming over the grounds of Bisham Abbey.


Taking no notice of this she carried on with her work when suddenly she heard a deep intake of breath and looked towards the other girl who was working with her on her shift, she was pointing towards the window. Both of the women said that the mist started to take a shape, and then the clear apparition of a woman with her hands out in front of her glided across past the window before drifting away over the fields and disappearing.


Bisham Abbey
Bisham Abbey as it is today

In the last few months of the war, one of the girls told their colleagues "we saw something that night and it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I don’t believe in ghosts, but at that moment I wanted to walk out of the door, and get a strong drink".


Serving during the war in the Airforce they couldn't just walk away from their post because they believed they saw a ghost, so they had carried on working and never mentioned it again.


Dame Elizabeth Hoby


Elizabeth Hoby was born in 1528 and she died in 1609, she was a highly respected member of Queen Elizabeth's court, well known for her musical talent and her poetry. On June 27, 1558, she married Thomas Hoby of Bisham Abbey, Berkshire, England.


Thomas Hoby was a well known translator, and in 1566 was knighted and became the English ambassador to France. Elizabeth and Thomas moved to Paris not long after his knighthood but unfortunately Thomas would die shortly afterwards.


Elizabeth had four children, tragically her first two girls died whilst they were still infants, she also had a boy called Edward and a further child that was born after her husband death who she named as Thomas in his memory.


She would go onto marry her second husband, Lord John Russell, to which she had two more daughters, Elizabeth and Anne.


The story starts to get somewhat confused at this point, as it is said that Elizabeth had another son, named William, she had a strong will for all her children to become successful but is said to have grown angry as she saw William as a disappointment to her.


Apparently William could not read or write to a standard that she would accept, and in a fit of rage she is said to have started beating him so badly that he died. Strangely though no records exist of William, however, that doesn't mean he didn't exist, back then records were patchy to say the least and there is a good possibility that he died before any records of him were written.


It is also a strong possibility that given how influential Elizabeth's family were at the time, they could have easily covered up the secret killing of William. Whatever the reason maybe, it is believed that Elizabeth is so full of remorse and regret that she continues to search for her son to this day.


It is said that her ghost still appears, wailing and weeping whilst desperately trying to wash off the blood on her hands in a bowl of water that often appears in front of her during sightings.


Although it may seem easy to dismiss the story as simply a myth or legend, in 1840 new evidence was brought to light, giving good credibility that the stories could be true. Part of the flooring in the Abbey's dining room was taken up during renovations, and mixed among the rubble were some old papers.


Many of these papers contained lots of writing from the Hoby family as well as Elizabeth's copy books and many corrections by the revered Dame Hoby herself.


At the time the property was being rented by a Mrs East, who made the decision to leave the books alone until she could get them verified by the owner of Bisham Abbey.


Shortly after the intriguing discovery, the papers suddenly went missing, it would later turn out that the builder stole them all in the hope of selling them on and making some easy money.


The sightings of the grey lady are still very much a part of Bisham Abbey and its history, and over the last few hundred years, sightings of her have been plenty.


One of the most frightening accounts comes from late 19th Century, when a sailor, Admiral Edward Vansittart would come face to face with the famous spirit. He was playing chess with his brother late into the night in the panelled room where the Dame's portrait hung, after finishing the game his brother decided to go to bed, Edward was standing mulling over his day with his back to the portrait, when he had the overwhelming feeling of a presence behind him, when he turned he claimed he saw Dame Elizabeth Hoby standing right in front of him, he looked over to the painting and to his terror the canvas was blank, petrified he ran from the room.


Another report came from two boys that were on their way back from a fishing trip at dusk, they were left terrified when they saw a boat by the bank of the river, in the boat they claimed to see a woman in a black cloak, huddled at the back.


Every summer a Regatta is held at the nearby Henley, usually two weeks after the Marlow event. On one of these occasions, Bisham Abbey was full of visitors that were getting ready for the Regatta. One young man was staying in the library and had just got ready to go to sleep when during the night be reported feeling someone touching his hair, quickly jumping up in fright he saw the spectre of Elizabeth Hoby, who he claims spoke softly to him saying, ‘Young man, if I touch thee, thou will be bald’.


In another unexplainable case, a young girl was staying at Bisham Abbey, after she went to bed to read a book she noticed that her dog was getting particularly agitated, his hackles rose before he leapt from the bed, let out a yelp and ran out of the room.


The young girl reported noticing that her watch that had been placed on her bed started to rise in the air, before being shot across the room by what she described as a "ghostly hand".


After this she reported that her toiletry set and vanity case was knocked over, whilst her curtains on the bed where pulled open before she witnessed, standing right in front of her, a woman wearing what she described as an old fashioned nightgown.


The girl hysterically ran out of the room and downstairs and after telling her story she was shown a portrait of Dame Elizabeth, the girl confirmed that the sighting she saw was that of Elizabeth Hoby without doubt.


The sightings of Dame Elizabeth Hoby are not just held as myth, her appearances are still commonly reported to this day. Let us know your thoughts on the ghost of the Grey Lady of Bisham Abbey in the comments section below. Now you have read this story make sure you check out the real story of Patrick Cross and his devil guitar.