The great mansion of Cassiobury, demolished in 1927, was the home of the Earls of Essex for over 250 years and was said to be haunted by the ghost of Arthur, Lord Capel, created Earl of Essex in 1661. Because of his involvement in the Rye House Plot (1683), he was sent to the Tower of London, where he was found with his throat cut, having probably committed suicide. W. B. Gerish noted in his Folk-Lore of Hertfordshire (1911) that the haunt reputedly took place each year on 13 July, the anniversary of his death.

Lord Capel was not the only ghost in the neighbourhood. Adjoining Cassiobury on the north is the Grove, in the nineteenth century locally said to have been built by Arthur-Mohun St Leger, third Lord Doneraile. The historian John Cussans reports as ‘a fiction devoutly believed in by all the labourers on the estate’ the tradition that, on stormy nights, Lord Doneraile, on a phantom horse, accompanied by phantom hounds, pursues a ghostly fox around the park, whatever the season. He was condemned to do this for ever as a punishment for having converted the ancient chapel into a kitchen. This is a version of the old tradition of the Wild Hunt (see PETERBOROUGH, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough), often attached to local magnates and squires for having committed sacrilege or blasphemy.

The story, as Cussans remarks, is a curious combination of fact and fiction. Lord Doneraile indeed bought the estate in 1743, but, except for the third storey, the house as it appears today was probably the work of the first Earl of Clarendon c.1760. When the fourth Earl was altering the basement, he discovered in the kitchen walls evidence of its having formerly been a chapel. This no doubt prompted the legend – here, as elsewhere, interference with former ecclesiastical property calling down the direst retribution.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008