The Sitwell Family Haunting Of Renishaw Hall: A Mysterious Coffin & An Overly Friendly Spirit

The Sitwell family claimed for years that they knew Renishaw Hall was haunted and that the occupying ghost was just a part of their childhood. Delve into the haunted happenings that occurred in the English countryside.

Ghost at Renishaw Hall
Dame Edith Sitwell and the impressive interior of Renishaw Hall

In the Sitwell family it was always known as The Renishaw Coffin. The famous literary trio - Osbert, Edith, and Sacheverell - heard about it when they were children and the stories of it and its ghost became part of their upbringing.

Their famous Renishaw Hall, a gloomy Derbyshire mansion dating from 1625, was always thought to be haunted. But it was not until their eccentric father, Sir George Sitwell, decided to improve the house by altering, and enlarging the central staircase that the coffin came to light.

In order to carry out the work, two small rooms had to be demolished, one on the ground floor, one a first-floor bedroom. Sir George, who was fanatically proud of his family history, asked the clerk of works to take note of anything interesting he came across, hoping that some traces of ancient building might be found.

The coffin was discovered between the joists of the bedroom floor. From its construction, and the fact that it had nails rather than screws, it was presumed that it dated from the 17th century. It was firmly attached to the joists with iron clamps. Because of lack of space, it had never been fitted with a lid, the floorboards above it serving the purpose. The coffin contained no skeleton, but certain marks proved that there had once been a body in it. The discovery threw new light on the frightening experiences of two women who had slept in that bedroom when they were guests at Renishaw. The first was a Miss Tait, daughter of Archibald Campbell Tait, the Archbishop of Canterbury. She had been invited to Derbyshire in 1885 to join the house party celebrating Sir George's coming of age.

The picturesque Renishaw Hall
The picturesque Renishaw Hall that has long been believed to be haunted

In the middle of the night, she was awakened by someone kissing her three times. The kisses were ice cold. The room was empty.

She ran to the room where Sir George's sister was sleeping and told her what had happened. Miss Sitwell made up a bed for her friend on her sofa, explaining that nothing would induce her to sleep in that room as she had once had exactly the same experience.

After the party, Sir George's agent, Mr Turnbull, came to see him about some business, and during the conversation, Sir George jokingly told the story of Miss Tait's phantom kisses. Far from being amused, the agent looked shocked. Apparently, when Sir George had generously lent him Renishaw hall for his honeymoon, a friend of the agent's bride had come to stay. She had slept in that same bedroom and had the same experience. She left the next morning, obviously frightened, but the Turnbulls had simply credited her with an over-active imagination. One Autumn evening, a few years after Miss Tait's haunting, Lady Sitwell was entertaining a few guests in the upstairs drawing-room after dinner. The room was brightly lit and the door stood open onto a passage. She was chatting to a friend who sat on her left when she became conscious of a figure in the passage outside. Friends noticed that she seemed to be following something with her eyes. She wrote later, "I saw the figure with such distinctness that I had no doubt at all that I was looking at a real person."

The figure was that of a woman, apparently a servant, with grey hair done up in a bun under a white cap. Her dress was blue with full dark skirt. She moved with a furtive, gliding motion, as though wishing to escape notice, but her arms were stretched out in front of her and the hands clasped. She moved towards the head of the staircase on which Sir George had worked 20 years before - and disappeared.

Lady Sitwell called out: "Who's that?" When no one answered, she urged her friends to find her, the mystery visitor, and everyone joined in the search. They were on the point of giving up when a young woman, looking down into the well-lit hall below, suddenly cried out, "I do believe that's the ghost!" Just where the door of the old room used to be, she saw a woman with dark hair and dress obviously distressed and in deep thought. Her figure, though opaque, cast no shadow. It moved in a gentle glide, full of sadness, and melted away. What happened in the two rooms that Sir George demolished has never been discovered and the empty coffin has kept its secret.

Now you have read about the haunting of Renishaw Hall, make sure you check out the terrifying story of the haunting of Borley Rectory.


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